Allah guides those who struggle

Steep mountain path

By Wael Abdelgawad |

Allah guides those who struggle. “And those who strive in Our cause, We will surely guide them to Our paths.” – Al-Ankaboot, 29:69. Struggle may seem like something to be avoided, but the alternative is to walk in dim light, seeing nothing clearly. If our lives consist of sitting on the sofa watching TV, doing jobs without passion, shrugging our shoulders at the suffering of others, and accepting the unreality that is pushed at us by advertising and the media, then we are living in shadow, even when the sun shines.

Yes, we all have bills to pay, and sometimes we work jobs that we are not passionate about, in order to support our families. I have a website about money transfer services, and another about paying bills online. They are boring, but I spend time on them because they earn money. In my free time I struggle to do work that is important to me – this website being a notable example. Even a short article might take me two or three days to write, because of the limited time I have to work on it. Longer articles can take weeks. And yet people sometimes tell me that my writing has changed their lives.

We can all find a little time every day to pursue what we love, and to make a difference in people’s lives, even in a small way. Beyond that, we must strive to represent truth in everything we do:  in our family lives, our work, our entertainment – everything.

Imam Jamil Al-Amin wrote in 2006:

“In the heart there is an emptiness and a need which nothing can satisfy except for the remembrance of Allah (swt). The only proof of faith is in struggle, struggling in word and deed, in body and soul. The lack of faith will crush you far more than defeat ever could. ‘And what will explain to you the path that is steep?’ (90:12). Conscious struggle is the path that is steep. Struggle where bitter hardship and misfortune and difficulty becomes sweet tasting to the soul.”

There is no road to success except through the struggle for truth and righteousness. This is actually good news, because if you’re a seeker, if you’ve got a nose for truth, if you care about justice, then you’re already struggling, walking a hard road. It’s inevitable. Those who pursue truth and speak it out loud are seen as strangers and subversives. You might wonder sometimes if it’s worth it, or if you’re moving in the right direction.

Don’t worry. The fact that you’re struggling means that Allah is guiding you, and you’re on the right road.

Get Up and Do Your Thing

Africa and Europe from space

Africa and Europe from space

By Wael Abdelgawad |

Life has been challenging lately. In July I’ve faced some financial setbacks, and also some personal setbacks that have hit me hard, and drained me emotionally to the point where sometimes I just sit in my padded computer chair and don’t feel like getting up. I feel like I hardly have the energy to get up and prepare some food to eat, let alone pray, work, go to class, care for my daughter…

And yet I do get up. I go out and teach a 2.5 hour martial arts class and I do it with vigor, because my students are looking to me for guidance and inspiration. I get up and do my volunteer job at the Muslim community center. I get up and take my daughter to the lake or the masjid, and have a tea party with her, and read her the latest chapter of “Fish Face”. I laugh with her and love her with everything I’ve got, because she needs me. I don’t have time for self-pity.

I get up and do my thing, because that’s what it is to be a man (or woman), to be a father (or mother), to be a Muslim, to be a friend, to be alive! You get up and do what you have to do. You pick your foot up and take a step, then lift the other one and take another step, and before you know it you are moving ahead, and time has passed and your problems have diminished and don’t hurt quite so much, or maybe you have overcome them entirely, because you are experiencing the joy of life. Your love for Allah, and your gratitude, and your attentiveness to the beauty and blessings around you, all wash the pain away like a river.

That’s what it is to be alive. SubhanAllah.

So, to all those reading this now, I send you light and love, and I know that no matter what physical or emotional aches you are experiencing, you will rise each morning with gratitude, you will take a step and move ahead, you will love and laugh, you will push self-pity to the side and live your lives with commitment, in the short time that we all have on this beautiful ball of brown and blue.

One last note:  Eat healthy foods, drink water and – very important – get enough sleep. These are all critical to maintaining an emotional balance and moving forward in life with a positive attitude.

Real Heroes Don’t Wear Tights

My daughter Salma, 7-9-2011

My daughter Salma, 7-9-2011

By Wael Abdelgawad |

Real heroes don’t wear tights and capes. They work to feed their families, support their ailing parents, cook and clean, sacrifice for their children, and try – in this confusing, bruising, joyful, beautiful trip we call life – to pursue their dreams and make something happen.

