Agents of Hope, Agents of Despair

Rainbow over a road

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

“Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth!” – Quran 24:35

The Quran is a guidance, and the Sunnah (way) of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is a shining beacon. They are both agents of hope in the hearts of humanity. We too must be agents of hope in the lives of those around us.

We must never be agents of despair. Shaytan (Satan) is the ultimate agent of despair. That is his specialty. He strives to destroy our faith in Allah, our faith in ourselves, our faith in others.

Terrorists are agents of despair. They seek not to build, but to destroy by inducing fear, suffering and chaos.

We too can sometimes unwittingly become agents of despair.

If you ever find yourself telling someone that their dreams of achieving something great are unrealistic; if you find yourself cutting someone down verbally, pointing out their faults ruthlessly, mocking their failures, or teasing them in a hurtful way, stop! You are functioning as an agent of despair in that person’s life.

If you find yourself demeaning yourself in this way, focusing on your own failings, stop! You are acting as an agent of despair in your own soul.

When you make a mistake (and don’t we all make mistakes every day?), ask Allah for forgiveness, recover, and stand up straight. Resolve to do better next time. Never hate yourself, or if you do then don’t do it for more than a few seconds before you shake it off. Never wallow in self-pity or self-recrimination. The past is gone and you can never go back and change it, but you can learn from it, and become a stronger and wiser person.

Life is difficult. Life is painful at times. That is part of its nature. But it is also beautiful, profound and full of meaning. You too are beautiful and profound. Allah did not create humanity in vain, and that includes you. Your life has meaning and purpose. Seek that purpose. Hold on to your connection with Allah and strengthen it, follow it. Be an agent of hope in your own heart, and change your life for the better. Then act as an agent of hope to those around you, and you will affect their lives in positive and profound ways, even when you are not aware of it.

If you must criticize, do it with kindness. If you disagree, do it with sincerity. If you see good in someone, tell them. If you love someone in the cause of Allah, tell them. If you see pain, strive to be a balm, to provide relief. If you see someone hurting emotionally, give a kind word. Be a living example of truth. Be a walking agent of da’wah, showing the beauty of Islam through your actions. Stand up for what’s right.

Be an agent of hope in this world, and you will follow in the footsteps of the Prophets.

Choose love and peace will follow

Statue of Lady Justice

Statue of Lady Justice in London

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

There is a saying: ““Choose love and peace will follow. Choose peace and love will follow.”

As Muslims we also understand that justice and fairness are vital, and I think this is one of the distinguishing factors of our deen (our Islamic way of life). Other religions speak of love, but do not emphasize justice. But when people are brutalized and oppressed, what does it mean to speak of love or peace? When a man has his boot on another man’s neck, while he loots his home and hurts his family, does it mean anything to tell the victim to be peaceful?

No, without justice you can never have peace. That’s why Lady Justice carries a sword in one hand and a balance in the other. The sword represents the authority of law to enforce peace and punish criminals. But the sword would be meaningless without the balance, which indicates the principles of fairness on which laws must be built. This representation of justice is common, and in some versions the lady is blindfolded, indicating the justice should be applied equally to all regardless of race or social status.

War, bigotry and hatred are not the original human condition. They are not inevitable. They don’t represent the natural state of the human heart.

  1. War is almost always a product of greed and selfishness.
  2. Bigotry is not a natural human trait, but is usually bred and whipped up by cynical leaders looking to exploit people’s ignorance for personal aggrandizement. People like Hitler, or Slobodan Milosevic, or the politicians and radio hosts who whipped up genocidal hatred in Rwanda, or even the USA’s new crop of radical right-wing fanatics like Sarah Palin. These people exploit ignorance, and not only cater to it but feed it for political gain.
  3. Hatred is not the original human condition, but a product of oppression and suffering.

Treat people fairly, be honest, and do not covet what is not yours, and there will be no war. Peace is not an elusive dream, or a mysterious goal at the end of some obscure path. The road to peace is obvious, but it takes unerring honesty, and total justice.

