Common Word, Common Lord

In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring 

During our vacation in Paris last summer, there were some things about French life and culture that I found refreshing: the slower pace of life, the insistence on taking time out to enjoy a simple meal, the lack of cell phones when people sat and dined together. I believe we should do more of the same here in America.

One thing about France I found particularly interesting was their concept of laicite. Officially, it is separation of religion from government, in which, of course, I also believe. In practice, however, it is much more than that: it is a seemingly militant form of secularism that has been used by some to persecute some French minorities, especially its Muslims. 

Under the guise of laicite, some Muslim schoolgirls have been harassed for wearing skirts that were deemed “too long,” and some schools stopped offering non-pork meal options for their Muslim and Jewish students because “being French” includes eating pork.

I hope this never comes to our shores. The fact that I do not eat pork or drink alcohol, as a Muslim, does not make me any less American. There is nothing inherent in “Americanness” that forces me or anyone else to compromise our religious belief or moral standards. The French would do well to learn this from us Americans. 

This Fall, in what all indicators point to being a brutal election, what it means to be a “true American” will likely come up as an issue. And there will be some in our country who will point to this person or that, or this faith or that, as not being “sufficiently American.” We must resist this as a people.

The Muslim woman who wears a headscarf as a symbol of her devotion to God; or the immigrant who comes to our country to forge a better life; or the refugee fleeing terror and tyranny to start over in America are all fiercely American stories. And each of those stories adds to the beautiful cacophony that is America and has always made America great, since its very beginnings.

It is this greatness, and all those who died to preserve and protect it, that we come together as a people and celebrate this coming Memorial Day. Those fellow Americans who have chosen to serve sacrifice so much, some even their very lives, to make sure that I can live in this country free and fully American, safe from harassment because of my ancestry, or diet choice, or religious faith. On behalf of my family – and all other families across our country – I cannot thank them enough.

This country is so blessed: it is blessed with wealth; it is blessed with beauty; it is blessed with a wholesome goodness in its people; it is blessed with freedom. And this freedom extends to allow me to be true to my spiritual self and still feel fully American. This is partly why the savages around the world hate us, and it is largely why America has always been great. 


In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

My friend and former Al Jazeera America co-host Wajahat Ali penned a hilarious piece in the New York Times explaining the Arabic word “Inshallah,” or “God-willing,” in the wake of the news that a college student was escorted off a Southwest Airlines plane for saying this word on his cell phone. Ali wrote:

Inshallah is the Arabic version of “fuggedaboudit.” It’s similar to how the British use the word “brilliant” to both praise and passive-aggressively deride everything and everyone. It transports both the speaker and the listener to a fantastical place where promises, dreams and realistic goals are replaced by delusional hope and earnest yearning.

If you are a parent, you can employ inshallah to either defer or subtly crush the desires of young children.

Boy: “Father, will we go to Toys ‘R’ Us later today?”

Father: “Yes. Inshallah.”

Translation: “There is no way we’re going to Toys ‘R’ Us. I’m exhausted. Play with the neighbor’s toys. Here, play with this staple remover. That’s fun, isn’t it?”

It is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Yet, there is another slightly more serious side to Inshallah, but it is not scary in the least. Apart from the funny ways we Muslims use “Inshallah” today, as highlighted by Wajahat Ali, there is a spiritual basis to its widespread use, and it stems from this verse in the Quran: 

And say not of anything, “Surely I shall do it tomorrow”…save that God wills. And remember thy Lord when thous dost forget and say, “It may be that my Lord will guide me nearer than this to rectitude.” (18:23-24)

The story behind this verse is that the pagan Meccans came to the Prophet Muhammad with a set of questions to answer. He initially told them, “I will tell you tomorrow,” believing that God will send him revelation answering the questions. No revelation came for fifteen days, and the Meccans began to mock the Prophet (pbuh). Then, the verses answering their questions were revealed, along with the above verses reminding the Prophet to always invoke the remembrance of God. 

