About Wael

Wael Abdelgawad is an Egyptian-American living in Fresno, California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including Zawaj.com and IslamicAnswers.com, and also of various technology and travel websites. He is a writer and poet, and has been a web developer since 1997. This project, IslamicSunrays.com, is very dear to his heart, as it has allowed him to express ideas that have growing inside him for many years. Wael is divorced and has one lovely young daughter. He practices and teaches martial arts (somewhat obsessively), and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and vanilla fudge ice cream. Wael is an advocate for human rights and blogs about these issues at AbolishTorture.com. He is also a volunteer with the MyDeen Muslim youth organization in Fresno.
Website: http://www.IslamicSunrays.com/
Wael has written 266 articles so far, you can find them below.


The Dreamers of the Day

Sun rays on Machu Picchu

Sun rays shining on the ruins of Machu Picchu

“All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible.”

– T.E. Lawrence

Muslim Woman, Dressed in White – a Poem

Sunrays shining through the forestMuslim Woman, Dressed in White

Muslim woman
dressed in white
works so hard
prays at night.

Muslim woman
dressed in black
struggles up
a climbing path.

Muslim woman
dressed in red
sajdah mark
on her head.

Muslim woman
dressed in pink
she’s much stronger
than you think.

Muslim woman
dressed in green
walking banner
of the deen.

Muslim woman
dressed in blue
heart is strong
words are true.

Muslim woman
dressed in brown
in humble prayer
she bows down.

Muslim woman
dressed in grey
when she smiles
lights up the day.

– Wael Abdelgawad, 2010

The Word “Muslim” – What it Means to Me

Crescent moon at sunriseThis is a piece that I just published on Zawaj.com that maybe belongs more on this website, but ma-sha’Allah.

Muslim

What the Word “Muslim” Means to Me

By Wael Abdelgawad for Zawaj.com

The word alone triggers such different reactions in different people.

The literal definition of the word Muslim is “one who submits,” meaning one who submits to Allah, believing in Him and obeying His commandments.

More specifically, the word Muslim is the participle of the same Arabic verb of which Islam is the infinitive. The feminine form is Muslimah, though a female Muslim is often referred to as simply a Muslim.

There are many false stereotypes about Muslims in the West, or one might say in the non-Muslim world in general, and also many misconceptions among Muslims themselves; but I will not go into those in this article.

Instead, I’d like to share my thoughts and feelings on hearing the word Muslim and contemplating its meaning. I am using the word in a gender-inclusive sense.

Muslim

Faithful. Allah is his Master, and the Quran is the wellspring of his life. Muhammad ibn Abdullah (pbuh) is his beloved Messenger, and all the Sahabah * (see glossary at bottom for explanations of many terms) are his guiding stars. Tawheed is his creed, taqwa his garment, imaan his cool summer rain, and ihsaan his aspiration.

Muslim

Harmonized. She has chosen to live as Allah created us to live, in harmony with all around us, including nature, human beings, and the earth itself. She is plugged into the reality of the universe.

Muslim

Peaceful. His manner is gentle. He is not angry or violent. He would never raise his hands except to defend himself, his family, or other innocents.

Malcolm X in prayer

Hajj Malik Al-Shabazz (Malcolm X) in prayer

Muslim

Generous. If I knock on his door, he will invite me in to his home and offer me honey tea and baklawa. He will ask about my family, and be a believer with me, remembering Allah so that his house remains a place of life. When the salat (prayer) time arrives he’ll spread the musallas and pray with me.

Muslim

Kind. His eyes are soft and smiling. He shakes my hand firmly, with a brotherly openness. If I need help, offers it. He is charitable, ready to give his last coin to someone hungry or ill, knowing that it will return to him seven hundred fold, and that all deeds are recorded and nothing is lost.

Muslim

My brothers and sisters. Arab, African, Indian, Thai, Filipino, Chinese, European, American, Latino, and anyone around the world who says, “Laa ilaaha il-Allahu, Muhammadan Rasul-ullah” (There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah)… they are my family, my Ummah, my nation. If they are free, I breathe easier. If they are fed, I sleep better. If they are mentally and spiritually conscious, I am liberated.

Muslim

Feeling each other’s pain. If she is suffering or oppressed, I feel it like the pain in my own limbs. If she is sad, lonely or confused, I do whatever I can to guide and help. I can never ignore her agony, any more than I could ignore a sliver in my own eye.

Muslim

Friends, compatriots. When I see him, I feel comfortable and at ease, whether I know him or not. I greet him with “As-salamu alaykum” and I smile. I can engage him in conversation, even if I know nothing about him. I know his language no matter what it is. If he tells me something good I say ma-sha-Allah. If he mentions some blessing or favor in his life, I say Alhamdulillah. If he mentions something he hopes to do, I say Insha’Allah. We understand one another.

Muslim

At home in Allah’s house. He can walk into a masjid anywhere in the world and feel at home. He can perform wudu’, prostrate himself to Allah, take a copy of the Quran off the shelf and read it, stand shoulder to shoulder in prayer with strangers, and feel a sense of rightness and belonging.

Noha Abd Rabo, Muslim female Olympic athlete

Noha Abd Rabo of Egypt reacts after her fight against Sarah Stevenson of Britain in their women's + 68 kg taekwondo bronze medal match during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in Beijing on August 23, 2008.

Muslim

An Islamic worldview. She shares my world view and cultural understanding, no matter her nationality or race. She knows that this life is only a test, a moment of frenzy between a sleep and a sleep, like a desert flower blooming and wilting in a single afternoon. She knows that the aakhirah is the home that calls; her heart is filled with hope and fear of Judgment.

