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.

If You Have an Abusive Parent, Learn to Value Yourself

Colusa County valley, California

Valley in Colusa County, California

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

It would be nice if we all had loving and supportive parents. Some do, Alhamdulillah. To have kind, caring parents is a great gift.

But some have parents who are critical, demeaning and harsh. Do you have an abusive parent who tells you that you are worthless, stupid and good for nothing? If so, you can’t spend your life waiting and hoping for that parent to love you and be proud of you. It’s not going to happen, my friend. Most likely your parent was raised harshly himself/herself and doesn’t know how to act any other way. Accept that reality and learn to value yourself, no matter what anyone says.

You will have to be strong and independent in spirit. You will have to find validation of your worth within yourself. You do have worth, after all. You are as unique and beautiful as the sun and the moon, the sea and the stars. You are special and gifted and you will need to realize that on your own, even in the face of external abuse.

Seek your support from Allah.

“And We have certainly honored the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created…” – Quran, 17:70.

Allah has honored you. Dignity is your birthright. It’s okay if you’re not perfect. No one is. You can still love yourself, with all your special gifts and funny habits, and whatever is lacking, well, you can work on it. That’s what all of us do.

“I Know Who I Am”

It can be very hard to resist the negative labels that parents put on us. Nothing wounds like an insult from a parent. Their words have a way of worming into our brains even when we know better.

We must be patient with them without buying into their negativity.

This is not to say that parental abuse is acceptable. Not at all. Respect goes both ways. Parents have a duty to raise their children with kindness and love. If your parents are physically abusing you, then that’s a situation that you should try to get out of. Separate yourself from them if possible. Be safe, and know that they too will face God one day in judgment, and will be called to account for their deeds.

This article is focused more on the issue of verbal abuse. The truth is that even if you are accomplished, well behaved, and devoted, some parents will continue to abuse you verbally. Even if you have moved out, married and have children of your own, and only see your parents occasionally, they might continue to find fault with everything you do, and generally devalue you. I’m not saying it’s okay. I’m saying it’s an unfortunate reality with some parents, and you cannot allow it to define you.

Write some positive affirmations about yourself. Affirmations are true statements that express your best qualities, and also express what kind of person you strive to be. They represent the ideal you.

I personally have a list of 29 affirmations, and here’s number 12 on my list:

“12. I am a good son to my parents. I am patient and loving with them. When speaking to them I maintain a positive, independent and calm spirit, knowing who I am and confident in my choices.”

Read your affirmations every day. Even if you don’t quite believe your own affirmations at times, even if you feel inwardly skeptical, keep reading them. When you speak to your parents, breathe deeply and slowly. Don’t let anything they say make you anxious or excited. Tell yourself silently, “I know who I am.”

Allah loves you and has a plan for you. Believe this and move forward, and when you have children, shut down the cycle of negativity and do better than your parents did. It’s okay to be better than your parents. Any good parent wants their children to surpass them.

Show your own children patience, gentleness and endless love.

May Allah bless you and fill your heart with self-knowledge, self-dignity, and hope for the future.

Poem: A House I’ve Never Seen

Beautiful farm painting

A House I’ve Never Seen

Shrugging off doubts.
Wistful for a house
I’ve only seen in dreams,
a green garden for my child,
a woman with kind eyes.
A Western sky
and a bell of brass.
A wall that evil cannot pass,
a patch of sunlight on the grass,
a place to live and laugh.

– Wael Abdelgawad, 12-31-2011

If Allah brings you to it, He will bring you through it

If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it

If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

If Allah brings you to it, He will bring you through it. Whatever misfortune you have experienced, let Allah show you the way out.

Has your heart been broken? Have you experienced disappointment and loss? Trying to figure out how to be happy again? You need only three things: faith, hope and time. Keep the faith alive in your heart, even if it’s just a spark. Hold on to your hope for the future, even by the tips of your fingers. And let time pass… In time your faith will blaze again, your hope will soar.

So be patient, trust Him, thank Him, and look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Hang in there. He will bring you through.

“Attach your heart to God and you will never be let down.” – Imam Zaid Shakir

“When I cry or lose or bruise, so long as I am still alive, nothing is ultimate. So long as there is still a tomorrow, a next moment, there is hope, there is change, there is redemption. What is lost, is not lost forever.” – Yasmin Mogahed

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.

Live the Moment – It’s All You Have

Amazing meadow, river, mountain and sunrays

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Try to appreciate the present moment and truly live it, rather than using it up by feeling guilty about the past, or fretting about the future. Regret for the past is a waste of spirit, and worrying about the future is pointless.

Hanan Bilal, a community activist and motivator from Florida, asks, “When will we stop living in the past and longing for our future? All we really have is this moment. The question is what are we going to do right now? Our time is now!”

The Past

That’s not to say that contemplation of past and future is verboten. The Quran tells stories of the past in order to educate us. The Messenger of Allah (sws) told us many stories of past Prophets and the Bani Israa’il, for the same reason. We study world history, we study the seerah of our Prophet and the lives of the Sahabah, because it inspires and informs.

I taught a martial arts class several hours ago and I’m still reviewing it in my mind, examining what I could do better next time. That’s part of the learning process for me.