The message is simple: nothing happens in our lives without the will of God. We live and breathe the will of God, and whatever we want to do is always subservient to the Will of God. The Qur’an expressly says this in two places: 

But you cannot will it unless God, the Lord of all the worlds, wills… (76:30, 81:29). 

It is a constant reminder of the presence of God in our lives. It is a constant reminder that God is our Master, and whatever He wills is the ultimate mover and shaker in all of existence. And so, before I say I want to do anything, I always add “Inshallah” because, truly, if God doesn’t will it, then it will not happen. Now this does not mean that we as human beings do not have free will. Islam does not say that at all. Nevertheless, “Inshallah” reminds me to never forget God in all aspects of my life. 

And there is an exact Biblical corollary to this: “Thy Will Be Done.” Jesus Christ (pbuh) taught his disciples to say “Inshallah” in the Lord’s Prayer: 

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13)

Moreover, Jesus Christ (pbuh) also said something similar to “Inshallah” when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane:

And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt….He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. (Matthew 26:39,42)

Thus, there is no reason to be afraid of “Inshallah.” It is a living legacy of two Prophets and two religious traditions, and it highlights how much we have in common rather than in distinction. In this day and age, we cannot let fear get the best of us. It will only lead us down the dark path of hatred and division.


In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

I have always admired Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman. I have always enjoyed his performances. Now, with the National Geographic series that he hosts, “The Story of God,” viewers get to accompany him on an amazing journey exploring faith from a variety of perspectives. And I argue that “The Story of God” is the best performance of Mr. Freeman’s storied career.

Thus far, Freeman has explored the Afterlife and Creation, criss-crossing the world in search for answers to many different questions, meeting interesting people along the way and allowing us, the viewers, to learn new things as well. Freeman explores various beliefs about the Apocalypse this coming Sunday, April 17. 

The thing that struck me right away about “The Story of God” was how well-made it was, how good the re-enactments were, and how expert the filming was. What’s more, I truly feel that I am accompanying Freeman along his journey, rather than being lectured to as a viewer, like many documentary films come across.

Although he deals with Islam a good deal in the series, given the negative press about Islam and Muslims today, I wish more was devoted to Islam and proper Islamic belief. That said, I did appreciate his statement that, after dealing with Muslims themselves, he understands that Islam wants people to live together in peace. And I agree with him when he said that, given all the negative media, one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Still, thus far, the series is quite excellent, and it has given me a firsthand look at the practices and beliefs of other faiths, and it has taught me new things about Christianity and Judaism that I previously did not know or appreciate. What’s more, I also enjoy Freeman’s exploring the beliefs of the Mayans and ancient Egyptians, but not making it dry and boring like many previous shows about those civilizations have been. Kudos to both Freeman and National Geographic.

What I like most of all about this series is its showcase of the very many different beliefs of human beings. Yet, as Mr. Freeman himself said at the end of the episode on Creation, those differences should not divide us, but rather, it should unite us.

In a world where too many people, in the name of belief and religion, create havoc and destruction, we need a series like “The Story of God” to teach us about the faith and practices of others. And when we learn more about each other, we will be able to resist to those forces of savagery, in any faith, that seek to tear us apart.


In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

My wife and kids always keep me up to date on the latest hit songs. And it is no different with Lukas Graham’s hit “7 Years,” which is now #2 on the Billboard list in the U.S. As I listen to this very catchy song, I am immediately transported to when I was “20-years-old,” as Graham reminisces about his youth and childhood.

And immediately, my late daughter comes into my mind’s eye. I was, in fact, 22-years-old when she came into the life my wife (who was 20 at the time) and me. Before she was born, I was scared of having kids, scared of the responsibility of having to raise a child in this world. Yet, before I knew it, she came into our lives, and it was the most beautiful thing ever to grace our world.

I knew love before she was born: the love of my parents; the love of my grandparents; the love of my siblings and cousins; the love of my beautiful wife. Yet, I never knew pure Divine love until she came into my life.

She made everything beautiful; she brought everything joy. I still remember how she would ruffle all my notes I was studying for my medical school exams as I held her in my lap. I never knew I could love someone like I loved my baby, and I never knew the kind of love she would give me until she came into my life.

