Day 2 Tally: Live Below the Line

Ok, so in my new alternate reality I am either a thief or living somewhere near a foodbank which is supplementing my paltry diet:

$0.20 coffee
$0.11 millet poridge
$0.99 spahgetti w/meat sauce (I swore I would’t eat the tablespoon or so of meat- but I lied)
$0.23 bread
$0.35 cookies
$0.09 jelly candies
$0.15 tea

Daily Total: $2.12

In case this cancels out the sponsor-challenger agreement, I hope to make up that 62 cents when I am fasting on Thursday, insha Allah. Like I hoped not to eat any meat in today’s lunch…

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Give here or here or here to help relieve extreme poverty.

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And if you haven’t read about the Grandmother sentenced to 2.5 years jail time for stealing cassavas for her sick grandson- you should.

*** Agh. I forgot I shared a banana with the baby! $0.12!!!

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Day Two: Failing to Live Below the Line

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I’m not a hater. I’m actually a bit of a natural-born cheerleader. But in this circumstance I am quite relieved to see other people ‘failing’ (yes, air quotes- it’s my blog) the Live Below the Line challenge to live on less than £1 ($1.50) worth of food daily.

I ended yesterday with

$0.29 Sauteed veggie sandwich with processed cheese and pickles

$0.15 Cup of tea with splash of milk and less sugar than I would prefer

$0.12 Two homemade lumps of chocolate-covered raisins and peanuts (thanks Hun, you knew I would be a much better spouse and parent with some chocolate in me!)

$0.12 Banana

$0.09 Four (or five?) Jelly candies

Total: $0.77

Daily Total: $1.50

I think my fail happened around an extra jelly penny candy or two and then… I added some couscous broth to the sauteed veggies. Yeah, plus I skipped lunch– which was a beautiful platter of couscous with chicken and raisins and… and I stole a couple spoons of the broth. And ate two or three too many jelly candies. Fail.

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Please go here to help relieve extreme poverty. I’m off to prep a bunch of cheap veggies for lunch whilst drinking “all the tap water” I can.

Live Below the Line: Day 1

Wells, it’s Day 1 of my five day challenge to live like billions of people the world over (unjustly) do- on less than  £1 ($1.50) worth of food daily. Today is not so bad as I am fasting anyway and will be skipping lunch, still half of my food budget was used up by a modest breakfast:

$ 0.20 Coffee

$ o.41 Eggs with processed cheese             

$ 0.11 Millet porridge

$ 0.06 Bread

Total: $ 0.78

So, my idea of “not so bad” means forgoing my usual butter, jelly/honey and sometimes fruit. Oh yeah, plus skipping an entire meal. Mmmhm. Have I mentioned that I am a nursing mama?

I have also posted this story about food/poverty in the US which I wrote a few years ago, and it makes me think of my sweet friend Aneesa who is doing the challenge in the US.  Go read, go give. Please

Tight

We had a terse argument that ultimately got me to here. If he left work a few minutes early, we would lose a few dollars. But if I could leave home a few minutes early, I could pick up the food. The free food. But would it even be worth it?

Mmmm look at all those yummy preservatives and other added chemicals!

Sometimes the boxes are more generous with fresh produce and even some yogurt or cheese in them. Sometimes they are measly, full of processed, chemical-filled “food” items that I am ashamed to feed my children. We finally agreed that the risk was worth the few dollars we would lose. The few dollars wouldn’t buy any produce or any other foods beside a gallon of milk.

The warehouse had moved since my visit last month, but I didn’t know that until I arrived and read the posted flier with a map directing me to the new location. I was tempted to take the flier so I wouldn’t forget the address, but it was the only one posted. I got back in our car, his work truck. We own just this one vehicle, but it doesn’t seat our entire family. I drove a little faster. We lose on the other end if I am late.

From the bright, midday sunlight I step into the dark, unfamiliar space, looking hurriedly for the number tags. Should someone else get the next number, it could mean late or later for me. New people don’t know the process. They take a number, sit and wait with the rest of us, waiting for food. But when the number is called the new person is then told to fill out paperwork which they should have filled out before they took a number. This can make the wait unpredictably and painfully longer. Some days there isn’t a wait. Other days, it could take an hour’s worth of waiting just to finally walk over to the counter and exchange a number tag for a box of food. If my turn is not called soon enough, I may have to leave without my box.