So I would amend the saying to, “Act justly and peace will follow. Choose peace and love will follow.”

The Secrets of Changing the World

Passion and stamina are among the essential qualities of great innovators

Passion and stamina are among the essential qualities of great innovators

This is an extremely interesting and inspiring essay that appeared in the BBC’s online news magazine. And since changing ourselves, and thereby changing the world, is a frequent focus of my articles here at IslamicSunrays.com, I felt this piece was a good fit. Maybe later I’ll use it as a springboard for a similar piece with a specifically orientation, Insha’Allah:

The secrets of changing the world

Transforming society is a feat that only a select few of us will ever accomplish. In the second of a series of articles about innovation, Stephen Sackur looks for common qualities that unite the genuine revolutionaries he has encountered.

I paid a brief visit to my teenage son’s school the other day. The sun was out and the air was thick with restless, hormonal energy.

If only we could tap into these kids’ hopes, dreams and creative urges, I mused, we could reinvigorate our jaundiced adult world.

It’s a tempting proposition, is it not? That all of us, in our youth, have the capacity to be innovators, free-thinkers, resolute refuseniks when it comes to accepting the status quo.

Tempting, but alas, illusory. Most of us figure out from a very early age that it’s safer to conform than rebel. We tend to go with the flow, rather than ask why it has to be so.

That’s why so many young people today tell pollsters their ambition in life is to be a celebrity, a sports star or a glamorous model. Yes, they want to be rich and famous, but they want success simply to fall into their laps. Change the world? Sounds too much like hard work.

But without innovators we’re stuck. Every new generation needs people determined to find a better way. Of thinking, doing, and living.

So I’ve set myself a task. I’m going to try to distil what I’ve learned from years of encounters on my TV interview programme, HARDtalk, with some of our planet’s great contemporary innovators.

Is it possible to find a common thread which runs through these diverse and daring minds whether it be in business, science or art?

Well, it’s worth a try. Here are the qualities that seem to separate us sheep from the innovative goats.

1. An indestructible will

True innovators know how to take a punch. When they get knocked down they come back stronger.

Stephen Sackur

"True innovators know how to take a punch” Stephen Sackur

No-one better epitomises this thick-skinned obstinacy than James Dyson, one of Britain’s most innovative entrepreneurs.

For years he tried to persuade the world’s biggest manufacturers of household appliances that he’d invented a better, bagless vacuum cleaner. They didn’t want to know.

“They simply couldn’t see that what I had was different and better”, he reflects.

The pin-striped execs at the top of industry and finance told him his idea would never work, but he simply refused to believe them.

As a youth Dyson excelled as a long distance runner, and it was his “stamina and obtuseness”, in the face of repeated rejection which, he says, turned him into an inventor with a billion in the bank.

2. Passion beyond reason

Innovators have to have passion. Something more than greed, or a lust for power; they need to believe heart and soul in the value of the change they’re seeking.

Bangladesh flood

Fazle Hasan Abed's passion has given hope to millions of disaster-hit Bangladeshis

Fazle Hasan Abed is perhaps not a household name across the globe, but he should be.

A Bangladeshi from a well-to-do family, he was a young executive in the oil industry when conflict and natural disaster left his country in ruins in the early 1970s.

His response? To leave his comfortable life to create a new kind of aid organisation.

He called it BRAC. It began making small loans to individuals desperate to launch a small business or give a child a chance of school.

“Microfinance” has since given hope to millions and allowed BRAC to become one of the world’s biggest development agencies.

Abed, a soft-spoken, unassuming man, acquired a knighthood and significant influence in his native Bangladesh.

Is that why he created BRAC? “Of course not”, he says. “It was just something I felt I had to do.”

3. Outrageous optimism

Innovators have to be optimists. And not just about their own ability to triumph over adversity.

Consciously or not, they have to have faith in the human race.

Otherwise, why bother?

