Not Giving Up On Humanity

Beautiful roadBy Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

I’m not ready to give up on humanity. The world is torn by war, and billions are crushed by poverty and hunger. Torturers practice their dark arts in the prisons of the world. Raveners consume the rainforests. The oceans fill with garbage…

But I’m not ready to give up on this world, or on the human experiment. We were not created in vain. God said to the angels, “‘Verily, I will place humankind generations after generations on earth.’ They (the angels) said: ‘Will You place therein those who will make mischief and shed blood, while we glorify You with praises and thanks and sanctify You?’ God said: ‘I know that which you do not know.’” (Quran 2:30)

Notice that God did not say, “No, they will not make mischief and shed blood.” Rather He said, “I know that which you do not know.”

Could it be that He saw our potential for greatness? That He saw within us the seeds of compassion and transformation? They say that a man must hit rock bottom before he can change. Could that be true for us as a species? Could it be that we must explore these disgraceful depths before we can turn around and evolve? One thing is certain: this must be our final century, or our first. We will continue to a hurricane of self-destruction, or we will begin a new way of living.

We must find a way to solve our problems without war. We must stop burning fossil fuels. We must abandon the culture of disposal goods and begin to live sustainably. We must redistribute resources more equitably. We know what we have to do. It’s not a mystery. We simply have to find the moral courage to do it. And we need better leaders. We must remove the reins of power from men who serve the gods of greed and selfishness.

Martin Luther King Jr., in one of his last speeches (“Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam”), said:

“With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when the lion and the lamb will lie down together, and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid because the words of the Lord have spoken it. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when all over the world we will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last!” With this faith, we’ll sing it as we’re getting ready to sing it now. Men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. And nations will not rise up against nations, neither shall they study war anymore.”

Sadly, the global trend at the time of this writing is toward division and hatred. We are seeing the rise of nationalist sentiment and so-called leaders who call upon the worst instincts of their people, fanning the flames of racial division.

Still, I insist on having faith. I insist on believing in the future. Because, after all, what is the alternative?

Men will beat their swords into plowshares… Is that possible? Yes, why not? It’s within our power to choose a better way to live.

Will we? I don’t know. But I suspect that the human story contains a few surprises yet to be seen.

Allah’s Plan for You and Me

Morning Sun

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Allah had a plan for you before you were born, and He still has a plan for you. Allah’s plan for you is necessary and glorious. His plan is vital to your success, and important to the world. If that sounds grandiose, bear with me.

Some people are fatalistic, believing that everything that we do is set in stone, as if we were robots pre-programmed in the factory. Such a reality would strip us of free will and deny our natures. Rather, I believe that Allah has a flexible plan for each human being:  a plan that allows that person to benefit the world with his/her unique talents.

This is in fact the Islamic view of al-Qadar, or predestination. There is no doubt that Allah has decreed everything that happens in the universe from the beginning of time to the end, and that Allah has written it all in al-Lawh al-Mahfooz (the Book of Decrees).

“Know you not that Allah knows all that is in the heaven and on the earth? Verily, it is (all) in the Book (Al?Lawh Al?Mahfooz). Verily, that is easy for Allah” (Quran, al-Hajj 22:70)

However, as Sheikh Muhammad Saalih Al-Munajjid explains,

Belief in al-qadar does not contradict the idea that a person has free will with regard to actions in which he has free choice. Sharee’ah and real life both indicate that people have this will.

Allaah says concerning man’s will (interpretation of the meaning):

“That is (without doubt) the True Day. So, whosoever wills, let him seek a place with (or a way to) His Lord (by obeying Him in this worldly life)!” [al-Naba’ 78:39]

(and other similar ayaat)

These verses confirm that man has a will and the ability to do what he wants and not to do what he does not want.

With regard to real life, everyone knows that he has a will and the ability to do what he wants and not to do what he does not want. And he can distinguish between the things that happen when he wants them to, such as walking, and those that happen without him wanting them to, such as shivering. But the will and ability of man are subject to the will and decree of Allaah.

