Let’s Love Ourselves First

Water drop on the tip of a leaf

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

We can get so caught up in trying to fix other people’s problems, that we forget to fix ourselves. We can spend all our time helping family members, running around, “sacrificing”, while our own souls are weary, discouraged and approaching despair. We can champion important causes, or do vital work in our jobs, while we cover up or ignore wounds from our past, until we cannot even look at ourselves with respect or love.

I suppose we all have our coping mechanisms. For me, it’s martial arts. When I’m troubled or unhappy, I tend to immerse myself in my martial arts practice. It occupies my mind, allows me to forget my problems, and wears out my body so I can sleep.

Others may plunge themselves into their work, or distract themselves with books, music or television, or busy themselves with other people’s problems. But you can only keep this up for so long. If you don’t face what’s going on internally, the darkness will eventually spread and blot everything else out.

We have to come to terms with ourselves, or happiness will elude us forever.

How can we love and cherish others if we do not love ourselves? How can we extend ourselves to create something good in the world, if what we have inside is not sound and peaceful? How can we raise happy children if we are not happy? Children are very perceptive; if you are troubled and hurt inside, they will pick up on that, and it will affect them. If you really want to love your children properly, you need to make peace with your own soul.

Sometimes there are so many distractions in our lives, so much external noise, that we can’t hear our own hearts anymore. We need to quiet our minds and get back in touch with our fitrah, that pure nature given to us by Allah. We need to ask Allah’s forgiveness, then forgive ourselves, so that we can get rid of the baggage of shame. Only then can we then forgive others, and let go of anger or resentment.

We must listen to our intuition, and hear our hearts speaking, and open ourselves to the clear light of Allah’s huda (guidance).

The Good New Days

Beautiful path to the future

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

People often wish for a return to the good old days. First of all, when we look at them objectively, they weren’t really so good. Sure, I have funny and pleasant memories from my youth, but I also remember the confusion and loneliness.

I personally would not trade my life at this moment for my life at any time in the past. Among other things, I now have a beautiful daughter who I love more than life itself; my writing, which has evolved to allow me to express my deepest convictions; and many small blessings that add up to a pot of gold.

Secondly, the old days are called “old” for a reason. That’s the past. We can’t go back.

What we can do is focus on the journey forward.

“Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Garden whose width is that (of the whole) of the heavens and of the earth, prepared for the righteous; – Those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity, or in adversity; who restrain anger, and pardon people;- for Allah loves those who do good; – And those who, having done something to be ashamed of, or wronged their own souls, earnestly bring Allah to mind, and ask for forgiveness for their sins,- and who can forgive sins except Allah….” – Quran, Surat Aal Imran, 3:133-135

This is how we make a better future for ourselves and our families, Insha’Allah. Letting go of anger, forgiving, asking forgiveness, giving to the poor and needy, and racing to Allah. The Almighty has given us the formula. This is how, instead of yearning for the good old days, we create good new days! Our future can be as good as the past ever was; it can be better, brighter and happier.

Let’s build the good new days.

Letter From a Reader # 4

Dandelions blowing in the wind

Salaam,

I came across this wonderful site of yours in search of relief for my own problems, mainly on the subject of forgiving those who have hurt us. I have been reading it for the past hour. Mash’Allah, it has opened my eyes and my heart. May Allah bless you and your efforts to share and spread love.

From,

Saima (fasting in this holy month of Ramadan) from London

*****

Response from Wael:

You’re welcome, sister Saima, I am glad the website helped you. Letters like yours keep me motivated and remind me that what I am doing with this website is needed, Insha’Allah.

You may have seen these already, but here are some posts on the subject of forgiving others and yourself:
http://islamicsunrays.com/category/forgiveness/
Ramadan Mubarak,
Wael

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.

When You Forgive, You Live

Valley of forgiveness

In ancient Chinese thought, the state of broadmindedness and forgiveness is like a wide, deep valley.

