In Solitary Confinement, a Young Man Prays to God

Guantanamo prison cell

An isolation cell at the Guantanamo Bay prison.

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

What would you do if you were locked away in a prison like this for years? Would you keep up your prayers, alone in the solitude of your cell? Many Muslims do. Remember them in your dua’.

Yesterday I was watching a National Geographic show called “Hard Time”, about the state prison system in Georgia, USA. This episode was filmed in the “Hi-Max”, the ultra-high-security institution where inmates are permanently locked in isolation.

These cells have molded concrete walls and thick steel doors with tiny plexiglass windows. Prisoners are fed through a slot in the cell door. The guards do not speak to them. It is a world of utter silence and loneliness. Men go mad. Many mutilate themselves or commit suicide.

There was a quick shot through the door window of a young man in his solitary cell. He was Muslim. He laid his only towel on the floor and began to pray.

I saw that and it moved me. SubhanAllah. We take so much for granted. Is there any reason why I have been so blessed and that young man has not? Am I a better man than him? There he is, all alone in a concrete box for years and years, praying to God with no one to see him, not giving up hope, not giving up his faith. While we, who have our freedom, fail to give God His due. And which of the favors of our Lord will we deny?

All Good Comes From Allah

Sunlight behind the clouds

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Everything that Allah does for us is an expression of His mercy. This is true for the blessings we see and recognize, and the countless ones we don’t.

All good things come from Allah, while evil comes from our own hands. Theft, lying, abuse and murder – these things come from human hands.

“What comes to you of good is from Allah, but what comes to you of evil, [O man], is from yourself. And We have sent you, [O Muhammad], to the people as a messenger, and sufficient is Allah as Witness.”
- Quran 4:79

From Allah come the crops that grow, the fruiting trees, the sunshine and rain, and the earth beneath our feet. From Him come a thousand daily blessings, unnoticed by us in our busy lives and limited viewpoints. From Him come the Prophets and the Books, the angels and the fitrah (the natural inclination to do good) in our hearts. From Allah comes my sweet daughter Salma, my healthy body, and the jar of almonds on the table beside me as I write this. Look around yourself and catalog all the blessings you see, just in the space around you. Don’t forget to count the air you breathe.

As for the tests that befall us that are decreed by Allah – such as illness, natural disasters and death – they are not evil. They are trials that define the boundaries of our existence on this earth, which itself is a fleeting test and a proving ground. And even those trials having blessings hidden within them. I know that sounds trite, but it’s true.

Think well of Allah and be grateful, because all good things come from Him, and His mercy never stops.

Chase Your Dream – Poem by Mirza Yawar Baig

Beautiful road

My Thoughts

My deepest fear is that I will simply die one day
Crying for what might have been
The earth will be free of carrying my burden
And there will be no trace of my passing

What use such a life?
That one lives and one dies
Yet there is nothing to show that either happened!

Nothing was changed
No oppression relieved
No ideas ignited
No lives touched
Nothing!!

Just that I had lived
And now I am dead

Chase your dream and know
Dreams want to be caught
To live, the dream must come true
Until then it is only a dream

I walked alone through the desert
I walked alone by the ocean
I walked alone through the forest
I walked alone on the mountain

For I was born to die
But I was not born to die without meaning
I was given the chance to make what meaning I desired
For that is what would define me when I was gone

I ask myself, ‘What did I do?’
What more could I have done?
For in the end it was not about others
It was about me.

By Mirza Yawar Baig  of YawarBaig.org

We All Make Mistakes

Bird flying over the sea

Allah made us in a state He loves

By Amy Estrada for IslamicSunrays.com

Ibrahim has just graduated and started a good job, and is ready to marry. He and his family meet several prospective spouses, but more than one of them is a suitable match. Ibrahim is confused. He wants to make a wise choice, but the choice isn’t clear. Of the few that seem like good candidates, none rises above the others. Who should he choose?