The warehouse is so noisy. Just like the old location. There are several workers, a few administrators, dozens of people waiting ahead of me, the television is on and of course, several small children are in various states of playing or clinging. I find the number dispenser and move further into the warehouse looking for a place to sit. So many people standing. So much noise. I hate it that they watch me as I stand looking for a place to sit and wait for the food.

Then I see her and realize that the noise is mostly a moaning sound. A very tall and heavyset woman is lying on her side on the painted cement floor. She is writhing just slightly and making a constant moan. Many people are standing around watching her, ignoring the Wizard of Oz on the TV. A man is on the floor cradling her shoulders and head in his lap, telling her: “You’re okay baby. You’re okay.” A woman is asking no one in particular if the moaning woman is diabetic. The curious or concerned woman has a family member who is diabetic; she guesses that perhaps this is the moaning woman’s problem. She is epileptic. This is repeated throughout the crowd. “She is epileptic.”

A woman is asking the man on the floor questions, relaying the information into the phone. I hesitate. Should I take a seat? I step just outside the entrance. Back into the brightness. My number is 56. I see a couple in the parking lot, loading their food into two backpacks. I want to ask them what number they had. I am envious that they got their food before whatever is happening happened and they don’t have to wait. The woman on the phone is the one who should be calling the numbers. Another couple leaves and I want to ask them what their number was. I peek through the door at a man standing near the pick-up window. I try to see what number is in his hand. I feel so callous. That woman is sick on the cement floor. She may not get her food. She may not need it anymore. Maybe I should leave.

