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.


Move Your Feet

Blue and white earth

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Life is a heavyweight bout. The other guy – let’s call him Mr. World – hits hard and doesn’t let up. There’s no standing eight count. If you lose this particular bout you don’t die, you just go to your corner and sit on a stool. Everyone’s gone and the arena is dark. You sit there nursing your wounds and wondering what might have been.

The good news is that anytime you want a rematch, it’s yours. The lights come up and the crowd roars, and Mr. World is there again, dancing in his blue-green robe, throwing combinations you’ve never seen. You don’t have to be big to win this fight. You just have to want it, and believe, and move your feet, and not take no for an answer.

I was a BNP (anti-Muslim) activist … and converted to Islam

"And when My servants ask you concerning Me, then surely I am very near; I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me, so they should answer My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way." - Quran 2:186

“And when My servants ask you concerning Me, then surely I am very near; I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me, so they should answer My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way.” – Quran 2:186

By Muhammad Islam
For The Guardian, as told to Shaista Gohir, September 2005

I hated all foreigners but feared Muslims the most. I grew up in the 1960s in Gateshead, in a predominantly white area; I can’t remember seeing an Asian face there. As a family we were not religious. We only went to weddings, funerals and christenings. I was not interested in school, either. You didn’t need to stay on because you were more or less guaranteed a job in the mines, steelworks or shipyards.

When I was 16, all my friends were British National Party activists. It was a cool thing to do, and I joined in, too. I wanted to shock, to rebel. We would get together, drink, listen to music, chase girls and go out Paki-bashing. That wasn’t a phrase we considered bad or wrong.

I remember my first time; it was a Saturday night and we had been drinking. We went into an Asian area and came across a lad of about 17. We started chanting – the usual thing, “Go back to your own country” – and then went after him. There were about 10 of us, and we kicked and punched him. When we ran away, I remember, we were laughing. I don’t know what happened to him, and at the time I wouldn’t have cared: I was in a group and we had camaraderie.

By the time I was 19 I was growing out of the BNP. I moved to London for work and stopped going to meetings. But I still hated all foreigners, especially Muslims. Over the next few years I became involved with people who went to Muslim meetings in Hyde Park, mainly to cause trouble.

Then, one day in 1989, I was walking past a secondhand book stall by the Royal Festival Hall when a cover caught my eye: it was the most beautiful picture, in the most gorgeous colours, of a building. I didn’t know what the book was, but it was only 20p so I bought it. I thought I’d buy a cheap frame and have a nice picture for my wall. I had no idea until I got home that I had bought the Qur’an.

I was horrified when I found out. My initial reaction was to throw it away. But then I got curious. I started reading it, thinking I would find things to use against Muslims; I thought it would be filled with contradictions. When I was young, my mum always made her views known and from her I acquired a love of debating. Now, I would regularly go and debate with Muslims at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. As I did so, I started to get a very different picture of Islam. Seeing people pray in unison was such a powerful image.

A few years later, I returned to the north-east – I’d got a job as a chef. When I saw a group of Muslims at an Islamic book stall in Newcastle, I thought, “Here’s another group I can wind up; I probably know more about Islam than they do.” But I was shocked when I approached them; they were very knowledgeable. I kept going back because I enjoyed debating with them, and after four weeks they challenged me.

They wanted me to try to disprove the Qur’an and convince them my way of life was better. They said if I succeeded they would become Christians, but if I failed I should become a Muslim. I accepted the challenge. But after months of returning to the stall and debating, I realised I was losing and panicked. I stopped going to the stall.

Three years had passed when I bumped into one of the guys from the stall. As I thought about what I wanted to do, I felt as if a big rock were crushing me, but when I told him I wanted to convert, I had a total sense of peace. I made my final decision on Wednesday November 17 1996 and converted the following day. I have been close to the Hizb ut-Tahrir group ever since: I became a Muslim because of them; they were the guys at the stall.

When I told my family, my sister stopped talking to me. My father was horrified but didn’t want to discuss it. My mother thought it was a phase I was going through and was more worried about what the neighbours would think. She now lets me pray in the house, but refuses to call me Muhammad (I was born John Ord).

I met my wife, who is Pakistani, after converting. We live in Birmingham, where she works as a primary school teacher. I have just started a degree in social work. When I look back, I can’t believe the things I did; it feels like a different person and a different life. Ironically, because of the backlash from the London bombings, I now fear attack, and have started going out in my English clothes. In them I look like a bearded, middle-aged white guy.

