Getting Through Mini-Depressions

Flower bud in sunlight

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Many people periodically go through short depressions when they feel negative about everything in their lives. There are ways we can minimize these depressions, and steps we can take to ensure we don’t sabotage our relationships when we’re feeling blue.

In my case, I go through regular periods of mini-depression every few months. My mood will be utterly black, my mind filled with self-critical thoughts: “I’m a failure, I’m a hypocrite, I have no real friends, I’ve wasted my life…” But even in the depths of depression I know that the mood will not last. One good night’s sleep will restore me to normal, Insha’Allah. So I keep my mouth shut and do not express those negative thoughts to family or friends, because I know I will regret it later if I do….

Does this happen to you? If so, then pay attention to your own emotional cycles so that you know what to expect. Control yourself when you’re feeling down. Speak only what is good, or stay silent.

Let’s be very clear:  You should not ignore genuine problems in your life. If something is missing or making you unhappy, work on it Insha’Allah. I’m also not saying that you should remain silent about real issues that you face. If you’ve got problems in your family, it’s important to communicate to resolve them. It’s also good to talk to a therapist or counselor.

But when you are depressed, your viewpoint becomes skewed, and it’s not necessarily representative of reality. So when you have those dark thoughts that say, “My life is worthless and I hate everyone,” don’t express those to anyone except your therapist or counselor. Don’t call up your best friend and say, “You’re not a true friend, you don’t care about me.” That’s not productive and will only destroy your relationship.

When you’re depressed, hold on to your lifeline with God, eat well and get plenty of rest, and be patient until the mood passes Insha’Allah. Try to fill your life with good things: people you care about, work that matters, hobbies you love, good books to read, exercise you enjoy… these good things provide a safety net when you’re feeling blue.

For example, photographer and human rights activist Asmaa-Deanna Dee says, “When I am feeling low and downtrodden I just find a quiet place and sit alone with my favorite book (the Quran)! When I turn each of its miraculous pages my heart begins to feel lighter and the world around me brighter! The love, warmth and security of each word sets in and it is in these very moments that I know for sure in my heart how much Allah really loves me! Alhamdulillah! Subhanallah! Allahu Akbar!”

Also remind yourself of the good things in your life, and try to be grateful for them. Do not look to those who have more than you, but those who have less. Think of the times in your life when God has helped you, guided you, and saved you. He will do so again.

By the way, I don’t get those mini-depressions as often anymore. I’m not sure why, but it could be that I exercise every day now. Also, I am active in the Muslim community, I write passionately about subjects that are important to me, and I have a daughter who I love… my life is full of good things Alhamdulillah.

May your life also be full of good things.

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

Spiritual Muscles

Kulsoom Abdallah, a Muslim weightlifter who wears hijab

Kulsoom Abdullah, 35, is an a electrical engineer and also a female weightlifter.

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Every part of you must be exercised in order to grow stronger. Those who memorize Quran, study for advanced degrees, or perform other difficult mental tasks know that it becomes easier with time. The brain responds by building neural connections that, essentially, make you smarter.

With the body it’s obvious, right? A weightlifter lifts 100 pounds one week, his muscles get stronger, and the next week he can lift 105. As long as he keeps challenging himself, his muscles continue growing, to the limits of his genetic capacity. If he quits working out, his muscles shrink.

As for the soul, it is exercised through hardship. There’s no getting around this. Our spiritual muscles are developed by confronting pain and loss.

Allah says,

“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits…” – Quran, Al-Baqarah, 2:155-157

My friend Bilal Mustapha comments on this verse,

“God has to test us with lost of life, property, love ones, health, money, beauty, power, influence, prestige, ego, relationships, knowledge…etc. to prove that we are who we say we are or claim to be, and there’s no shortcut or easy way around it. True Believers have to be separated from the Fake Ones. With that said, LET’S GET READY TO RUMMMMMBLLLLLE!!! (in my Michael Buffer voice)”

(Yes, Bilal is much more interesting than I am).

