Reflections on Islam

Mystical Meditations and Other Miscellaneous Musings

Introductory Essay

Before taking this course, my knowledge of Islam had primarily been informed by the mainstream media. Unfortunately for the probable thousands of Americans who shared this in common with me, there are so many misconceived notions of Islam depicted by these media outlets that may never be rectified unless an active search for truth is realized. Much of what the younger generations have seen in their lifetimes regarding Islam has been shrouded by dialogues of terrorism, war, and fear. It is a very instinctually human phenomenon to form an opinion and stick to it for pride or vanity’s sake. These opinions once formed are rarely able to be transformed, unless genuine open-mindedness and empathy are present. But fortunately for me, I came into Harvard almost entirely set on concentrating in the Comparative Study of Religion. Coming from a tremendously devout Catholic family, I had attended parochial school my whole life. Though I fell in love with my Catholic faith from a young age, I knew that reserving my religious studies to Catholic theology alone was detrimental not only to my conception of Catholicism, but to my conception of religion as a whole. Taking a class on Islam was a top priority on my list as I was aware of my own ignorance of both the religion and the culture. But people are not stringently bound by their ignorance that perpetuates destructive stereotypes. Misconceptions and misunderstandings can be easily cured with knowledge. And that is something I learned this semester.

 

In his book Infidel of Love, Professor Asani says: “It is one of the great ironies of our times that peoples from different religious, cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds are in closer contact with each other than ever before, yet this closeness has not resulted in better understanding and appreciation for difference. Rather, our world is marked with greater misunderstandings and misconceptions, resulting in ever-escalating levels of tensions between cultures and nations.” (page 1) These tensions that arise between cultures hardly exist on account of reasons other than ignorance. Nobody could ever come to truly know or appreciate another person, community, or culture without truly understanding that person, community, or culture. Learning about Islam therefore becomes an undertaking that requires the study of the historic, social, and political contexts that envelop the religion, before diving into the study of the modern-day conflicts existing within and surrounding some Muslim nations. Throughout this class, not only did we look at these political and historical contexts, but we also, more uniquely, examined Islam through the lenses of art, literature, poetry, and music. Peering into our subject through these aesthetic lenses provided an experience unlike any other approach to learning I’ve yet encountered. I hope the viewer will catch a glimpse of this from my blog posts.

 

In this blog, I present my own personal interpretations of and responses to Islamic art, literature, poetry, architecture, music, and culture. Each entry presents a reflection of the corresponding lecture material or weekly readings beginning with Week Two’s “Constructions of Islam” and ending with Week Twelve’s reading of Persepolis and Sultana’s Dream. As I mention in some of my blog posts, my spiritual life was fairly established before taking this class; but with each coming week and its accompanying lectures, my eyes were opened to so many new possibilities of approaching faith and life as a whole. Though I came to this class with a limited knowledge of Islam and, moreover, a mistaken belief that the religion along with all it promoted had no place alongside my own convictions, I am now ending the semester, delighted to have been proven wrong. My deepest hope is that someone stumbling upon this assortment of “mystical meditations and other miscellaneous musings” might recognize the collective revelations that have allowed me modest glimpses into enlightenment over these past 13 weeks, and even better, might also be inspired to think differently themselves.

 

In my first blog post, “Constructions of Islam,” I focus on the distinction between the terms “Muslim” and “muslim.” This was perhaps one of my favorite units in the semester because it set the stage so perfectly for all of the other misconceptions I was subconsciously harboring that would be broken throughout the rest of the course. I think that the aforementioned villainization of Muslims that has been presented in the media post 9/11 has created a false notion that at the core of Islam, exists a claim to salvation that precludes any non-Muslim from God’s mercy. But, something I learned in week two, primarily through Professor Asani’s second chapter of Infidel of Love, is that True Islam values all human life and recognizes the fact that fundamental human rights are not only universal, but that belief in this is a principal tenet of the religion. Contrary to the misconception, True Islam emphasizes that inherent dignity of humanity is derived from the same creator and therefore, rejects any possibility of ethnic, racial, or religious supremacy. As a recently declared concentrator in the study of comparative religion, I find this pluralistic message all the more critical for the development and fostering of understanding. I am a firm believer that we should not be content with the end-goal of tolerance. Tolerance implies a certain degree of complacency towards a subject, when what we should be striving for is appreciation for difference, and an eagerness to learn more about viewpoints countering our own.

