Writing Tips: One Simple Trick For Finding Inspiration Every Day

Writing is a great way to express ourselves and to communicate with others. It is a beautiful way to record memories and to learn from our everyday experiences. But what is the spark that ignites the flaming inspiration to guide our pens (or keyboards)? What do we do when our minds are shrivelled up like a wrinkled petal, drained of ideas or when we simply…don’t have anything interesting to write?

My mind is usually a whirlwind of thoughts twisted, tangled and turned in odd ways. However, when it comes to writing down something, or attempting to write down something, there are times when I get stuck and ask myself, now what do I write about?

In the past, this was a quite a big struggle for me, but as I grew older, as I experienced more and saw more and learned more and felt more, I found that I actually have a lot more to say than I had previously thought.

What is the one trick up my sleeve when it comes to my writing inspiration?  Simply this: gratitude. What? Gratitude.

Now let me explain. This world is filled with thousands and thousands and thousands of things, people, sounds, emotions, and ideas. Each and every creature, and each and every creation has been created by God the Almighty for a purpose. Our lives are constantly busy, with an overload of information and responsibilities so when our eyes pass these thousands of things, they pass them as insignificant. In other words, we take them for granted.

That’s the exact moment where a writer’s eye comes into good use because a writer will see a tree and will form a story about how the baby seeds separated from their mother and how they twirled in the wind until they landed next to a wooden cottage and how this little seedling grew, using its energy storage to start a good life. A writer will see a little girl’s hand grip a steel watering can to water the muddy green ground with a man carrying weather worn skin and a creased smile. A writer will see this little girl grow up under this tree, climbing up to sit on a sturdy branch , playing hide and seek with her little brother, covering her ears as the little boy squeals in excitement, his voice being carried in the wind until it is no louder than a whisper on the other side of the woods.

Here’s the thing, I’ve never grown up in the woods before. I have personally lived in an area surrounded by a sandy desert for a good number of years. The only scenery surrounding me was sand. I looked out my bedroom window: sand. I looked out my car window: sand. Yes, there were plenty of modern buildings and the occasional roundabouts with heavily irrigated grass, but that was an ant compared to the place I had come from. Ouch. Speaking about ants, ants from the desert are poisonous, not to mention excruciating. See how my mind can wander? Now back to the point. I used to complain about how sand was all I saw everywhere, every day. Until one day, I looked out the car window on my way to school. The sun had just awoken and was slowly beginning to rise. It’s yawning rays stretched happily onto the heaps of dry desert soil. The transformation was spellbinding. The desert was set aflame with sweltering oranges, smouldering golds, and blazing browns. Jewel dust shimmered before my eyes. That’s when the real transformation happened. I realised just how exquisite the desert- the dry, old, dusty desert- really was.

I am grateful for the deserts in my life, the smooth ones and the scorching ones. I am grateful for every tinkling of bliss and every rapture of pain. I am grateful, and so I write.

Written with love,

Fatima

P.S This piece was first published in June 2016, more than two years of writing experience later, gratitude truly remains the factor that transforms my writing and the way I view the world every day. What are you grateful for? I’ve included a list of gratitude prompts and examples to help you out.

GRATITUDE PROMPTS:

THE BEAUTY OF NOW: Take a moment to pause, put everything around you aside, and just breathe. Breathe in. Breathe out. Your lungs take in air and oxygen flows to your brain. Your heart beats. What are you grateful for in this very moment?

THE BEAUTY OF THE PAST: Think about your week. It might have been a very busy one, filled with deadlines and appointments. Was there anything you learned or experienced? Did you meet anyone new? How do you feel about your week? Do you feel relieved that you survived it? Think about the kind of person you are right now. What are you proud of? Have your past experiences shaped you as a person? What are you grateful for in your past?

THE BEAUTY OF THE FUTURE: What are you looking forward to in the near future? For me, it’s having a delicious breakfast with my friends. What about your dreams and goals? For me, I don’t only look forward to having a delicious breakfast because my stomach is beginning to rumble. I also look forward to it because having a healthy, delicious breakfast with my friends ties into my values to take care of my health and strengthen my relationships with other fellow human beings. This helps me to achieve one of my dreams which is to inspire individuals, families and communities to help each other to become the best versions of the themselves on the inside and out- physically, spiritually and mentally.  There are so many possibilities in front of you. Every day is a blank canvas. What are you excited about?