This is why the Prophet Muhammad (sws) said, “When Allah desires good for someone, He tries him with hardships.” (Al-Bukhari)

A bodybuilder must lift huge weights in order to challenge himself. A believer is tested more severely than the average person because he’s already powerful.  A lesser test would be no test at all. It’s got to hit hard, it’s got to be heavy.

Then why bother? Wouldn’t it be easier to be a weak, apathetic non-believer and not be afflicted with tests?

Let’s read the rest of the ayah quoted above:

“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return. Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided.” – Quran 2:155-157

Those tests bring blessings and mercy from Allah, in ways we see and don’t see. They help us lead lives of meaning, and if we are patient then the results accrue for us in Jannah. From the moment we die, we see the results of all the tests we suffered. We see light, and ease, and comfort. I know this because I have been told so in the Quran and by the Messenger of Allah (sws), and I believe it. It makes sense to me, and it’s confirmed by countless anecdotal near-death experiences from cultures all over the world.

Don’t be jealous when you see that those who commit evil on earth are living in luxury. The tyrants of the world who steal billions, or the capitalists who build wealth on the suffering of others, or any who gain coin through haram means; and even those whose work is halal but who hold their money back from the needy :- that wealth is an anvil around their necks. It is their test, and most of them are failing miserably.

Don’t fear hardship. When the time comes to exercise your spiritual muscles, stay firm in faith. This is how we grow into our potential, how we prove ourselves. In the words of Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf from childhood and yet became an author and women’s rights advocate, “We could never learn to be brave & patient, if there were only joys in the world.”

This is Allah’s manhaj, His way, His methodology of life. It makes perfect sense because it’s rooted in the way things really work. So let’s welcome the opportunity to use our spiritual muscles.

This is not all theoretical for me. The day I wrote this article, I was treated badly by someone close to me, I was stressed about the future, and I was berating myself for not being as good a father as I would like. Strangely enough it was also the day of the Eid picnic, and amid the crowd of Muslim families I found myself feeling very alone.

So I wrote this piece for all of you and as a reminder to myself, because I do know the solution:  Pray, meditate, contemplate Allah’s love and care for you. Enjoy what you have. Appreciate the small things in life. Be brave. Dare to dream, and then make those dreams happen. Lift that weight, move that rock, and forge ahead with a straight back and clear sight.

Sleeping Peacefully When the Wind Blows

Wisconsin farm with red barn

Can You Sleep when the Wind Blows?

Years ago, a farmer owned land along the Atlantic seacoast. He constantly advertised for hired hands. Most people were reluctant to work on farms along the Atlantic. They dreaded the awful storms that raged across the Atlantic, wreaking havoc on the buildings and crops. As the farmer interviewed applicants for the job, he received A steady stream of refusals.

Finally, a short, thin man, well past middle age, approached the farmer.

“Are you a good farm hand?” the farmer asked him.

“Well, I can sleep when the wind blows,” answered the little man.

Although puzzled by this answer, the farmer, desperate for help, hired him. The little man worked well around the farm, busy from dawn to dusk, and the farmer felt satisfied with the man’s work.

Then one night the wind howled loudly in from offshore. Jumping out of bed, the farmer grabbed a lantern and rushed next door to the hired hand’s sleeping quarters. He shook the little man and yelled, “Get up! A storm is coming! Tie things down before they blow away!”

The little man rolled over in bed and said firmly, “No sir. I told you, I can sleep when the wind blows.”

Enraged by the response, the farmer was tempted to fire him on the spot. Instead, he hurried outside to prepare for the storm. To his amazement, he discovered that all of the haystacks had been covered with tarpaulins. The cows were in the barn, the chickens were in the coops, and the doors were barred. The shutters were tightly secured. Everything was tied down.

Nothing could blow away. The farmer then understood what his hired hand meant, so he returned to his bed to also sleep while the wind blew.

When you’re prepared, spiritually, mentally, and physically, you have nothing to fear. Can you sleep when the wind blows through your life? The hired hand in the story was able to sleep because he had secured the farm against the storm.