She steps out of her door each day and does the right thing, because that is her covenant with Allah, and because she loves to do good. She sees the signs of Allah in the miracle of a hummingbird or the majesty of Mt. Kilimanjaro; in the swirls of her fingertips, and in the knowledge of Allah that lives in her heart.

Muslim

Pursuing excellence. Doctor, teacher, farmer, engineer, human rights worker, taxi driver, tour guide, seamstress, Olympic athlete. Striving for excellence in all things as a matter of worship and a way of life. Truth-telling, fair, sincere in business and in love.

Muslim

Family. Mother, father, giddo (grandpa), nena (grandma), niece, nephew, cousin, wife, daughter, son. Respecting their elders, kind to their youth. Full of love like the sunrise. Embracing like the warm Mediterranean. Laughing like light on the water. Supporting like the granite of the earth.

Muslim

Seeker and guide. Da’iyy, Imam, Quran reciter, submitting in prayer, fasting in Ramadan, performing the Hajj. A voice calling in the darkness. Footsteps to follow in the sand. A bringer of truth. Promoting good and forbidden evil, with the hand, the tongue or the heart.

Muslim

Patient and grateful. Striving her utmost but never trying to force the outcome because the end belongs to Allah. Never giving up; patient; strong.

If she has suffered, if she has been beaten or abandoned, if she has been hungry or confused or lost, she comes through it stronger, knowing that Allah is on her side.

If she has been blessed to live in wealth and ease, to have a loving family, rich food, tailored clothing and a beautiful home, then she thanks Allah, knowing that everything she has is a blessing and a trust from Him, and knowing that the way to show thanks is to give and share.

No matter what, she is humble before Allah, never arrogant, never looking down on others.

Chinese Muslim girl from Xinjiang, China

A Chinese Muslim girl from Xinjiang, China. Muslims are found everywhere, but are one Ummah (nation).

Muslim

Standing up. He is concerned that the image of his religion has been hijacked by a few extremists, and by those who practice ignorant cultural traditions. He stands up for human rights, freedom, and the dignity of all human beings. He stands against terrorism in all forms, against oppression of those who follow other religions, and against “honor killings”, racism, female genital mutilation, intolerance, and destruction of churches or monuments of other religions.

Muslim

Suffering. Battered by war. Torn by sectarian strife. Oppressed by tyrants and dictators. Invaded by foreign powers. Massacred. His land stolen, his homes and farms bulldozed, his holy places demolished, his leaders arrested, his people driven from their ancestral homes.

Starving. Politically imprisoned. Tortured by his own nation’s police, tortured by foreign invaders.

Crying out for freedom, struggling valiantly, never giving up, never accepting subjugation, never submitting to anyone but Allah.

Muslim

Submitting to Allah.

What does the word “Muslim” mean to you?

*******

Glossary of Terms:

  • Aakhirah – the eternal life herafter, the life after our worldy death.
  • Alhamdulillah – “Praise be to Allah.” Something Muslims say to thank Allah for any good thing, large or small. Also, what a Muslim says when he sneezes.
  • As-salamu alaykum – “Peace be upon you.” The greeting of Muslims.
  • Baqlawa – a Middle Eastern sweet with honey and nuts.
  • Da’iyy – a caller to Allah. One who works to propagate Islam by preaching and setting a good example.
  • Ihsaan – perfection or excellence. Showing one’s inner faith in action.
  • Imam – a Muslim prayer leader, community leader or scholar. Not to be confused with Iman.
  • Imaan or Iman – faith or belief, a state of being made up of more than 70 parts which consist of all kinds of virtuous behavior.
  • Insha’Allah – “If Allah wills.” Something Muslims say when discussing future actions.
  • Ma-sha-Allah – “What Allah has willed.” Something Muslims say when praising something good, or sometimes just as a way of saying, “That’s just the way it is.”
  • Masjid – a mosque, a Muslim house of worship.
  • Musalla – place of prayer. Also used for small prayer rugs that many Muslims use.
  • Sahabah – the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
  • Taqwa – consciousness of Allah in all one’s actions.
  • Tawheed – the Oneness of Allah, and belief in that principle.
  • Wudu’ – the ritual ablutions or washing up that a Muslim performs before prayer.

Tell the truth and watch your relationships shine

Yellow sunlight and clouds

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

“O you who believe! be careful of (your duty to) Allah and be with the true ones.” – Quran 9:119

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said,

“You must be truthful, for truthfulness leads to righteousness and righteousness leads to Paradise. A man will keep speaking the truth and striving to speak the truth until he will be recorded with Allah as a Siddeeq (speaker of the truth). Beware of telling lies, for lying leads to immorality and immorality leads to Hellfire. A man will keep telling lies and striving to tell lies until he is recorded with Allah as a liar.” (Muslim)

Ali Ibn Abi Talib (ra) said: “The truth teller achieves three things: trust, love, and respect.”

You know the expression, “The truth shall set you free?” It might be amended to say, “Telling the truth shall set you free.”

Being honest is liberating. It might be difficult or emotionally uncomfortable at times, but it’s so much more freeing to the spirit than lying, or living a lie. We don’t have to remember what lies we told to whom, or whether someone will uncover something from our pasts. We don’t have to feel like hypocrites for speaking words we don’t really mean.

The Body Tells the Truth

Did you know that a liar is betrayed by his own body? We all know about the obvious signs that are monitored by lie detectors, such as increased body temperature (manifested visually as sweating), and raised blood pressure. But there are many other signs that are detectable visually. If you live in the USA you may have seen the television drama “Lie to Me”, about a scientist who acts as a human lie detector by studying body language and facial “micro-expressions”. This is based on real science.