I move along the side of the building, further away from the door. An ambulance comes. I watch the entrance closely for anyone else coming out with their box. I don’t know what time it is. I can see most of the inside of the waiting room. I don’t see a clock. I remember during another visit at the old location that the place didn’t have a clock on the wall. Maybe it makes the waiters too anxious. The Wizard of Oz is a VHS tape and won’t even give a commercial break to hint at how long I have been waiting. Someone else comes out with a box of food. I go back in. The number 59 is still hanging on the wall. I press myself against the wall next to the number tags. I stare down towards my feet and notice how my nails are digging into my hands. I can see the wrapper of a hypodermic needle on the table next to me. I can see her feet. She is lying on her back now. Only one of my friends knows that I do this. A few days ago I told her that I only felt desperate during my first visit to the food bank. I feel desperate again today.

~~~

This story originally appeared in University of Alaska Anchorage’s ‘Understory.’

Go here for a list of Muslim operated (and sometimes halal carrying) foodbanks.

Link (self)Love: OnIslam Coming Home with the Cows

Being one of those Muslims who spent a lot of time using the resources available online while coming into my deen (and I still do of course!), it is especially exciting for me to have written an article on parenting, nature and green stuffs for the site OnIslam.

“Allah also gave me an opportunity to get away from it all. I don’t mean the five-star sort of getting away; rather it was a chance to try this simple living thing that so many people pine for, though I had never.”

Recently I read an interview with Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, the author of ‘Green Deen,’ in which he laments about how and why so many Muslims are out of touch with the nature and therefore, apathetic to environmental issues.

Seated 1200 feet above sea level in my mud house located in a mostly self-sustaining farming community in the High Atlas Mountains, I was geographically so far away from Abdul-Matin in Brooklyn and living a much different lifestyle, still I embarrassedly felt that he spoke exactly about me.

Before moving to Morocco, I assumed that I would relocate there, creating my long dreamed of suburban family home, but with Arabic (or French) subtitles. I don’t knock myself (or anyone else) for having such dreams.

I wanted a big chunk of Allah’s glorious bounty: my own semi-private yard, a comfortable car and enticingly displayed foods for sale within a short driving distance.

Please keep reading here.

Who is living below the line?

Addiction runs in my family, manifesting in various ways: drugs, alcohol, food… I’m pretty sure that I am at least a bit of a workaholic. I know that being Muslim doesn’t provide my children with some magic cloak, protecting them from these various forms of addictions, so I talk to them about it frankly and frequently.

A couple of years ago, during the quickly warming springtime in Casablanca, we were having one such talk at a little café. These outings were rare for us as I wasn’t working much at the time and although the snacks weren’t too expensive, they were definitely a luxury when compared to the national median. The waiter had just served our strange selection of French fries, mousse cakes, cappuccino and panaches when I noticed a figure stop just next to our table, but on the outside of the large picture window. He wore a dark hooded sweatshirt and began breathing heavily into a small plastic bag. He was a teenager sniffing glue.

Oh God. Tears threatened to burst out of their ducts and I had a feeling of panic rush over me. Really? Was it a sign? Was I really supposed to use that child as an example to my own? I did. I tried to be casual, yet not callous. My children freaked out. They were ready to rush out of the café and save the young man. “Can we feed him? Can we give him money?” they asked. No. He was too high right now. He would likely just buy more glue or stronger drugs if he could find them. We would have to find the safe house kids like him stayed at or some other organization that helped them and give them whatever funds we could.

Once, the blessed companions were on a journey and decided to slaughter a female sheep. Someone took it upon himself to slaughter it whilst another took the responsibility of skinning it. A third took the responsibility of cooking it.The Messenger of Allah said, ‘I will collect wood for the fire.’The blessed companions said, ‘We will do that.’The Holy Prophet said, ‘I know that you can do it for me but I do not like to be privileged. Allah also does not like it.'(It’haaf-us-saadat-ul-mutaqeen)

As spring bloomed into summer, we came across more and more kids like the hooded boy. I noticed that the groups of kids hanging out in a park by the masjid were not the same as the kids who hang out in the mall across the street. They weren’t as stylish or energetic. They were homeless and often intoxicated. I fantasized about feeding them, but knew they needed much more than the one meal I could provide. One morning my two sons and I came across two young boys; I mean maybe not even tweens, waking up on their cardboard beds not far from the library we were headed to. Articles about child prostitution in Morocco crossed my dash online. I asked friends if they knew of any organizations specifically working with homeless children in Casablanca. They didn’t, but eventually we found one.

Association Bayti has been helping “youth in difficult situations” since 1995. Along with billions of people without choice who do so every day, on April 29th– May 3rd I will be living on less than £1 ($1.5) than per day while taking part in the Live Below the Line campaign to bring awareness to extreme poverty and raise money (redistribute the wealth) for Association Bayti. The following contributors have been cited as among the contributors to why children become homelesswithout their parents– here in Morocco:

* Unfair distribution of resources and opportunities in the community, such as lack of adequate employment opportunities, problems in working conditions
* Political and economic conditions

“Unfair distribution” = privilege and injustice, two things the Prophet (SAW) warned our Ummah about participating in. It is my hope that by participating in this activity and focusing some of my time and energy into this activity that I will come to better understand economic disparities and how to work against them.

Please sponsor me for Live Below the Line- all money goes to the ngo Association Bayti and their work to feed and help children in Morocco. You can give money directly to Association Bayti in Casablanca or go here and give via me and Paypal.

You can read more about Association Bayti and street children here.

SISTERS Reads: Raising Baby Green

Raising Baby Green:The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Care (Kindle Edition)

By Alan Greene/ Published by Jossey-Bass/ Reviewed by Brooke Benoit

Every time I have a new baby, I’m a bit of a new mum all over again. It seems like I should have at least learnt the basics after six babies, but the basics keep changing on me! The wealth of baby-related products and the methodologies are constantly being updated, while my responsibilities to my baby and to Allah (SWT) remain the same. Wait, that’s not true. My responsibilities grow as my knowledge-base grows, so while it’s great that I learned so much after having six babies, it certainly would have been nice from the start to have learned more about sustainable parenting and less about the latest parenting trends.  Raising Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Care by Alan Greene is not only a great place to start understanding the immense impact one little bundle of joy can have on our entire shared environment, but it had plenty of new ideas for an old green-palmed mum like me.

 

Organics

I have always strived to be conscious of whether or not I am feeding my children organics, but I hadn’t fully considered the exposure to chemicals via what I put on my babies or their beds, which they mouth and suck on more than food in some stages! As Greene explains, baby sleeps up to sixteen hours a day and are almost always clothed, but the fabrics you buy for baby have not undergone the same regulated restrictions as food – actually there is good reason new clothes and bedding are suggested to be washed before using, they are made with and tainted with many chemicals, even potentially toxic ones. While I always considered organic clothing to be too expensive and maybe even extravagant, I now have a better understanding of its efficiency and would prefer to gift friends pricey organic clothing rather than anything else – except maybe fair trade chocolates for mum.

 

Nappies (What the British call diapers)

Greene thoroughly covers issues regarding nappies, referring to current studies and for those of us, like me, who are trapped somewhere between the guilt of wishing to use cloth nappies and actually using landfill-nappies (as Greene points out they are not truly disposable since they stick around forever!), there are some alternatives available: eco-diapers, made with less toxins and more sustainability or disposable cloth liners, which can be flushed thereby making cloth diapers easier to clean and carry. With a new, less toxic detergent on hand, Green has inspired me, and we are back in the cloth!

 

Labour and Delivery

The section on eco-birthing was especially interesting to me as I have birthed in several different environments, both home and hospitals. Even though I have home-birthed four of my children, they were all in different homes. In the Labour and Delivery Room section of the book as well as the Whole Home section, Green gives plenty of areas to consider when creating a safer home environment for our babies. He also details the larger impact of hospital births, offering alternative suggestions for a “carbon neutral delivery” within both hospitals and homes.

Toys

And even though I am already completely sold on the idea, I loved Greene’s section on toys where he waxes the goodness in wood, wool, cotton, and toys made of natural materials. “Research on the health effects of many plastics is still in its early stages, but it is known that some of our children’s plastic toys contain chemicals, including lead, cadmium, and toxic softeners, that  may cause permanent damage to the brain, liver, and reproductive system” warns Greene. Being from San Francisco – the city Green highlights, where certain plastic toys are actually illegal – I have long known about the toxicity of plastics and their manufacturing, but rereading the litany of environmental and health problems caused by these products is always a good refresher. Plastics are so convenient and common, I find them constantly sneaking into my home! Natural materials can be more costly and time-consuming to care for, but what is time? And what is our rizq (income) for? Allah (SWT) allots us our time, so being green is an act of ‘ibadah (worship) and our money should not be spent on buying goods which are poisonous to both ourselves and the shared environment.


Overall I really appreciated Greene’s book. Even though I consider myself an eco-jihadist, I still found through the read that there are several areas of my life in which I could do a little more greening, and there are a good variety of ways to do it.

Further Reading:

Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Protecting the Planet by Ibrahim Abdul-Matin

You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, Third Edition: Encouraging Your Child’s Natural Development from Birth to Age Six by Rahima Baldwin Dancy

All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life by Winona LaDuke

