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Oud and enchanted friends.

A Muslim friend in Southeast Asia offered an introduction to a friend of his in New York. He said he thought it would be good for this American friend to get to know that American friend. The reason was a mutual affection for oud.

Few people could know more about oud, yet be more humble about it, than his other American friend. Her oud collection comprises a variety of origins, ages, and price ranges. Many of the bottles are irreplaceable collectibles. If the experts want to gauge quality, it's not uncommon for them to send her a tester.

An aside on oud: If one isn't familiar with it, or if one only knows it as a candle, tissue, or department store cologne, the thought of an oud collection might cause some head-scratching and a "Really?" Admittedly, the response may be the same even if someone knows oud in its most prized form. The aroma can be kind of polarizing. It's powerful and has the potential to offend powerfully. But for those who love it, it is powerfully enchanting. What makes it a part of this story is that it was the opening to Islam. So grew the love for oud, so grew the love for Islam.

Our friend from New York has since hosted our whole family in her home. When she made the invitation to stay with her the first time, we were still just the other end of an e-mail chain. During our visit, she lavished us in hospitality. But best of all, she gave her time. When she was present with us, she was fully present with us. And when she gave us our own space, she was still present by making sure our needs were met, even if she was in a different place.

Have you ever known someone who can get so caught up in beauty she can't help but get a little teary-eyed?

She came to Kentucky once for a visit. During one of our dinner conversations, she described a scene from her visit to Ronda, Spain. As she did, it was like she wasn't even with us anymore. She was back there in Ronda, seeing, smelling, experiencing. At one point, she got such a catch in her throat, she had to stop for a second. Her eyes filled up. Then she said simply, "I'm sorry. It was so beautiful."

Tears don't equate to fragility, at least not in her case. She is strong and independent and is not afraid to say when something doesn't meet her standards. Flattery is not who she is--at all. She does not throw around compliments casually. This is what makes her compliments so real, too, so meaningful. They are earnest and full of gratitude. (Incidentally, her memory of Ronda inspired a visit there. We didn't find the spot she described, but we will always be grateful for the beauty of what we did see, and that it was largely because of her that we took the detour to see it.)

She is not Muslim. Or at least, she doesn't make such declarations. But what compels mention of her here is that, if one were to compare her hospitality, generosity, sincerity, and gratitude to that of the so-called Muslim who's writing this, one would likely say she is the more Muhammadan (ﷺ). And this serves as a strong reminder, over and over. It says, Yusuf, God creates us differently and wants you to appreciate that. And it says, Yusuf, don't be arrogant, especially in your religion.



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