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Forgiveness is not for the weak. Being able to forgive those who have wronged you is a mark of spiritual strength and confidence. When you forgive, you grow, your heart begins to heal, your back straightens up, your eyes clear so that you can see the road ahead. Anger is a spiritual sickness; but when you forgive you live.

I know this isn’t easy. In an earlier article I mentioned my time in Fort Worth. There was one particular person there who treated me quite badly. It’s very difficult for me to hold an image of that person in my mind and say, “I forgive you.” It’s almost frightening in some strange way. But in doing it, I feel something in my chest let go, and I find tears in my eyes, and a smile on my face. SubhanAllah.

It doesn’t matter if the other person deserves forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. If someone has hurt you, don’t worry about receiving an apology or explanation, or making them understand you. You’ll rarely get an explanation that makes sense. In fact, if you want to move on, the best way to do that is to forgive. Resentment is a chain that binds you to the other person, but forgiveness breaks the chain, so that you can release that person along your anger.

Not to mention, as the poet Oscar Wilde said, “Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.”

In ancient Chinese thought, the state of forgiveness is like a wide, deep valley. That’s because it opens your mind and allows your thoughts to flow freely, while anger constricts your mind and makes you blind.

“Hold to forgiveness, command what is right, and turn away from the ignorant.” (Qur’an, 7: 199)

In other words be constantly forgiving but don’t give up your principles (“command what is right”). If you’ve forgiven the ignorant and they persist in their hurtful ways, then move on and leave them behind. Separate yourself from those who are negative, and seek the company of people who are supportive and kind. Hold no rancor. When you lay your head on the pillow, sleep in peace, and you’ll wake with tranquility.

I admit that I’m working on this. It’s easy to say, “I forgive you.” The hard part is getting to a place where my heart is clear, where I have no resentment or fear. At times I hold conflicting emotions: I might love someone, but mistrust them. I think I should take a lesson from my daughter Salma. I make mistakes with her, but her love flows like a mountain stream. No one forgives with more grace than a child, and no one forgives more fully than God.

Let Go of Grudges, for Your Own Sake

Sunrise over the prairie

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

“Pardon them and overlook – Allah loves those who do good.” (Qur’an 5:13)

If we hold grudges, our spirits get stuck like trapped birds. We can’t fly the way we’re supposed to, because our own resentments bind us and hold us down. When you hate someone, they don’t feel it. Only you do. It affects only your own heart, until your heart hardens and your vision narrows, and life loses its joy and zest.

We must forgive each other and forgive ourselves. Let go of resentments from the past. Do it for your own sake, because letting go and forgiving is the only way to be happy.

Whatever others have done against you, let it go. Consign it to Allah, then forgive. Whatever you have done against others, apologize and ask forgiveness, and ask Allah’s forgiveness as well.

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) was seated in a gathering with the sahabah (his companions) when he looked towards the entrance and said, “A man of Paradise is coming.” At that instance someone who seemed to be very ordinary entered the masjid where they were seated. One sahabi was curious as to why the Prophet had said such a thing about this man, so he followed the man to his house. The sahabi told the man of Paradise that he was a traveler, and was invited to stay as a guest. For three days the sahabi watched the man of Paradise, but he saw nothing unusual in the man’s character or worship. Finally he told the man what the Prophet had said and asked him what was so special about him. The man thought for a long time and said, “There might be one thing — before going to sleep every night I forgive everyone and sleep with a clean heart.”

Mr. Evatt

I went to high school in Saudi Arabia, and I had an American teacher who I really liked. He was my English teacher for two years and his name was Mr. Evatt. He was from Georgia and had long hair and a heavy Southern drawl. He lived in an old neighborhood of Riyadh that was situated on a dusty, rocky hilltop. Every morning our school bus would pick him up, and I always found it amusing when we’d pull up and he’d be standing in the dirt road, smoking a cigarette, his shirt already plastered with sweat at 7 am , and a herd of goats climbing on the rocks all around him. He used to call us students, “wallets”, which was his version of “walad“, which means boy in Arabic. He’d come into the classroom and shout, “Siddown, little wallets!” But was a good teacher and I respected him.