We secure ourselves against the storms of life by grounding ourselves in the Word of Allah. We don’t need to understand, we just need to hold on to His commands in order to have peace in the middle of storms.

(Note:  I am not the author. I found this online some time ago, but I don’t know who wrote it. – Wael)

Allah guides those who struggle

Steep mountain path


By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

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 | 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.

Give Me Something Better

Corner Brook, Canada

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

The Messenger of Allah (sws) said: “There is no calamity that befalls one of the Muslims and he responds ‘Inna Lillahi wa inna ilahi raaji’oun, Allahumma ujurni fi museebati w’ukhluf li khayran minha,’ (Truly to Allah we belong & truly to Him we shall return, O Allah reward me in this calamity & compensate me with something better than it), but Allah will compensate him with something better than it.” (Muslim 918)

In other words, if you’ve lost something precious, or if disaster has hit you, and you respond with faith in Allah, asking Him to replace your loss with something better, then Allah will surely respond and give you something better.

SubhanAllah! What more could we ask? Allah is the only one who does this. If your house is destroyed, the insurance company will try to find a way to deny your claim, and if they finally pay then they will pay less than it’s worth.

The crucial thing is that the dua’ must be said in that moment of pain and loss, when you are really hurting. You can’t respond at first by saying, “Why did you do this to me Allah, I didn’t deserve this!” then months later when you’ve recovered somewhat, think you can say this dua’ and it will work for you.

The whole point is that in those moments when life is most difficult and you are totally thrown for a loop, you respond by turning to Allah. That’s the test. Those moments are the proving ground of your soul. If you can face Allah in those moments of agony and say – I trust You, all things return to You, I know you will give me something better – then indeed Allah will give you more than you can imagine.

May Allah give us the strength to remember Him and turn to Him instinctively in times of calamity and times of joy as well.

Riding the Waves of Life, Part 1: Ten Strategies for Dealing with Hardship

Ocean wave with the sun shining through

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

“When the seas of life are rough, grab a surfboard and ride the waves.”

That’s something my old friend Samayya used to say. Actually she used to say that she was “boogie boarding on the waves of life.”

So what does it really mean to ride the waves of life? Does it mean that the problems of life are irrelevant and we can just surf over them and have fun?

Not at all. If you know Samayya, then you know that life has never been easy for her. She was married to an abusive man, got divorced and raised a child on her own while working multiple jobs, and yet she always found a way to move forward. She never stopped seeking truth and growth. She struggled to provide for her children, not only financially but Islamically as well. Nothing was ever handed to her. She has had to work hard for every single step forward. So when she says she’s boogie boarding on the waves of life, you can be sure that it’s not the whimsical statement of some spoiled trust fund kid.

1. Don’t panic:  Everyone Experiences Hardship

To me, Samayya’s statement is first of all an acknowledgement that life is hard – sometimes extremely so. Allah says,

“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return. Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided.” – Quran 2:155-157

The philosopher Philo of Alexandria said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” But we often don’t see into the depths of affliction that other people are experiencing. We pass people on the street, or we see them in the masjid, and we don’t realize that one person has a parent dying of cancer; another is caring for an aunt who suffers from dementia; another has a disabled or mentally ill child; another is living in an abusive relationship and cannot find a way out; another is facing the loss of his home; another has experienced divorce and is feeling the anguish of heartbreak and loneliness. (These are all examples from people I know in my own life).

We don’t see these things on the faces of strangers, and even the people we work with often keep such things to themselves. Maybe they don’t want to burden us, or maybe they don’t feel close enough to tell us, or maybe they don’t want to be seen as complainers. So we sometimes imagine that we are the only ones suffering.

When we know that every single person on this planet experiences pain and loss, we will not panic or despair when it happens to us. We will recognize that such trials are a part of life, and we can survive and come through the other side.

