American Agnostic Buddhist converts to Islam #862
Channel: The Deen Show
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So he's a Presbyterian minister and an US Army chaplain. He crucifixion that Jesus he's been taught who we love is one of the be confirmed as a member of the Presbyterian Church to take my first communion. For the first time I found myself making slides if I were a Muslim. Oh, and he looked at me kind of incredulously. You mean you're not you're not Muslim? And said No, sir. Well, what are you? Well, you know, I had I had to wrap down, you know, I'm probably more like, I don't know, maybe an agnostic pagan Buddhist. And he said, Mashallah, you're in the perfect place. The Deen
smilla rahmanir rahim al hamdu Lillahi Rabbil aalameen As salam aleikum, greetings of peace. Welcome to the D Show. I'm Eddie, your host, subscribe if you haven't already, and continue to tune in here every week we have an exciting guest exciting episode. We're not just telling stories. We're inspiring people. We're helping to change lives through these stories. Now my next guest coming on. His father was a Christian minister. He turned towards being an agnostic. And then he considered himself pagan Buddhists. And the list goes on things that he's tried, we're going to go ahead and bring him on so he can share his story. And then how he ended up here on the D show with my next
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had many years ago. You guys can help us by subscribing right now and hitting that notification bell. Thank you very much. Enjoy the rest of the show Salaam. And don't forget to support us on our Patreon page. Austin. I'm Nico. How you doing? Hugh? ESCO? Will they come Salaam? Good to have? Good to be here. Thanks for the invitation. Eddie, thank you for accepting that invitation. It's quite new. You accepted Islam, maybe what? 2016? Is that right?
Something like that.
Yeah, yeah. So tell us now you were Let's start with the beginning. So I started off with your father being a Christian minister.
Let's go from there. So he's a Presbyterian minister and an US Army chaplain.
You know, whether it was bringing the war home with him or he did two tours of Vietnam, part of the US occupation of that sovereign nation.
Or, you know, maybe he just picked up these bad habits as a kid, but you know, he
sexually abused and physically abused me and my siblings. And, you know, when the time came for me to
be confirmed as a member of the Presbyterian Church to take my first communion. You know, just that didn't feel it didn't didn't add up. Back then. You know, I didn't understand concepts like spiritual abuse. And you know, all of that back then I just knew that.
The stories they were telling us in catechism class didn't really jive with the how he was in the world. And
so I wasn't feeling it. Apparently, I broke my grandmother's heart. She cried that day.
yeah, so for probably 12 or 15 years. I called myself agnostic after that. But well, let's back it up. From there. Someone says, Look, it's not about feeling the truth, or experiencing the truth is the truth. It doesn't matter what kind of, yeah, the person goes through. And it's really sad to hear these experiences that people go through because of human beings deficiencies, and the evil of human beings the evil that human beings do. But now the truth is the truth. So if someone asks you Well, hold on that was your experience other people that have experienced, you know, why didn't you accept this as the truth, this way of life that your father was upon and preaching, even though he
was a bad example of it
You know, that was that was my experience of what being a part of the Presbyterian faith, you know, was supposed to look like that you abuse your children. You know, and and I will, you know, long before I was being asked to take a first communion, you know, it was clear that I was never going to hit any child of mine. You know, I knew enough that that that didn't strike me is an appropriate way to be in the world.
you know, I didn't I didn't have any real examples of, you know, what it was to be in a faith community where people were respectful of each other, or at least respectful of me. I'm told, you know, as with many abusive men, that he,
you know, he put on a good show in public, no one knew what happened in our home that was back in the day when that was all private and behind scenes and didn't talk about it and it was even legal in most states of this country. What was legal to abuse your children in these ways to abuse the woman you were married to in these ways? You know, and and so um, you know, I came by it was Lee when you say legal, it wasn't a matter of public concern. It wasn't a criminal matter. It was a private matter was you know, men's violence has often been shielded by
you know, what happens in the family stays in the family and we don't have to, you know, concern ourselves at someone else's private affair. What about what about the theology and the teachings for instance, many people would gravitate them towards Islam is the pure monotheism. You know, the simple message of being morally upright, the Quran all the evidence that it's based on? So here with the theology of Christianity, before we go into agnosticism? What was it? Did it connect with you? I mean, how much did you know about the teachings of Trinity, Jesus peace be upon dying for your sins, the crucifixion? What were your thoughts on that? Well, um, you know, that that Trinity piece never
really added up for me, honestly. And and so
coming to community where people weren't trying to pretend that God was begetting himself, you know, cleared up some of that confusion.