For example, when people are lying, they generally avoid eye contact. Frequently, liars will gaze downward and to the right. Another sign is that liars often fidget, moving hands or feet, drumming fingers, or adjusting clothing. Also, liars may subconsciously try to “hide” the lie by covering their mouths, or making a motion that is symbolic of covering the face, such as touching the nose or an eye. These are all attempts to cover up the lie, and are a subconscious expression of shame. Lastly, the liar may fold his arms or cross his legs, which are defensive gestures, as if he is trying to cover himself up.

SubhanAllah. Even when a person’s mind is willing to lie, the body is not. It’s as if a part of him is adhering to fitra, the pure nature of every human being, and is unwilling to go along with the sin.

After all, the body is always in a state of submission to Allah. The heart beats as Allah made it to do, the blood flows, the nerves fire, the cells generate energy, carry oxygen or process waste, white blood cells attack invaders… all these autonomous processes go on without conscious thought, obeying the imperatives given to them by Allah. This is an expression of Islam at the most basic level. So even when a person’s tongue may commit a sin by lying, on a deeper level the body is still in submission.

In fact, everything in existence submits to Allah and praises Him, and functions as a sign of His power. Allah says,

“Do you not see that Allah is exalted by whomever is within the heavens and the earth and [by] the birds with wings spread [in flight]? Each has known his [means of] prayer and exalting [Him], and Allah is Knowing of what they do.

And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and to Allah is the destination.

Do you not see that Allah drives clouds? Then He brings them together, then He makes them into a mass, and you see the rain emerge from within it. And He sends down from the sky, mountains [of clouds] within which is hail, and He strikes with it whom He wills and averts it from whom He wills. The flash of its lightening almost takes away the eyesight.

Allah alternates the night and the day. Indeed in that is a lesson for those who have vision.

Allah has created every [living] creature from water. And of them are those that move on their bellies, and of them are those that walk on two legs, and of them are those that walk on four. Allah creates what He wills. Indeed, Allah is over all things competent.” (Quran 24: 41-45)

All of the things described in these verses exist in submission to Allah. Only we, children of Adam (and the jinn), have been given the ability to disobey. When we rebel – and that includes lying – we come into conflict with Allah, with society, with all other living creatures, with the weather that surrounds us, and even with the night and day!

Last but not least, we come into conflict with our own bodies. How could that be anything but harmful? Isn’t it a sign to us that lying is wrong on a very deep level?

Truth Builds Trust

My daughter Salma is three years old. She goes to bed at 7:30pm, and I remain beside her until she sleeps. On certain evenings I have a martial arts class, and I hope that Salma will fall asleep quickly so I can hurry to my class before it’s over (my mother watches her until I return). Sometimes Salma asks me, “Baba, are you staying home tonight or going to your class?”

I know that if I lie and say, “I’m staying home,” that will comfort her and she’ll fall asleep quickly, allowing me to go to class. On the other hand, if I say, “I’m going to my class,” she’ll deliberately struggle to stay awake, chattering and rolling around in bed, because she does not want me to leave.

So what do I do? I say, “If you fall asleep soon I will go to my class, otherwise I will stay.” I tell her the truth, even it means that I miss my class, because I could not live with myself if I lied to her for selfish reasons, even if it’s a “harmless” lie.

Some days I get to my class, some days I don’t.

I follow this same strategy in every aspect of my relationship with her. If she says, “Baba, can we go to the zoo on Saturday?” I never say, “We’ll see,” just to placate her and change the subject. Someone did that with me in my childhood and I always hated it because I knew that it really meant “no” and was just an obfuscation. So with Salma I might say, “If it’s sunny we can go to the zoo Insha’Allah,” and when the day comes and it’s sunny I will take her to the zoo no matter what, short of an emergency. Or I might say, “Sorry baby, we need to go shopping on Saturday and we won’t have time.”

My point is that I’m always honest with her even when the answer may upset her, and the result is that she trusts me. I see in my interaction with her that she accepts my word and believes me.

I know these are small examples. There’s nothing earth shaking about telling the truth to a little child. But you know, many people do routinely lie to their children for the sake of convenience.

Wael's daughter Salma at the Fresno Zoo

Wael’s daughter Salma at the Fresno Zoo

Le’ts be ourselves and be honest. Le’ts take these small examples and do a close examination of our interactions with all our family members, our friends, our work colleagues, and our business partners. Do we sometimes lie to simplify matters or to make ourselves look good?

Or do we always tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable?

If we were to adopt a policy of truth at all times, what consequences would that have? Really think about it. How would it affect our credibility, our friendships, and our work relationships?

I believe that, contrary to what our fears and insecurities may tell us, being honest in all our relationships would lay a deep and strong foundation and allow those relationships to flourish.

Tell the Truth Without Harm

There should be no exceptions to honesty, but telling the truth is not a compulsion to harm yourself, nor a justification for harming others.

For example, no Muslim should openly manifest his immoral actions or past. It was narrated that Saalim ibn ‘Abd-Allah said: I heard Abu Hurayrah say: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) say:

“All of my Ummah will be fine except for those who commit sins openly. Part of committing sins openly is when a man does something at night and Allah conceals it, but in the morning he says, ‘O So-and-so, last night I did such and such.’ His Lord had covered his sin all night, but in the morning he removed the cover of Allah.”(Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5721; Muslim, 2990)

In my capacity as an editor of IslamcAnswers.com, I have often been anonymously asked some version of this question: “I lived a sinful lifestyle at one point, including committing zinaa, but I have repented. Now I am engaged to be married and my fiancé wants to know about my past. What should I say? If I tell him/her everything, he may break off the engagement, but if I lie then I’ll be building a future on a foundation of dishonesty.”

My response is that one should give a reply along these lines: “My past is between me and Allah. For whatever sins I have committed, I have asked Allah’s forgiveness and continue to do so. I will not say more. Please judge me according to the person I am now, just as I will do with you.”

