God is My Ally

Green leaves and sunlight

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Being a single parent is rewarding and exhausting at the same time. On the good days I think, “I’ve got this.” My daughter plays, laughs, and tell she loves me. She completes her homework cheerfully and eats what I serve. On days like that I say, “Alhamdulillah!” (All praise is due to God).

Other days I feel inadequate. I feel that I’m not doing enough to teach my daughter Arabic and Islam. I let her consume too much junk food and TV. I haven’t tried hard enough to help her cultivate friendships with kids her age.

On the worst days Salma is depressed and focused on what she doesn’t have. Or she’s down on herself, crying and saying, “I’m no good…” It’s as if she’s determined to see life in the saddest possible light. I don’t know where she’s getting these negative self-images. Certainly not from me. From her schoolmates perhaps? I wish I could shut out the outside world and raise my family in some pristine environment, like an idyllic island, or a small village where the adhaan rings out at dawn every morning.

Sometimes I feel desperate for an ally. Someone to talk to, someone to help, someone who cares. I look around and there is no one. Just me and my child. Other people seem to pass like travelers, not wanting to get involved, not staying, or not caring. (I’m sure every single parent experiences these feelings of isolation sometimes).

Then I remember that Allah (God) is all of those things: Ally, Helper, and Provider. He is the One Who Stays; The First and The Last. And I wonder if that very feeling of desperation that I experience is designed to bring me closer to Allah, and to make me reliant on Him. As we say, Hasbun Allahu wa n’em al-Wakeel. Allah is sufficient for us and the best One in Whom to trust.

So again I say, “Alhamdulillah!” I am grateful to Allah for guidance, for the roof over my head and the food on my table, and even for the difficulties with my daughter, because I have a daughter to have difficulties with, and that’s the greatest blessing.

Thus we say, Alhamdulillahi ‘ala kulli haal. Praise be to God in every condition. And we trust that Allah will bring us through, because having Him as an Ally is not an abstract concept.

Sarah Saghir has written:

“The ego says, ‘Once everything falls into place, I will find As-Salam (Allah: The Peace).’
And the spirit says, ‘Find As-Salam (The Peace) and everything will fall into place.'”

So this is what it is to have God as an Ally. It doesn’t mean that we give up on our worldly needs and satisfy ourselves with an ascetic, purely spiritual existence. Rather, when we find Him, when we trust Him and take Him as an Ally, those worldly needs fall into place, and we are able to meet the challenges of life by His grace.

Eid Mubarak! And some thoughts on how to celebrate amid suffering

Eid card with butterfly

Eid Mubarak, may every year find you happy and healthy

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Sometimes Eid comes around and I don’t feel like celebrating. Sometimes I want to say, “When Muslims are no longer being massacred in Syria and Myanmar, when they are free in Palestine and China, when hunger is ended and torture is abolished, when we are free from dictatorship, and when corrupt Muslims no longer harm others in the name of religion, then I will celebrate.”

But suffering has always existed, and Allah decreed the Eid as a day of joy. How do we reconcile these two facts?

Perhaps by celebrating, we stand in the face of evil and say, “I still believe in the capacity of humanity for good. I still believe in Allah. I am grateful for all I have. I do not surrender, and I will not stop striving to help the downtrodden. Today, evil does not win. Today we express brotherhood and sisterhood, and we celebrate life.”

Lastly, remember that the days preceding the Eid – the Hajj, and especially the Day of Arafah – are days of dua’. These are days when Allah is especially inclined to answer our prayers. Let us use that time to pray for those are suffering, for Allah has the Power, and we have none. He is Wise, while we struggle to comprehend. May Allah have mercy on us all.

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

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.

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

Grateful for the Sunshine or the Rain

Wael's daughter Salma riding a camel.

Wael’s daughter Salma riding a camel.

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

* Today, let us be grateful for everything good in our lives. *

Let us thank Allah for the sunshine or the rain, for there are blessings in both. People love to complain about the weather, but today let’s simply be grateful.

Let us thank Allah for our parents, our siblings, and our children – there’s my own child, above, riding a camel 🙂 Sometimes our relatives can drive us crazy – sometimes we wish we could divorce our own families – but at the of the day, they are a part of us, aren’t they?