He prays istikhara and consults family and friends. He makes dua’, but the uncertainty remains. The only thought going through his mind is which person is the “right” one. The idea that he may choose the “wrong” one, thereby making a mistake and perhaps creating a future of pain for himself, becomes crippling.

We all make mistakes. When I say mistakes, I don’t mean moral errors, or temptations to which we succumb. I mean honest mistakes in judgment and in choice.

It’s part of the human condition to hold ourselves to high standards. We want to never make a wrong choice, or create regrets. Regrets are painful, and we are programmed to get away from pain. In fact, most of us spend our lives trying to avoid pains of all kinds. Avoiding regrets is a logical part of that endeavor.

But is that really the type of life Allah expects or even wants us to live?

It’s clear Allah wants us to avoid sinful actions and habits. He clearly outlines the consequences of errors not only in the way we live our lives apart from His laws, but even errors in our belief and understanding. The Quran warns against waywardness over and over. Yet I think sometimes we take these admonitions and use them to create an expectation of perfection for ourselves.

Fatima has been offered a job ninety minutes from her home. She’s not excited about spending a total of three hours commuting each day, not to mention the cost of gas and bridge tolls, but the job is a good one in her field. A week before she is to begin the new job, she is offered another job only ten minutes from home. It’s not quite as good as the other, but she could do so much with those extra three hours. Pray, read, spend time with family and friends… What to do? The wrong choice could affect her entire career. For days she racks her brain trying to decide, until she becomes physically ill.

These scenario can also play out when someone is deciding which university to attend, thinking about moving, or even taking a vacation. We have programmed ourselves to think there is only one “right” way to do things, and every other way is wrong. We stress ourselves out trying to figure out what that one “right” way is when it’s not readily clear.

The Prophet SAWS said:

“The believer is not required to humiliate himself.” He was asked, “How does one humiliate himself, O Messenger of Allah?” He replied, “He takes on tests that he cannot bear.”

This hadith can be applied to many different situations, but the takeaway is that we shouldn’t put undue stress on ourselves. Essentially, we shouldn’t make life harder on ourselves than it already is. To do so is a form of self-humiliation.

When we try to be perfectionists, striving to make choices that are flawless and regretless, we put a standard on ourselves that we as humans were not meant to bear. In trying to get it “exactly right”, we create more pain – perhaps even greater pain than the one we’re running from.

In the Quran, Allah describes the people of Paradise as those “who avoid great sins and shameful deeds, only (falling into) lesser faults; truly your Lord is ample in forgiveness. He knows you well when He brings you out of the earth and when you are hidden in your mother’s wombs. Therefore do not ascribe (claim) purity to yourselves. He knows best who the God-conscious ones are.”

It seems here we are told to avoid sins and shameful deeds, but we are allowed to have ‘lesser faults’.  We are allowed to make mistakes and still have a fair chance of achieving Jannah. We aren’t supposed to live such a life that we could “ascribe purity to ourselves”. A life of perfection. It’s not meant for us.

Let’s give ourselves permission to be human. Allah made us in a state He loves and cherishes, so why try to make ourselves something we’re not? It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to make a choice and it not be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It’s just a choice, and in shaa Allah we will learn from it either way. It’s okay to start on a path, take a risk, or even make an investment, and fail. No one intends to fail, but failure is one of the best ways to gain wisdom and valuable experience.

There’s an uplifting movie I recommend to anyone struggling with this issue. It’s Disney’s Meet the Robinsons. As Aunt Billie said in that movie:  “From failing, you learn. From success, not so much.”

Eid Mubarak! And some thoughts on how to celebrate amid suffering

Eid card with butterfly

Eid Mubarak, may every year find you happy and healthy

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Sometimes Eid comes around and I don’t feel like celebrating. Sometimes I want to say, “When Muslims are no longer being massacred in Syria and Myanmar, when they are free in Palestine and China, when hunger is ended and torture is abolished, when we are free from dictatorship, and when corrupt Muslims no longer harm others in the name of religion, then I will celebrate.”