And, you know, I had been hearing the stories and I continued to hear the stories. church service was compulsory until, you know, until I was pretty much in junior college.
Sunday school was compulsory, almost as long and so I was exposed to the stories ongoingly but
you know, it just didn't
it was something I had to do on Sunday in order to avoid a whipping. It wasn't something that I you know, that's not really a I was really taken by.
Is it in Al Bakr, I believe, you know, that there's no compulsion in matters of faith? Are you telling me in the Quran that I am the Quran? Yeah, if you didn't, okay, no, I don't remember exactly where I got this sense. Listen in the second Surah. But,
you know, the idea that, you know, and politically have long counted myself as something of an anarchist. And so the idea that I'd be coming into a faith community where there was no compulsion, you know, that you either choose to, to come into this community and be a part of it or you don't.
you know, that that had an appeal. Um,
but, yeah, what drove you towards now, just one more before we go to the next, the crucifixion that Jesus Peace be, who we love is one of the mightiest messengers, you know, sure. He's a Muslim unless he believes in love Jesus right now that he died for your sins. The crucifixion? What were your thoughts on that? Um, you know, I really didn't focus on you know, as a kid, you know, what are my sins? I was late, coming in from a late coming in for dinner. You know, it was? Yeah, I wasn't out there. You know, in terms of the commandments. I wasn't killing people. I wasn't stealing from people. You know, it's so so the idea that that someone had died for my sins. It was another story
that people were telling me and, you know, it was I adored the compulsory nature of going to church. Every
Sunday. And, you know, I came home and picked up a novel and went on with my life. So at what point in the timeline now the Jews decide to label yourself and agnostics and define, define for our audience who've never heard this term? What does it mean to live? Your Gnostics? Well, in my mind, it kind of means that understanding the nature of the Creator and of their design for the creation is above my paygrade. It's not something that I'm really capable of saying definitively one way or another. And, you know, I reached for that label, because when people came to be aware that I had not confirmed my faith in the Presbyterian Church had not, you know, held up my hand or whatever,
and swore to the trilogy into the
What do they call it, there was this
creed, there's this the carrier?
Well, there's a particular cre, they call it the bloody Senate. And in the early Christian church,
they brought the bishops together. And apparently they were met with people with swords, who insisted that they signed this document that was blank, we're going to figure out what we all agree on. But you know, you in order to not be killed on your way through the door, you have to sign this document saying that you've already agreed to what we're about to talk about. And that was, you know, when you read the history of, of the Nicene Creed, they call it, it was the Council of Nicea that formulated this. And they, and in the history books, they call it the bloody Senate.
And, you know, that, basically, to take the first communion, you're asked to affirm your faith in, you know, Jesus as a path to, to what we know, I now understand this, Jenna, and to
and to say that you frame your faith around this Nicene Creed. I didn't know the history of the Council, and I see it back then. Except, you know, the story that had been told in the communion class, or the Catechism class.
I knew that that Trinity thing, yeah, I couldn't wrap my head around that at that 12 or 13 years of age, whatever, however old I was back then. So I'm, in comparing notes with other people about the Trinity. Like, did you ask some of your friends? Did you were you seeing the same pattern of people?
wasn't my priority? It was my parents priority. It wasn't my priority. Yeah. You got going on at that age? Yeah, you know, whatever it was, I was interested in at 13 years of age. I don't remember that was 40 years ago, 45 years ago, or something.
But you know, people said, Well, if you're not a Christian, what are you? And so I that I had to figure out, you know, and the answer to that, and so I had to do a little research and, and, you know, can I'm not Jew and I'm not Hindu, and I'm not Buddhist, and I'm not you this, and I'm not that and, you know, I'm not an atheist, I'm not going to tell people that I don't believe that there's a God because you know, that, that questions above my paygrade? Who knows? You know, I'm 13 years old, give me a break. Let me, let me figure out other things. Maybe I'll figure that out later or not, you know, it wasn't a priority. So I clicked on this word agnostic, which basically means
that I don't know, I'm not going to tell you that I know, something that I don't know. And it seemed like the most honest way to describe myself and, and that got me past this conversation and this question for, you know, 10 or a dozen years. You know, and then yeah, and then we move on to timeline and then you become a Buddhist. Well, that was later.