The Blind Man and the Helper

Desert oasis

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Picture a blind man, standing in the middle of a desert. Sometimes he thinks he knows which way to go, so he wanders with his hands outstretched, but he finds no help. Other times he gives up, and stands in despair beneath the burning sun…

That blind man is us, wandering in this material desert that is the dunya…

Now imagine that someone comes and takes the blind man’s hand, and shows him the way to a place of peace and fulfillment. That is the Messenger of Allah Muhammad (sws), who showed us the way to Allah SWT; and the way to Jannah.

What would that blind man feel? How deeply grateful would he be? How much would he love the helper who saved him, and the One who sent the helper?

Perhaps that is why, when ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab (RA) said to the Prophet (sws), “You are more beloved to me than everything except myself,” the Prophet replied: “No O ‘Umar! I swear by Him in whose hand my soul is, (you will not truly believe) until I become more beloved to you than yourself.” Thereupon, ‘Umar said: “I swear by Allah that you are now more beloved to me than myself.” The Prophet replied: “Now! O ‘Umar.” (i.e., now your faith is complete). (Bukhaari).

‘Umar could not guide himself nor save his own soul from the spiritual destitution of jahiliyyah (the time of ignorance). He needed the guidance of the Messenger of Allah (sws) for that, and therefore his love, fealty and commitment to the Messenger had to be greater than even to himself.

***

http://www.alminbar.com/khutbaheng/ltp.htm

Justice First, Then Love

Man surrounded by sun rays

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

“Say: ‘My Lord has commanded justice…'” – Quran, Surat al-A‘raf, 29

Some people speak of love as it if it is the answer to all the world’s ills:

“All you need is love”… “God is love”… “Jesus loves you.” And so on.

But Islam chooses instead to focus on justice, because when people perceive that they are being treated fairly and justly, everything else becomes possible. The Quran does speak of love, but it emphasizes justice more strongly.

“You who believe! be upholders of justice, bearing witness for Allah alone, even against yourselves or your parents and relatives. Whether they are rich or poor, Allah is well able to look after them. Do not follow your own desires and deviate from the truth. If you twist or turn away, Allah is aware of what you do.” – Quran, Surat an-Nisa’, 135

What does it mean to speak of love while at the same time oppressing people? What does it mean to speak of love while harboring racial prejudice, or while supporting the occupation of another country, or engaging in oppressive labor practices? On a personal level, what does it mean to speak of love while abusing one’s spouse or children?

No. Be just and give people their rights. Harm no one, cheat no one, and oppress no one. Be kind and compassionate to friends and strangers alike. Do that, and everything will follow: peace, harmony, love, and progress. That’s the Islamic way.

If we do not see justice being practiced in the Muslim world today – and we do not, for the most part – it’s because many Muslims are not  living Islam. They are infected with un-Islamic ideologies and behaviors such as tribalism, sectarian hatred, and misogyny. We have lost our way as an Ummah. The last few centuries have reduced us from kings of the earth to squabbling children, and now we have to grow up all over again.

Read that verse again. Be upholders of justice even against yourselves. Carry the torch of truth. Judge yourselves before others. Be fair, be kind, and help the ones sitting in the dust, crying for a morsel of food, or for safety from the guns. Think of your spouse’s needs before your own. Fulfill your duties to your children: not only financially, but the duties of time, care, playing, hugging, and always being honest.

And here’s something you may have realized: justice practiced at this deep level begins to look a lot like love. The difference is the starting point: not flowery words, but the practical expression of justice on a societal and personal level.

Justice and kindness are the rich soil from which loves grows. Be just.

You ask for forgiveness, then you’re struggling in life?

Painting of a ship on the sea.

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Let’s say you ask Allah (God) to purify your soul, and guide you on the true path, and forgive your mistakes. Then you find yourself facing obstacles in life. You’re struggling and wondering why.

Has it occurred to you that Allah is in fact answering your prayers? That He knows exactly what needs to happen in your life in order for you to find the Way and be purified?

The Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “If Allah has decreed a rank for one of his servants to reach, but his deeds will not suffice him to reach this rank, then Allah afflicts him with hardship with respect to his body, wealth and children. Then he perseveres through this until he reaches the high rank that Allah has decreed for him to reach.” [Ahmad]

The good news is that guidance and forgiveness are worth the hardship. They are precious, and far outweigh whatever struggles we must experience along the way. After all, guidance and forgiveness are components of happiness and tranquility of the heart, and that’s what everyone is seeking in this life, whether they know it or not.

Be patient with what Allah gives you. He knows what He is doing. Keep on praying, and keep on walking the path.

10 Islamic quotations by Sarah Saghir

Big Wet Meadow in Cloud Canyon, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.