But suffering has always existed, and Allah decreed the Eid as a day of joy. How do we reconcile these two facts?

Perhaps by celebrating, we stand in the face of evil and say, “I still believe in the capacity of humanity for good. I still believe in Allah. I am grateful for all I have. I do not surrender, and I will not stop striving to help the downtrodden. Today, evil does not win. Today we express brotherhood and sisterhood, and we celebrate life.”

Lastly, remember that the days preceding the Eid – the Hajj, and especially the Day of Arafah – are days of dua’. These are days when Allah is especially inclined to answer our prayers. Let us use that time to pray for those are suffering, for Allah has the Power, and we have none. He is Wise, while we struggle to comprehend. May Allah have mercy on us all.

Allah Will Show the Truth

Sunlight illuminating the clouds

Allah will guide those who seek it out of confusion and into clarity.

By Amy Estrada | IslamicSunrays.com

One thing I totally believe about Allah, is that He will guide those who seek it out of confusion and into clarity. He will clearly show right from wrong, good from bad, pure from impure. Sure there are plenty of times we get stuck in a situation where we can’t figure out up from down, or what’s really going on. We follow wisdom as best we can. And Alhamdulillah, when He sees fit, He shows the truth of things in a way that cannot be denied.

Don’t despair if the situation doesn’t make sense. Don’t worry if the way forward doesn’t seem clear. Don’t degrade yourself if you can’t figure that person out. Throw your cares to Allah all the time, and take those small steps forward as His noor slowly reveals the way. Eventually it will all be clear, and your iman will blossom as you see how He really is bringing you to all things good in this life and the next.

We can never sabotage His mercy. Never!

The Emperor and the Seed

Sprouting seed

An emperor in the Far East was growing old and knew it was time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his children, all of whom were corrupt and a great disappointment to him, the emperor decided to try something different. He called young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, “It is time for me to step down and choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you.”

The kids were shocked! But the emperor continued. “I am going to give each one of you a seed today. One very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next emperor!”

One boy named Ling was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his mother the story. She helped him get a pot and planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow.

Ling kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, 4 weeks, 5 weeks went by. Still nothing. By now, others were talking about their plants but Ling didn’t have a plant, and he felt like a failure. Six months went by-still nothing in Ling’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed.

Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn’t say anything to his friends, however. He just kept waiting for his seed to grow.

A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot. But honest about what happened, Ling felt sick to his stomach, but he knew his mother was right. He took his empty pot to the palace. When Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other youths. They were beautiful-in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other kinds laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and just said, “Hey nice try.”

When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Ling just tried to hide in the back.

“My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown,” said the emperor. “Today, one of you will be appointed the next emperor!” All of a sudden, the emperor spotted Ling at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered his guards to bring him to the front.

Ling was terrified. “The emperor knows I’m a failure! Maybe he will have me killed!”

When Ling got to the front, the Emperor asked his name.

“My name is Ling,” he replied.

All the kids were laughing and making fun of him. The emperor asked everyone to quiet down. He looked at Ling, and then announced to the crowd, “Behold your new emperor! His name is Ling!”

Ling couldn’t believe it. Ling couldn’t even grow his seed. How could he be the new emperor?

Then the emperor said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds which would not grow. All of you, except Ling, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new emperor!”

The Prophet taught, “Truthfulness leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Paradise. And a man keeps on telling the truth until he becomes a truthful person. Falsehood leads to Al-Fajur (i.e. wickedness, evil-doing), and Al-Fajur (wickedness) leads to the fire, and a man may keep on telling lies until he is written before Allah as a liar.” [Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 8:116]

Keep up your good work

Sunrise behind a hill, Sun and tree

Sunrise

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Keep up all your good work. Don’t give up on yourself.

I am 100% sure that there are people who admire you and look up to you.