I have a sweet young daughter named Salma and I often think about my time with her, something funny that she said, or the small gifts that she likes to make for me. Yesterday she made me a card that says “I love Baba.” A few days ago we had a poetry reading at our local Muslim community center, and in between readings our host told jokes. For some reason Salma positioned herself in the front row, and every time our host told a joke I heard Salma laughing loudly, even though I’m sure she did not understand the jokes (“do vegetarians eat animal crackers?”). Crazy kid, ha ha. So yeah, I think about past moments. But I’m not stuck in the past. I think about those moments because they educate me or make me smile, so they become a part of my present and future.

On the other hand, I occasionally think about my former marriage, and those are usually not good thoughts, because I tend to dwell on the mistakes I made, and I feel sadness or guilt. I’ve already contemplated deeply on that period in my life, and I’ve learned my lessons. I don’t need to keep returning there in my mind, punishing myself. If I did, then I would indeed be stuck in the past, unable to move forward. That is the kind of pointless regret that weighs people down and burdens their spirits.

The Future

We plan for the future by having goals, getting an education, working hard, saving money, always learning and improving ourselves. We plan for our aakhirah by dedicating ourselves to Allah, worshiping, giving our money to the poor and orphans, and humbling ourselves. We build our futures step by step. But it’s not productive to sit around biting our nails and thinking, “What if I fail my exam, oh, when will I get married, what’s going to happen if I lose my job, how will I pay my bills…” You make yourself sick and it doesn’t help.

Don’t worry, plan. There’s a huge difference! Then acknowledge that you don’t control the future. That’s Allah’s province.  Trust in Him, let him be your guide, find your security in Him.

The security of the dunya is false security. Suffering is the lot of all Adam’s children, in one way or another, and death comes when we’re ready or not. The security of Allah is real and transcends this world.

The Moment

This moment is all we have, my friend. The past is gone, and the future never comes, because when we get there, we’re still in the present.

If you take this moment to breathe deeply and say, “SubhanAllah wa bihamdihi” – glory to Allah and all praise to Him – and then thank Allah for the blessings in your life, or sit down and play a game with your child, go for a walk in the sunshine, maybe take a few nature photos, call an old friend, write your spouse a love note, read a verse from the Quran and contemplate it – then you have lived! You have turned that moment into a precious gem, something to smile about and feel good about.

Let’s live the moment, be conscious of it, feel it, and give Allah the credit, and in doing so let’s turn the moment into a circle of sunshine and barakah.

P.S. Isn’t that the most amazing photo above? I absolutely love it. I want to roll around in that grass, bathe in that river, call the adhaan to the sky, and build a small house among those trees. SubhanAllah.

Believe in Allah, Because He Believes in You

Amazing sunrays and clouds

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

I believe in Allah because He believes in me… and He believes in you too. Believe in His plan for you, have faith in Him, trust His guidance to you, because He has faith in you, and trusts you.

Some people might challenge this assertion that Allah believes in us and trusts us. To me, that’s surprising. Allah created nothing in vain. Everything He does has a purpose. His creation of humanity was done with intent.

Why were we created? Many Muslims will automatically respond, “To worship Allah.” That’s true, but why does Allah want to be worshiped? Furthermore, why did He create everything else – the stars, planets, forests, seas, mountains, animals?…

Without presuming to know Allah’s intentions, and returning to the realm of the human for a moment, I will make a simple observation. As a writer, one of the reasons I write is because the act of putting my thoughts and feelings on paper satisfies something deep within me. I’ve been writing creatively since I was a child, and to me it’s not a hobby but a calling. I’m a writer, therefore I write; and I am a writer because I write.

The same is true for a painter or any other artist. I imagine if you asked a painter why he paints, you might get many different answers:

  • “It makes me happy”
  • “It’s my passion.”
  • “To express my ideas.”
  • “To make money.”
  • “I don’t know, I just do.”

The bottom line is that it’s the painter’s nature to paint; it’s her calling, her function. She is a painter, therefore she paints; or she paints, therefore she is a painter. Same difference.

Allah is Al-Khaaliq, The Creator. That is one of His names, one of His attributes. He expresses this attribute by creating. You are a part of that expression, and so am I. So is a blue whale, Mount Kilimanjaro, the Grand Canyon, a dolphin, a mouse and an amoebum. Everything that Allah created is amazing in its function and awesomely complex in its design. Everything that He created is beautiful and purposeful. Including you and me.

To create is an act of love. It is an act of faith. The Creator loves you and believes in you. Believe in Him, believe in yourself, believe in humanity, and believe in the unique path that Allah has chosen for you.

Happy Alive Day

Birthday cupcake with candle

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

If today were your birthday, would you be happy and excited?

Well, guess what? Today is your “Alive Day”!

You are alive today. You have the opportunity to earn huge rewards by praying, being kind to people, giving charity, loving your family, helping your neighbors, and just looking around and appreciating the beauty of Allah’s creation.

Oh, that’s not good enough? Okay, get yourself a cupcake and stick a candle in it; then blow out the candle, and enjoy this song: “Happy Alive Day to you, Happy Alive Day dear reader…”

After you’ve had that cupcake, visit one of your friends, maybe someone you love but haven’t seen in a while. Catch up on each others’ lives, go out to eat or to the park, or stay home and play a game of cards. Make sure you spend at least a few minutes talking about Allah, because that’s what brings life and blessings to any visit.

Every day is an opportunity. Happiness is where you find it. Sometimes all it takes is a candle in a cupcake, and a call to a friend.

Happy Alive Day.

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