 

My second blog post turns towards a more aesthetic side of Islam. In week six, we discussed mosque architecture and heard from two guest lecturers who spoke about the fluidity and multidimensional nature of Islamic art. In Ismail R. Al-Faruqi’s Misconceptions on the Nature of Islamic Art, he prefaces the text by noting that “the Western scholars of Islamic art…have failed in the supreme effort of understanding the spirit of that art, of discerning and analyzing its Islamicness…they sought to bend Islamic art to its categories.” (page 29) This recurring phenomenon of Western societies misappropriating cultures outside of their own is one of, if not the singular, leading cause of the culture clash that Professor Asani references in the first excerpt from Infidel of Love. Not only are misrepresentations of these cultures counterproductive to the quest for understanding, they are simply erroneous and lazy assessments in which these Western scholars attempt to fit every other culture and society into the confines of their own constructed conventions. What I found so beautiful and unique about Islamic art is that despite the wildly varied modes of interpretation and expression, all “derive their theological aesthetic from the same principle, namely, tawhid, the acknowledgement and assertion of God’s uncompromised unity and transcendence.” (Rendard, Seven Doors to Islam, page 128) The artistic liberty afforded by this principle combined with the lack of a rigid architectural template for masjids leads to endless creative possibilities. I chose to follow up Week Two’s blog with Week Six because I think the plurality message tied into the first blog also comes through in this visual project. The incorporation of three cultures into the Spanish mosque architecture is a prime example of the productive relationship that can exist between nations, and the beauty that arises as a result of their cooperative effort.

 

The blog inspired by Week Five deals with the importance of historical contexts and the role history plays in shaping a culture. The relationship between the father, the son, and the grandfather in Elie Wiesel’s quote is one that helped me understand the importance of the Ta’ziyeh much more clearly. So much of history relies on story-telling and the passing on of customs, but many people undervalue the importance of preserving tradition. And yet, tradition is what so often lies at the heart of religion and group identity as a whole. Without tradition and a rich history, meaning can be entirely dissolved from a culture. I have seen firsthand the essentiality of this preservation within my own faith. It’s easy to question the Truths within your religion when you realize that you only subscribe to it because of your parents, and their parents, and their parents’ parents. But once you realize the weight of tradition, you grow to appreciate the history behind your own roots, and suddenly, there is so much more meaning underlying your convictions.

 

Transitioning into the second half of the course, my fourth blog revolves around Week Nine’s subject of Islamic poetry. This type of faith expression and the difficulty discussed in lecture of confining a spiritual experience to fit within the parameters of language is one that I was easily able to relate to. Throughout my life, I have had innumerable encounters with areligious people that lack even the slightest trace of faith. Trying to verbalize your own faith experience is almost an impossible feat, and anyone who has been in a similar place could likely attest. When the Transcendent is so infinitely above the worldly realm that we exist in, it would be a futile task to limit an encounter with It to time or space. This poem grapples with my inner battle between constantly seeking social validation and ultimately realizing that “the one who made the stars, for my heart freely yearns.” This sense of security of self that I find within my own faith is something that people in my life who have never experienced this may never understand. My sense of self is secure because it rests in the opinion of my creator, and I have realized more and more throughout this course that I do not stand alone in this conviction. I am convinced that the bond which exists between people of faith is unlike any other interpersonal connection that human beings could share. Not only does it transcend language and time, it automatically places you on an elevated state of understanding.

 

This sense of unity among the community of believers is exactly why I chose to shift into Week Ten’s Conference of the Birds. In choosing seven birds and seven languages denoting “God,” I hoped to encompass this theme that, despite possessing impossible differences, no single religion holds a monopoly over salvation. Like the Buddhist parable of the blind men and the elephant, I believe all religions strive towards the same understanding of the Divine and arrive at different interpretations. These differences, far from excluding any one faith from attaining the “other-worldly,” unite believers on a common journey of enlightenment. The lessons from this search for truth illustrated in The Conference of the Birds was one of my biggest takeaways from this course. I think people do themselves such a disservice in believing that their way contains the only Gospel Truth. There are so many different routes linking this world to the next. If a believer genuinely perceives the Divine as infinite, how would this not be the case?