Recite Surat al-Asr often and contemplate the meaning. Imam Shafi’ famously said that if Allah had revealed only Surat-al-Asr, it would have been enough for the guidance of humanity.

By the time!
Surely, humankind is in loss –
Except for those who believe and perform righteous deeds, and strive together for truth, and strive together for patience. - Quran 103

Those who do as Surat al-Asr advises are not in loss. Where are they? In success, peacefulness, gratitude, and progress.

If you are still struggling on the path to your dream, then believe in yourself and know that you have a bright future in your work and in love, Insha’Allah. Problems never last, but patient people do. Your day will come, don’t worry.

Make dua’ (pray) immediately when you wake up, and last thing before you sleep. Be peaceful and trust Allah. The road unfolds ahead of you each day. Keep your head up.

God does not turn away

Misty rainbow in Waialu Valley, Hawaii

Misty rainbow in Waialu Valley, Hawaii

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

You may turn away from Allah (God), but He does not turn away from You. He is the Most Forgiving and the Most Merciful. He waits. When you make the smallest motion to return, Allah carries you the rest of the way.

In a famous Hadith Qudsi, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that Allah said:

“I am as My servant thinks (expects) I am. I am with him when he mentions Me. If he mentions Me to himself, I mention him to Myself; and if he mentions Me in an assembly, I mention him in an assembly greater than it. If he draws near to Me a hand’s length, I draw near to him an arm’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed.” – (Sahih Bukhari)

You may turn away from Allah, but He does not turn away from You.

There have been times when I turned my back on Allah – or you could say I turned my side, since I still believed. But I was not practicing well. I walked in a different direction, getting far away from the Muslim I should have been and wanted to be. I knew in my heart that I had to get back to the deen, but I felt powerless to change.

The amazing thing, the glorious thing, is that Allah NEVER turned away from me. He kept on guiding me. He preserved that small flame of faith in my heart.

When I lived in SF and I felt ostracized from the community because they all had a certain ethnic background and I didn’t seem to fit in, I ended up moving across the bay to Oakland and discovered a masjid nearby with an active, multi-racial congregation that inspired me. That was Allah, taking me where I needed to go.

Ramadan is a tool that Allah gives us to bring us back to the faith. The constant flow of excessive food and drink burdens the spirit and buries it beneath a layer of sugar, salt, fat and processed junk. When we abandon all that, the spirit revives and emerges like a flower in spring. And when we turn back to Allah, we find that He was there all along, waiting for us.

Allah is The Pardoner

Clouds and sun rays

Reprinted from Al-Jumuah Magazine

 

In a recent Khutbah, I heard Allah’s divine name, Al-Afoo, The Pardoner, and a very touching qudsi hadeeth that exemplified it:

“A servant [of Allah’s] committed a sin and said: “O Allah! Forgive me my sin.” Allah said: “My servant has committed a sin and acknowledged he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes them.” Then the man sinned again and said: “O Lord! Forgive me my sin.’ And Allah said: “My servant has committed a sin and acknowledged he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes them.” Then the man sinned again and said: “O Lord! Forgive me my sin.” And Allah said: “My servant has committed a sin and acknowledged he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes them. [My slave!] Do what you wish, for I have forgiven you!” (Bukhari and Muslim)

This is no free ticket to sin as you please. But it did make me realize we should always have hope that Allah will forgive our sins and guide us to become better Muslims.

How many times have we sat down to count our mistakes and recognized we have sinned so much we can’t even keep track anymore? We think that there’s no way Allah can forgive us now. To our minds, we don’t even deserve forgiveness.

This hadith shows the extent of Allah’s mercy, which no human mind can even imagine.

“And do not despair of Allah’s mercy. For, most surely, none despairs of Allah’s mercy except the disbelieving people.” [Quran 12:87]

Take note. Hope is no luxury to make our lives better. It is a Muslim obligation, part and parcel of faith.

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