I was a political organizer. By the time I was in my late 20s. And,
and doing community organizing, I wound up being invited into
this community known as the rainbow family of living light. And they hold these gatherings in the forest and,
you know, it's,
some of it is new, ah, hoo hoo. And some of it is, is, you know, some sincere efforts to, to connect with,
our kind of primal history of being indigenous people.
indigenous to this planet being in relationship with the creation.
you know, there were all sorts of faith traditions that, that were interwoven in the rainbow community, including
including a lot of people who identify as Christian, of course, but others who identified in various
Earth based face, generally known as pagan pagan face about, that our relationship is not so much with the Creator, but with the creation itself. And as an environmental activist, that felt really comfortable to me. And so, you know, we would gather in circles
for the new in the new moon in the full moon, and we would gather in circles and share potluck meals around Solstice and the equinox. And
you know, but like all faith communities, it provides a
sense of community a place to come together a place to share rituals a place to connect with one another, in the understanding that, you know, there's something bigger than our own personal experience that's going on here in the world. But now that you look back where these you mentioned, the solstice, you mentioned, some other things were these, when you unfolded them, these are kind of like pagan rituals. They are traditionally pagan rituals. But you know, what I noticed when I start started keeping the five prayers
was that I had never been
in touch with those changing seasons, than I was when I was keeping track of when the next dawn was gonna meet sounded, you know, because
just like the pagan community in which Islam was given,
the, the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, the, and the rituals of Islam are geared around the movement of the earth in relationship to the sun, and the changing of the seasons. And, you know, so I was able to, and, of course, my first fast was right across the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and I had known that as a pagan that that was the longest day of the year. And so I figured, you know, if I could, if I could make it through a fast that included the solstice then, you know, 20 or 30 years from now, you know, in sha Allah that I have the opportunity to live that long that,
you know, when the fast occurred during the winter, it'd be easier and you know, never get
I would be lucky to live long enough for the for the fast overlap with a summer solstice. And you know, I don't know how they do it up in Lapland, where the days are 18 and 1920 hours.
You know, but, but, you know, that was my first introduction to Islam was you know, before I made Shahada, I made the fast across the Ramadan. How did you end up in a mosque now? So so we the timeline, okay, Christian ministers son, from there, you weren't really into the
thick. And then when, you know, I was comfortable calling myself a gnostic pagan for a while and then even calling yourself a Buddhist pagan. Well, later Later on, yeah, so before we get to Islam, so tell share with us, oh, Korean, so I was with this sister, we were together for 17 years. And, and she's Buddhist, and, and still practices, and she's followed a lot of different teachers over the over the years. But, you know, she's,
you know, one of the,
you know, one of the more spiritual people that I've ever met, and really beautiful woman in so many ways, and she taught me so much and among the things that she taught me was how to meditate. And,
or she took me to her teacher who taught me how to meditate. She, you know, actively sought out teachers who are willing to teach me how to meditate and, you know, I'd already been
vegetarian for since 1986. So, you know, it wasn't a big step for me.
To You know, learn how to sit quietly and try to clear the thoughts out of my skull and focus on
you know, so
then I was calling myself an agnostic, pagan Buddhist. You know, I still had respect. Now you were calling yourself a what? an agnostic, pagan Buddhist? Actually, that's what you are calling yourself with people would ask, you know, I wasn't I wasn't out proselytizing, you know, my organizing was focused on political issues and on community issues, it wasn't on matters of faith with people who practice Buddhism, would they take offense to that if you put that in front of Buddhism, that terms, um,
you know, I suspect that there may be in the world, people who count themselves as Buddhists who might take offense but, but the Buddhists that I know that
you know, and the Buddhists that I knew, didn't really weren't really asking me, you know, they, they practice their faith, they live their faith, you know, and some of them, I mean, I count among my friends, Buddhist monks and,
and Denise, and it's so me
have, you know, build a dojo here in it, the Atlanta and, and I count them as dear friends and I haven't seen them in a couple of years. But
you know, but
I never felt I never experience any Buddhist proselytizing to me and asking me about my own practice they were, they just live their practice, you know? So how do you get to Islam now that you're actually in a mosque or Masjid for if DOD.