The Quranic Way: True Speech and Soft Words

Mountain wildflowers

By Wael Abdelgawad |

“A bad wound heals, but a bad word doesn’t.” – Persian proverb.

This is so true. I have experienced martial arts injuries, cuts from falling off a bike, and even a few broken bones, but I never think of them. The scars have faded, and the old wounds have no emotional significance. But the cruel words people have spoken to me, those remain like barbs in my flesh. I may have forgiven the people who uttered the words, but the memories linger.

I remember a dinner party years ago. Someone had spilled food on the floor near a buffet table and people were stepping on it. In Islam it’s considered disrespectful to God to step on food, as food is a blessing. I knelt down to pick up the food and my friend got angry and said that the restaurant had people to do that, and I was embarrassing myself and acting like a “pseudo holy man.” It makes me laugh now, but at the time it really stung, and as you can see, the words are still there in my head, almost twenty years later.

Whoever it was who said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” was foolishly optimistic. Words persist. They root themselves in our brains and wait, ready to spring out in an argument years later.

Let’s think twice before we speak, especially when we are angry, and then consider again, and again. When we are provoked and inclined to say something hurtful, let us bite the words off. Breathe deeply, praise Allah, seek refuge from Shaytan. Go for a walk, go to the masjid or the gym. Don’t say those mean words, don’t send that angry email.

Allah says, “Do not worship except Allah; and to parents do good and to relatives, orphans, and the needy. And speak to people good [words] and establish prayer and give zakah.” (Quran, Al-Baqarah 2:83).

Look past the hurt that the person has given you, and see the soul within them, struggling as we all do, battling with disappointment and insecurity. When you speak, let your words be kind, and see what happens. You might be surprised.

It’s a lifelong struggle. I am still working on it.

The Arabic word that is translated in Al-Baqarah 2:83 as “good” (words) is “husnan”. It means nice, sweet or beautiful. It means we should speak words that caress the other person’s heart and bring relief to their soul. Words that make people happy, that inspire and raise hope. Be an agent of hope in this world, not an agent of despair.

But the word “husnan” has many other meanings as well. The same word is used in the following expressions: husn an-niyyah (good will), husn az-dhan (good thoughts or assumptions about someone), husn al-khuluq (high ethics), husn al-qabul (accepting someone, welcoming)…

Someone might say, “I’m right and I won’t back down.” That’s fine. You don’t have to give up truth to be kind. The Quran says, “and speak to them words of appropriate kindness.” (Quran, An-Nisaa’ 4:8). “Appropriate kindness”, what an interesting phrase! The Arabic word is “ma’roofan”. It means speak the truth, but kindly, without arrogance or anger.

Picture wildflowers growing on a great mountain. The mountain is a symbol of truth and strength, while the flowers represent sweetness and gentleness. When you combine them, you get the model of Islamic speech.

Similarly, Allah says, “O you who have believed, fear Allah and speak words of appropriate justice.” (Quran, Al-Ahzab 33:70).

The greatest speaker of truth was the Messenger of Allah (sws). And how did he speak? The Quran praises the Prophet’s attitude because he was gentle, smiling and soft with his Sahabah, and with strangers. His sweetness was a gift from Allah:

“So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him].” (Quran, Aal-Imran, 3:159).

Kind words, gentle but true. Softness of speech. That is the language of Islam. Leave no wounds, with your hands or your words. Be an agent of hope, and rely upon Allah in all things, and He will love you for it.

Accountable for Our Blessings

Vancouver from the air

Vancovuer, Canada from the air

I’m still in Vancouver for a martial arts seminar, and it’s so beautiful here. Mountains, rivers, trees, beaches, shining buildings, and perfect weather. When Allah has given a people so much, they will be accountable for what they did with their blessings.

Are we doing what we should with our blessings? Are we grateful? Do we share? Do we proclaim the truth? Are we fulfilling our potentials?

If not, then there is no better time to begin than right now, this moment. Choose one small way to be a better Muslim, and implement it in your life today. That’s how it starts. The road to Jannah begins with the first step.