Sometime during the second year, I was passing by the teacher’s lounge and the door was open. I heard a few of the teachers talking about Arabs. I paused outside the door to listen, and I heard Mr. Evatt refer to his students as “sand-ni****s.” I was very hurt. I think it also fueled the beginning of a deep resentment and intolerance in me that lasted for many years. I returned to the USA for college, and for a long time, if I ever found out that one of my non-Muslim friends harbored the least bit of bigotry against Muslims or Arabs, I would cut that person off forever. I had no patience for it.

I also had an increasing sense that I did not belong in American society. I had always been proud of being an American, but while I loved America, America did not seem to love me back. I was turned down for a job because of my religion, openly mocked on a few occasions, visited at home by the FBI, stopped at the airport for questioning and invasive searches… I became restless and unsatisfied with life in America. None of that had anything to do with Mr. Evatt of course, but that insult that he cast on us students represented my first awareness of bigotry; it became, in my mind, a symbol of racism.

My most satisfying times were my trips abroad to Mexico or Costa Rica. Finally I left the USA and emigrated to Panama.

I was happy in Panama. It was a peaceful, beautiful place. The people there had no preconceptions about Arabs and Muslims. I think I was able to finally relax, and breathe easily. I came back to the USA in late 2008 for family reasons, but I’ve realized that somewhere along the road, I let go of the grudges I was holding. I’m more easy going with people now. I have a martial arts teacher who has some anti-Arab ideas, but I am patient with him. Who knows, maybe his interactions with me will help to dispel his stereotypical beliefs. People need to be educated, not condemned. It’s the only way forward. “Pardon them and overlook – Allah loves those who do good.”

It’s so much simpler to extend love to people, and show them the way, rather than react with anger. And it’s better for my own soul. I feel calm now, and balanced. Alhamdulillah. If I could see Mr. Evatt now, I would thank him for being a good teacher. He must have cared about us, or he would not have made the effort. And maybe I would ask him about the statement he made. But I wouldn’t blame him or get angry. I wish him well.

Forgive Yourself

This is important. Forgiveness needs to extend in all directions, even to yourself. Whatever you’ve done against yourself, forgive yourself. Don’t hold grudges against yourself. We humans all make mistakes. “Pardon them and overlook – Allah loves those who do good.”

Don’t call yourself names. You are not stupid, shameful, or useless. Just the opposite! You are bright, special and unique, with a special mission in this life. If you feel that you have been corrupted by sin, then the glory of Islam is that innocence can be yours again, with tawbah. We Muslims don’t believe in original sin. All human beings were created pure, on the fitrah. That is your birthright.

That’s why ‘A’isha reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as having said: “None of you should say: ‘My soul has become evil,’ but he should say: ‘My soul has become remorseless.'”

In other words, your soul has not turned into an evil thing. It is not totally lost. It is just at a point when it is not feeling remorse or sorrow for its actions. But that can be changed! The soul can be softened through prayer, dua’, dikhr (remembrance of Allah), fasting, reciting Quran, doing good to others, and other acts of worship, until your soul once again feels remorse, and can return to a state of purity. SubhanAllah!

Allah knew exactly what He was doing when He made you. If you don’t trust your own judgment, then trust Allah’s.

Tonight, let go of your grudges and sleep with a clean heart. Tomorrow the day is new, and life goes on. You have far to go and much to do. Look ahead, with a sunrise in your eyes.

Low Imaan? Don’t Get Discouraged

Tall, majestic tree

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Don’t get discouraged if your imaan (your faith) is low sometimes. You are not a lost case. Imaan is organic and can be cultivated. Just as a tree needs sunshine, water and good soil; imaan needs salat (prayer), dua’ (asking Allah), sawm (fasting), dhikr (remembrance of Allah), sadaqah (charity), Quran recitation, contemplation of Allah’s signs and blessings, and the company of good people and mu’mineen.

