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The Pen: Bringing to Life the Stories within Us

By:  Sundus Alsharif

When I was in Eleventh grade, I had an English teacher who changed the way that I looked at the world.

She had a quote from John Ruskin posted on the bare walls of her classroom that inspires me to this very day:

“The entire object of true education is to make people not merely do the right things, but enjoy the right things — not merely industrious, but to love industry — not merely learned, but to love knowledge — not merely pure, but to love purity — not merely just, but to hunger and thirst after justice.”

This teacher taught me that writing is something that I should love. She taught me that the best way to learn is through application: continuous reading and writing.

I had the honor of sharing this love that was instilled in me with many others at the Power of the Pen Workshop on January 22, 2016 at Daarus Salaam Mosque. I talked about how we often make writing much more complicated than it needs to be. Whether we realize it or not, we are all writers because we all experience life. We run, play, eat lunch, smile and help others.  All of this encompasses our story that we tell through writing. Writing isn't a unique talent only in a few: it's in us all. If we're willing to delve deep into ourselves and our experiences and ask some hard questions, we might be shocked with the words that flow from our minds onto paper.  All it takes is a book for inspiration and an idea.

And some passion.

At the Power of the Pen workshop, I shared my own love for writing with so many people in one place, something I have never done in that way before. It was breathtaking for me to hear everyone participating and gaining something from what I had to say.

In many ways, our lives are stories. I taught about how to write papers and give speeches, but these skills translate into telling our own stories as well. It's never too late to write our own stories better. Whether they're on paper, or they're our own actions in life. We all have a pen, and our mind is itching to churn out ideas.

And Allah gave us all the ability to do so.



Two Pizzas & a Cookie - An Essay on Growing Up

By:  Sundus Alsharif

Growing up, my parents always taught me how to make decisions for myself, and they gave me a sense of autonomy that I am forever grateful for. They taught me how to value their opinion and advice by listening to me no matter what I was facing in life. It is because of the interdependence that they instilled in me that I am able to have an inner compass of right and wrong, and stay away from things that might hurt me, alhamdulillah. Why does this matter? It matters because setting boundaries for children is important, but it is also important to teach them how to make the right choices on their own. It is equally important to gain the trust of children so that when you are in a position to give them advice, they will take it seriously. I really believe that one of the reasons why our ummah is not united is because families are so divided. A place that should be seen as a refuge is often seen as a dreadful prison by a lot of the youth.

 A couple of days ago, my younger brother bought two boxes of pizza with money that my grandfather had given him. My mother, who is a healthy eating advocate, did not approve of my brother’s purchase. She did not want my brother to eat the pizza--which was filled with artificial ingredients and void of nutrients.

 My mother told my brother that if he wanted to eat the pizza, that it would be no issue, but that he would have to face real world consequences for his actions. She pulled out her nursing book and showed him pictures of people with preventable diseases that can result from obesity related to overeating. Foods that are void of nutrients and are high in sugar, salt, and fat, are made to make us addicted to them. It’s no wonder that it’s easy to eat three slices of pizza and difficult for us to eat a bowl of baked broccoli.

 At first, when my mom tried to show my brother the pictures of people with preventable diseases and all the horrible symptoms they would face, he hesitated about whether or not he still wanted to eat the pizza. He said “I’m still going to eat the pizza, I don’t care.”

 I laughed and told my brother: “You don’t know how mama rolls. She’s not going to force you to do anything. She’s going to get you to make the decision yourself. You’ll see. You probably won’t eat that pizza." My brother adamantly believed that my mother’s advice to not eat the pizza would not impact him. He left the room. Five minutes later, he came back and said:

 “Mama, I decided not to eat the pizza.”

 I started laughing, because I was almost positive that he would respond that way. I was born 24 years ago and have been around my mom for a long time, so I knew her ways.

 What does this story teach us? It teaches us that my brother really valued my mother’s opinion. I know for a fact that my brother and mother are close to each other, and whenever he has any problem in life, she sits and listens to him, regardless of what it is.

 What else does it teach us? It teaches us that truly guiding our children should involve showing them how to make their own choices, where appropriate. If children feel like they can’t be interdependent, that they can’t trust your opinions or make their own choices, then they probably will be the first person to break all the rules the moment they get the chance.

 This is what we’re trying to avoid. The last thing a young child, hormonal teenager, or a “set-in-their-ways-adult” needs is full reign to break all the rules that could very likely hurt them emotionally and physically--but they’re too blind to see that, if they are unwilling to value and appreciate their parents’ advice.

Undoubtedly, no family will ever be perfect, even with the best parenting methods. We are all human and susceptible to mistakes and shortcomings. But if we can do better, then we should try to do better. There are always other ways to phrase pieces of advice or choices that can allow children to feel more included in factors that deeply impact their lives. If we don’t make them feel loved and included, then who will? What kind of influences do we want shaping our children?