2. Trust in Allah’s Plan for You

People often ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The problem is that we human beings have narrow vision. Compared to Allah, we know nothing. A thing may seem bad, when in reality it is good for our souls or our futures. If you can permit me a clichéd example, you might miss an important flight and think that it’s a disaster, then the plane crashes and you realize your life was saved.  In reality the consequences will not always be so obvious. You might be engaged to someone and so excited, then the engagement falls through and you are heartbroken and asking, “Why did this happen?” And what you don’t see is that maybe the person was unfaithful, or has a drug problem, or is violent, and Allah has saved you from a life of misery.

As Allah says,

But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not. – Quran 2:216

So trust in Allah’s plan for you. This is why belief in Qadar (Divine predestination) is one our pillars of imaan (faith). Because we believe that Allah loves us, and is caring for us and guiding us, even in times of misfortune.

3. Don’t Think That You are Being Punished

In the same vein, so many people seem to think that hardships are a punishment from Allah. They write to IslamicAnswers.com – another of my websites – and they say, “Why is Allah angry with me? When will Allah stop punishing me?”

SubhanAllah, the truth is just the opposite. Allah attaches no value to the things of this world. That’s why you see so many of the corrupt and powerful living in material luxury. They are being given rope with which to hang themselves. Material comforts are meaningless to Allah. If Allah wants good for you, He tests you. Allah causes us to suffer in this life so that we can be purified, so we can grow and be ready for Jannah.

Doesn’t He say in the Quran:

Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars. – Quran 29:2-3

The waves of life run roughshod over everyone. If you read about the lives of the Prophets, they all suffered in one way or another, some to an extreme degree.

Our Noble Messenger Muhammad (pbuh) never knew his father, then lost his mother at a young age, then his grandfather. He had garbage dumped on his back in Makkah, and stones thrown at him in Ta’if until his shoes filled with blood. He lost his wife Khadijah (ra) because of the hardship of the boycott against the Muslims. He lost his son. He suffered.

Look at the lives of the Sahabah; many were tortured, and some were tortured to death. Do you think that Allah was punishing them? No, He was martyring them! They were heroes!

4. Check Yourself

Even if your misfortune is a punishment, it’s still a blessing because it means that Allah has chosen to punish you in this dunya (earthly life) for your sins, rather than subject you to the much worse punishment of the aakhirah (hereafter). That is a kindness from Allah, and He would not do it if He did not love you.

The other reason we are punished is so that we can learn and do better. When we punish our children, it’s not because we hate them, but because we love them and we want them to learn and become better human beings. Allah also loves us, and wants us to be purified, and to fulfill our potential. That is a blessing from Allah.

So if you seem to be going through constant hardships, check yourself. Be brutally honest as you assess your life. Ask yourself, “Am I still on the straight path, or have I wandered? Am I living my life according to the Quran? Am I taking the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) as my example? Am I sincere with people and myself?”

Recognize that if the misfortune you have experienced causes you to analyze your life honestly and make positive changes, then there was a purpose behind the pain. That too is a blessing.

5. Find Solace in the Simple Joys

We have established that no one is exempt from misfortune in this life. The question is how to handle it. How do we deal with pain and loss so that it does not overwhelm us? How do we continue to find happiness in life?

To continue the waves metaphor, I was once knocked down by a large wave when I was twelve years old. I lived in Tripoli, Libya at the time and used to spend much of my free time at the beach. I was in water up to my waist or so, when a huge wave slammed into me and dragged me along the bottom, under water, tumbling me over and over. I was panicked and frightened and swallowed a lot of water. When I recovered, my skin was scraped raw from the sand, and I knelt on the beach, coughing up sea water.

Other times I’d time the wave’s entry and body surf on top. That was so much fun.

Surfing atop the waves means that your troubles don’t totally grind you up and scrape your spirit raw like that wave did to me. Instead you  find solace in your relationship with Allah, and in the simple joys of life. Sit down with your child on a cold evening and have a cup of hot chocolate, and savor the rich taste. Pray Fajr then watch the sun rise, and listen as the birds begin to wake and sing. Buy a camera and take photographs of beautiful things in nature, or anything that you find appealing. Read the Quran, go for a hike, play frisbee with your friends. Devote some attention to your hobbies, whether it be writing poetry, knitting, running, or any other productive past time.