Jimmy Wales built Wikipedia on the notion that human beings could be persuaded to share knowledge, not for material reward, but for the collective good.

When this open source encyclopaedia of the web was launched in 2001, it was dismissed as nothing more than a platform for fanatics and loons. Now it’s in the top 10 most visited websites in the world, and the only one which has steadfastly remained not-for-profit.

Wales’s belief that he could “create and distribute a free encyclopaedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language” no longer sounds so far-fetched.

As for the notion that the human collective would find a way of distilling wisdom without distortion, manipulation and downright deceit… well, it sort of works.

There are errors and falsehoods in the Wikipedia, but not enough to make it useless, nor to make it vastly less reliable than the encyclopaedias put together by highly-paid experts.

4. A super-sized ego

Innovators do not suffer from low self-esteem. You want living proof? Spend an hour in the company of controversial bio-scientist Craig Venter.

Craig Venter

Ego-nomics: Craig Venter's self-belief has done him no harm

He has the bulk and the macho presence of an ageing military veteran. Which he is.

He has an ego powerful enough to penetrate an underground nuclear bunker.

“A doctor can save a few hundred lives in a lifetime”, he once explained, “a researcher can save the whole world.”

Venter was a key player in the effort to map the human genome, but he fell out with fellow scientists, not least over his desire to patent and profit from man’s genetic blueprint.

Some scientists agonise about the ethical issues raised by genetic engineering; Venter appears to relish the prospect of “playing God”.

Already his team of researchers has “created life” by inserting a computer-generated genome into a pre-existing cell.

His determination to make money out of his cutting edge biology and his impatience with the scientific establishment have made him plenty of enemies, but this is a man whose steely gaze delivers a simple truth: He doesn’t care.

After all, he’s already created a life form that carries his name, and there’s no bigger ego trip than that.

5. The rebel yell

Vivienne Westwood

"I was messianic about punk, it was a way to put a spoke in the system” Vivienne Westwood

At its crudest innovation delivers a loud **** you” to the status quo.

In the mid-1970s the clothes designer Vivienne Westwood came up with one of the most innovative middle finger salutes ever delivered to the fashion establishment with her punk chic.

This working class girl from Derbyshire drew inspiration from, bikers, fetishists and prostitutes as she introduced the Sex Pistols and their hordes of followers to a world of chains, pins and bondage trousers.

“I was messianic about punk, it was a way to put a spoke in the system”, she says.

Westwood, who has turned her deeply idiosyncratic designs into a thriving worldwide business does what pleases her, rather than what is expected.

Famously, she wore a revealing dress with no knickers when picking up an honour from the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

And that’s an image that has somehow stuck with me. Innovators across cultures and continents share that rebel spirit – metaphorically, if not literally, they’re ready to go knickerless in front of the Queen.

Help Others and Help Yourself

Sunrays shining through the trees in the Westonbirt Arboretum, UK. Photo by Terry.

Sunrays shining through the trees in the Westonbirt Arboretum, UK. Photo by Terry.

Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

The Prophet Muhammad (salallahu alaihi wa sallam) said,

“Whoever relieves a believer of a hardship from the hardships of this world, then Allah will relieve him of a hardship from the hardships of the Day of Resurrection… Allah is helping the servant as long as the servant is helping his brother, ” [Hadith Tirmidhi /Muslim].

Do you need help? Help others, and Allah will help you.

Helping others doesn’t have to consist of anything grand. Even a smile is sadaqah. Removing a harmful thing from the road is sadaqah. Speaking gentle words to someone in distress, or feeding a meal to someone who is hungry, or making a donation to help an orphan… or donating blood, or working a few hours a month for a charity, or visiting someone who is sick… all those things are valuable. They are not nothing. They are important and worthwhile acts.

Changing the world starts with every person doing one small thing. And in the process, you help your own soul, and you bring happiness to your own heart, and you get the blessings and barakah of Allah. What a deal!

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