This multiplicity of paths to the Divine is what inspired Week Twelve’s imitation of Persepolis. Though dealing more with my own spiritual journey, the comic strip template allowed me to depict the variety of examples necessary to highlight this theme. In high school, my sophomore year theology teacher taught us about Divine Revelation and the different ways in which God unveils Himself to humanity. There are so many areas of my life in which I see proof of this divinity so plainly. I’ve spoken with non-believers who are frustrated by the fact that if God exists, why shouldn’t He come down or show Himself to us? I find it so hard to stop myself in those moments and scream, “He’s right there! He’s in you, He’s in me! He’s in everything! Don’t you see it?” But evidently, the answer is ‘no.’ If I truly believe in an infinite, omnipotent God, shouldn’t it make sense from this conception that a direct revelation would be too much for my finite mind to comprehend? This thought helps me to search for the beauty and good in everything around me and recognize it as having its roots in the Divine. Whether that be reflected through love, through kindness, through nature, or even through suffering, all of these help me to appreciate my faith and broaden my own conception of my creator on a much grander scale. This past semester has only reinforced this belief. I was challenged, enlightened, wounded, healed, distressed, and relieved all at once and I could not be more thankful for this period of tremendous growth. It is my sincere wish that readers of this blog might experience the joy and hope offered by faith at some point in their lives, or if they already have, to hold onto it for as long as they live. Life is hard and suffering does not discriminate, but with faith, our burden is made much lighter.

Calligraphy Project

The twenty-fourth surah of the Qur’an reads: “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth…Allah guides to His light whom He wills.”

I had a somewhat clear vision of my drawing at the inception of this project and part of it involved wanting to center my design around this theme that likens God to the light that shatters the darkness. The reason I chose the particular surah that I did was because it sounded almost as if it was pulled from my own Christian Bible. One scripture verse in particular came to mind when I was working on my drawing and that was Revelation 21:23: “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light.” Something that has consistently struck me from lectures is the realization that modern society wildly misconstrues the Islamic perception of Christianity. Even beyond their perception of Christianity, modern society misconstrues the entire religion of Islam altogether. Professor Asani mentions in his book, Infidel of Love, that “To underscore the essential compatibility between religion and nation, he asserts that the ideas for which Islam stands are, in fact, American ideals.” In other words, Islam as an entire tradition, beyond its theology, is viewed through a lens that is completely contradictory to its genuine credence.

Though I had grown up believing Islam and Christianity were two irreconcilably different traditions, the lectures and readings in the course thus far have shown me that this is not actually the case. If anything, Islam reveres Christianity and acknowledges both the religion and its believers as muslims simply approaching the Divine through a different route. I think this shared analogy that compares God to Light is one of the most profound commonalities between the two traditions. Although the institutional doctrines and creeds may be quite different, the light that pulls the believer out of darkness and into relationship with the Divine is the same.

Week 12: Persepolis

Inspired by this week’s reading of Persepolis, I decided to reflect on my own childhood and transition into adolescence to depict the evolution of my conception of God, and how it was shaped by my surroundings. Much like Marjane, I grew up a bright-eyed, zealous child, eager to lay down my life for God. Whenever I am unsure of the plans for my future, my father always reminds me about the times I would run around the house announcing that I wanted to marry God. Also like Marjane however, my upbringing and my exposure to the world outside of my home unveiled some layers of illusion around which my faith was enveloped.

 

In the first frame, I depict my spiritual education that began at home. For as long as I can remember, my parents have been devout practitioners of their faith. My mother in particular, took her role as our spiritual teacher very seriously. While I appreciate her efforts immensely, and openly acknowledge that my faith would not be what it is today without her help, looking back, it does slightly resemble indoctrination. Maybe that is just a consequence of having to teach a child through the most simplistic and elementary levels, but the memories I have of faith-building within my family, paired with the teaching I received both at Church, and throughout twelve years of Catholic schooling (as pictured in frames 2-4), seem some degree short of forced.