Then, I was 28-years-old, and she was diagnosed with her crippling disease, A-T. Immediately, I knew what was in store, but I shut that out of my mind. I made a conscious decision to live in the moment, enjoy each day with her, and not worry about what the future would bring. And each day was as beautiful as they could be, and the love she showed me was indescribable.

Then, I was 34-years-old when she was diagnosed with lymphoma. Everything changed, and my wife and I went through the “new normal” of having a child with cancer: the chemotherapy, and the hospitals, and the doctor visits, and the complications.

I didn’t reach 35 before my Beloved called her back to His Garden.

And now, I am 41-years-old, and the pain of her loss still reverberates in my heart and in my soul. I am 41-years-old, and my heart still aches with pain whenever I think of her and how I can’t be with her anymore. I am 41-years-old, and the grief still bores deep within me, and it is ready to come out on a moment’s notice, such as when I heard this song.

And if God wills, “Soon I’ll be 60-years-old.” Yet, I know that my heart will not be ever be whole, even at that time. “Soon I’ll be 60-years-old,” and I will not stop thinking about her and how she showed me what love is all about. “Soon I’ll be 60-years-old,” and while I hope I will not “think the world is cold” and the children I have now will “warm me” and “hold me,” my heart will always be sobbing over the loss of my child all those years before.

I commend Lukas Graham for such an amazing song, one that is so relatable to so many people, including me. While the song made me sad, it also helped me bear the grief that has welled up and needed to come out at this time. And for that, my Beloved, I am eternally grateful.


In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

I have been watching with amazement the political rhetoric of some politicians who vow to defend “religious liberty.” In several states, politicians have either enacted, or tried to enact, laws that are clearly discriminatory against LGBT fellow citizens, in the name of “religious liberty.” The latest is Mississippi, which passed a law, HB 1523, which:

promises that the state government will not punish people who refuse to provide services to people because of a religious opposition to same-sex marriage, extramarital sex or transgender people.

How can this not be considered discriminatory? How is this any different than refusing to serve a client who is Muslim, or African-American, or has attached earlobes? Can you imagine what would happen if a Muslim business owner refused to serve an LBGT client out of his “religious beliefs”? There would be howls of protest that these Muslims are seeking to “impose Sharia law” on the rest of the country. In fact, one such site has it’s first sentence of the article saying: “Muslims are determined to push their religious doctrines on the American people.”

Yet, more than one state is seeking to protect individuals who refuse to serve people due to their sexual orientation, in the name of “religious freedom.” Isn’t that “pushing religious doctrine” on other people, as well? Moreover, what about all the states that have laws banning “Sharia”? What about the religious freedom of Muslims?

Religious freedom is sacred in our country; it is one of the most beautiful aspects of America, and it is one of the things about which I am most grateful to God for being an American and living in America. Yet, my religious freedom does not give me the right to discriminate against other people.

For example, I do not drink, out of my religious beliefs. But, I would NEVER refuse to treat someone in my ICU for alcohol withdrawal because his or her actions “violate my religious beliefs.” If any doctor ever did that, Muslim or otherwise, he or she would be wrong and unethical. Period. And, for the record, if a Muslim business owner would refuse to serve an LGBT customer, in the name of Islam, I stand against that. That customer is a human being with dignity and deserves respect, regardless of his or her race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

Although it is 2016, we still grapple, as a nation, with issues of racism and discrimination. It is quite troubling that, now, some politicians are using “religious liberty” as a cover to shield that discimination. As a person of faith, it is quite troubling indeed.


In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

In the aftermath of another terror attack committed by the savages of ISIS (or as I like to call them, KIL), yet again people like to link their actions to all of Islam and Muslims. Politicians use such attacks to smear all Muslims with the sins of its criminal fringe and hide behind “dispensing with political correctness.” With wall-to-wall coverage of the crimes of groups like ISIS, it is easy to think that Islam is somehow behind the terror we see in its name.