Sheikh Al-Munajjid’s last paragraph is the key to understanding Al-Qadar: walking (voluntary) versus shivering (involuntary). Other scholars have explained it as two types of Qadar, fixed and flexible. The fixed Qadar is that which happens to us from beyond our control. For example the time and place of our birth, any illnesses and natural disasters that befall us, etc. The flexible Qadar is that which is within the realm of our free will. That includes our choice to do good or evil, what we choose to believe and how we choose to live.

Sheikh-ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah wrote:

There are two types of provision and lifespan: the first type has already been decreed and is written in Umm al-kitaab, and cannot be changed or altered. The next type of qadar, Allah has informed His angels of His decrees. This is the type where provisions and lifespan may increase or decrease. Hence Allah the Almighty says what may be translated as, “Allah blots out what he wills and confirms [what He wills]. And with Him is the Mother of the book.” (Surat Ar-Ra’ad, verse 39)

The mother of the Book (Umm al-Kitaab) is Al-Lawh al-Mahfoodh, in which Allah has decreed all things as they will always be without change.

However, the decrees contained in the books of the angels, such as lifespan and provisions, may increase or decrease according to various circumstances; thereafter, the angels will re-write a person’s provision and lifespan. If a person upholds the ties of kinship, his provisions and lifespan will be extended, otherwise they will decrease.” [See Majmoo’al-Fataawa 8/540]

So Allah has a plan for you, but fulfillment of that plan is up to you:  the choices you make, as well as your degree of faith, persistence and determination will determine the outcome.

I said that Allah’s plan for you is important to the world. The proof of this is simply that Allah created nothing in vain. Look at His creation. Everything has a purpose, from the sun that heats our world, to the bacteria that consume waste. Everything in creation has a purpose that is necessary to the functioning of its ecosystem.

You are the same. You have a purpose. You are necessary to the world. If your presence were not vital in some way, then you would not have been made.

Discovering Allah’s Plan

How do we discover Allah’s plan for us? Where do we find it? How do we realize it in our lives?

It’s not as difficult as we might think. It wouldn’t make sense for Allah to have a plan for us and then leave us stumbling in the dark. Allah’s plan doesn’t have to be a mystery. If we trust Him, do what He asks, and follow our hearts, His plan will unfold in our lives like a brightly lit path.

If you are trying to follow Allah’s guidance, but you find yourself confronted by obstacles and hardship, don’t despair.  The hardship is probably a sign that you are on the right path. Consider our Prophets (may Allah bless them all) who faced tremendous obstacles:

* The Prophet Ibrahim (alayhis-salam, peace be upon him) was disowned by his family and thrown by his people into a blazing fire; Allah rescued him from that, and made him the father of two nations.

* Allah inspired the mother of the baby Musa (as) and told her to place her infant into a chest and send it floating down the Nile. That must have been an enormously difficult plan to follow, but she trusted her Lord, with the result that an entire people were eventually freed from bondage.

* The young Yusuf (as) was thrown by his brothers into a well and left for dead; later he was sold into slavery, then imprisoned for years; but in the end he became an important minister, and was reunited with his father.

* Maryam (as) the mother of Isa (as), delivered her child alone under a palm tree, far from her people as she feared their reaction; but Allah helped her through miracles, until she became the honored mother of a great Prophet.

* The Prophet Yunus (as) gave up on his mission to the people of Nineveh, ventured onto a ship and was then cast into the sea, where he was swallowed by a whale. At the point of despair, he called upon Allah with all his heart and was rescued. He returned to his mission, and achieved success.

* A’ishah (ra), the wife of the Prophet (sws), was slandered; but Allah brought the truth to light, and Aishah became a leader and scholar in her own right.

* The companion Umm Salamah (ra) lost her beloved husband Abu Salamah in the battle of Uhud; she thought that no husband could ever replace him, yet she ended up marrying the Prophet himself (sws).

Things are not always what they seem. Be patient. Allah has a plan for you.