THE BEAUTY OF YOU: Think of your eyes. They have met so many beautiful people and have have seen so many beautiful things. They have hidden so many secrets and expressed so many emotions. They have lit up with excitement and widened in surprise. They have shed so many warm tears. Think of your tongue. It has said so many beautiful words and tasted so many scrumptious foods. Think of your lips. You’ve made so many people happy with your smile. You have so many abilities, talents and capabilities. What qualities about yourself are grateful for?

THE BEAUTY OF THE WORLD AROUND YOU:

Think about the world around you. The people, the places, the sounds, the smells, the contrast. There is insecurity and there is safety. There is war and there is peace. There sadness and there is happiness. There are deserts and there are fields. There is evil and there is good. Would you know that you are happy if you never felt sad? Look out your window. What are you grateful for in the world you live in?

THE BEAUTY OF REALITY:

Life isn’t always easy and it isn’t always fun. But through the tests of life we learn and grow and find ourselves. What are you grateful for in the reality you live in? How has this reality shaped you as a person? Have you learned anything new about yourself? What are you grateful for in your life?

Suggested activity: Try asking these prompt questions to your friends and family. You might be surprised what they have to say. 

Have We not made for him two eyes?

And a tongue and two lips? (Quran, 90: 8-9) 


Adobe Spark (5)

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Your Story Begins: It’s Time to Sharpen Your Writing Skills

Dear Mrs Melon,

I was that talkative girl in your year 2 class. The chatter box who enjoyed speaking to the girl on her right and the two girls in front of her until you moved her to sit by the computer desk on the other side of the classroom.

I am also the girl who wrote one line when asked to write a story. It went something like this: ‘once upon a time there was a girl.’ When I got my notebook back, my little heart was thudding with dread. Do you remember the comment you wrote? You said: ‘good start’. My lips turned up into a giant smile when I read that.

While I was by the computer desk on the other side of the classroom, with no one to chat to of course, I managed to write a story about finding a dinosaur egg in my garden. It was two A4 sized pages in my tiny handwriting. ‘Two  pages!’ You wrote in my notebook.

Once, you taught us about the World War 2 as we sat cross legged on the mat. You showed us a suitcase filled with items children would take with them when they evacuated to the country side for safety. Then came the exciting part. We were to design the items we would take with us if we were one of the children going on the train. I was thrilled. I drew a dress, and a hat, and whatever else I thought I would need. And then I drew a tin of chocolates. I drew it as a rectangular box that was open, displaying all the sweet treasures inside.

We all took turns to come to your table as you assisted us in gluing our pictures to our paper suitcase. As my turn came , I took the paint brush and dipped it in white glue. There was a battle going on in my mind. ‘Shall I do it?’ I asked myself. Would I be brave enough?’ I took a deep breath and folded the little tin box I had drawn. Then I put glue on only half of it. You took the tin box out of my hand to paste it down on the paper. My eyes zoomed in to your hands.  “Why does only half your picture have glue?” You smiled as your questioning face turn into realisation. “Oh! You want the tin of sweets to flip open and closed. That’s a clever idea Fatima. Go show Mrs Jones your suitcase”. What an honour it was for a year 2 student, what an honour it felt like for the seven year old me, to show something  I had done to a teacher of another class. What an honour it was to have been taught by you.

I have to thank you Mrs Melon. You were the first gardener that nurtured a tiny budding of a writer.

You taught me that if I don’t talk too much, I can write anything. You taught me that I should never be afraid to use my creativity, even if it is not exactly what the teacher showed me. You taught me that every story has a beautiful beginning. And you taught me that every beginning, can lead to something great.

From that talkative girl you once knew,

Fatima

If there is one thing I have come to realise on my writing journey it is that we’re all human. We all have our own personal voices and personalities, stories and experiences. We all have fears and hopes, strengths and weaknesses. We’ve all felt joy, hurt, worry, grief, annoyance, insecurity, anger, love, contentment, compassion. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all learned something. We all have something that is meaningful to us.