Authentic Islamic knowledge is also important. The more you increase your knowledge, the more you understand the depth of Laa ilaha il-Allah. The more you study, the more you are awed by the Majesty of Allah; the more you appreciate the beauty of Islam and its completeness, the more your mind feels certain, and your heart feels assured, and your soul feels peace. All of this leads to taqwa (Allah-consciousness) and increased imaan.

You don’t have to change your life in one day, or adopt all these behaviors at once. Try to implement them in your life one at a time.

When the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) sent Mu’adh ibn Jabal to the people of Yemen to teach them about Islam, he said, “O Muadh! You are going to a community who are of the People of the Book. So, first invite them to bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. If they accept this, then inform them that Allah makes five prayers in a day and night obligatory for them. If they accept this, then inform them that Allah makes charity (i.e., Zakat) obligatory for them. (It is) to be taken from their rich and given to their poor.” [Bukhari]

You can start the same way. Keep Laa ilaha il-Allah on your tongue all the time, and start doing your salat. You will feel the difference in your imaan right away, as it takes root and grows.

Of course avoiding sins and making tawbah (repentance) for past sins is part of the formula too, but don’t despair if you are still committing sins. Start doing the behaviors of imaan as I described, and this will lead you in a very natural way to giving up sin, and making tawbah. You will not have to force it. Just as a river washes the dirt from your skin, actions like salat and dhikr will wash away your desire for sinful things, and you will find your connection with Allah getting stronger and stronger.

Abu Hurayra (ra) narrated, “I heard the messanger of Allah (pbuh) saying, ‘Suppose one of you had a river running at his door, and he washed from it five times a day: would any dirt remain on him?’ They (the companions) said, ‘No dirt will remain on him.’ He (the Prophet pbuh) said, ‘That is the likeness of the five prayers. Allah remits sins with them.'” (agreed upon)

Of course you should ask Allah to renew the imaan in your heart and always make it grow. But you must also strive and struggle. Allah says:

“Verily, Allah does not change the condition of a people until they (first) change that which is in their hearts.” (Quran, Surat ar-Rad 13:11)

You must put in the work. You can do it. Your soul is as capable of purity and imaan as anyone else’s. Your soul obeys the laws of creation that Allah has set down. It will respond to these actions of imaan. Go ahead. I know you can do it, Insha’Allah.

Some people say, “I can’t pray, I am too corrupted. I have committed too many sins. I would feel like a hypocrite, and I’m sure Allah would not accept my prayer. I have to stop all my sins first, then I can pray with a clean spirit.”

That’s like saying, “I can’t take a shower because I am too dirty. I need to get clean first, then I’ll take a shower.”

The salat is the purifier. You perform salat for many reasons, one of which is to wash away your sins. Even if you continue to commit sins, keeping on doing your salat, just as you bathe every day because you get dirty ever day.

If it doesn’t feel like it’s working right away, give it time. Keep on performing your actions of imaan. Don’t give up. When you plant a seed, you don’t see anything at all for many days. And then all you see is a tiny shoot. Give your tree time to grow. Give yourself time to change. Trust the process that Allah has given us. Your imaan will come back Insha’Allah, and will soar to the sky.

Forgive Yourself

Yellow sunlight and clouds

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

First, ask Allah for forgiveness. Then, if you’ve harmed someone, ask their forgiveness as well. Do tawbah, then forgive yourself. Don’t carry guilt and shame around in your heart like a poisoned dagger. Constant regret for the past is a waste of spirit.

You are not an angel, nor am I, nor any human being on this earth. It’s part of Allah’s plan that you commit sins, and He forgives you. That’s why He has written that His mercy is greater than His wrath.

Don’t despise yourself. Forgive yourself. It’s okay to let go of the past. Self respect and dignity come from who you are right now. You have a good soul, or you would not be here, reading these words.