6. Be Grateful

Whatever blows hit you, you have been given the greatest gift and blessing of all:  Islam. It was not done because of any special merit on your part. You are not more worthy of Islam than a poor herdsman from Ethiopia, or a Japanese fisherman. It’s only the grace of Allah.

Be grateful for your ability to see and hear, and for the food on your table, and the roof over your head. You can’t imagine living without any of these things, but so many people do not have them! Focus on what you have been given, rather than what you have been denied.

7. Keep a Sense of Wonder

Going back to my friend Samayya for a moment, I think one of the reasons she has come through life’s hardships so well is that she continues to cultivate a sense of wonder. She is in awe of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. She goes outside with her children to gaze at the full moon. She can be inspired by an ayah from Quran, and moved by a poem. Her sense of wonder keeps her spirit young, and her innocence alive. She knows how to laugh. I won’t say that she doesn’t struggle with anger, bitterness and fear, but don’t we all? The trick is to not let those negative emotions consume us. Experience them, then let them go, and return to the sense of awe and wonder that makes us tremble before Allah.

Read my recent poem, Fill it With Al-Fatihah, which deals with this process of finding joy amid pain.

8. Reach Out to Others

When you are suffering, reach out in two ways. First, go to someone you can trust and tell him or her about your problems. There is value in sharing your pain. You may not want to burden someone else, but a true friend will be there for you, and will be happy to listen. There is a proverb: Happiness shared is happiness doubled; sadness shared is sadness halved.

Second, reach out to others who are in pain and comfort them. You may think you have nothing to offer, but you’d be surprised what a little bit of gentleness can do. A kind word and a pat on the shoulder can do wonders, and in the process you will experience a human moment, a connection, that will help you with your own problems as well.

9. Accept Change

It’s been said that chaos brings growth and liberty; while order brings habit and stagnation. From the most difficult periods of your life will come change. Continuing the waves metaphor, ocean waves keep the beach clean by carrying away dead matter and debris; and they bring in fresh water and food for the tide pools. At the same time the waves leave behind beautiful sea shells and driftwood for collectors.

Think about a beach and how popular it is. Would anyone go to a beach if it had no ocean, or no waves? People go there to experience the motion of the waves rushing in and out. The sea shore is a place of constant change and renewal, and that is its beauty.

I mentioned that I once got knocked down by a wave, and that sometimes I would surf atop the waves. Well, other times I would dive straight into the large waves. By diving into the center of the wave, you negate its power and you come out on the other side unharmed.

Diving into the wave means that you accept the hardship that has come into your life. You approach it with sabr (patience) and determination, trusting Allah, knowing that He will bring you through. You embrace the lesson that it brings, for every single hardship in life – big or small -carries a lesson.

To use an example from my own life, I went through a divorce in 2008, then I was engaged to be married in 2009 and that relationship failed as well. I went through a period when I was deeply depressed and confused. I could not understand why Allah had led me down such a lonely path. But I persevered. I kept my faith in Allah, and I tried to be a good father to my daughter. I continued working, writing, and practicing martial arts. I also looked deeply into my own actions, and questioned my own sincerity. I concluded that regardless of what mistakes other people may have made, I bore a share of responsibility for my misfortunes. In my marriage, I was not fully present. For various reasons, I held back some of my love. In the relationship that followed, I was not 100% patient and trusting. I allowed my insecurities and fears to get the best of me at times.

Coming to these realizations allows me the opportunity to do better next time. I have pledged to hold nothing back with my future wife, Insha’Allah, whoever that may be; to release all the immense love that I have; and to be patient and trusting at the times when I am most full of fear. I have also become a better father, a better writer, and a better martial artist.