Language is the fabric that we and the world around us is made up of. Think about your favourite meal. It has a name. Perhaps it is from a cuisine-Moroccan, Indian, or French for example. Think of the ingredients used to make this mouth-watering dish. Now think about how it tastes. Think of the different flavours that your mouth savours. The sweet, the sour, the spicy. What about the sensations and textures? Hot, cold, creamy, crunchy, gooey, crispy, moist. Think about what it makes you feel. Happiness, pleasure, nostalgia, satisfaction. Everything has a name from the food we eat to the emotions within us. That is why language is so important. It is how we find meaning in life. Meanings are important because they give our lives as human beings direction and purpose.

Writing-in all its forms- helps us to explore, learn and find meaning in who we are and the world around us. It helps us to express, communicate and share these meanings amongst each other. It allows us to manipulate language in a way that evokes the thoughts, senses and emotions of others, in order to communicate effectively, learn about each other, grow with each other, and build interpersonal relationships.

There is something meaningful to you that you want to express. Whether it be through academic writing, fiction, creative non-fiction, a story, a blog, a memoir, a letter, a poem. Through writing you can learn to express yourself in the most beautiful, meaningful and powerful way. That’s what they call eloquence.

Eloquence in writing is gained through learning about, exploring, and practicing your writing. It also comes with reading and analysing a variety of writings. Most importantly though, I believe it comes from experiencing life and using those experiences to inspire you.

One search on google will show that there are plenty of writing tips out there. So what is it that I could possibly add to all these writing tips?

Through the writing tips on my blog, I aim to help you look at writing through a fresh lens. I hope to inspire you and develop your love for writing. I hope you begin to see how growing in your writing can be an experience rather than following a strict set of rules. I hope to encourage you to go out into the world and enjoy every moment and come back to reflect on those moments and turn them into a beautiful written master piece.

So if you haven’t already followed the Thoughts From My Heart blog, please do to keep up to date! Is there anything in particular you want me to write about in writing tips? Comment below! I am writing for you. Your comments and suggestions are important.

Remember, you can write anything. Never be afraid to use the creativity within you even if it does not conform to what you were taught. Your story has a beautiful beginning. And every beginning, can lead to something great. So begin.

Here’s to our writing adventures.

With love,

Fatima

 

Recite in the name of your Lord who created-

Created man from a clinging substance

Recite, and your Lord is the Most Generous

Who taught by the pen-

Taught man that which he knew not (Quran, 96: 1-5) ~

The first Quranic verses revealed. 

 

There Is A Light

[Captured above: the sunset on the tea plantations on my trip to Malawi]

Tuesday, February 26 2019

2:28 am: I woke up to the moon smiling at me. My heart beat faster as I remembered the Creator of this moon, and strangely, the sight reminded me of death. I quickly got up and made ablution. Now an hour later, I sit on my bed next to my window. The night is still. The air is crisp. And the moon stares back at me glowing with beauty.

Days and nights are passing us by. The moon shines at night and disappears by dawn. The sun rises and sets. And our lives are inscribed by the angels on our right and left . Raqib writes the good. Atid writes the bad. Every day and every night is a blessing. A sign. A lesson. Every day and every night is a chance to love Allah, our Creator. To worship Him. To learn about Him. If only we took a moment to remember Him. To think and ponder as we hustle through our busy lives.

2:45 am: the moon is beaming at me.

Yesterday, at 8:45 am: in Usul Al-Fiqh class (Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence) we learnt about the circumstances of the Arabs before the message of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. Initially, the Arabs were upon the shariah (law) of Prophet Abraham and Ismail peace be upon them, built on tawhid.* Many of them were illiterate, many of them could not read or write. However, their illiteracy did not mean that they did not have knowledge. Their language was powerful, pure and crystal clear. I remember another teacher of mine explaining it to me many semesters ago.The Arabs would look at something that would amaze them, and right there on the spot, they would be able to describe it in the most eloquent lines of poetry. They had a place they called ‘souq ukath’, or ‘the Market of Ukath’, where they would share their poetry. The best poems were then written down and hung on the Kabah and were called The Mualaqat.

Yesterday, at 10 am: once my class ended I headed to the mosque. I decided to take a nap before my next class in order to be fresh and alert for it. In my sleep I had a dream. I dreamt of two of my friends- Khadeeja and Afaaf texting me, warning me to be careful because they had once slept and ended up over sleeping, missing the class. I woke up.