Following Allah’s Plan

This is the hard part. Allah’s plan for us is true to who we are at our core, in our very essence. It will not correlate to an artificial persona we have adopted, or our desire to be seen and recognized. Allah’s plan may not bring us fame, fortune, or physical pleasure. It might mean giving up material comfort. So Allah’s plan for us may not be what we would wish it to be.

Road up a mountain
Allah’s plan for us is not always what we would wish it to be.

Abu Hurayra (ra), the companion of the Messenger of Allah (sws), was asked about Taqwa (God-consciousness). He said, “It is a road full of thorns. One who walks it must have extreme patience.”

In fact, Allah’s plan may be so challenging that we may perceive it but decline to follow. I have known all my life that I was a writer. I’ve been talking for years about writing certain books. And yet it took me until the age of 44 to begin writing about the things that really mattered to me, and I still have not published a book (look for it soon, Insha’Allah!). Why did it take me so long to do what I was meant to do?

I have a friend who says that Africa has been calling her all her life. She believes that her destiny is to go there and help the African people in some way. But she has not done it. Why?

I have another friend who believes that da’wah is his mission in life. He spent ten years studying Japanese at the university level, and he dreams of living in Japan and doing da’wah there. But he has no concrete plan to do so. Why?

I asked several brothers and sisters if they know what their mission in life might be. Some said yes. I asked them if they were carrying out their mission. Most said no, and gave these reasons:

  • I feel that others are more qualified than me.
  • It seems like a fantasy.
  • It feels like a dream.
  • I tried once and it didn’t go my way.
  • Right now I need to focus on financial security.
  • I’m not ready yet.

Brothers and sisters, no one is more qualified than you to fulfill the plan that Allah has for you! Allah’s plan is not a fantasy or a dream. It may not go your way the first time, or the second, or the third. It may not make you rich, but there is no true financial security in this life – that’s an illusion.  No one expects you to let your family go hungry. Work hard and provide for them, but don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that the accumulation of wealth will save you, because the only true security is with Allah. And last of all, no one is ever ready to walk fee-sabeel-illah (in the path of Allah). It is a road full of thorns. But it is also the road to fulfillment, happiness, barakah (blessings) and tawfiq (success).

Fulfilling Allah’s plan for us requires that we silence the voice of our own desire, open ourselves to Allah, and look within with total sincerity. It takes courage, patience and determination. It is the path to Jannah (Paradise), Insha’Allah.

To Be Human is to Move

Woman climbing Mt. Everest

On May 16, 1975, then 35-year-old Junko Tabei became the first woman to reach the summit of Mt. Everest.

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

It is your Lord who drives the ship for you through the sea that you may seek of His bounty. Indeed, He is ever, to you, Merciful. – Quran 17:66

To be human is to move. To learn and improve ourselves. To evolve. To fall, take our bruises and stand again, wiser for the experience. To use our bodies, minds and spirits to do good in the world, for ourselves and others.

Mountains and statues stand still. And the dead – the dead do not move. They lie in one spot, powerless, no longer able to say, “I love you,” or, “I seek forgiveness.” No longer able to pray. No longer able to walk, run, play, visit friends. Unable to move.

But to be human – and alive – is to move:  move on, move forward, move upward! To be human is to speak your heart, pray to the Creator, and strive to do better each day, so that when our time comes, and we join our ancestors in the grave, we have something good to carry with us to the next life.

“I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”  ~Frederick Douglass

Tanzanian girl’s long walk to school

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

I was humbled by this photo essay on the BBC News online, depicting the danger-fraught journey that an eight year-old Tanzanian girl must take to get to school.

Eight-year-old Sylvia, in rural Tanzania, is determined to get an education and each school day makes a long and often risky one-and-a-half hour journey by foot – on her own – to school. Her family is poor and cannot afford to provide her with basic shoes for the walk or a good uniform. But she is considered lucky as it is estimated that 29 million primary school-aged children, more than half of them girls, are out of school in Africa.

There is so much we take for granted, and I ask God to forgive me for anytime I have been wasteful, or have failed to appreciate the blessings in my life. I’m awed and inspired by Sylvia’s determination and vision. I have no doubt that she will succeed and build a bright future for herself, Insha’Allah.