Tomorrow is a new day. Wake up and thank Allah, and do your best every day. Have faith in Allah’s love and mercy, and reflect that in your actions toward others. Be peaceful, and strive to be happy.

The Transformative Power of a Child’s Love

Salma smiling

My daughter Salma

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

I’m going to share something highly personal, something I would not normally share, but I see now that my writing on this blog is changing people’s lives, and that’s possible only because I am honest. The most vital lessons in life come from suffering. If we don’t share the pain then the message learned will not pass undiminished from heart to heart.

I have always been a loyal friend. I am the kind who believes in friendship as an enduring and meaningful bond. I am a trusting person, someone with a passionate love for the Ummah, a sense of outrage for the oppressed, and a deep faith in Allah and in humanity itself, even after all I have been through.

A Difficult Youth

My teen years were very difficult. I isolated myself from my own family, emotionally and geographically. For a while I slept in my car or in an ice cream truck that I owned, sometimes went hungry, even as I devoted countless hours to tutoring two disadvantaged children, teaching them to read and write. I would sometimes visit friends just so I could raid the fridge and get a bite to eat. I remember once digging some old egg salad out of the back of a friend’s fridge, then becoming badly sick. I collapsed in the street and was hospitalized for food poisoning.

My parents tried hard to reach out to me and help me during that time, but I was lost in my own confusion and determined to estrange myself.

Later I paid for a bedroom in an apartment that was shared among 11 people, mostly college students. I was often confused. I was expelled from the university three times, until something clicked in my final year when I discovered poetry and I suddenly began getting straight A’s.

Still, my life continued to be a mess until my mid to late twenties (I am now 45). I lived in difficult environments. I saw terrible things. I was attacked or robbed more than once and I was sometimes afraid. I experienced despair at times, and yet I became so strong, like a mountain, or a grizzly bear. When I was 27 I got a steady job and worked hard, trying to save money to start a business, until one day my roommate stole all my money and disappeared. After that I lived for six months in the YMCA, in a room so narrow that I could reach out with my arms and touch the opposite walls.

I say all this so that you know that I am not naive. I’m quite aware of the evil of which human beings are capable.

Those frightening years are behind me. I have been a working professional for many years now. I was married for almost ten years, and I have a lovely daughter Alhamdulillah. I own a beautiful home, thanks to Allah’s blessings and bounty.

As far as human relationships, I have made a conscious choice to trust people, to be open to other people’s hearts, because I never want my soul to become pinched and dark with suspicion and fear.

A Broken Heart

My divorce and the time following it was difficult. As it turned out, however, I yet had one more painful experience to go through. A few years ago I became engaged to a Muslim woman who I thought was perfect for me. Truth be told, she was someone whose family I had known most of my life, and I had always harbored some hidden feelings for her. Like me she had been through hard times in her youth but had come through loving Allah, loving the deen, wanting to better herself in every way and change the world.

I felt she was very special and I was so excited that we would be married. We spoke about sharing our lives, raising good Muslim children, and one day sitting on a porch watching our grandchildren play. We spent time together in halal ways, getting to know each other better. It was a wonderful time.

Sure, we occasionally had arguments. I sometimes said or did the wrong thing, and there were aspects of her behavior that troubled me, but I understood that no one is perfect. I felt that Allah was giving me a great gift, a reward for all my years of hardship. I was so grateful for that.

Then something happened, I don’t know what. I could speculate, but I will not. About one month before we were to be married, she changed her mind. We tried to work through it and even went to see a counselor, but the sister’s attitude became cold, sarcastic at times, even hostile. She seemed like a completely different person. It was a tremendous shock to me. After a few final humiliations, I walked away. I felt used and betrayed as never before in my life.