Yesterday, at 11:27 am: there were 3 minutes until my class – Introduction to the Sciences of Quranic Reading. As I rubbed my face to remove the sleepiness from my eyes, I saw light bouncing from the mosque’s colourful glass window onto my shoes. The reflection of light looked beautiful. And how beautiful it felt to know that my feet would be walking to a gathering of knowledge by the permission of Allah, so I made a supplication. I took a picture, put on my shoes, and rushed to class. At the entrance of the classroom, I met my friend Khadeeja. “You were sleeping weren’t you?” She asked me. She smiled as I shared with her my dream.

Yesterday, 12:02 pm: in The sciences of Quranic Recitations, we learnt about the famous reciters among the companions of the Prophet peace be upon him. We learnt about how Abu Bakr peace be upon him contributed to the preservation of the Quran and the recitations through having memorised it, reciting it frequently, being an Imam and having been the first to compile the Quran in writing. Once, Abu Bakr had recited the entire Surat Al Baqarah (the longest chapter in the Quran) in the two rakahs of Fajr salah. After the prayer, he was told: “ the sun is about to rise.” So Abu Bakr peace be upon him said: if it rises, we were not from the ghafileen (those who are heedless and don’t worship).** “What does the word harees (حريص) mean oh ustath?” One of the students asked. Harees means to be very concerned. For example, (فاطمة حريصة في طلب العلم) Fatima is hareesah (very concerned, keen and eager) in knowledge seeking, she always writes notes, asks questions, and reads. Although my teacher was using my name hypothetically, his example made me happy. And so I made a supplication.    

Yesterday, at 2 pm: in Ahadith Al Ahkam (Legislative Texts of Hadith) we revised the different types of Hadith books and watched a discussion (in the Egyptian Arabic dialect)  about the famous hadith- every action is by its intention. The Sheikh mentioned how someone who understands and applies this hadith will always be in a peaceful state of mind and their hearts are always content as everything he or she does- great or small- if done for the sake of Allah can have reward in it.

Yesterday, at 3:30 pm: in the next class, our teacher discussed one of our assignments. We had to study and translate a book from Arabic to English, and prepare a presentation relating what we studied to Tadwin Al-Sunnah (Recording of The Sunnah). My professor (who calls us his children) emphasised that we should not be exam-oriented students aiming for a certificate, but that knowledge should get us closer to our Creator. He reminded us to ponder about everything we see around us- the signs Allah has placed for us. That is how we gain true knowledge. He then went on to explain how most of us will aim for the certificate, then the job, then the car, then the house…”I teach parenting (a co-curricular subject), and most of you won’t even be wanting to get married at that point, am I right?” Then he said: “Except Fatima.” I don’t know why he mentioned me, but my friend Afaaf and I looked at each other in amusement, and I made a supplication.

Yesterday at 6 pm: the sunrays shone warmly on my face as I stood by the sink on my dorm balcony, washing vegetables in preparation for dinner.

Yesterday, at 7:27 pm: the sun set, the maghrib athaan called worshippers to prayer and success, the sky was destined to be cloaked in black and the moon was destined to appear. The day was over.

I started writing this at 2:28 am. It’s 4:02 am now. One and a half hours of my life has passed by. This is life. Life is short. And yet filled with Allah’s light and mercy.  I stare out at the moon as the crickets chirp outside. It is the last third and most precious part of the night.*** And so I make a supplication. Allah is An-Nur (The Illuminator). And He placed a light inside of us. Never give up on that light.

With love,

Fatima

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P.S. I need your feedback! Did you like reading about the things I learned during my day? Would you like more posts like this? Comment below! 

 

*Tawhid: belief that God is One with no partners

** Arabic reference:

روى الزهري عن أنس أن أبو بكر صلى الصبح، فقرأ فيها البقرة في الركعتين، فقيل له حين سلم: كادت الشمس تطلع، فقال: لو طلعت لم تجدنا غافلين

*** The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “The Lord descends every night to the lowest heaven when one-third of the night remains and says: ‘Who will call upon Me, that I may answer Him? Who will ask of Me, that I may give him? Who will seek My forgiveness, that I may forgive him?’”

[Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

 

Stranger

Oh stranger,

you and I.

We shall write.

 

Our stories shall tell of a time you handed out sweets under the dome of a mosque.

 

Our stories shall speak about the man who lowers his gaze as he passes by a woman unrelated to him.

 

Our stories shall speak about my shoulders touching yours as we stand in prayer.

 

Our stories shall speak about the stranger who bends down to talk to a little girl. Do you love cats? She asks.

 

Our stories shall speak about greetings of peace given to one another as we pass by.

 

Our stories shall speak about the strangers bringing the hands of the cleaners to their foreheads as a morning greeting.

 

Our stories shall speak about catching each other’s eyes and smiling.

 

Our stories shall speak about waking up in the middle of the night and praying for one another in secret.

 

Our stories shall speak about sharing food as we sit opposite each other.

 

Our stories shall speak of the needy man who thanked Allah before thanking the stranger who handed him a loaf of bread.  

 

Our stories shall speak of the tears in our eyes as we cry for each other’s pain.

 

Oh stranger,

you and I.

 

We are created by the same Maker.

 

We are fashioned by The Most Merciful.

 

We stare at the same moon.

 

We rise to the same sun.

 

Our Creator is The Provider of Peace (Al Salam).

 

The Guardian of Faith (Al Mu’min).

 

The Sustainer (Al Razzaaq).

 

The Kind (Al Latif).

 

The Generous (Al Kareem).

 

The Protector (Al Hafidh).

 

The Nourisher (Al Muqit).  

 

The Watchful (Al Raqeeb).

 

The Answerer (Al Mujib).

 

The Loving  (Al Wadood).

 

The All Knowing (Al Aleem).

 

Oh stranger,

I may not know your name.

But I know the Creator who destined your path and mine is One and the same.  

 

Siesta

Bismillahi Al-Rahman Al-Raheem

In the name of Allah, The Entirely Merciful, The Especially Merciful.

Khadija. I am sitting in your room as I write this. The cups of green tea we had planned to have after our lunch stand still on the table in front of me. A friend of ours, God bless her, decided to treat us to vegetables stuffed with savoury rice. We had date syrup and tahini* for dessert just for good measure. Outside, the rain is humming. The chirping  birds join in the twinkling melody as they take shelter in the tall trees near your window. And I listen to the gentle afternoon lullaby lulling you into the world of dreams.

There is this word I love. It’s a word in the Arabic language, a language I am trying to learn. You can only truly comprehend its meaning once you taste its sweetness, feeling the word squeeze your heart tightly, silent tears running down your cheeks. Khushoo. It means peace. Serenity. Humility. Sincerity. Tranquility. Obedience. Submission. Khushoo. When your heart is whole, fully present, causing every limb to surrender to its Creator. The Creator of everything.

One of my friends described it so beautifully. She said it feels like you’re in a dark room. You’re fumbling in the darkness, trying to find your way. Then you are given a flash light. Everything that the light shines upon, lights up. The darkness is still there, it even calls out to you, but you’re holding the flashlight. You’re focused. You have a direction. And your full attention is on one thing: following the trail of good that is shaded under that beam of light.

It reminds me of the story of Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him). When the night covered him with darkness, he saw a star. He said, “This is my lord.” But when it set, he said, “I like not those that disappear.”And when he saw the moon rising, he said, “This is my Lord.” But when it set, he said, “Unless my Lord guides me, I will surely be among the people gone astray.” And when he saw the sun rising, he said, “This is my lord; this is greater.” But when it set, he said, “Oh my people, indeed I am free from what you associate with Allah. ” **

After contemplating over the moon, the stars, the sun,  Allah made it clear to Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) that Allah alone is The Illuminator. The Light of the heavens and the earth.The One to make the truth visible. The One to guide from darkness to light.*** And so Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) said, “Indeed, I have turned my face toward He who created the heavens and the earth, inclining toward truth, and I am not of those who associate others with Allah.”**

I look out the window. The rain has stopped humming.  The crickets are chirping noisily in the fading light singing their song among the sleeping clouds. Allahu akbar. Allahu akbar! God is Most Great. God is Most Great!  The call to prayer travels through the night air. Khadija. Time to wake up.