 

In the fifth frame, I depict the middle stages of my life where I begin to explore my spirituality in solitude. Curious to discover whether or not the religion of my parents held any truths for my life, I delved into a quest for knowledge that I am still very much on today. In my short, fortunate life, I have been able to get a decent amount of traveling in. My parents, big proponents of paying for experiences and not material things, afforded us some of the most rewarding trips imaginable. Italy, Spain, Yellowstone National Park, Tucson, Mount Rushmore, Niagara Falls, Paraguay, New York, Peru, Mexico. Through all of these travels, I have been able to see a few different sides of this wonderful world, although not nearly enough. If I have learned one thing it is that God is most certainly real.

 

The last four frames represent an encounter with God through other people. In the sixth, I have encountered God through the suffering of others, and also at times, through my own suffering. Suffering is a fact of life that nobody can escape, but with faith, it becomes clear that pain and suffering will eventually lead to joy, and if that mentality is not the healthiest way to get through this life, I don’t know what is. Frames seven and eight show the inherently good, altruistic nature of humanity. I’ve heard the argument time and time again that people are not inclined to be good; being good is an evolutionary advantage because group cooperation is beneficial for survival. But this is nothing more than a cynical mindset in my view. Too many times have I seen people make sacrifices that could in no way be rewarded, and they do this willingly. I refuse to believe that kindness is a decoy. Finally, in my last frame, I have depicted the encounter of God through love. Although this implies a romantic love, one can meet God wherever love lives. Because unlike the first frame in which the mother has stated “God is God because we are telling you He is,” I now know that God is God because God is love, and love is the realest thing in this world.

Week 10: The Conference of the Birds

“Now I am made one with You and from that Union my heart is consumed with rapture and my tongue is bewildered. By union, I have been merged in the Unity, I am become altogether apart from all else. I am You and You are I – nay, not I, all is altogether You. I have passed away, ‘I’ and ‘You’ no more exist. We have become one and I have become altogether You” -Farid ud-Din Attar

 

In this blog post, I have chosen to combine drawing and graphic design to produce this image of 7 birds, all containing a different word for God in 7 distinct languages: Greek, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Yiddish, Urdu and Hebrew. This idea was inspired by week ten’s reading of Conference of the Birds. The journey taken by the birds in Attar’s celebrated poem leads them through seven valleys that each carve out a different moral lesson. In the valley of search, the birds undergo a hundred different trials, ultimately learning that they mustn’t always take the path laid before them, but rather, must seek their own path through patience and determination. Then follow the valleys of love, knowledge, unity, poverty and nothingness.

 

Following all of these trials, only thirty of the thousand birds remain. It is only after they have cleansed their spirits and endured these hardships that they are able to arrive at enlightenment. Having passed all of the tests that the valleys presented them with, the birds finally reach “The Simurgh” who they had been traveling so long to find, only to discover that the Simurgh is them. They had reached the state of enlightenment and realized that God was within them, and they were God altogether. This unity of things is what The Conference of the Birds essentially teaches.

 

I chose to depict seven different birds to symbolize the seven different valleys that the characters had to brave before reaching their destination. I also wanted to include different writings of the word “God” to symbolize the universality of this message and the diversity of communities that are united through this theme. Finally, I added a layer of water onto the drawing, just to artistically depict the final scene where the birds recognize their reflections in the water.

 

I found this theme fascinating, because so many times, people exhaust their energy trying to find another person or religion or philosophy to give them the answers to life. Instead of paying money to have your palms read or investing hours into reading self-help articles, sometimes, the key lies in clearing your mind, cleansing your spirit, and just looking within yourself to find those answers.

Week 9: The Ghazal

In my mind I paint a picture

of myself: the perfect mixture,

Invent a me that’s in control,

sophisticated fixture

Have all these thoughts colliding

in my head, feelings dividing

Should’ve payed closer attention to

Those supposed holy scriptures

 

If I really trusted angels and prophets and mystic teachings,

I wouldn’t waste my time searching for different meaning

I hope it’s not my fault that I’m troubled with all these demons

I think it’s just this world, too many changes of season

Cause if I really had some faith, I’d live what I was preaching

 

I struggle with this mental image

Tossing and turning

Am I even that special

Is my life that deserving?

My faith tells me to leave this world aside,

that’s too obscure for me

Else why am I still fighting

Through all this insecurity?