Le’ts be grateful to Allah for food and drink, leaves and grass, birds and beauty.

Let us be grateful for our bodies, for taking deep breaths, and feeling our hearts beat in our chests. People love to complain about their bodies as well, don’t they? “Oh, my joints are killing me today… I have the worst headache… Oh, my aching back…” – but today let’s just be grateful that we are alive, with the opportunity to laugh and love for one more day.

Let us thank Allah for iman, hidayah and haq (faith, guidance and truth).

SubhanAllah, Alhamdulillah, Allahu Akbar.

Going to Allah when we need Him

Standing on a cliff

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Do we think we can go to Allah only when we “need” Him?

I’m not saying that it’s wrong. I’m saying that it’s impossible.

We need Allah every hour, every day. Every heartbeat, every breath, every bite of food, every ray of sunshine. We need Him when we are poor and sick, and when we’re rich and robust. We need Him when we’re starving in the gutter, or cruising on top of the world. We depend on Allah more than a newborn baby depends on its mother, even when we don’t see it.

Our failure to see this reality does not change the fact that it is true. We can achieve nothing without Allah. I write this article only by His will. You get out of bed, pour your cereal, hug your children, go to work, run that 5K race, and breathe, all by means of the gifts He has given.

When we’re doing well, and everything is butter, that’s the time to turn to Allah even more, with gratitude and praise. If we do that, then when we’re having hard times He’ll be there for us, He’ll rescue us and lift us up, even if we don’t ask.

This not my idea. I did not make this up. The Messenger of Allah (sws) said, “Remember Allah during times of ease and He will remember you during times of difficulty.” (Tirmidhi)

Remembrance of Allah is not only a matter of prayer. It is also kindness to others. If I have an excess of energy, I need to use that to help someone who is ill, weak, depressed, or lost. If I have been blessed with wealth, intelligence, knowledge, or talent, then I need to use that to bring someone relief.

I need Allah , I know that. I feel it.

We need Allah with every rotation of the earth. So yes, go to Allah when you need Him – at every moment in time.

In a season of consumerist madness, let’s be grateful, and give

Beautiful farm valley

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

At this time of year the stores are pushing their sales at us. Advertising is everywhere. There if a frenzy to buy, buy, buy. Let’s realize that this is not a spiritual way of life. It’s not an appropriate lifestyle for someone who is dedicated to God. The consumerist madness is a deception. There’s no joy or peace attached to it. It’s a shallow illusion.

Look at what society has done to itself in the name of consumerism. A day of thanks (Thanksgiving) has become the prelude to “Black Friday”, the biggest shopping day of the year. It used to be that Black Friday did not begin until Friday morning, out of respect for Thanksgiving. Then the starting gun was moved to midnight, and now it has crept into Thursday evening. Nothing is sacred.

The Prophet ‘Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus the son of Mary), peace be upon him, has been turned into a marketing strategy. His purported birthday has become a month of shopping insanity, presided over by a mythical sub-deity named Santa. People go into debt, they fight over sale goods… no mention is made of faith.

We Muslims fall prey to the same consumerist lifestyle. Sometimes the holy month of Ramadan becomes a month of shopping, sleeping and binge eating, astaghfirullah.

Let us – Christians, Muslims, Jews and all people of God – not follow this path. Let’s hew to a way of sacrifice, zakat (purification), sadaqah (charity), zuhd (giving up material luxury). We don’t have to be monks, but we must focus on the things that matter: faith and family.

There are movements that advocate a simple living, back-to-nature, low-impact lifestyle.  In Islam this is called zuhd, which could be translated as detachment or asceticism. Zuhd is a choice that a person makes to give up the hunger for material possessions and transgressive carnal experiences, and live a simple lifestyle dedicated to God.

That’s what we need.

The faith in our hearts is more important than the brand name of the clothes we wear. Where our feet carry us – to someplace good or bad – is more important than the cost of our shoes. The sincerity in our hearts is more important than any gift. May Allah help us to see what is important in life.

The Enjoyment of Delusion

There’s a powerful verse from the Bible, Proverbs 30:8-9:

Give me neither poverty nor riches,
grant me only my share of bread to eat,
for fear that surrounded by plenty, I should fall away
and say, “Yahweh – who is Yahweh?”
or else in destitution, take to stealing
and profane the name of my God.