So I'm, I take this new job up in Alpharetta. And there was a
brother there named Mirage, who, and and I tell him, you know, Mirage, it's all your fault. And when I introduce barrage, to my friends, and
in the local Muslim community, who he may not previously know, I said, you know, it's his fault that you got to eat, that you're stuck with me now.
But I just started this job. And, you know, a few weeks or a month or so later,
he comes and shares this flyer with me and says, we're doing an open house, at our mosque. And, and we'd love to have you come and you know, we'll have a little food and you know, there'll be a little talk and, and you'll get to meet some of our neighbors. And, you know, please come. And, you know, this was long before I knew what Dawa was or what it meant, or whatever. But it was a Dawa. That, essentially, and
is it the farrakhan Institute, I believe, and there's this brother out in North Carolina named Imam Isa who drove down to be with us and in North Fulton at the Hamza Islamic center. And I drove out there and
Mandisa had all these posters on the wall. And basically, it was debunking the myths of, of Islam, you know, as as we understand it, and to me, you know, it started as a political project, that,
you know, I'm a political organizer, I've been organizing against war since the 1970s, or 80s.
And, well, certainly since the mid or late 80s, I've been actively organizing communities in opposition to war. And I knew that for whatever reason, most of the people that seem to be under the bombs and the drones and the artillery shelling and the small arms fire have paid for with my nation's tax dollars seem to be Muslim. I didn't quite know why. You know, I had not really well, I say I hadn't really dealt with Muslims before. But the reality is that
once I entered the Muslim community, I started realizing how many Muslims I had always dealt with in my, in my own circle of people, I just never connected them with with Islam, or with the Muslim community, and you know, and they had all these wonderful Arabic names and some of them were coffees and, you know, and all these different signs that were
They're to be seen, I just wasn't looking for them. And so I didn't realize that I had been knowing Muslims all my life where all my adult life but you know, at the time, you know, is a political project, you know, a piece of political education I accepted his invitation to go out there and, and and realize what I already knew is that, you know, that same heart underneath the skin, you know, no matter
you know how you make prayer on whatever day you consider the Sabbath that we're all one right and so I go to this.
I go out to this Masjid and Alpharetta or
the town just north Alpharetta, whose name I'm skip being I'm at Hamza and you know, he's walking around the walls of the masjid. And at every place where we stop he explained some work or some concept or you know, in links to and debunk some myths and says, you know, you'll hear in the media this but in reality, it's more like that, and, you know, and he, in an hour or so he gave this presentation. And,
and I went back and you know, and they handed me a Quran
on the way out the door and they told me not to read it on the toilet. And I said, but that's where I do all my reading, you know, so it's set up on a on a shelf, you know, unread
I decided as a result of of or inspired by that that I would try the fast
so one day I walked over to mirages desk, tapped him on the shoulder, I said, Would you give me a heads up, just let me know when y'all start fasting.
Because we were, you know, just a few days, I was kind of keeping track of, of the calendar. But we were a few days out from Ramadan, but I knew that, you know, was all about the local moon sighting. Although, apparently a lot of folks are following Saudi Arabia on that. But
that, you know, some people thought the fast would begin on this day, other people thought the fast would begin on another day. And so
I said, just let me know when when y'all begin fasting, if you would, please. And so he did. And on that day, I began fasting. And we were like, maybe a week into Ramadan before he realized that I was fasting too.
And he, and you know, he was all excited, Mashallah, and whatever. And, and,
and he said, Well, if you're going to fast with us, you have to come enjoy the iftaar celebration with us as well. And I said, What's the lift our celebration and he said, Be Here it come back to the masjid at this hour. And so he got me there, you know, a few minutes before, before my grip, and they started passing, you know, they were handing me dates and, and a bottle of water as I walked through the door, they said, Okay, I could, I could go with dates, I enjoy dates, and, and everyone made Salah. And,
you know, I sat in the back and, and meditated for 10 minutes, like, like the Buddhists taught me, and, you know, tried to stay out of people's way. And then they were everyone was lining up for this potluck in the back. And
you know, it was really uncomfortable.