In the End it is Between You and Allah

Cambodia rice fields

Beautiful rice fields in Cambodia


“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. In the end it is between you and God – it never was between you and them anyway.”

– This is based on something written on the wall of Mother Teresa’s home, which itself was based on a composition by Kent Keith.

7-Point Plan for Achieving Your Dreams

Climbing a steep mountain

By Wael Abdelgawad |

Aaisha stated that Prophet Muhammad (Shallallahu ‘Alaihi wa Sallam) said, “The deeds which Allah loves the most are those done regularly, even if they are small.” (Bukhari & Muslim).

You can achieve tremendous things if you just take one step at a time and keep on going, letting nothing stop you. You can get a doctorate, or a black belt in martial arts, memorize the Quran, write a book, start a successful business, or any other great achievement, if you are consistent, as steady as the sun. It’s not about the big push. It’s the light but steady touch that does it.

1. Begin in the name of Allah (Almighty God, the Eternal and Omnipotent, the Creator of all). Always remember to call upon Him and ask His help. With Allah, all things are possible. And in seeking more, always be grateful for what you have. “And remember when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will give you more.'” (Quran, Surat Ibrahim, 14:7). The number of blessings in your life is limitless.

2. Make a plan. Put your plan on paper, and follow it. Don’t limit yourself. Enlarge your thoughts and hold an image in your mind of what you want to achieve. Visualize yourself succeeding, and see the steps necessary to make this happen.

Be as specific as possible when writing your plan. Don’t only write, “I will memorize the Quran in my lifetime.” Write down the first step: “I will memorize three surahs from Juz Amma this month.” Instead of writing, “I will get fit,” write, “I will work out Mon-Wed-Fri from 5pm to 6pm and will lose 5 pounds this month.” Instead of writing, “I will go back to school one day,” write, “I will enroll at City College for the next fall semester.” You get the idea.

3. Know yourself. Work on your project during the time of day when you are most productive. I personally work on these articles first thing in the morning while my mind is fresh. I wake up, say a dua’ of thanks, do a couple of yoga stretches, then sit in front of the computer and write.

Work on your goal every day, no matter what mood you’re in, whether you are tired, sick, depressed or discouraged. Just do it. If you need help, seek someone who knows.

4. Believe in yourself. Condition your mind that you can and you will. Be around people who believe in you and support your goals. During my first Hapkido martial arts grading, three senior instructors sat at the judging table. I did very well, and after my test one of the instructors said, “I expect to see you on this side of the table one day.” I never forgot that and it helped to propel me forward.

Keep positive and constructive thoughts flowing through your mind. When you find negative thoughts creeping in, send them away and replace them with positive images of yourself succeeding. Which brings me to…

5. Abolish negativity. Give up “I can’t” and all such negative phrases. Separate yourself from negative people who only find fault and express doubt. Such people cannot change their own lives, let alone helping you with yours. Negative people can destroy you if you let them. So don’t let them.

Never deprecate yourself. Don’t call yourself names, or tell yourself that you are stupid, clumsy, or hopeless. Other people will do enough of that for you. No need to aid them.

Also try to let go of anger, resentment, bitterness and suspicion. Those emotions consume a lot of energy and hold you back spiritually and even physically. You might feel like those emotions protect you in some way, but I have lived on that dark side of the street and I can tell that negativity can only destroy. It cannot build. You don’t need those dark emotions. Experience them, then let them go. Use that energy to move forward instead.

6. Take responsibility. If you fail, be honest about the reasons why, and look for a way to solve the problem. See failure as a chance to improve. Don’t try to blame others, as that only sends your energy in the wrong direction. If you trip and fall you don’t stand in one place looking for a tree root or a crack in the sidewalk to blame. You get up and move on, and maybe you watch your step a little more carefully, or pick your feet up higher.

Also do not blame your life circumstances, lack of funds, lack of qualifications, or whatever. No one is born into a perfect life. Take what you have and build on it.

It’s your dream, your plan, your life. Take responsibility and make it happen.

7. Be consistent. Take action. Do. Work toward your plan every day, no matter what else is happening in your life, but don’t burn yourself out. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) already gave us the formula in the hadith above. Persistence, determination, small steps, one after another, every day.