If that response is not satisfactory to the other person and he continues to pry, I guarantee you he is not good husband (or wife) material for you. If you don’t tell him everything, he will continue to harangue you endlessly. And if you do, he will be jealous and probably never forgive you. No one needs that kind of judgment in life.

Of course if something material has resulted from past mistakes – for example if one has a child from a past relationship, or has acquired an STD – then that must be revealed, as these are things that will affect a spouse in a continuing way.

Truth Builds Rock-Solid Friendships

As far as harming others, Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: I asked the Messenger of Allah (pbuh): “Who is the most excellent among the Muslims?” He said, “One from whose tongue and hands the other Muslims are secure.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

If you see your brother making a serious mistake, correct him in the kindest possible way. That is a form of honesty. If you have nothing good to say, stay silent. That too is is an aspect of truth telling. No matter what, do not be needlessly hurtful.

Telling the truth in this way creates strong and healthy friendships, because it builds trust. Real friends don’t just tell you what you want to hear. They don’t say, “Oh yeah, you’re great, that’s wonderful,” when inside they’re thinking, “What a crazy thing to do,” or, “What is he up to now?”

But they’re not cruel or harsh either. They tell you the truth kindly. If they think you’re doing something harmful, they tell you with compassion. When you have a friend like that, you know you can trust every word out of his/her mouth, so when your friend compliments or supports you it means something and lifts your spirit, because you know it’s from the heart.

Real friends are not saccharine-sweet liars, nor are they relentlessly negative. They see the good in you, they appreciate you and let you know it, but when you need some honest advice they are there with the right words.

And I’ll tell you something: most people respect truth-tellers, even if they don’t agree with what’s being said.

The other key component is that real friends are discreet. Many years ago I had two good friends – I’ll call them Ali and Mo (not their real names) – who were given scholarships to study at the Islamic University of Madinah. They left together. After some time I heard a rumor that Mo had gotten in some trouble in Saudi Arabia and had been arrested and jailed. I did not know the details. When Ali returned to California for summer break, I asked him, “What happened to Mo? Tell me the whole story.” To my great frustration, Ali would not reveal a single detail. All he said was, “The Saudi authorities are planning to deport Mo; when he returns you can ask him yourself.” Mo was my friend too, I was concerned about him. Plus, I admit that it was such a juicy piece of gossip that I could not resist. But Ali would not budge, even though I was several years older than him and had been like a brother to him for years.

One consequence is that I trust Ali more than most. I know that he’s as firm as a mountain. I know that if I tell him something in confidence he will not repeat it, and that he never backbites or gossips about my faults.

Real friends keep your secrets, don’t speak about you to others, don’t repeat rumors. Again, that builds a rock-solid foundation of trust.

I want to be a friend like that, don’t you?

See Also: Let’s Tell Our Children the Truth

Never Despair: How a Dying Friend Inspired Me

The sun shining from behind a cloud

Sometimes when it's cloudy we forget that the sun is still shining behind the clouds, waiting to burst forth

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

A Dedicated Da’iyy

The year was 1983. A few of my friends from the Fresno, California masjid were going to the hospital to visit a Muslim brother who was very ill. They invited me along and off we went in someone’s car. I was seventeen years old.

Along the way they told me that the brother, whose name was AbdulGhafoor*, was a tall, dreadlocked man in his mid-forties or so, originally from the Virgin Islands. He had several children. He made his living selling perfume oils at the various swap meets around California. He was a dedicated da’iyy, always talking to people about Islam, spreading the word. He was known for his ready laugh, and for always wearing Islamic clothes, typically a shalwar khamees-style shirt and loose pants.

Unfortunately he had developed an illness called Valley Fever.

Valley Fever, one brother explained to me, is a fungus that resides in the soil of California’s Central Valley. The fungus can be stirred into the air by anything that disrupts the soil, such as farming, construction and wind. The fungi can then be breathed into the lungs, causing fever, chest pain and coughing. Some people develop no symptoms, but individuals of Asian, Hispanic and African descent may develop a more serious and sometimes fatal form of infection.

One of my friends described how he had worked with AbdulGhafoor in the grape orchards some time back, picking grapes. He said that AbdulGhafoor was tireless and strong, and had a vibrant spirit that engaged people around him so that the work hours flew past. Another friend mentioned playing basketball with AbdulGhafoor, and how no one could beat him one-on-one.

So when we got to to the hospital and located AbdulGhafoor’s room, I was shocked to see a man who appeared to be on the edge of death. He lay prone in the hospital bed, with IVs running into his arm, barely able to move. I could see that he was tall and had a proud, distinctive face. But he was terribly thin, and his dark skin appeared to be turning white as chalk in places and flaking off.

I think my friends were stunned at AbdulGhafoor’s condition as well, and they haltingly uttered various sympathetic statements. AbdulGhafoor put up his hand and motioned us all closer. He spoke, and I could barely hear him as his voice was a hoarse whisper. He said, “The greatest sin is to despair of the mercy of Allah. Never despair. Trust in Allah.”

He smiled as he said it, as if to reassure us, so we would not feel bad. It amazed me that in his dire situation that was all he had to say.

We didn’t want to tire him too much and we left soon after, but that moment has always stayed in my mind and has affected the way I see the world. So many times in my life, when I have felt low, or been in desperate situations, have I heard AbdulGhafoor’s voice saying, “Never despair. Trust in Allah.”

AbdulGhafoor did not die. Yes, I know I called him a “dying friend” because that’s how he seemed to me in that first meeting. But he was a man with a vast reservoir of internal strength and he pulled through and returned to his family, his work at the swap meets, and his da’wah. He had a few recurring bouts of Valley Fever over the years, but he was strong and nothing ever stopped him.