~~~

This book review originally appeared in the April 2013 issues of SISTERS Magazine– the magazine for fabulous Muslim women. 

 

Brooke Benoit lives in a rural village in the High Atlas Mountains where she is trying to lightly walk her own eco-talk.

Live Below the Line: Coffee!

When I very first considered doing the Live Below the Line challenge to live on less than  £1 ($1.50) a day, one acquaintance responded, “No way! That’s less than what I pay for my daily coffee.” Well yeah. Isn’t that the standard fundraising slogan these days: “Give up your coffee for just one day…” or week or whatever. I know that nowadays (here in rural Morocco) I pay much less for coffee than I have all of my adult life, but still I freaked out a little about having to give up the cuppa and so the cost of my daily coffee intake was the first thing I calculated – before committing to the challenge!

MoKhaMy very first coffee (other than stealing sips of my mom’s iced coffees when I was a kid) was one of these. It was free as I was working in a café that did vocational training for an awesome non-profit org. I still remember the manager surprisedly saying “You’ve never had a mocha? Let me get you one…” I was immediately hooked on the good stuff: double shot with whip and always, always chocolate! Fortunately (or not?) I worked in the food industry for several years, so my coffee habit was often work-subsidized.

When I did make coffee at home, it was usually made from beans like these here ($8-$12 per lb/half kilo)- or perhaps more spendy ones when I was a) feeling rich or b) feeling like being spendy. Chocolate was often added needed, and sometimes I used the more-expensive-than-milk vanilla soy milk or the husband’s preference half and half.

Ebil Coffee

Jumping several years ahead in my coffee consuming ways, in Casablanca, we usually bought coffee by the kilo for barely less than what we paid in the states. Out here in the sticks, where I am living now, we would get these little air-vacuumed packs of coffee that cost about 80 dirhams ($9.36) per kilo. A slightly less expensive bulk coffee is available at my local epecerie for 40 per kilo grams. Initially I started calculating the vacuum-packed stuff for my challenge since that is what we normally have, but you know what? That stuff is made by an evil company. And I seriously cannot taste the difference anyway! Too many years of burning my tongue or coffee really is just “yuck” as the kids say, either way I don’t drink it for pleasure and maybe after the challenge I should revisit my coffee addiction, but in the meantime…Milk

I use about .9 dirhams of coffee a day (when I only drink it once!) and I pay 6 dirhams for one liter of fresh local milk everyday. Thank God. We were buying cartoned stuff for 10 dirhams a liter, and that was a lot of packaging we were wasting… So I use about .75 dirhams worth of milk and I calculated my sugar to be about .11 dirhams per cup of coffee. I will be forgoing chocolate, I know mushkin (*rolls eyes at self*).

Grand total: 1.76 dirhams (20 US cents) a day for coffee. I’m in!

But I note that my daily coffee intake,though immensely scaled down from what it once was/could be,  is still quite a luxury compared to my neighbors’ habits. Next up I need to figure out what I’m going to be able to eat! Maybe I should just fast on those days…

Please go here to sponsor my  Live Below the Line Challenge.  All sponsorship will go to Association Bayti, a Moroccan NGO that feeds and helps “youth in difficult situations.”

Now I need to figure out what I can eat with my remaining 11 dirhams ($1.29) per day…

Live Below the Line: I’m Going to!

Occasionally I like to challenge myself. You know, get out of my comfort zone, learn new things and all. The adjustment to my diet (read “losing my food preferences, cravings and splurges”) has been one of the bigger challenges of moving my family out to a rural village in the High Atlas Mountains. Of course when I consider the unjust states which others are forced to live in and I keep my deen in perspective, I know that I am extremely privileged. I mean I can’t get avocados, Lays and hamburger that easily anymore, but come on, I still manage to make myself a mocha nearly every morning. So when I read about the Live Below the Line challenge on the Eco Muslim’s blog I thought Good for her! but didn’t consider the challenge for myself until I began making up some baby-related missed Ramadan fasts a few weeks ago. Once again I was reminded of how much food I really do have and take for granted, alhumdulillah. So I’ve taken up the challenge-

Insha Allah from April 29th – May 3rd I’m going to

LIVE OFF £1 A DAY FOR 5 DAYS!

While I hear mumblings about how much easier it is for me to do this challenge here in Morocco where food is cheaper, it’s important to realize that 13 dirhams a day is still not enough to support an adequate calorie intake for anyone- yet at least 20% of Moroccans live like this daily- not just for a one time challenge- and of course the majority in poverty are children. So, by doing this event, it’s my hope to:

Raise money (more than I could give all by myself) for those who do Live Below the Line all.the.time.

Please sponsor my challenge to Live off of £1 ($1.50) a day for 5 days. *The challenge is over, but please continue to support  Association Bayti:

  • Donate directly to Association Bayti in Casblanca: Km 12,5 Ancieene Route de Rabat, Sidi Bernoussi, 20610 Casablanca, Morocco

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I’ve started calculating my diet plan for my LIVE OFF £1 A DAY FOR 5 DAYS! and it’s not looking too exciting- 1/4 of my money may just got to coffee, without chocolate obviously. I’ll post pics and details as soon as I get started on April 29th. In the meantime go check out the fabulousity of my sweet sister sponsors:

Yezarck
Yezarck Fine Art
SISTERS Magazine
The Eco Muslim

Homeschooling: Getting Dad on Board

I frequently hear moms asking “How do I get my husband to agree to homeschool?” and, well, I have great empathy for their plight. I’ve heard that if it’s not dad’s idea to begin with, it can be very difficult to convince him to homeschool. This week when someone asked me about this common dilemma I thought back some ten+ years to the beginning of my family’s journey and tried to remember- how did I get my husband to agree to homeschool our kids?