Big Wet Meadow in Cloud Canyon, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California.

Thoughts on Prayer, Faith, Gratitude and the Soul
By Sarah Saghir

1. Make wudu, not war.

2. You can’t love God, without Him letting you. He must have loved you first.

3. It’s the dua at the Iftar table that tells us what we really want. It’s the ability to suppress the nafs and hush the stomach for a few extra minutes, all to let the heart speak what it wishes.

***

4. The only mirror we should obsessively check is that which reflects the soul. You cannot purchase such a mirror, but you can find it within you. *Ponder* over the condition of your soul. Sit with yourself and reflect. But for such reflections to surface, you need blessed light from God and a pair of open eyes – nay, an open heart. Because sometimes, “It is not the eyes that are blind, but the hearts.” (Qur’an 22:46)

Ya Allah put the light of the Quran in our hearts. Make it a means for us to clearly see. Ya Wahhab

***

5. There is absolutely no need, my friend – no need for you to wipe the rain off my face after the prayer. I know your intentions are well, as it may seem like there are dark clouds hovering over my head, but I am harboring rainbows on the inside, with colors of love, fear, hope, guilt, peace, shame and calmness. And sometimes these tears mean i’m desperately looking for the rays of sincerity that bring this prism to life, under the rain.

***

6. I know you cannot measure the magnitude of your blessings; but please tell me you noticed one thing: the difference between the guided and the heedless. You — whom God addresses, while causally sitting on a bus, reading His speech, surrounded by passengers full of hunger & vacancy — must be so lucky. Tell me you recognize this debt; tell me you found in its depth, gratitude.

***

7. When you finally decide to practice your faith, know that God is 100% behind you. He’s the one to give you that initial push. And at first, it will be easy breezy; you will feel ‘the rush’ and experience that ‘spiritual high.’

But then He will test you (only because He loves you) And now you’ve got to start swinging yourself, using your core, feet, arms, your will – against the wind, gravity, the hardships, people, your sins..

You need to keep pushing to the rhythm of faith that swings high, low, beautiful. Keep pushing to get higher, closer to Him. Keep pushing.

***

8. O Allah whoever wishes khair (good) for me in the secrecy of the night or in the openness of daylight, grant them double what they’ve wished for me. And whoever wishes sharr (harm) to touch me, pardon them and stretch distance and forgiveness between us. Ya Karim,

9. I want to live a life of simplicity, not an easy life.

10. If you only pray when you’re in trouble, you’re in trouble.

Question from a reader: Does Allah give up on us?

Sunrise over the Great Smoky Mountains, USA

Sunrise over the Great Smoky Mountains, USA

Question from a reader:

Assalam u Alaikum,

I have been reading things on your website for about a year and it has helped me tremendously in a very dark time in my life.

Recently, after making mistakes over and over again, I have this question: do you think Allah ever gives up on us?

I know the answer is “No He does not”, but what about when we made a mistake and repented but then did it again, repented and did it again, but then stopped and asked for forgiveness?  Do you think at this point He has given up on us and punishes for the rest of our lives?

I know we must learn our lesson, and I know my sadness now is to reaffirm my faith and to learn my lesson, and is hopefully temporary. I just don’t want Him to give up on me. Do you think its possible that He will be happy with me if I keep praying and making my faith stronger and stronger? I know you have another website for people to post questions but for some reason I feel more comfortable asking you here.

– Sister F.

Wael’s answer:

Dear Sister F., wa alaykum as-salamu wa rahmatullah,

I’m happy to hear that my articles have helped you, Alhamdulillah. My first response to your question of whether Allah gives up on us:  “I sure hope not.”

Seriously though, the real answer is that Allah does not give up on us, nor does He get tired of forgiving us as long as we keep turning to Him sincerely. We must not despair of Allah’s pardon. Allah says in the Quran,

“O those of My servants who have transgressed against your own selves, despair not of Allah’s mercy. Allah does forgive all sins, for surely He is the Most Forgiving, Most Merciful One.” (Quran 39:53)

The key is sincerity. Allah says,

“O you who believe! Turn to Allah with sincere repentance!” (Quran, al-Tahreem 66:8)

Allah – Glorifed and Exalted – loves to forgive our sins. In fact, the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said,

“If you did not commit sins, Allah would dispose of you and replace you with people who commit sins and then ask for forgiveness so that He forgives them.” [Muslim]

That is a shocking statement on its face. However, it’s not that Allah loves for us to commit sins; rather, he knows that a tendency to commit sins is part of our human nature. What Allah loves therefore is when we realize our mistakes and return to Him in repentance.