Yet, listen to those who are truly experts on terrorism, and the truth is very different. Joshua Holland, writer for The Nation, wrote a piece back in December about ISIS’ real motives:

Despite the existence of a good deal of research about terrorism, there’s a gap between the common understanding of what leads terrorists to kill and what many experts believe to be true.

Terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda are widely seen as being motivated by their radical theology. But according to Robert Pape, a political scientist at the University of Chicago and founder of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, this view is too simplistic. Pape knows his subject; he and his colleagues have studied every suicide attack in the world since 1980, evaluating over 4,600 in all.

He says that religious fervor is not a motive unto itself. Rather, it serves as a tool for recruitment and a potent means of getting people to overcome their fear of death and natural aversion to killing innocents. “Very often, suicide attackers realize they have instincts for self-preservation that they have to overcome,” and religious beliefs are often part of that process, said Pape in an appearance on my radio show, Politics and Reality Radio, last week. But, Pape adds, there have been “many hundreds of secular suicide attackers,” which suggests that radical theology alone doesn’t explain terrorist attacks. From 1980 until about 2003, the “world leader” in suicide attacks was the Tamil Tigers, a secular Marxist group of Hindu nationalists in Sri Lanka.

What’s more, Professor Pape spoke about the motivations of suicide terrorism in particular:

What 95 percent of all suicide attacks have in common, since 1980, is not religion, but a specific strategic motivation to respond to a military intervention, often specifically a military occupation, of territory that the terrorists view as their homeland or prize greatly. From Lebanon and the West Bank in the 80s and 90s, to Iraq and Afghanistan, and up through the Paris suicide attacks we’ve just experienced in the last days, military intervention—and specifically when the military intervention is occupying territory—that’s what prompts suicide terrorism more than anything else.

You can read the rest of the entire article here. In fact, as Lydia Wilson (also of The Nation) found when she interviewed ISIS fighters, many of these “holy warriors” have no idea what Islam is all about:

They are woefully ignorant about Islam and have difficulty answering questions about Sharia law, militant jihad, and the caliphate. But a detailed, or even superficial, knowledge of Islam isn’t necessarily relevant to the ideal of fighting for an Islamic State, as we have seen from the Amazon order of Islam for Dummies by one British fighter bound for ISIS.

“But,” I can hear people saying, “these terrorists use Islam as the justification for their barbarism. These terrorists use Islam’s holy texts as proof that what they do is truly ‘Islamic.'” No. They twist the teachings of Islam to sanctify their crimes. They are no different than a gang or a drug cartel, but – and this is what enrages me the most about them – they garb themselves in the clothing of Islam and religion to hide who they truly are: psychopathic and bloodthirsty savages.

So, when we say that ISIS has “nothing whatsoever to do with Islam,” we are not “whitewashing the truth” or “being politically correct.” We are telling the truth about who they really are.



In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

I leave aside the fact that no other community is expected to condemn the actions of its criminal fringe. I leave aside the fact that the perverse logic of assigning blame to the whole for the actions of a few tends to be applied to Muslims preferentially. I leave aside the fact that most of the victims of “Islamic terror” are other Muslims themselves. I leave aside the fact the attention of the world to acts of terror in Western countries is much more than that in Muslims countries (see recent attacks in Turkey and compare for yourself).

I put all of that aside today. I put all that aside and condemn what happened in Brussels – which took the lives of 34 people – with all of my heart, all of my soul, and all of my mind.

It’s very true that such terror is being rained on scores of innocent Muslim populations by their own governments on a daily basis. It’s very true that terror has no religion or ethnic group or nationality. It’s true that Western governments have supported brutal dictatorships in the Muslim majority world to serve geopolitical interests. That is all true.

That’s does not even begin to justify, however, attacking innocent people anywhere in the world. And just as the double standards with respect to Muslims and Islam must be called out every time, terror in the name of Islam must also be called out and condemned for what it is: pure unadulterated evil.

Occasions such as these give fuel to those who want to assign blame to all of Islam (see Trump’s statement: “Islam hates us”). Occasions such as these allow politicians to cynically use them for political advantage (see Sen. Ted Cruz saying Muslim neighborhoods need to be “patrolled”). Nevertheless, attacks such as these – for which the savages of ISIS have claimed responsibility – must be condemned with every cell in our bodies.