Why Are You Still Here?

Sun rays over city skyline

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Three days ago I was driving north on Highway 99 in California’s Central Valley. This stretch of 99 is under construction and the shoulders are closed off with concrete barriers. So the road is two narrow lanes, with nowhere to go on the sides; in spite of that, many cars hit 80 or 90 mph in the left lane.

Suddenly a truck a few cars ahead of me swerved into the left lane to avoid a slow-moving truck on the right. The fast-moving cars skidded this way and that to avoid the truck, but there was nowhere to go. I slammed on my brakes so hard that the smell of burning rubber filled the car. I swerved right but the slow-moving truck was there. In my mind’s eye I saw myself crashing into that truck at 50 mph. At the last second the truck that started the whole mess swerved back into the right, creating an opening, and averting a disaster. I drove on, my heart pounding in my chest.

Yesterday I was not so lucky. I stopped at a traffic light in Los Banos, with Salma strapped into her car seat in the back. Out of the blue a pickup truck slammed into us from behind at a high rate of speed, knocking my car into the car ahead of me. I felt my head snap backward then whip forward. For some reason the airbags did not deploy. I checked Salma and she was okay, though she had bumped her head on the car seat, and she was frightened. After reassuring her I pulled to the side of the road. The entire back end of the car was crushed. It’s a miracle that Salma was not hurt. Thank God, thank God.

I’ve had many close calls like this, not only in traffic but in other situations as well. I can think of a few instances where death was literally only inches away.

You may have had similar experiences. Many people have. So why are you still here, when so many others are not? Why didn’t you die in that car accident? Why didn’t I?

I can’t say for sure. I don’t know what’s behind the veil of the unseen. But I wonder. Could it be that God has a special purpose for you in this life? Could it be that He is not done with you? Could it be that you are one of His blessed tools for earthly transformation?

Could it be that there is a mission that can only be accomplished by you – not just anyone, but you, with your particular failures and successes, heartbreaks and joys, and all the things you’ve seen and done that make you unique? Is there someone whose heart needs to be touched by your kindness? Someone lost in darkness, who needs your light? Some child needing your love? Something important on this earth, some cause that requires your skills? Some evil to be stopped, or something to be built?

And what of those who did not survive? Those who were taken “before their time”, as people say? Who died young, precipitously or catastrophically? Were they then not special, or not needed by God on this earth?

I choose to believe just the opposite: that they were so special, so innocent or full of light, that God desired to have them close to Him. He made a place for them in Paradise, where they are like jewels who shine in His garden.

These are pretty thoughts, but are they real? I can’t provide evidence, but they feel real to me. They have the ring of truth in my heart. You decide. But I remind you that God is a God of Mercy and Forgiveness, and that He does nothing without purpose.

I believe in you, my friend. I believe in your purpose here on this third planet from the sun, at this exact age in the history of man, in this place where you now sit, reading these words. Not by accident did you come here. You might think, “Me? A blessed tool for earthly transformation?” Yes, you brother. You, sister. Have faith in God to guide you to your unique destiny, and have faith in yourself to fulfill it.

You Matter

Man surrounded by sun rays

You matter, as much as the sun and the sea. I know that may seem hard to believe sometimes. It may feel like you are walking through this world without leaving a mark; like no one sees who you truly are; like your existence has no greater significance, no purpose except survival, work, and getting by.

That’s not the case. The truth is that you are important and special, even if it’s not apparent to you. I remember one time years ago when I was in the San Francisco Bay Area and attended the mosque in Santa Clara for Jum’ah. After salat, a man approached me. He was a handsome young Indian or Pakistani man in his twenties, professional looking, perhaps a software engineer or doctor. He asked if my name was Wael, and I said yes. He told me that I had been his counselor at the Muslim Youth Camp almost twenty years before, when he was a kid and I was a teenager. He said that I had changed his life, and that he still remembered the things I had taught him. All the years since then – when I sometimes felt sorry for myself and wondered if I had accomplished anything in life – I had no idea that I had changed the life of one young man. I wonder, if I had that effect on him, did I affect others as well?