Also on this theme, the Messenger of Allah (sws) said: “Allah rejoices more over the repentance of His servant than any one of you who finds his camel after having lost it in a desolate land.” (Agreed upon). This is quite touching if you think about it. Imagine a man is making a journey through the desert on his camel. All his food and water are packed into bags carried by the camel. He sleeps one night, and wakes to find the camel gone. He is hundreds of miles from the nearest oasis, in a trackless wasteland. He knows that without the camel’s transportation and the supplies it carries, he will die in this barren land. He is crushed. He will never see his wife again, never hug his child, never even taste food again. Everything he has worked for has come to an end, and he will die of thirst in the blazing heat – a terrible way to die.

Suddenly the camel comes trotting back over the horizon, and returns to him! The man will live! Imagine the joy he feels.

Allah’s joy at our return to Him is greater than that. Glory to Him.

We humans hold grudges. If a friend or spouse betrays us we might be able to forgive him once or even twice, but if it happens repeatedly we will eventually stop trusting him and refuse to forgive him again. I’ve certainly wrestled with this. There are people from my past who I haven’t spoken to in years. Even if I’ve forgiven them with my tongue, it’s such a struggle to cleanse my heart of all resentment.

But SubhanAllah, Allah is not like that. He is Al-Ghafir (The Forgiver of Sins), Al-Ghaffaar (The Oft-Forgiving) and Al-Ghafoor
(The Forgiving).

His forgiveness and mercy are farther beyond ours than the stars are beyond the earth. Abu Bakr (ra) heard Allah’s Messenger (sws) say: “No man will commit a sin, then get up and purify himself, then pray, then ask Allah’s forgiveness, without Allah forgiving him.”

There’s a very good article about tawbah in Islam on one of my other websites, IslamicAnswers.com. Here’s the link:

It’s not over until the trumpet blows; Tawbah and repentance inn Islam

So dear sister, keep on praying and working on your faith, as you said. It’s the only way. We are not angels. We are human beings who make mistakes and stumble. As long as we keep getting up and turning to Allah, we are on the right path, Insha’Allah.

Righteousness in public and in private – Imam Zaid Shakir

Pull over - time to pray.

Pull over – time to pray.

By Imam Zaid Shakir

One of the signs of true faith is that it leads its possessor to manifest piety wherever he or she may be, because of the awareness that God has the ability to see, hear and witness us at all times.

Hence, for the righteous there is no difference in their public and private behavior. One of the great tribulations befalling many people in our time is that they appear as saints in public, but in the privacy of their homes they are tyrants and oppressors.

Such behavior is totally unacceptable and one behaving thus will be taken to task by God. The Prophet, peace upon him, has admonished us to be mindful of God, both publicly and privately.

One of his prayers was the following:

“O God! I ask you to grant me reverence of You, privately and publicly.”

Imam al-Shafi’i mentioned, “The three most precious things are giving charity during times of need; being impeccably mindful of God in private; and speaking the truth in the face of one you hope to benefit from, or one you fear.”

Honored and blessed to wake up

Bird inflight - a sequenced shot.

Bird in flight – a sequenced shot.

“I wake up feeling great every morning not because everything yesterday went perfectly as planned, or last night I slept on a bed of roses and had dreams of successful happy ending, or that I’m entering today with a forecast of having no cloudy problems, no rainy challenges, no thunderous setbacks or no stormy test.

“No! I wake up feeling great every morning because God allowed me to wake up, and to that I am honored, blessed and thankful. Therefore I sacrifice my own selfish self-interest and I dedicate every minute of everyday to God by entering it like every bug, every fish, every bird, every reptile, every mammal and every tree: full of life with a hungry faith relying totally on God to provide me with my daily sustenance, my daily bread…

“Did I say good morning?”

– Bilal Mustafa, aka Bilal Int’l

Photo Gallery: Muslims Praying in Amazing Places, Part 2

Muslim cabbie prays on his cab during rush hour.

Muslim cabbie prays on his cab during rush hour.

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

(If you haven’t seen part 1, it’s here:  Muslims Praying in Amazing Places, Part 1).

Is there any blessing in this life greater than the opportunity to speak directly to God and be heard?

Salat (the Muslim prayer) is a command and a gift, and it’s something anyone can do at any place, anytime. The amazing photos below are proof of that.

Part 1 was published three years ago, and it’s taken me that long to collect these additional photos.

“Say: ‘My Lord hath commanded justice; and that ye set your whole selves (to Him) at every time and place of prayer, and call upon Him, making your devotion sincere as in His sight: such as He created you in the beginning, so shall ye return.'” – Quran 7:029

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