Seashells and Pattering Hearts


The importance of accompanying sincerity with every deed we perform. 

This is the authored portrait of a young woman, whom through growth and experiential ruminations has come to learn of herself and the world around her. She is but sixteen years old and yet, like many teenagers, she feels as though the weight of the entire world rests firmly upon her shoulders. She plasters the words “fragmented” and “naïve” boldly across her faltering self-image. She asks herself, “What is the essence of sincerity?”

Several months ago I was posed the most engaging and ponderous challenge. The challenge: “write a letter to your sixteen-year-old self on a topic of your choosing.” As a writing enthusiast I simply couldn’t turn down an opportunity to exhaust a creative outlet.

Thus, with a pen and paper in hand, I sat myself down at my desk and intensely began creating a list of potential topics. I feverishly wrote whatever came to mind in hopes that the forcing of raw thoughts would equate to a stellar collection of words and phrases. But each line began the same: “Dear sixteen-year-old me.” As I perused the list I methodically began crossing off the ones that ended in, “eat your vegetables”, “stop slouching because you will regret that later”, and “smile and wear those braces with pride; it will be worth it in the end,” After sifting through my staggeringly long list I came up dry. I had failed to find a single topic that truly sparked my interest. I waved the white flag of defeat and retreated from my theatrically pen-marked sheet.

Inner brainstorming engulfed the days that followed. I composed list upon list but all suffered the same fate; destined to be etched out in frustration and tossed into the nearest recycling bin. It wasn’t until I undertook the role of summer-cleaning aficionado in my house, that I stumbled upon some of my old journals. (Journals are undoubtedly a gift –they are markers for change and growth). As a skimmed through my lettered brain-work, I came across a particular excerpt underlined twice for emphasis: “What is the essence of sincerity?”

“That’s it! Sincerity!” I thought to myself.

Bravery, exemplified by being sincere in accepting our Muslim identities, is something that does not come easy for many. During the integral years of high school, several teenagers struggle to acknowledge what the title of being a Muslim entails, and to act sincerely upon that. Although the importance of being sincere in our daily endeavors and actions still resonates across the spectrum of age.

If I could tell my sixteen-year-old self something about the essence of sincerity I would discernibly inhale a fresh breath of air and recite Surat Al-‘Ikhlas; four verses marking the crux of our religion. I would tell my sixteen-year-old self to recite these ayahs often and to recognize their strength. The sincerity in our belief in Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and His Oneness is the single most important thing that should be occupying our minds and hearts.

“Say, “He is Allah [who is] One,
Allah, the Eternal Refuge.
He neither begets nor is born,
Nor is there to Him any equivalent.” (Surat Al-‘Ikhlas: 1-4)

To my sixteen-year-old self I would say that sincerity is not to be solely examined in our actions but should be in our verbal statements, our trust in Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and His ultimate plan, as well in our character and mannerism. For example, showing Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala that we truly trust Him, is to be sincere and authentic in our belief that the plan He has ordained is doubtlessly the best and most perfect plan for us.

I would tell my sixteen-year-old self to exercise the use of “sincerity check-ins”. We should ensure that the intention we enter an act or deed with is still present as we are fulfilling the act or deed, as well as after it is complete. As T.S. Eliot once penned his infamous line of poetry,

“The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

If I could speak with my sixteen-year-old self I would remind her that as a young girl I was engrossed with the idea of the ocean. I loved everything about it: the way in which the calming waves could swallow all of my worries and fears, its seemingly endless edges and the salty air that tickled my senses. Without fail I would always hold a seashell up to my ear and listen for the ‘ocean.’ I would listen to the shallow sound of my own blood coursing through my veins as it echoed into the shell. I would always hold one hand to my heart and the other steadying the shell against my ear. I did this to compare the sound in the shell to the vibrations in my chest.

The harmony between the two symbolized a kind union that I wanted my actions and my soul to form. The pattering of my heart brings me back not only to the waves and the seashells, but it reminds me that I am fragile human being. I need to consistently check and recheck the reasons behind why I choose a certain action.

Finally, I would tell my sixteen-year-old self that sincerity isn’t something that is always stagnant or that can be easily mastered. It takes great time, effort, commitment, and faith to hold back the reigns of our desires. We need to strive to please Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, to think before we act, and to remember that the sincerity of our intention is the seed with which the tree of Iman can grow lush and strong.

May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala make us of those who are sincere in our intentions to do all things for His sake. Ameen.