A Terrible Depression

The end of that dream, that beautiful future that I had seen not only for myself but for my daughter and the sister’s children as well, was a tremendous blow. I was shaken to the core. I questioned my own judgment and perspective. How could I have been so wrong? I doubted Allah’s guidance to me. Why had Allah done this to me? I felt like a shambling wreck of a human being. I could not even believe in friendship any more. At Iftar dinners in Ramadan I didn’t try to talk to the people around me. My friendly, trusting nature had been shattered. There was some piece of me, some vital component of the organic, spiritual being that was “Wael”, that was busted. It had been smashed as surely as if she had taken a hammer to my head.

For a few months I was more deeply depressed than ever in my life. I have my daughter Salma with me from Wednesday to Saturday each week, then she goes to her mother. My depression was worst after I dropped off Salma each week. On the way back, on highway 152, I would sometimes think about accelerating to 100 mph and then veering into a tree, just so that the sense of loss and betrayal would end. Yes, I’m a Muslim, and I fear Allah. And I have a commitment to my daughter. But when you are intensely depressed your thinking changes. I remember thinking that Allah would forgive me because He would understand my suffering. And that Salma would be better off, because I was not a good father to her.

In retrospect I know that my perspective was abominably skewed, and I also know that I would never actually have harmed myself. I’m too much of a believer for that. But even the fact that the thought was there shows how horribly shaken and miserable I was at that time.

And it’s true, at that time I wasn’t the best father. I tried hard to hide my depression in front of Salma, but I did not always succeed. I remember one time I was having lunch with her in the kitchen and in spite of my internal pain I was trying to hard to smile and be cheerful for her. I never wanted to let her see how much I was hurting. And suddenly she said to me, “Are you sad, Baba? You seem sad.” Such words from a three year old girl. Her words touched me so deeply that I began to cry in front of her, and I said, “Yes baby, I am sad, but not because of you. You’re a good girl and I love you.”

That is still a terribly painful memory, and one that brings tears to my eyes.

Elements of Recovery

I got through it. I survived because of three things: Allah, my practice of martial arts, and my daughter.

Salma dancing

The first of those – Allah – should be obvious. Without Allah none of us could survive an instant on this crazy ball spinning through endless vacuum. And for a Muslim, Allah is the source of strength. He is the refuge, the bringer of peace, the One who heals hearts. Alhamdulillah.

The second – martial arts – is a lifelong passion. I plunged myself into my practice of the arts, teaching or studying classes six times a week, and practicing for hours at home. When I’m training, everything else leaves my mind. I immerse myself in the motion, the physical exertion. It leaves no time to think, to feel sorry for myself. Curiously, lifting weights (something else I enjoy) is the opposite. During the rest break between sets I have time to think, and I find that weight lifting brings out whatever I’m feeling and intensifies it. If I’m feeling good and confident, weight lifting makes me feel like a superman. If I’m depressed it spills out like acid and cripples me. So I gave up weight lifting. Martial arts, however, is a medicinal whirlwind, a kind of therapy in motion.

The third thing that helped me survive was my daughter. Here’s the thing about being a parent, and you mothers and fathers out there already know this, but I’ll try to articulate it anyway:  you can’t afford to sit around feeling sorry for yourself. You have this little person to whom you are the sun, moon and stars. This little person who, when she falls and scrapes her knee, wants only to be comforted in your arms. This person who can’t sleep at night without your voice reciting Quran, singing a nasheed or telling her a story. This person who cannot live without you because you feed her (with Allah’s bounty), clothe her, and care for her in every way.

This little person looks up to you and admires you. She loves you more than anyone else in the world. She needs you as a plant needs sunshine. With a relationship like that, there’s no time for debilitating self-pity. If you can’t be strong for yourself then you must find your backbone and courage for the sake of the child.

Beyond that, this awareness that another human being is completely dependent on you, and loves you utterly, transforms you, because you are no longer the center of the universe. Your child is. That’s the amazing thing. Every other relationship in life is one where, though we may feel love and caring for the other person, we still generally think of our own well being first. Even the best friendships have an element of competitiveness to them. With your parents, you may have the greatest respect for their accomplishments in life, but you still might hope to exceed them.