Is it possible that you and I are living our lives, doing the things we do, and not realizing what wide ripples we are sending out into the world?

In September 2012 I attended a martial arts seminar in Newport Beach, California. During the first day of training I injured my shoulder. I went to an empty room next door and lay on the floor, in terrible pain. A woman who was attending the seminar saw me. She brought me an ice pack, then checked on me repeatedly over the course of the day. I did not even know her name. But when I think of that seminar, what I remember is that woman’s kindness. Her compassion – which was perhaps a small thing to her – made my injury bearable.

I have no doubt that you too have changed someone’s life, or helped someone through a time of pain. I know that there is someone out there who looks up to you. Someone you have inspired. Someone who needs your friendship. Someone you have saved without realizing it. And someone you will save in the future, Insha’Allah.

You Matter to Allah

You are important to Allah Ta’aala (God). Consider that:

  1. Allah created you to be His khalifa (representative) on the earth.
  2. Allah created you with the best of forms.
  3. Allah created an ideal environment for you to grow. The earth is just the right distance from the sun. It has an ideal mixture of oxygen and nitrogen in the air. It is beautifully laid out with forests, oceans full of fish, mountains, grass and sky.
  4. Allah provides your daily needs. Every bite of food you put in your mouth, and every breath you take, comes from Him.
  5. Allah sent you Prophets and a Book so you would not be spiritually lost.
  6. Allah is closer to you than your jugular vein. That is not a warning from Allah, it is an expression of love and care. Who do you want to be close to? You want to be close to those you love.
  7. We might think that we are far down the list on those of whom Allah loves. But Allah is all-powerful, and needs nothing from human beings. He doesn’t need the favor of the mighty, or the wealth of the rich. He only desires our gratitude and ‘ibadah. The kings of the world, and the young, strong, famous, and educated – they have no advantage over you when it comes to Allah’s favor. To Allah, you are as important as any other person.

Would Allah have done all of this if you were not important to Him? If you did not matter?

Your journey in this life lies before you like a path through a beautiful valley. You have places to go, and things to do. Allah caused you to be born at this moment in the history of the world, as the person you are, for a reason. Your purpose is unfolding before you day by day. Your life has important meaning. Your victories, your injuries and illnesses, the losses and heartbreaks you suffer, have meaning.

Have faith in Allah’s plan for you. If you’re going through something difficult, then know that Allah will not abandon you. Things will get better, Insha’Allah. You will not be stuck in this moment forever. Take a breath, say a dua’, and be peaceful within yourself.

Have Faith

I know you have talents and gifts Alhamdulillah. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, because everyone is unique. Use your own special talents in Allah’s cause, to make a better life for yourself and your family, and to make the world a better place.

Let go of self-recrimination. The past is not a curse, it’s a gift. It teaches you and makes you wise. If you’ve been through hardship and survived, that’s a blessing! It means you are strong and capable, and Allah is preparing you for something important.

Have faith in your own heart. Believe in Allah, in our noble Messenger Muhammad (sws), in the Ummah, and in the future. Whatever pain we suffer in this life is not in vain. We may cry and groan, but Allah sees our suffering and will compensate us more than we can imagine, as long as we are patient and keep faith. Allah the Most High has a plan for us, and He is the best of planners.

Be a Glowstick

glowsticks

Glowsticks.

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

When you buy a glowstick, it’s just a tube of inert plastic with some liquid inside.  It doesn’t look like anything special. It certainly does not glow.

When you put it under pressure, however – when you bend it – a transformation occurs. A capsule inside the glowstick is crushed, and the stick begins to shine.

This is a good example for the mu’min – the believer. Life puts us under pressure, but if we rise to the challenge then we become more than we were. We become stronger, wiser, and more compassionate to others (because we know what pain feels like). We begin to shine with a new inner light.

Maybe, just like the glowstick, there’s something inside us that needs to be crushed in order for us to reach our full potential. Ego? Arrogance? Selfishness? Greed? Attachment to material goods?