And the reason such violence in the name of Islam needs to be condemned is not because our silence denotes our complicity. As I said above, no other religious group is expected to condemn the actions of its criminal fringe. Rather, when the savages – “barbarians” is too nice of a word – of ISIS, or the Taliban, or Boko Haram, or Al Qaeda commit violence and cloak it in the garbs of Islam; when they touch our holy scripture with their blood-soaked hands; when they call upon the holy name of God as they commit savage acts of brutality: they defile our faith. For that, we Muslims – and all people of faith, frankly – must take great offense.

I can almost hear detractors, as they read this, say that my forceful condemnations almost never come out when a Muslim capital or city is ravaged by the terror of these savages, whether it be Istanbul, or Baghdad, or Beirut, or Ivory Coast. I must confess that, emotionally, I was much more affected by the attacks in Paris (a city which I visited and then fell in love with a few months before) than those in Beirut. Yet, that does not mean that I felt any less pain at the deaths in Beirut.

I do not feel any less pain when I see images of people being killed by savage terrorists in any city anywhere in the world. All life is sacred. And as the Qur’an says, the taking of one innocent life is like taking the lives of all of humanity. No matter who is killed, it hurts me on a personal level.

And when I realize that the murderers behind a terror attack are savages who act in the name of my faith, I seethe with outrage for they use the beautiful faith I know and love and twist it to justify their murderous savagery. That’s why I condemn them now. That’s why I will condemn them perpetually.


In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

I was so very pleased to see “A Girl In The River” win the Oscar for Best Documentary Film (Short Subject). The film tells the story of Saba, an 18-year-old girl who was brutally attacked by her father and uncle because she married someone against their will. In an interview on NPR, which will air on March 7 (the same day the film will air on HBO), director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy told Steve Inskeep:

Saba was engaged to a young man and she wanted to get married to him. The family was okay with it, but the uncle was not. He decided she should marry someone else. Bravely one morning, Saba ran away from home to a local court and got married. Her father and uncle came to her in-laws’ house and said, “Let us take her back to our home, and then you come take her honorably so neighbors and society don’t look upon us as a family that has been shamed.”

But instead, they put her in a car, took her to a wooded area, beat her for a long time before shooting her, put her in a gunny sack, and threw her in a river. She miraculously survived.

In a year where diversity (or lack thereof) in Hollywood and the Academy was the talk of the town, it was wonderful to see the Academy recognize not only this film, but also shine a spotlight on the horrific practice of (dis-)honor killings. In fact, according to Ms. Obaid-Chinoy, the Prime Minister of Pakistan has vowed to change the laws in Pakistan as a result of this film:

The prime minister came out and said that he wanted to work on the issue of honor killings, and he has since then met with me. He has spoken with members of his political party to plug loopholes in the law. He’s saying that there is no place for honor killings in Islam, and we must make that clear to everybody.

If this law passes, the honor killings will be a crime against the state. A lot of things can go wrong [in trying to get this law passed]. But if three or four people go to jail, the fifth person will think twice before shooting someone in his family.

This is truly wonderful. This barbaric savagery known as (dis-)honor killings is a stain on the fabric of the societies – Muslim or otherwise – in which they occur. As a father who lost his daughter, I am utterly shocked that this man could actually try to kill his own daughter. He told the Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy:

Yes, I killed her. She’s my daughter and I wanted to kill her. I provided for her. How dare she defy me? How dare she go out without my permission? And I am ready to spend my entire life in jail because this is something I did for my honor, the honor of my family. She has shamed us.

Truly disgusting. He is the one who shamed his family, not his daughter. He is the one who has brought dishonor on his family, not his daughter, by this horrific crime. He is the criminal in this case, not his daughter, who will forever live with the trauma of almost being killed by her own father. And even though she may have been pressured to forgive him, he will not escape Divine Justice:

And do not think that God is unaware of what the evildoers are doing: He but grants them respite until the Day when their eyes will stare in horror (14:42).