With a child it’s different. If there’s a choice between feeling pain yourself or letting your child be afflicted, every parent will choose himself. When my daughter was younger she couldn’t fall asleep unless I let her rest her head on my arm. My arm would go numb and sometimes ache, but I’d keep still as long as it took for Salma to sleep. This is how it is with a child. We will give up anything to protect our children. We worry about them far more than ourselves. We fret about their health, their upbringing as Muslims, about raising them as polite and successful human beings, about their futures…

holding Salma upWith children, we become truly unselfish for the first time in our lives. We live outside ourselves. Someone else becomes the axis of worldly existence. We love someone else more than we love ourselves. As Muslims we are told that we have not truly believed until we love the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) more than we love ourselves. In that case, our love is expressed through obedience and following the Prophet’s example.

With a child, the act of loving someone more than ourselves is constant, suffusing us from skin to soul. There is no other experience in life that allows us – or compels us – to transcend the limitations of self in this way. And in the process, the love of a child rescues us. People give up addictions, leave abusive relationships, change professions, move from one city or country to another, rediscover God, learn and study, all for the sake of a child.

Once again I find myself reaching out to form friendships, smiling, choosing to trust, to have faith in people, to see what is good in the world. I find myself living joyfully, laughing with my daughter, teaching her (among other things) about the brotherhood and sisterhood of Islam. I do this not out of naiveté but because I know that she is watching and learning. From me she takes her cue and learns how to approach the world.

What do I want her to learn? To be suspicious and cynical, not to trust or believe in people? Heaven forbid. I want her to be a person of Imaan (faith). The Prophet (pbuh) said that Imaan has over 70 parts, and among those are love for Allah, sincerity, gratitude for His favors, being merciful to all creatures, fulfilling promises, having no envy or malice toward anyone, being just, making peace, and caring for neighbors. This is how I want Salma to approach the world, so this is how I must be, no matter how I may have been hurt in the past. It’s a choice I must make.

By our love for the child, and the child’s love for us, we are utterly transformed.

***

Here’s a poem I wrote last year, after I got through the hardest part of that ordeal:

I Live

Like a summer storm,
like a caught breath
tasting of spice,
like the sudden blast of a train’s horn

when you’re daydreaming on the tracks,
love came. My diamond,
my redwood queen, my lioness,
came into her own and loved me

for a time… And then
My forest queen
cast down my sylvan dream,
and sneered at my passion…

So I lived without passion.
My heart’s wings shriveled
so I lived without flying.
My promises were met with lies,

so I lived without joy.
I was run through the back
with a tin spear
so I lived without loyalty.

Darkness fell on my eyes
so I lived without light.
Purpose deserted me
So I lived without direction.

But I lived! And I live. I go on,
knowing myself, lifting my head,
amazed at my power,
jealous of no one,

amazed by my ability to heal,
astounded by the way my love returns
like lava, the way my daughter
hugs me and kisses my nose,

believing in me, loving me,
sure that I am the most important person
in the world, the most capable.
For her, I will be.

I live! I awake at dawn
and go on, shaken but strong,
titanium lining my bones,
fire in my eyes, and Allah

leading me, calling me,
forgiving me, loving me,
never giving up on me,
coming to me walking as I crawl.

Wael Abdelgawad
Fresno, California – 2009

If you did not commit sins

Round hay bales on a farm

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

The Messenger of Allah (sal-Allahu alayhi wa-sallam – peace be upon him) said, “If you did not commit sins, Allah would sweep you out of existence and replace you by another people who would commit sins, ask for Allah’s forgiveness and He would forgive them.” (reported by Muslim). This may sound odd at first – does Allah want us to sin? The answer is no, He does not want us to sin, but He knows that we will, and He wants us to ask forgiveness, to return to Him, and to know that He is always there ready to welcome us back.

That’s part of Allah’s plan for us. Allah created us with a certain nature, and the essence of that nature is free will, and a consequence of that is that we commit sins, and if we are believers then we repent and return to Allah. That is the part that Allah loves: the repentance, the voluntary return.