And maybe the pressures of life are Allah’s way of crushing that obstacle inside us, so that our true light can start to shine.

“Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars.” [Quran, Al-Ankaboot (The Spider) 29:2-3]

The key is that Allah does not try us in order to  hurt us. Allah Himself is not in need of our character development, or our striving, or the results of our trials. It’s for us. However He tests us, it is for our own benefit.

So next time you feel yourself being pressured and bent, remember: it’s just a bend, not the end. Good things are coming, and with sabr (patience) you will come out better than before, Insha’Allah.

Too Small to Make a Difference? – Ask a Mosquito

Mosquito white background

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

“If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent the night with a mosquito.” – African proverb.

A mosquito makes a difference in an annoying way, but the principle is the same. One person can stop a great injustice. One person can be a voice for truth. One person’s kindness can save a life. One person matters.

Fight for It

Tree growing from a rock

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Anything I have in my life, I have fought for. And yes, everything I have comes from Allah. These two statements are not mutually exclusive.

There are universal gifts that Allah gives to all. Life, the soul, the will… beyond that, nothing is assured. Breath? Some people fight to breathe. Food? Some people struggle for a bit of grain. Water? Some people walk for miles every day to get water. Health? Some people are born sick and fight for every day of life. Freedom? Millions of children are born in refugee camps.

Allah gives us opportunities. He gives us abilities, talents, gifts, and it’s up to us to make something out of them. Allah gives us guidance and truth, but if we want to follow that truth then we’ll have to fight for it, and it won’t be easy. As soon as we dedicate our lives to truth, we’ll see obstacles appearing in our paths.

I don’t mean physically fight (though that is sometimes the case). I mean strive, struggle, work hard, deal with personal attacks and naysayers, stay positive, find a way forward when the path appears to be blocked, and refuse to give up!

If you want to pursue your dreams, you’ll have to struggle. If you want (halal) love in your life, if you want something real, if you want to make something happen, well then brother and sister, you’ll have to strive with all your might. That’s how it is.

“And those who strive in Our cause, We will surely guide them to Our paths.” – Quran, Al-Ankaboot, 29:69.

 

 

Believe in Allah, Because He Believes in You

Amazing sunrays and clouds

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

I believe in Allah because He believes in me… and He believes in you too. Believe in His plan for you, have faith in Him, trust His guidance to you, because He has faith in you, and trusts you.

Some people might challenge this assertion that Allah believes in us and trusts us. To me, that’s surprising. Allah created nothing in vain. Everything He does has a purpose. His creation of humanity was done with intent.

Why were we created? Many Muslims will automatically respond, “To worship Allah.” That’s true, but why does Allah want to be worshiped? Furthermore, why did He create everything else – the stars, planets, forests, seas, mountains, animals?…

Without presuming to know Allah’s intentions, and returning to the realm of the human for a moment, I will make a simple observation. As a writer, one of the reasons I write is because the act of putting my thoughts and feelings on paper satisfies something deep within me. I’ve been writing creatively since I was a child, and to me it’s not a hobby but a calling. I’m a writer, therefore I write; and I am a writer because I write.

The same is true for a painter or any other artist. I imagine if you asked a painter why he paints, you might get many different answers:

  • “It makes me happy”
  • “It’s my passion.”
  • “To express my ideas.”
  • “To make money.”
  • “I don’t know, I just do.”

The bottom line is that it’s the painter’s nature to paint; it’s her calling, her function. She is a painter, therefore she paints; or she paints, therefore she is a painter. Same difference.

Allah is Al-Khaaliq, The Creator. That is one of His names, one of His attributes. He expresses this attribute by creating. You are a part of that expression, and so am I. So is a blue whale, Mount Kilimanjaro, the Grand Canyon, a dolphin, a mouse and an amoebum. Everything that Allah created is amazing in its function and awesomely complex in its design. Everything that He created is beautiful and purposeful. Including you and me.

To create is an act of love. It is an act of faith. The Creator loves you and believes in you. Believe in Him, believe in yourself, believe in humanity, and believe in the unique path that Allah has chosen for you.
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