I got to know AbdulGhafoor well over the following years. He became one of my closest friends. I was young and impressionable and AbdulGhafoor played a major role in shaping my way of thinking. Looking back with the perspective of advancing age, I can see that his advice to me was not always sound. But that same acquired perspective allows me to avoid judging him, because I know now that everyone makes mistakes, and the only way to avoid losing all your friends, and destroying your relationships, is to learn to forgive.

AbdulGhafoor was powerful, but humble and generous. I don’t know how many times I saw him take in travelers and feed them; or provide a room to new Muslim converts who were down on their luck; or help poor Muslims to get started in some sort of self-employment. These were people that no one else would even look at. Poor Latino brothers working in the fields with no education and no English…  a rough-edged white brother fresh out of prison and newly converted, with a swastika tattoo still on his arm! AbdulGhafoor took them into his home, fed them, and taught them. SubhanAllah, ma-sha-Allah.

I remember a teenaged brother who lived on his own and had been a convert for a year or so. This young brother had little understanding of Islamic manners. He saw AbdulGhafoor in a leather coat and he said, “That’s a really nice coat.” AbdulGhafoor said, “Alhamdulillah.” And just like that the youngster said, “Can I have it?” AbdulGhafoor did not say a word. He took the coat off and handed it to the brother.

I have many good memories of time spent with AbdulGhafoor. I learned from him and admired him, but I could also be overconfident as some youth are, and at times I had to be brought down a notch. One time I was practicing Karate at the masjid by myself when AbdulGhafoor entered. He asked if I would like to spar a little. I was in my late teens at that point and had studied karate for some years, and AbdulGhafoor was maybe fifty years old, so I thought he would be a pushover. I thought I’d have to take it easy on him.

We both put our hands up, and before I even had a chance to feel him out – pow! – he smacked me on the nose with an open hand. It was so fast I didn’t see it coming. To my credit, I managed to keep my hands up even as my eyes watered. But I was embarrassed and I made an excuse: “I wasn’t ready for that,” I said. “You shouldn’t have been,” AbdulGhafoor said. “I shouldn’t have come at you like that.”

My teenage ego was mortified, but it makes me laugh now.

A Terrible Loss

Some years later I was in Arizona, living in a harsh environment, learning some valuable life lessons. I called one of my California friends, and I learned that AbdulGhafoor’s daughter Tahirah had died in a house fire. Their house had caught fire at night from incense or candles; Tahirah had run back into the house repeatedly to rescue her younger brothers and sisters. The last time she went in, she did not come out. She was a shaheedah, who died saving her family.

I remember Tahirah as a girl who was intelligent, articulate, and strong in a quiet way. A beautiful girl. Definitely her father’s daughter. May Allah have infinite mercy on her.

I called AbdulGhafoor. I told him I had heard about what happened to Tahirah. He said, “Yes?” His tone was distant, bordering on cold; I was tongue-tied and I stumbled my way through something like, “I’m so sorry, brother. I won’t even pretend to know what you’re feeling, but I want you to know that I am thinking of you and praying for you, and I know Tahirah is in a happy place now…”

There was a silence for a moment, then AbdulGhafoor burst into tears, and through his sobs he said, “You’ve always been a good friend. I love you.” I was moved by that. He knew that I was in a difficult environment and once again he was transcending his own tremendous pain to reach out to me – SubhanAllah, even now I cannot recall it without bringing tears to my eyes.

Some years later, when I returned to Fresno for a visit, I went to visit AbdulGhafoor, and I discovered that in my absence he had named his youngest son after me. It only occurs to me now that I never asked him why. It was a strange time for me. I was very emotionally bottled up, and Fresno seemed to me a place full of ghosts. Some of my friends had passed away – one of a heart attack in his 30’s – and others had moved away. Still others were now estranged. I felt disquieted in Fresno, and for the first time, I felt uneasy in AbdulGhafoor’s house. We chatted briefly, then I excused myself and left.

Even today, so many years later, I have not reconnected with that past.

I still see AbdulGhafoor at the Eids, and once at a mall where he owns a perfume oil shop. He is divorced now and only his youngest son – my namesake – still lives with him. He played a key role in establishing the downtown masjid, and he is still active there, but he no longer has the energy for the incessant da’wah-in-motion activity of his youth. We exchange salams and hugs, and move on. There seems to be an unwritten agreement between us not to discuss the past.

Never Despair

Allah quotes Prophet Yaqoob (alaiyhis-salam) in the Quran:

“Indeed, no one despairs of relief from Allah except the disbelieving people.” (Surah Yusuf 12:87)

And He says,

“Say: O My servants who have transgressed against their own souls, despair not of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Surah az-Zumar 39:53)

Allah speaks of those who have committed great sins, breaking the laws of Allah and harming their own souls, and yet Allah extends to them the offer of mercy and forgiveness. How much more merciful and kind will Allah be to one who is ill, lying helpless in a hospital bed, unable to care for his family, relying only on Allah’s help? Would there be any limit to Allah’s mercy in such a case?

Allah stated in a Hadithi Qudsi, “I am with My servant as He expects of Me.” This means that Allah treats us as we expect Him to do. If we have faith in Allah, expecting His love, guidance and help at every moment of our lives, then we will indeed be loved, guided and helped. But if we imagine Allah to be an angry and unforgiving God, and if we expect harshness from Him, despairing of His mercy, then we commit a great sin and indeed we may not be forgiven.

In the case of illness and adversity, they are in fact a source of forgiveness from Allah, and an expiation for sins. In that sense, illness and adversity are blessings, because we suffer some pain in this life in exchange for forgiveness and comfort in the next. The next post will discuss in more detail this issue of how illness and hardship erase our sins, Insha’Allah.