(Yahweh is an ancient Hebrew name for God).

If you visit the shopping malls at Christmastime, and read the news stories of people lining up from the night before and huddling in sleeping bags in order to buy the latest gadgets, then trampling each other in the rush; if you turn on the TV to the usual Christmas comedies and “Frosty the Snowman” cartoons, you see that God has been forgotten, and has even become taboo. It’s not politically correct to speak of God. Just watch what we broadcast, be hypnotized by our Christmas elevator music, buy and forget…

Allah says about this:

“Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion.” – Quran, Surat Al-Hadeed, 57:20

This theme is struck repeatedly in the Quran. The amusement and adornment of the dunya is an illusion that dries up and crumbles like a corn stalk, and becomes dust. It is empty, the enjoyment of delusion. Wow. That phrase, “enjoyment of delusion”, makes me think of a madman alone in a room, tied in a straight jacket, engaged in a pleasant delusion playing only in his mind.

I know people who have a bedroom devoted to all the junk that they have bought but do not use. They never enter that room and the door is kept locked. Isn’t that a kind of mental illness?

Gratitude

How do we resist the onslaught of the season? How do we remember Allah?

The greatest tool in our toolbox is gratitude. By looking at what we’ve been blessed with, our hearts become content. Socrates commented that contentment is natural wealth, while luxury is artificial poverty. Contentment does not mean complacency or passivity; it refers to a state of awareness of our blessings, and gratitude for the smallest to the greatest provisions – the tiniest cells in our bodies, to the grand earth itself.

Let’s become aware of what we have: the food on our plates, our ability to see and hear, the love and health of our families, sanity, intelligence, knowledge… these things are huge. When we open our eyes and start to see, then we become content and happy, and we see how meaningless are things are like big-screen TVs, the latest smartphone, or another new dress.

Let’s remember Allah the Eternal, and think of our aakhirah (hereafter). While others are are hungering for more, let’s be grateful for what we have, and give.

Our local Muslim community center here in Fresno participates in feeding the poor at soup kitchens; and is currently organizing a winter blanket and coat drive for the homeless. I encourage every Muslim community to do something similar. Get Muslim adults and children involved in the process of giving, whether to needy Muslims or non-Muslims.

It’s liberating to ignore the sales and seasonal hype. When we abandon the idea of acquiring goods, and instead focus on giving, we dump the whole propaganda machine on its head. We change everything. While the frantic buying of “stuff” makes us forget Allah, gratitude brings us back to Him. That’s why Allah brings together gratitude and remembrance of Allah:

“So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me.”
– Quran, Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:152

Being grateful to Allah means that our hearts become filled with love for Him; our bodies are obedient to Him; our tongues praise Him; we receive His favors with humility; we thank Him for everything we have received; and we use what He has given us for good. We could never repay Allah. The least we can do is thank him.

By being grateful and separating ourselves from the consumerist craziness, we set an example of how to live without avarice. We free our spirits, remove a burden from our backs, and shine a light for ourselves and others.

Living Better Than Kings

Hunger in the Horn of Africa

A father holds his child in the Horn of Africa

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Be grateful for what you have.

There are people in this world in desperate situations: homeless, refugees, starving, traumatized by war, alone after losing their entire families. Help those people – donate for Somalia if you haven’t already – then take a moment to thank Allah for what you have.

We live better than the kings and queens of the past. We have amenities that would have seemed like magic to them. Food from all over the world on demand, indoor plumbing, electricity, air conditioning, radio, TV, computers, internet, medical care, education…

These modern conveniences meet our physical needs, but they don’t fill our spirits. Be grateful to Allah for what you have, live simply, and don’t overload your soul with distractions. Focus on your relationship with Allah. Be at peace with yourself.

If your life is still lacking in some way, then make a change. Create a goal, and take a step. You have all the tools you need. Your most important tools are not tablet computers and smart phones. They are courage, faith, and the ability to say, “Yes! I am someone, I matter, and I will follow my dream.”

Get Up and Do Your Thing

Africa and Europe from space

Africa and Europe from space

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

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.

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