My pain was not wasted because I learned from it. I dived into the wave and came out the other side, confident that I am a better human being, and that I will do better next time, Insha’Allah.

10. Ponder True Victory

There are two kinds of true victory. Neither one includes material wealth, which is fleeting and ultimately meaningless:

“Whatever you have will end, but what Allah has is lasting. And We will surely give those who were patient their reward according to the best of what they used to do.” – Quran 16:96

The first true victory is spiritual success. That is recognizing Allah’s guidance, following it, sticking to it, and being grateful for it. It’s a victory because it helps us to live lives of meaning and purpose, and to be peaceful and patient.

The second victory is Jannah (Paradise), and that is the ultimate achievement.

Sometimes we experience a victory in life and we clearly recognize it. Other times we may achieve a milestone of success and not even realize it, because it comes veiled in pain or loss. We must trust that Allah’s promise is true, and that victory belongs to the believers in this life and the next. Take heart, and don’t fear. Allah’s victory is near, even when we don’t see it. Allah is merciful to us and He wants good for us. Have a good opinion of Allah, and let your faith in Him be strong and ever renewed, like the well of Zamzam that never runs dry, or the waves of the sea that keep coming and coming, day and night.

“By the time, Indeed, mankind is in loss; Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.” – Quran Surah 103 (Al-Asr)

***

In part two of this article I will Insha’Allah discuss some specific spiritual actions that make a tremendous difference. These include salat, dua’, dhikr, affirmations, meditation, and fasting.

In part three I’ll look at some physical actions that directly affect our emotional state, including exercise, massage and a healthy diet.

Stay tuned!

Fast 7-Step Cure for Depression by Dr. Bilal Philips

Sun rays shining through green trees

This is Dr. Bilal Philips’s “Fast” cure for depression.

Do a complete focused fast on Mondays and Thursdays, and do the following:

1) Get up and read from the Quran in Arabic and English – “Inna fee Khalqis samaawati wal Ard” (Surat Aali Imraan, 3:191-end) and crying.

2) Make a focused wudu’ and pray Tahajjud, followed by:

3) a very light Suhoor (brown bread, olives and extra virgin olive oil + 2 table spoons full of canned tuna or one egg) followed by:

4) a day of focused sunnah and Fard prayers.

5) Utilize throughout the day any of the Prophetic du’aas requesting ease like:

“Allahumma laa sahla illaa maa ja’altahu sahlaa, wa anta taj’alus sa’ba in shi’ta sahlaa.”

(O Allah, nothing is easy except what you make easy, and You can make what is difficult easy if You wish)

As well as the other du’aas for depression like: Allaahumma rahmataka arjoo falaa takilnee ilaa nafsee tarfata ‘ayn. wa aslih lee sha’nee kullah. Laa ilaaha illaa Ant. (O Allah, it is Your mercy that I hope for, so don’t leave me in charge of my affairs even for the blinking of an eye. And rectify all of my affairs for me. Nothing has the right to be worshipped except You). – See Hisnul Muslim – the Muslim Fortress – for more.

6) Then break the fast with 3 dates and a glass of water and pray Maghrib;

7) Have a light Iftaar followed by a focused Ishaa prayer.

The depression should begin to lift, if not go altogether from the very first day of the Fast cure. It will work if you do it believing with all your heart, strongly that this Prophetic formula WORKS and the degree to which it does work depends on how seriously you take it and apply it.

Sincerity is the Stairway to Heaven

How many of us are stumbling in the dark, or sitting quietly in despair, not knowing where to turn? How many of us have giant boulders blocking our progress, preventing us from living happy lives? How many of us are stuck, trapped, immobilized like fish in a huge net? Sometimes we get so frustrated at our situations that we don’t see that our problems themselves are a test and opportunity given by Allah.

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

Rainbow over mountain foothills

I’ve made terrible mistakes that have had serious, life-altering consequences. Other blunders have caused me shame or embarrassment, or contributed to the loss of important relationships. I have sometimes misjudged people and been hurt, and I have sometimes hurt other people.