AbdulGhafoor knew that pain is a source of mercy, and he knew that a Muslim should never despair, never lose faith in Allah, and never think badly of Allah or expect anything less from Allah than ultimate love and tenderness.

All these years later, I still see AbdulGhafoor clearly in my mind’s eye, weak as a baby bird in that hospital bed, his voice hoarse, whispering, “The greatest sin is to despair of the mercy of Allah. Never despair. Trust in Allah.” I think of that moment sometimes when I am tempted to feel sorry for myself because of financial troubles or personal difficulties. At other times, I remember that conversation with him when his daughter was martyred in the fire, and how even through his sobs I knew I was speaking to a man of faith. I never doubted that.

***

* Names were changed to protect the privacy of the people in the story.

Reaching for the light

Flowers reaching for the light

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

Click on the image above and allow yourself a few minutes to do nothing but gaze at it. Really think about what you are seeing. Isn’t it beautiful and astounding? SubhanAllah.

To me, the amazing thing is that it’s a simple image of a small (some might say insignificant) creature in Allah’s universe. It’s not a big-budget film popping with special effects and designed to elicit a canned emotional response, or a classic novel, or a grand symphony, or a skilled musician playing a soul-stirring solo on a guitar.

It’s just a capture of the light shining on a little flower that most of us would probably pay no attention to if we walked past it.

Rather than insert my thoughts here, I would like to ask you:

What does this image do for you? What does it make you think? How does it make you feel?

Dua Against Debt

Burden of debt

The burden of debt can crush our happiness and ruin relationships

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

Being in debt is a killer. It consumes us with stress, and eats away at our happiness and sense of security. It destroys marriages, and if the debt is between family or friends then it can ruin those relationships. In some countries, inability to pay your debt can even you put in prison.

I feel obligated to mention that part of the reason so many people are carrying so much debt is our addiction to the material lifestyle. We are bombarded with messages and advertisements telling us we need to buy this and own that. It gets to the point where we measure our status in life (and that of others) by what we own, or worse, by how much we spend. If we spend a huge sum of money on a lavish wedding, then we are “honored” in society. If not, we feel shamed. Since our incomes do not match our desires, we go into debt.

This thinking and lifestyle is completely contrary to what Islam teaches us, and to the example set by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them all). Even when they became rulers of the world, they continued to live simple and humble lifestyles, because they understood what really matters in life.

So the first step for us is to readjust our priorities, and to realize that what matters is our relationship with Allah. Beyond that, the important things in life are our family relationships – loving our spouses and children and spending time with them, worshiping with them, supporting them. Then our friendships, and doing some good in the world, creating something meaningful, and being an agent of compassion in the lives of those around you.

Dua Against Debt

If you have done whatever you can to avoid debt, and still you find yourself burdened with debts, try this dua from Fortress of the Muslim. Repeat it many times every day:

Dua for relief from debt

Dua for relief from debt, in Arabic

Allaahummak-finee bihalaalika ‘an haraamika wa ‘aghninee bifadhlika ‘amman siwaaka.

“O Allah, suffice me with what You have allowed instead of what You have forbidden , and make me independent of all others besides You.”

(Reference: At-Tirmithi 5/560. See also Al-Albani, Sahih At-Tirmithi 3/180.)

This dua against debt is really brilliant, because the dua contains within itself the solution to the problem. “Suffice me with what you have allowed.” In other words, let the halal be enough for me. Don’t let me get myself into debt because of haram mortgage loans or excessive material desire, or out-of-control consumer spending. Let me be satisfied with a simple, halal life, so that I don’t get into debt.

If you repeat this often enough it becomes a part of your thinking and awareness, and you modify your own behavior, which leads to: “make me independent of all others besides You.” You become your own man or woman, not owing money to anyone, independent, relying only on Allah.

I’m not saying the dua is just an affirmation, I’m saying it works on both levels, as an affirmation and as a prayer to Allah to help you achieve that affirmation. It’s a subtle and amazing dua.

Three Excellent Dua’s Against Debt:
(note that #2 is the same as the one above)

1) “Oh Allah, I take refuge in You…”

Narrated by Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri (ra):

One day the Messenger of Allah (saw) entered the mosque. He saw there a man from the Ansar (a resident of Madinah) called Abu Umamah and said to him: “What is the matter that I am seeing you sitting in the mosque when there is no time of prayer?” Abu Umamah said: “I am entangled in sorrow and debts.” The Prophet Muhammad (ra ) replied: “Shall I not teach you words by which, when you say them, Allah will remove your sorrow, and settle your debts?” Abu Umamah said: “Yes, Messenger of Allah.” The Prophet Muhammad (ra ) said: “Say in the morning and evening: Allahumma inni ‘auzu bika min alhamma wal ‘huzn, wal ‘ajzi wal kasali wal bukhli wal jubn, wa dhala’iddini wa ‘galabatir rajaal.” (See here for the arabic text).

‘O Allah, I take refuge in You from anxiety and sorrow, weakness and laziness, miserliness and cowardice, the burden of debts and from being overpowered by men.’

Abu Umamah said: “When I did that Allah removed my distress and settled my debt.” [Abu Dawood]

2) “O Allah, grant me enough…”

Ali radi Allahu `anhu said that a slave, who had made a contract with his master to pay for his freedom, came to him and said, “I am unable to fulfil my contract, so help me.” He said, “Shall I not teach you some words which Allah’s Messenger (ra) taught me, and which even if you had a debt as large as a mountain Allah would pay it for you?”:

Allahumma akfini bihala lika an haramika wa aghnini bi fadhlika am-man siwak.