That’s how you change yourself, and change the world. I am giving away the formula, free of charge.

That’s how you conquer a mountain. That’s how the most majestic redwood tree grows. That’s how the Prophets (peace be upon them) did what they did. One step at a time, and keep on going, and you will do great things, Insha’Allah. I am writing down my plan today. Will you do the same?

Everything is possible for those who believe

Iceland mountain valley

A mountain valley in Iceland

By Wael Abdelgawad |

Nourish your dreams. To achieve anything requires faith in Allah, belief in yourself, imagination, vision, persistence, hard work, and sometimes blood and tears.

The will of Allah and the power of your heart and mind make an unbeatable combination. Everything is possible for those who believe – anything you can envision, and many things you can’t.

I’m thinking of a ragtag group of desert Arabs, who, in the course of a single generation, transformed the world forever. I am speaking of course of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions. What they did was impossible – there’s no other word for it. But through the power of Allah, and the tremendous determination of one man, and the faith of those who followed him, the impossible became possible. Because of their faith and sacrifices, you and I can utter the words, “Laa ilaha-il-Allah” and put them into practice in our lives.

Your dreams don’t have to be that grand. Whether you dream of building a new masjid for your community, writing a novel, competing in sports, becoming a doctor, doing charity work overseas, memorizing the Quran, or any other good and meaningful goal – it can be achieved by the will of Allah. But you can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen. Feed your dream as you would feed a newly planted seed. Care for it, devote time to it, don’t give up, and watch it grow before your eyes.

Bellies and Souls

Colorado mountain wildflowers

Colorado mountain wildflowers

By Wael Abdelgawad |

Most of us are concerned with our bellies and the souls of others; when we should be concerned with our own souls, and the bellies of others. The first thing the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said when he arrived in Madinah was, “Spread peace, and feed the people.”

Instead of judging others, care for them. Feed them, help them, and spread peace. That is your representation as a Muslim, your da’wah, and your salvation of the world. In the process, you save your own soul.

Let’s Tell Our Children the Truth

Waterfall in the Great Rift Valley, Africa

By Wael Abdelgawad |

If we lie to our children and pretend that we are perfect and that life is always wonderful, we do them a disservice. Young children are idealistic by nature, inclined to believe that all people are good, that adults have the answers, and that their parents are the best and strongest people in the world. They believe that the adults are managing the world properly as they should.

As they grow older they begin to see through our pretenses. They see that our words don’t match our deeds, and that adult society is running the world into the ground, ravaging the natural environment, making war, and destroying their futures in the process. So our children become deeply disappointed. This disappointment leads to cynicism and bitterness. That’s when we lose them to alcohol or drugs, gangsterism or bizarre countercultures.

That’s when, in Western society, children begin getting tattoos and piercings, wearing black clothing and chains, getting drunk and having casual sex, listening to screaming metal music, and generally saying to adult society, “I see through your lies, and I want nothing to do with you. Since there’s nothing to believe in, I won’t even try.”

Some parents strive to maintain the facade because they have no truth to offer. They are caught up in a meaningless consumerist lifestyle. Or they may see the hypocrisy of adult society but have no alternative to offer.

We do! We have Allah, Subhanahu wa Ta’alaa. We have the Qur’an, the Prophets, and the tremendous life lesson of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). We have the amazing lives of the Sahabah, and all the heroes of Muslim history. We have the shahadah, salat, zakat, sawm, and Hajj. We have something real, a genuine alternative to corruption and malaise, but first we must be on the path. We must be dedicated. We don’t have to be perfect but we must be sincere.

So let’s do that, and then let’s tell our children the truth.

Let’s tell them, “I’m not perfect and neither is any other human being, but I’m working on it Insha’Allah, and I love you, and that’s what counts. Yes, there is evil and hypocrisy in the world. Yes, adult society is largely superficial and selfish. But each of us has the ability to change the world. Each of us is powerful. Go out there and be a force for change in the world. Imagine the world as it should be, then work to bring it about. Be sincere, be strong, keep Allah in your awareness, and do what you can. If you do that, then you have succeeded. No matter what, I will always love you and be proud of you.”

See also: Tell the Truth and Watch Your Relationships Shine

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Pieces of a Dream