Everyone kept trying to tell me that I could sit down, they would bring me food. And they were, they went to the front of the line. And they brought me food and tried to hand it to me. And I said, you know, really, I'm in this conversation here with these folks in line. And I'm really enjoy getting to know people. You don't have to feed me, it's all good. I'm willing to be patient. I've waited all day to eat, I could wait a few more minutes till I get to the front of the line on my own accord. And so I continued the conversation with the brothers there and we got to the front of the line. And you know, I was grateful that they had vegetarian options. And the food was exquisite. It was you
know, it's mostly a South Asian community Hamza. And I've always been fond of Indian and Pakistani food and, you know, so that was really comfortable for me and, and then
afterwards, people lined up for Isha. And I went back and sat in the back and meditated like the Buddhists that taught me and
and then they lined up for us.
I'm flicking on the name of the prayer, you stand for prayer after the
turn of we yesterday, Tara we Yeah, and I
write and, you know, I would slip out after a few record, and I didn't know to call them ricotta at the time, but I go home and get a little sleep and get ready for work the next day.
You know, and so one day, I'm standing in line there during the F tar and they ask,
you know, and he looked at me kind of incredulously. You mean you're not you're not Muslim? And said No, sir. Well, what are you? Well, you know, I had I had to wrap down, you know, I'm probably more like a, I don't know, maybe an agnostic pagan Buddhist. And he said, Mashallah, you're in the perfect place.
And so, you know, I made it not every night but I was started making the guitars out it with the brothers out there, you know, several nights a week.
and every night I would sit in the back during, during the salon and meditate like they taught me
to do as a Buddhist and then it came to be IID and,
and I kept trying to be in the back but you know, the, the they rented this giant banquet hall, and they kept filling up and getting tighter and tighter and there was no place for me to spread out my knees and meditate like they taught me to do as a Buddhist and so for the first time, I found myself making salons if I were a Muslim, I hadn't made Shahada or nothing I just you know, and but you know, I took on the practices one by one Okay, well, I'll go to a DA with Okay, I'll try it fast. Okay, well look at that I made for ricotta even though I didn't have a clue what I was doing there and you know it'd be another it was in the coming year that you know, I finally
Mirage was on vacation at the time
but there was another Muslim brother there in our office and and we had we we get one of the conference rooms for door and Oster
Mirage comes back from India where he been visiting family and
and he comes in and
in the meantime, I had learned to make a comma.
The other brother had insists you Oh, you already learned how to make the well this was after after that first fast Yeah, you still you learn how to make this the call to prayer before you actually accepted Islam the took the Shahada?
Indeed, yes. And and so I was making a comma. And and
you know, uh, oh, and turn around in and told me to make a comma and, and Mirage,
you know, gave me this quizzical look. And so I started making it and as soon as I
got through Rasul Allah, he, he interrupted
and said, Mashallah, you just made Shahada.
And he had always promised that you know if that once he made Shahada that you know, his wife would be happy to help arrange for a bride for me to marry.
I said why was slow down slow down, you know? But he
so can we get back to it? And you know, cuz I got to, you know, finish this prayer and get back to work and I got some deadline or another whatever it work and it's so we went through the prayer, but barrage was so is that
kind of funny.
But yeah, that's, that's
that's it. That was, that was my first year. Yeah. Wow. So any regrets? regrets? Uh, we're still making war all over the planet. I can't figure out why. Women are still not safe in their homes. I wish it were different. Yeah, yeah, I got regrets. But you know, not about my spiritual path. We're almost out of time. Now. Let's get your advice for those people who are out there. And they have, like so many are hypnotized by the media. And this helps to just nurture and foster this hate towards Islam. Now you're a Muslim. I mean, what kind of impression what were your thoughts about Islam before you accepted it? And now for those people who have these kind of negative
stereotypes, you being a Muslim, now an American come from a Christian background, what would you say to those type of people out there?
Well, um, in terms of what I understood about Muslims before was that they were demonized by a media that I didn't trust. You know, this is the same media that seemed to want to justify killing people and never added up was didn't sound like a very Christian thing to do. Although I was told we were a Christian nation. And we had to do this in the name of Christianity, some people would even go so far as to say, we have to go kill these people in the name of Christianity, you know, Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain, whenever you call him he had this poem, he wrote or not short story called The war prayer. Where
and I don't remember the details of it, but it was basically this pastor.