Allah did not create us to be angels. He already had uncounted angels to do His bidding. Creatures of light, they hear and obey, perfect in their compliance because they lack free will.

But Allah wanted to bring something different into the universe: a creature of free will, submitting to Allah out of choice. Worship and faith freely given are infinitely more valuable than that which is done without volition. The flip side is that a creature of free will can commit sins; he can be destructive and rebellious. The sweet and the bitter are two inseparable expressions of human nature. The hope is that righteousness and obedience will predominate.

Allah tells us in the Quran 2:30, of the time long ago when He informed the angels that He would create humanity:

“And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I will make upon the earth a khalifah (successive authority/agent/trustee).” They said, “Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?” Allah said, “Indeed, I know that which you do not know.”

The scholars have said, by the way, that the jinn had already been created on earth and had caused much mischief, and that’s why the angels thought to ask the question about corruption and bloodshed.

Notice that Allah did not answer the angels by saying, “No, the humans beings will not cause trouble.” He said, “I know that which you do not know.”

In other words, yes, this khalifah might indeed fail in his duty, he might cause corruption and shed blood, but there is something special about him that warrants his creation anyway; something that justifies his existence. There’s another aspect to him, something noble and even heroic.

When a person does a terrible thing, for example murders a child, some people say, “How could God allow this to happen?” This question expresses a misunderstanding of the relationship between Allah and humanity. Allah does not want us to sin. He gives us guidance and commands us not to do evil. But if He were to physically interfere and stop human beings from hurting each other, He would effectively abolish our free will, and we would no longer be human. We would be angels, or we’d be creatures of pure physicality like trees and stars, worshiping Allah through conformity to the natural laws of the universe. To take away our free will would be to strip us of our potential for true piety, bravery and even love. Would you really want to live in a universe without love? What a terrible loss that would be.

So here we are, creatures of choice. Earnest but obstinate. We mess up. We betray ourselves and others, we do terrible things, we feel sadness, shame and regret.

What is Allah’s attitude toward this? He condemns the sins we commit, but He waits for us to repent, and when we do He welcomes us. If we go to Him crawling, He comes to us walking, and if we go to Him walking, He comes to us running, as the Prophet (pbuh) reported in a famous Hadith Qudsi:

“Allah says, ‘I am just as My servant thinks I am, and I am with him if he remembers Me. If he remembers Me in himself, I too, remember him in Myself; and if he remembers Me in a group of people, I remember him in a group that is better than them; and if he comes one span nearer to Me, I go one cubit nearer to him; and if he comes one cubit nearer to Me, I go a distance of two outstretched arms nearer to him; and if he comes to Me walking, I go to him running.’ “ [Sahih Al-Bukhâri, 9/7405 (O.P.502)].

People write to me (personally or through IslamicAnswers.com) and they say, “I have done terrible things, Allah will never forgive me, I am doomed to Hell, I feel like committing suicide.”

This way of thinking is completely wrong. Allah will forgive you. He loves to forgive. That’s why the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) used to ask Allah’s forgiveness seventy times every day even without committing any sin (SubhanAllah!). You are not doomed. You must not take your own life, for that is the ultimate irrevocable sin.

Who do you imagine Allah is speaking to when He says,

“O my servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah. Verily, Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Quran 39:53).

He is speaking to you, and to me, and to every one of us.

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, One who sincerely repents of his sin is as if he had never committed it. When Allah loves one of His servants, his sins do not harm him. Then he (the Prophet pbuh) recited the verse: ‘Assuredly, Allah loves the oft-repentant and those who always seek to purify themselves.”“

Don’t kill yourself over your past mistakes. I mean this literally and figuratively. Never think that Allah will not forgive. Allah knows that we are creatures prone to sin. He knew it even before He created Adam and Hawaa, but He had His own plan for us, and part of that plan is forgiveness.

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