“O Allah, grant me enough of what You make lawful that I may dispense of with what You make unlawful, and make me independent, by Your bounty, of other than You.” [At-Tirmidhi]

3) “O Allah, Sovereign of all…”

The Prophet (saw) said to Muadh radi Allahu `anhu, “Should I not teach you a supplication which, when used to implore Allah, Allah shall pay your debt, even it be as huge as Mount Uhud? He then mentioned:

Allahumma Maalik al-mulki tu’til-mulka man tasha’ u wa tanzi’ul mulka mimman tasha’, wa tu’izzu man tasha’ u wa tudhilu man tasha’, bi yadika al-khayr, innaka ‘ala kulli shay’in qadeer, Rahmaan-id-dunya wa’l-aakhirah wa raheemahuma, tu’teeyahuma man tasha’ wa tamna’ minhuma man tasha’, irhamni rahmatan taghnini biha ‘an rahmati man siwaak.

“O Allah, Sovereign of all, You give dominion to whomsoever You will and You take dominion away from whomsoever You will, You exalt whomsoever You will and You bring low whomsoever You will. In Your hand is all goodness and You are able to do all things. Most Merciful and Most compassionate in this world and in the Hereafter, You give them to whomsoever You will and withhold them from whomsoever You will. Bestow mercy upon Me in such a manner that I have no need of the mercy of anyone but You.” [Tabarani]

Our Beautiful Earth’s True Colors! Incredible New Images of the Earth from Space

“And it is He who created the night and the day and the sun and the moon; all [heavenly bodies] in an orbit are swimming.” – Quran, Al-Anbiyaa, 21:33

These spectacular images of the Earth are the most true-colour images of the entire world released to date, according to Nasa scientists.

The images of the Indian Ocean and North America were produced by researchers at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center using images from the Terra satellite more than 700km (435 miles) above the Earth’s surface.

The Blue Marble series was pieced together from thousands of images taken over many months by the satellite’s remote-sensing device Modis, of every square kilometre of the Earth’s surface.

Allah’s signs are all around us, and modern technology reveals more signs to us every day. Some of Allah’s miracles are so small that we can only see them with modern microscopes; while others are so great that we can only see them from the distance of space, Subhan Allahu wa bihamdihi, glory to Allah and all praise to Him.

Click on the thumbnails to see the amazing full-size photos.

What is Taqwa?

Sun rays shining from behind the cloudsBy Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

People often translate “Taqwa” as “fear of Allah.” Not so. Linguistically it means “to protect” or “to shield”, as in to protect oneself from wrongdoing. The root word is Waqa (spelled with the Arabic letters wow qaf ya) which means to preserve something, to take good of something, to be cautious, to protect, prevent, obviate a danger, or to preserve a thing against any harm or injury.

The meaning of the root wow-qaf-ya ? ? ? is demonstrated in Quran 16:81, where garments are mentioned as a means for protection from heat, and coats of armour for protection in fighting.

In the Shari’ah, Taqwa refers to consciousness of Allah. It describes a state of awareness of Allah in everything you do, and letting that awareness guide your actions and shield you from harm.
Allah often tells us in the Quran to “Ittaqoo-(A)llah”, which is generally translated as, “Fear Allah.” By understanding the linguistic meaning of the root word, we can grasp that the phrase more accurately means, “Take Allah as your Protector.” Or it could mean, “Guard yourself against the consequences of violating Allah’s commands (by obeying Him).”

Fear of Allah is a component, but it is balanced with love of Allah, gratitude to Allah, hope for Allah’s mercy, and remembering Allah’s infinite blessings on us. It also includes patience, forgiveness, acceptance (reda), generosity and treating people with love.

Taqwa is also not just a matter of ritual. As Allah says in the Quran:

“It is not taqwa that you turn your faces toward East or West, but it is taqwa to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book and the Messengers, to spend of your substance out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts you have made; to be firm and patient, in pain and adversity. Those are the truthful and those are the muttaqun.” [Qur’an 2:177]

Taqwa is achieved by following Allah’s guidance, staying on the Sirat al-Mustaqeem (the Straight Path), worshiping Allah, and cultivating an awareness of Allah as our Creator, Sustainer and Lord.

One who has Taqwa is a muttaqi. The plural is muttaqeen or muttaqoon. Some of the characteristics of Muttaqeen/muttaqoon mentioned in the Quran are:

  • Those who believe in Al-ghaib (the unseen), establish salat, and keep open for the welfare for others what Allah has bestowed upon them [2:3]. Those who believe in Allah’s Revelations and Al-Akhira [2:4]
  • Those who keep their wealth open for mankind in favorable as well as in adverse circumstances. They divert and sublimate their anger and potentially virulent emotions to creative energy, and become a source of tranquility and comfort to people. They pardon people gracefully. Those who quickly correct any wrong or indecency that has occurred from them, they remember Allah, and protect themselves from trailing behind in dignity. They refrain from willfully persisting in error. [3:133-135]
  • Those who stand in awe of their Lord even in privacy, and fear the approaching Hour of accountability [21:48-49]
  • Those who are the doers of the good; who rarely fall asleep at night (without reflection); who heartily seek to be guarded against their imperfections. Those in whose wealth is the Divine Right of the requester and the deprived [51:15-19]
  • Those who keep on guard and when a visitation from Shaitan comes, they become mindful [7:201]
  • Those who believe in Allah and the Last Day and struggle in the way of Allah with their lives and their wealth [9:44]
  • Those who give away their wealth [92:17-18]

Sometimes it seems to me that Islam is vast, and incorportes so many beautiful spiritual concepts. It seems that achieving a single Islamic “concept” such as Taqwa could be a lifelong journey. I think this is a good thing. Men and women should always have something to strive for.

In Quranic verses 2:2, 3:138 and 5:46, it has been stated that the Quran is huda(n)-lil-muttaqeen (a guidance for those who have Taqwa). The Quran teaches us how to protect ourselves against the perils of this life, and how to preserve ourselves against the punishments of the aakhirah (the Hereafter). Ayah 39:28 also explains that the purpose of the Quran is Taqwa (of those who would follow it). So the Quran is a guide to becoming muttaqeen.