 

But somehow life always brings me back

Kneeling in your presence here,

I let you gaze upon me while I

simply exist, no fear

See right and wrong before me,

still somehow always run

I rarely choose you, yet you call me Chosen One

Suddenly, I see the answer so clear

Everything I’ve been searching for,

in front of me, draws near

I’ve nothing to prove, I’ve nothing to earn

Yet the one who made the stars,

For my heart freely yearns

If this abounding love is promised to me,

Why waste my time aspiring to be

A person I’m not for somebody else’s pleasure?

An imitation for them, while I’m another One’s treasure?

 

I trust angels and prophets and even most mystic teachings,

I don’t waste my time searching for different meaning

I know it’s not my fault that I struggle with all these demons

It’s just this world we live in, I know this is the reason

But this faith that I’ve grown helps me live what I’m preaching

And now I’m quite certain I’ll keep on believing

 

Explanation:

For this week’s blog, I have decided to take my own shot at poetry. I’ve never been a poet, a lyricist, or anything creative, but faith is something that I think is universally understood by those who’ve experienced it. Something that struck me from week nine’s lecture was the phenomenon faced by these poets in attempting to express this suprarational and supernatural experience of spirituality that is experienced outside of time and space. I have witnessed first-hand how difficult it can be to verbalize or quantify faith, because it does very much exist on an other-worldly plane.

Something I loved about the ghazals was that they expressed divine love by drawing analogies to an experience that would resonate with most readers: carnal, romantic love. Although my poem veers off the traditional ghazal form and doesn’t revolve around the human love experience, it does center in around another experience that I believe is a tangible point of relatability amongst other people my age. The use of symbols and analogies is in fact, intended for this purpose—to find a common ground that the audience can read or listen from.

The issue of self-image is one that I believe affects all young people at one point or another. For me, it is definitely something that was heavily felt throughout high school and through my transition into college. Finding an identity worth embracing and becoming vulnerable enough to share it with the world is a challenge. Through this poem, I try to show that my faith played a big part in solidifying that confidence and authenticity of self. In writing this poem, I kept Mirza Ghalib’s quote pulled up on my computer, “Heaven inspired are my poetic thoughts, the scratching of the pen is the voice of a heavenly angel.”

I don’t mean to say that these thoughts are angelic, or that I am closer to God than any other spiritually inclined person, I’ve only tried to convey a personal struggle and in it, show that this is where God met me. In the deepest recesses of my insecurity, God showed me who I was in Him, and this is something I’ve never forgotten.

Week 5: Expressing Theology Through Drama

Today is Palm Sunday for Catholics all around the world. On this day, the gospel reading at Mass is different from any other day of the year. While most Sunday readings of the gospel change yearly, this feast day alone is commemorated with the recounting of Jesus’ passion. This narrative has been interpreted throughout the years in dramatic forms that have come to be known as passion plays. It is fitting then, that on this day I make this blog post about a passion play in the Muslim tradition.

The Ta’ziyeh is one of the most powerful examples of this dramatic genre known as “passion plays.” In this theatrical production, Shiite Muslims in Iran perform a reenactment of the tragedy of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. The tragedy recounts the death of Hussein, along with his male children and companions in a brutal massacre at Karbala in the year 680 AD. Hussein’s murder, the consequence of a prolonged power struggle for control of the newly emerged Islamic community following the death of the prophet, resulted in the formation of two major factions of Muslims that had developed opposing views regarding leadership. This slaughter at Karbala came to be seen as the ultimate example of sacrifice for Shiite Muslims.

This Iranian tradition which began in the mid-nineteenth century “literally means expressions of sympathy, mourning and consolation…Despite criticism by the majority of the religious authorities who considered it sacrilegious for mortal men to portray any holy personage, Ta’ziyeh became more and more beloved by the people.” (Chelkowski, page 2, 8) This creation and consequent evolution of tradition is exactly what inspired me to make this graphic of the Elie Wiesel quote pictured above. I think the quote highlights the extreme importance of story-telling for the sake of the preservation of history and culture. This sustained tradition that relives the death of Hussein, which underscores the entire Shiite creed, is in a sense linking the survivors to the memory of their beloved martyrs.