Initially the husband seemed to agree with my homeschooling idea. Perhaps he saw my enthusiasm- pouring over hsing books, joining hsing groups, taking parent and child courses at our local Waldorf school- and he thought something like, She’s going to be great at this! I just asked him how he was so easily convinced in those early days and he says it has to do with him being “weird” by which he means “unconventional” and he says that he’s quick on his feet and “just got it right away that homeschooling was a good thing to do.” I may try again to jog his memory about that time because…

… and then about a year later we moved to Morocco and the man buckled. He began pressuring me to put our four year old into preschool. Now he says “that was only about the language.” Yes, of course. Muslim homeschoolers who move overseas often cite language acquisition as a reason for indoctrinating putting their children in schools once they are in Muslim majority countries. The other main reason is so that the children will learn Quran and Islamic values.

The first two neighbourhood schools I begrudgingly toured with my husband were taught primarily in French. And they happily informed us that the children learn all about Papa Noel and wear costumes for Halloween. Did this appeal to the Western Mom? No. Their curriculum was also cra substandard and they did not have an outdoor play area for the children. Well they had cement driveways. Nice. The third school we toured was a 40 minute drive (not during commute hours) from our home. It was an “Islamic school” located within the compound of a lovely mosque. There was a plush lawn covering the grounds and a slide. One of those detached slides you might buy from a toy store for your own kids.

We arrived at Option #3 just in time for Thuhr prayer and got to witness all the little kids (remember- preschool) pulling on their hijabs and thobes, rolling out the enormous plastic rugs, and lining up to pray. Truly adorable. Then we learned about the curriculum. Yes, we were proudly informed, these three and four year olds were learning not only Classic Arabic (as opposed to the Derija or Tshilhit they speak at home) but they were also learning English. Argh. I was hoping to follow the Better Late Than Early model. The husband was impressed. He decided the son would go. He decided my little four year-old would-be-homeschooler should commute to school six days a week for several many hours every day. I remember there was an option for him to come home for two hours every day for lunch, but obviously that would be futile with the more than an hour’s worth of driving back and forth, so he would be there all day. Full-time.

I decided to opt out. “You want him to go, you have to get him up, get him ready, make his breakfast, get his lunch ready, drop him off, pick him up. I’m not doing anything to help,” I said (and meant). My husband did not get up and get my son ready and make his breakfast and make his lunch and drive him in Casa traffic (similar to LA or NY) to school and then drive back to our side of town and then go back hours later to get him. My husband didn’t put our son in school after all. This solution didn’t come to me immediately or easily, but it came to me and it worked. That was the end of that and the beginning our homeschooling journey.

I hear that dads are more inclined to listen to professional advice regarding these matters of making choices that very much go against the current grain, especially the advice of other males. So you may want to do another thing I did, which was to load the coffee table down with books and printed out data about the success rates of homeschoolers. But then again, that didn’t seem to entirely work for us. Otherwise, some Muslims appreciate a good fatwa, so here’s one if it helps at all- though I’m sure you could find support out there for an opposite view…

Homeschooling our Children is an Act of Obedience to Allah

Question:

If a woman wants to home school her children, to protect them from evil influences, can she do so against her husband’s wishes? Can you provide any articles about educating our children, especially in this secular liberal society?

Answer:

The danger in the non-Muslim schools is definite, and sending our children there when there is a good alternative available is an act of disobedience to Allaah. If you know that you can properly home-school your children, and you know that you can get by it despite your husband’s opposition, then do it by all means, because, “No obedience may be granted to any creature that involves disobeying the Creator.”

Shaikh Muhammad al-Jibaly

imanbendjedidi.blogspot.com

Note: You do not have to be a teacher or have a university degree to teach your children at home. Studies have proven that home educated children are approximately five years ahead of children that attend public school, regardless of their parent’s level of education.

More and more Imams are encouraging homeschooling and some are stating it is a requirement, alhamdulillah.