It sends since the pulpit and offers a prayer for
our sides victory in a war.
This, I think, may have been inspired by the US war, to occupy Mexico and to extend the institution of slavery into Texas and and south of the Rio Grande. Or maybe it was a civil war. I don't remember exactly when he wrote this piece. But
you know, and, and it always struck me the, the hypocrisy, you know, right there in the in the commandments that
boosa peace be upon him, is told, we are told what brought down on the tablets, you know, that thou shalt not kill, except when we say that it's, you know, the Christian thing to do, apparently, but,
you know, it tore my stomach up when daddy bush started his war against Iraq. And it did it again when his when his son did it again. And, you know, in the meantime, in the interim, we had
what's the dude's name Clinton from Arkansas was making war against the people in in Serbia, Croatia, and I had no idea what that was about. You know, but none of it seemed right. And then,
you know, I watched a couple of planes fly into buildings and in office buildings one day and
and suddenly, we're supposed to hate Afghanis and go to war against their people and destroy their land. And,
and I was kept trying to figure out what but what does that have to do with this foolishness? You know, it's, it's clear that this was an inside job, you don't get three planes flying into office buildings without some sort of inside collusion, let's be real about this. What's this got to do with Afghanistan? But it was seen, you know, perfectly reasonable, and everyone around me thought it was perfectly reasonable to go kill children in Afghanistan for some reason.
You know, and,
and, you know, of course, the federally, the Federal territory is on the northern border, you know, who knows where the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is, you know, well, they're all brown folks anyway, it's okay to kill them. And none of this added up. And, you know, I was organizing anyone I could find who is opposed to it to take action against it in any way that we could figure out how to take action and to be visible in our opposition to the war. And, and,
you know, so the media told me, it was okay for us to go kill people. And now the media was telling us it was okay to, you know, to be fearful of or, or hateful towards, or wage war against the Muslim world. That didn't make any more sense to me than, you know, any of the rest of it. And,
but, you know,
the community is just as loving in
and massages as it is in any church, Christian church community I've ever been, and the food is generally better and healthier. And
at least, you know, at least out this way, among the Asian community. And,
and, you know, they tend to have a
more learning perspective on the world and be less insular.
You know, I get exposed to more cultures and more perspectives and more
perspectives on how the world operates. And because at least you know, and it doesn't matter I've,
I've attended the prayers in,
in last years and three different states now are massages in three different states. And, and wherever I go, you know, I line up in the ranks that I'm in instantly welcomed. And, you know, there's this, there's this sense of community and brotherhood there. And, you know, I'm told that, and, of course, that's probably available in most any faith that is, you know, really about building community and building support for one another. But I also find that
the Muslim community seems to be a lot less insular, you know, the free medical clinics that we put up for not just for the members of the congregation, you know, it's, we feed the hungry, it's like everyone who's hungry, not just the people who come and pray with us.
You know, we respond to the storms and the disasters, you know, no one's asking you, you whether you made Shahada or, you know, if you're keeping the prayers or, or, you know, are you one of those dreaded agnostic, pagan
Buddhists, you know, it's Mashallah, you're in the perfect place? How have how wonderful it is to have you here.
You know, it's a lift, faith, you know, it's, it's a lift faith that is exhibited in in how people treat one another, you know, they say a Muslim is someone who is safe from the words of the print the hands and the tongue of this fellow Muslim.
Want to thank you, you ESCO for sharing your story with us, God willing, and fellow can inspire so many more people out there who have so many misconceptions about Islam, they can be motivated to read the Quran to go visit a mosque for maybe if done like you did?
Yeah. Thank you very much. Thank you. I'm looking forward to the next opportunity to be with you and shall allow me to thank you very much.
And thank you guys for tuning in. Like I said, we're not just telling a story. We're inspiring people, helping to change lives for the better and hopefully this story can resonate with you so it will motivate you to go ahead and look in to the most Miss understood way of life. Yes, this it's the fastest growing way of life in the world. Islam submission to the Creator, not the creation, the same God that Jesus Moses, Abraham, in the last the final messenger said the man kind of problem I'm at peace and blessings be upon him, worship, living the true purpose of life on why you've been created. Thank you very much. We'll see you next time. Peace be with you as salaam, Allah