A basic practice that helps to build taqwa is reciting the Quran with contemplation of its meaning and message. Let us make time to implement that today, even if only for ten minutes, and see how it strengthens our spirits and shines a light on the path ahead.

You Are Perfectly Created

Sun Rays by Roy Lichtenstein

Allah is the Master Createor and He made you perfect

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

In many verses of the Quran the human being has been described by Allah as being created in the best form, or created perfectly:

“We have indeed created humankind in the best of molds.”
Quran 95:4 (Surat At-Tin, The Fig)

and:

“Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then of that clot We made a (foetus) lump; then we made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh; then we developed out of it another creature. So blessed be Allah, the best to create!”
(Quran 23:14) (Surat Al-Mu’minun, The Believers)

and:

“The work of Allah who has perfected everything (He created).
Qur’an 27:88 (An-Naml, The Ant)

and:

“He is the One Who has made perfectly everything He has created: He began the creation of human beings with clay, And made his progeny from a quintessence of the nature of a fluid despised: But He fashioned him in due proportion, and breathed into him something of His spirit…”
Quran 32:7-9 (As-Sajdah, the Prostration)

These ayaat do not speak only of the human being’s physical form. The perfection of man and woman includes the human spirit; the human will; the human emotional capacity, intellectual drive, innate curiosity, desire to excel, ability to love without bounds; and our yearning for Allah, even when we do not recognize it.

Allah is speaking of you.

Not some random historical human being. Not only Adam and Hawaa. Not only the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

You.

Discarding negative self-conceptions

So often we are critical of ourselves. We call ourselves stupid – I do this sometimes when I forget something, smacking my forehead and saying, “Ah, I’m an idiot!”

We find fault with our bodies, sometimes severely so. I certainly have had issues of insecurity surrounding my body. I think all of us do, unless we are Olympic athletes.

Sometimes, when we fail at something, we wonder what’s wrong with us, why can’t we do this or that as well as other people?

Have we ever considered that such negative self-conceptions contradict our faith?

Aren’t we Muslim? Don’t we believe in Allah, and in the Quran? Yes? Then we must believe that we were created perfectly. We were created by the Master Creator who does not make errors.

Allah made no mistakes when He made you.

Your spirit is perfect, your soul is perfect, your mind is perfect, your heart is perfect, and even your body is perfect.

Allah says that He breathed into us something of His spirit! Do we realize how immense that is, how profound, how awesome? Allah the Eternal, The First and The Last, The Majestic, The Omnipotent, has breathed a part of His spirit into Bani Adam, this little two-legged creature of clay, and made us perfect. Me, you, our children and friends, our neighbors and co-workers, and even drug addicts, thieves, torturers and tortured, abusers of every stripe, and everyone walking this earth, believers and disbelievers, were all created perfect in every way. It’s hard to wrap our minds around that. But we must accept it as an article of faith.

In case we have any doubt, let’s look at the ayah above from Surat At-Tin again, but this time with the preceding verses included:

“By the fig and the olive, and the Mount Sina, and this city of peace (Makkah), We have indeed created humankind in the best of molds.”

Allah is declaring an oath by some of the most powerful symbols in existence (an explanation of these symbols is a matter for another article) that humankind was created in the best of molds. When Allah swears in this way it is because He wants to you sit up and open your mind to what is being said; to accept it wholeheartedly and draw it into your chest; and not to have an atom of doubt.

Of course that doesn’t mean that everything you do is perfect. It refers to your capacities, your potential. You were created without flaw, with a pure soul imbued with fitra, a powerful mind, and a body whose magic is still not understood by modern science. You are perfectly capable of fulfilling every obligation that Allah has laid on you; of bearing any burden that is laid on your shoulders; and of achieving any noble dream that Allah has placed in your heart.

What does it mean for us?

So what does that mean for me and you to see ourselves as perfect? I am asking seriously and rhetorically. What does it mean when we can’t fall back on self-pity? What does it mean when we are no longer allowed to view ourselves as flawed?

What does it mean when we have to accept that we can achieve any “crazy dream” that may smolder in our hearts? What does it mean when we look at ourselves in the mirror and see perfect, beautiful faces, no matter the shape of our features? What does it mean when we realize that we have within ourselves the capacity to reach the same heights of imaan (faith) as the sahabah, or the same level of intellectual rigor as Imam Al-Bukhari or Sheikh ibn Taymiyyah, or the same purity and unwavering trust as Sayyidna Maryam? (may Allah be pleased with her).

Do we begin to see that they were simply human beings who acknowledged the perfection with which Allah created them? They strove their utmost to live up to that perfection, placing no boundaries or limitations upon themselves. They were not extraordinary people in their creation; they were only extraordinary because they accepted Allah’s words and thrust themselves utterly into the river of the Quran (or in Maryam’s case, immersed herself completely in tawakkul [trust in Allah], and taqwa [consciousness of Allah], allowing themselves to expand to fill the capacity of the flawless mold that Allah created them in, and refusing to allow themselves to be defined or demeaned by anyone else’s opinion. Nor did they allow themselves to be mentally or spiritually diminished or damaged by the harsh circumstances of life.

We have the same option. You, me, all of us.

You are perfect, whether you admit it or not. Go with it. Live up to it. It’s not a burden but a liberty. It is the freedom to be who Allah put you on this earth to be. It’s the freedom to dream and achieve without the chains of self-doubt or self-deprecation. It’s the freedom to accept yourself, love yourself, and allow yourself to love others fee-sabeel-illah, in Allah’s cause, and to live a full life of meaning and worth.

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