I chose for this design to be somewhat simplistic because I wanted the attention to be directed towards the actual quote. But the line of designs on the left-hand side reminded me of similar visuals we have seen in Islamic arabesque. Similarly, the design pictured above the quotation resembled many of the architectural designs I had seen on my visit to La Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Although Wiesel was referencing his own Jewish ancestry, I think this is a lovely example of how humanity is united. Despite differences in cultures, races, opinions, times, and spaces, the human experience is, in fact, universally related. The importance of oral tradition in molding a culture or a people’s history is the same across these differences, and I think that this is an especially fitting representation of this phenomenon.

Week 6: The Significance of Mosque Decor

In Week 6, we looked at the various intricacies of mosque décor and discussed their significance within Islam. As we heard in both of our guest lectures and in the film Islamic Art: Mirror of an Invisible World, there are no laws of Islam that necessarily mandate a standard form or shape from which sacred spaces of ritual and prayer are to be constructed. In other words, the design of a mosque is not dictated or informed by religious doctrine. Furthermore, mosque architecture is not specific to any particular denomination or sect of Islam.

Whereas in Christianity, Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox churches can be visually distinguished, every mosque may be unique in its design but still serves as a place of worship for Muslims of all kinds. Over time, the architectural staples of mosques have evolved and transformed, each reflecting new symbolic values and embodying different facets of Islam throughout the centuries and across the Muslim world. These singular expressions of Muslim identity serve to highlight the diversity that exists within the different communities of Islam.

Though mosques or “masjids” literally signify “places of worship,” these architectural masterpieces have been seen throughout history to take on secular functions. Since Islam’s very foundation in the 7th century, mosques have taken on various roles within Muslim societies. Though their primary purpose is to provide a place for prayer and worship, mosques are common settings for educational, social, and civic celebrations.

Spatial and aesthetic conventions only began to emerge as a response to both political and social conditions. For example, as shown in this media compilation, the spreading influence of Islamic art and architecture to southern Spain created an entirely new genre of mosque architecture, reflective of this morphing of Arab and Spanish culture. This particular geographic region is one that is especially interesting to me because I have actually visited the south of Spain and seen some of these magnum opuses of Islamic grandeur first-hand. The musical mashup that accompanies the video includes some of my favorite artists from this area of Spain, singing about “Andalucia,” the almost ethereal region of Spain that is a visible blend of the three still present and lasting cultures of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I chose to create both a visual and audible representation of the powerful influence that diversity plays in molding a culture and people. The architecture and music that is a tangible consequence of history is felt by anyone who witnesses their beauty.

Week 2: Constructions of Islam

In Professor Asani’s second chapter of Infidel of Love, he notes that “Diversities of language, religion, or race, according to the Muslim scripture, are to be respected as signs of divine genius and opportunities for mutual understanding, tolerance, and compassion between nations and communities.” Of the many themes discussed in the first couple weeks of lecture, this was perhaps my favorite. The notion of the term ‘muslim’ as one that refers to any member of the universal community of believers, regardless of the particular faith that they ascribe to, is one that I find incredibly accepting as a devoted Catholic still eager to learn about Islam and open to any Truths it may hold therein. Discussing the difference between “Muslim” with a capital ‘M’ and “muslim” with its aforementioned, all-encompassing definition, made me realize that believers ascribing to Islam, although confident that Islam is the religion of Truth, are very pluralistic in their conviction that all religions are striving towards the same personal encounter with the Divine.

This quasi-collage of “muslims” pictured above was inspired by this pluralistic outlook. Despite diversities of language, religion or race as Professor Asani mentions, all of these communities of believers are united in their yearning for the transcendent essence that lies at the root of all creation. These differences are not meant to be seen as divisions, but rather as “signs of divine genius” and as chances to grow in understanding of and foster relationships with our fellow man. It is for this reason that I believe so many world religions, traditions and spiritualities hold the celebrated “golden rule” so intimately to their creeds. At their very core, the religiously inclined want nothing more than to spread compassion and to uphold justice.

Professor Asani also notes that “Anyone who is polluted by violence cannot, by definition, be a Muslim. Instead, the faithful need to cultivate within themselves so that they can extend compassion to all of God’s creation.” To be Muslim does not simply require biological happenstance and knowledge of the Qur’an. To be a true Muslim means to recognize that all believers are part of the same family and that they all share a common mission to be the love in whose image they believe to have been created, and to make an effort, however grand or slight, to leave this world a bit more uprightly than they found it.