Thank you very much, Academy, for doing an enormous service by recognizing this film. Thank you, Ms. Obaid-Chinoy, for making this film and telling this story. And, most of all, thank you, Saba, for your tremendous courage in telling this story for all the world to see. God bless your ways forever. Amen.


In the Name of God: The Eternally and Extremely Loving and Caring

“I have always been fascinated by God.”

So says Morgan Freeman, the Academy Award-winning actor known, among many other things, for playing the role of God in films such as Bruce Almighty. Now, he sets out on an amazing journey to study God and how He is worshiped all across the globe.

Premiering Sunday April 3 on National Geographic Channel, “The Story of God”:

seeks to understand how religion has evolved throughout the course of civilization, and in turn how religion has shaped the evolution of society. Although in our current geopolitical landscape, religion is often seen as something that divides, the series illuminates the remarkable similarities among different faiths, even those that seem to be in staunch contrast. This is a quest for God: to shed light on the questions that have puzzled, terrified and inspired mankind, not to mention Freeman himself.

Said Morgan Freeman himself about the series:

Over the past few months, I’ve traveled to nearly 20 cities in seven different countries on a personal journey to find answers to the big mysteries of faith. I’ve sung the call to prayer at a mosque in Cairo, taken meditation lessons from the Buddhist leader of the oldest line of reincarnating Lamas, discussed Galileo with the head of the Papal Academy of Sciences and explored the first instructions for the afterlife rendered in hieroglyphs inside the pyramids. In some places I found answers, and others led to more questions. The constant through it all is that we’re all looking to be part of something bigger than us. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that we certainly are.

It will be six-part series, and each episode will explore different aspects of faith: Creation, Who is God?, Evil, Miracles, End of Days, and Resurrection. In a time where religion seems to be a liability to our world, “The Story of God” will give viewers a unique perspective on faith as the believers view it. As a person of faith, I welcome this series.

“The Story of God with Morgan Freeman” is produced by Revelations Entertainment for National Geographic Channel. For Revelations Entertainment, Morgan Freeman, Lori McCreary and James Younger are executive producers. For National Geographic Channel, Michael J. Miller is executive producer; Kevin Mohs is vice president, production and development; Alan Eyres is senior vice president, programming and development; and Tim Pastore is president, original programming and production.

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In the Name of God: The Everlastingly and Extremely Loving and Caring

Native Deen is one of the oldest and most popular American Muslim hip hop groups. It is my absolute favorite, and I have grown up listening to their songs. In fact, way back in the 1980s group member Joshua Salaam and I went to the same religious summer school, and I remember listening to him drop hip hop rhymes with effortless mastery way back then. Their songs are at once educational, inspirational, and consoling, all the while treating listeners with amazing hip hop beats and lyrics. If you haven’t heard of them, do yourself a favor and check them out.

Yet, it is natural to wonder: what are their musical talents individually? What would they do if they broke up? Thank God, they are not breaking up. But, each has embarked on his own solo project, and the first one to release an album was Naeem Muhammad: “I Love When You Use Your Words.”

As soon I as I started listening to it, I got a glimpse into Naeem’s musical mind, and the word “jazz” kept coming up again and again. The album is very much jazz infused. Yet, he has many musical influences, as Naeem himself says:

My mom’s eclectic record collection and music taste of folk, jazz, soul, rock, and pop seemed to have forged my of own musical affinities. I can remember growing up with LPs of America, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Neil Young, and many other folk luminaries. So for me, creating an album of inspired folk rock songs, was like coming home.

And, staying true to the “Native Deen” style, each song has a particularly beautiful message. My absolute favorite song is “We Shall Overcome.” Not only does it have an uplifting message, that nothing is impossible without God, but it has a very awesome musical background. He even includes a freshly remade oldie, “Rain Song,” which tells the inspiring tale of the coming of rain after a prayer is made to God.

I have met Naeem Muhammad, and he is one of the sweetest people you will ever meet. That sweetness is most definitely seen in his music, and “I Love When You Use Your Words” is a musical treat that should not be missed.

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