Hiding under a puff of smoke, the moon peers down shyly. Its light glows, gleaming through the almost invisible clouds that veil it as I walk back to my dorm room. My Lord, is this the same moon our Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) questioned until You caused it to set?

There are fourteen days until the month of Ramadan, a month in the Islamic lunar calendar. During Ramadan, Muslims around the world pray a special prayer at night called Tarawih.  Tarawih is another Arabic word I  love. It’s root word means ‘to take rest’. When I hear it in Arabic, it sounds euphonious. Soft to the ear and light on the tongue.  It is said to be called the Tarawih prayer because those who would stand in this prayer at night would rest between each two units of prayer.

Tarawih and Khushoo are related. When you pray, you have to be conscious of Allah.  You yearn for Him. For His mercy. For His forgiveness. For His help. For His love. You yearn to meet Him. And when you bow down to Him in humility, your heart feels at rest.

****

Written with love,

Fatima

P.S. If there’s anything you don’t understand, feel free to comment or email me. Comments and constructive criticism are always warmly welcomed.

P.P.S. If you’d like to know what helped inspire this piece after almost a month of writer’s block look out for my next post: Writing Tips: One Simple Trick For Finding Inspiration Everyday.

 

*Tahini or Tahina is a paste made out of sesame seeds.

**See the Quran, chapter 6 verses 75 to 79 [Sahih International translation].

***See the Quran, chapter 24, verse 35 [Sahih International translation]

A Letter For You

 

Bismillahi Al-Rahman Al-Raheem

In the name of Allah, The Entirely Merciful, The Especially Merciful.

Today feels different. Glistening water spills over in abundance from the heavens. Raining is nothing new here. But it’s the nostalgic atmosphere surrounding it that is peculiar.  The campus’s sky, usually a cheerful blue with fluffy white clouds is now a phantasism-grey. Succulent clouds loom like dark shadows. Thunder rumbles fiercely as the angels glorify their Lord in fear of Him. I involuntarily shiver despite the warm weather and stare out into the downpour in awe.  

It makes me feel five years old again. I grew up in a very small town situated in a very small country in Central Africa. One day, my siblings and I were riding our bicycles on the wide paving outside when raindrops started to plop on our heads. Our beloved Mrs Justin called us back into the house. My bare feet were pitch black as I entered. Some evenings, on the days when he was home, my father would put my youngest brother on his shoulders and walk up and down the tiled passageway singing Arabic songs about children and ducks. “Wees! Wees!” we would respond as we trailed behind him (I suppose that’s the sound little ducklings would make). That day both my parents weren’t home.  So we decided to entertain ourselves by marching up and down the passageway, waving a flag and shouting “Laa ilaaha ila Allah! Muhammadu Rasulullah!” “There is no God worthy of worship but Allah! Muhammad is His Messenger!” I can taste the gingerbread biscuits Mrs Justin had baked for us that evening as we picnicked on the kitchen floor with French toast and milkshake made from milk the milkman had delivered and strawberries they would sell up the mountain. The next morning my red bike was covered in leaves and dirt. I ran outside- barefoot- as soon as the cockerel crowed. I couldn’t wait to splash in the puddles and make mud cakes in the garden, leaving them to bake dry under the sun.
We didn’t stay in that house forever. A day came when we moved countries and houses again and then again. Many things took place. I grew up. I travelled away from my family to begin my university adventures. Some memories over the years are happy, some are painful. All carving me into the person I am today.

Two years ago this blog was started by a girl who wanted to heal. Today, this blog is unveiled to you by a girl yearning to grow.

I am writing to you because after every dawn the sun rises, spreading its radiant wings. I am writing to you because when night descends, the moon glows, piercing the darkness. I am writing to you because as the leaves fall, new flowers bloom.

I am writing to you because you and I, our hearts are beating. Rhythmically. Heartbeat after heartbeat. I am writing to you because you and I are made up of words. Words that speak the languages of life, moulding us into who we are.

I wish my eyes could write down what they have seen. With every salty tear, the heart is cleansed. With every break, the heart grows stronger. Along with every heartbeat, there lies a golden opportunity. The opportunity to search for and serve your purpose of existence.

Oh seeker of the Truth. This is for you.

Yours faithfully,

Fatima