I’ve had the awful experience of being betrayed by a friend, a man I trusted completely. It is the most heart-wrenching feeling in the world. I’ve never betrayed anyone in that way, but I have certainly let people down.

My marriage came to an end in part because of mistakes that I made. I was never unfaithful, violent or cruel, but I did not enter the marriage with full dedication in my heart, and I failed to reciprocate the level of love and trust that I was offered. Looking back, I can see that Allah gave me opportunities to advance the marriage to a place of mutual love and faith, and I failed to embrace them.

A few years ago, a woman revealed something deeply personal to me. She spoke of a trauma in her past, and her fears for the future. I listened silently, but internally I grew increasingly agitated as I filtered her words through my own insecurities, thinking of how her thoughts impacted me. I ended up walking out on her. That shameful moment is etched in my mind in black ink. I apologized hours later, but some things cannot be undone.

I know that many of you have similar stories.

These mistakes, and others I made I when I was younger, have caused me to feel distress, regret, bitterness, doubt, and confusion. And yet, I thank Allah for my missteps. I’m not happy that I have hurt others. I have asked their forgiveness when possible, and I ask Allah’s forgiveness. But I recognize that because of my foolish actions, and their sometimes awful consequences, I have grown as a Muslim, a father, a potential husband, a martial artist, a writer and a human being, in ways that I would not have thought possible. I feel that Allah is shaping me, molding me into a man with a softer heart and a harder body; nurturing my spirit, calling my soul down the road it needs to walk.

Pain is a catalyst to growth

If we look back at the lives of the Sahabah, and the great scholars and leaders of Islam, and the noble Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself, the times in their lives when they made the greatest leaps forward were times of crisis. When the Prophethood came to Muhammad (pbuh), when Jibreel visited him in the cave and hugged him painfully and commanded him to “Recite!”, he was fearful. It was the greatest moment of change in his life, but also the most frightening.

An ancient illuminated manuscript of the Quran

The great Companion ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab (ra) came to Islam after a terrible fight with his sister, when he caught her and her husband Zaid reciting Quran, and he flew into a terrible rage and beat them both. Then he felt shame and regret; he demanded to see the manuscript they had been reading. Upon reading it, he was deeply shaken by its beauty, and the nobility of its call. He went straight to Al-Safa, where the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was meeting with his companions. He asked permission to enter, then declared his conversion in front of the holy Prophet (pbuh). ‘Umar went on to become one of the Prophet’s closest and companions, and then the second Khalifah of the Muslim world after the death of the Prophet (pbuh).

Many of the Sahabah went through terrible hardships in the name of Islam. Many were tortured. One, Salman Al-Farisi, left behind a life of comfort and nobility in order to search the world for the truth, finally ending up as a slave before the word came to him of the Prophet that he had sought for so long.

My point is not to say that they suffered, so be patient. This has been said voluminously. My point is that their suffering led them to astonishing places spiritually. Because they were sincere and pure of heart, their suffering purified them, and raised them to a kind of generational nobility unseen in human history. Materially, they literally became the masters of the world, but only because they first proved that they did not desire it. Even from their position as rulers they were humble as the dust, like ‘Umar, who, as commander of the second largest empire in the world, ate bread made from coarse flour, and wore patched clothes.

There is a story told by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in a saheeh hadith:

“Three persons from the tribe of Bani Israel got together and started out on a journey. On the way, clouds gathered above them and it started to pour with rain and so they sought shelter in a nearby cave.

Suddenly, a large boulder slipped and blocked the entrance to the cave, trapping the three inside and transforming the day into a dark night for them. They had no other alternative except to turn to Allahn (SWT) for help.

“Let us use our sincere deeds as a means to obtain deliverance from this predicament,” suggested one of them. All the others agreed with the suggestion.

One of them said, “O’ Lord! You are aware that I have an extremely attractive cousin and that I was infatuated and obsessed with her. One day, finding her alone, I took hold of her and wanted to satisfy my carnal desires, when she spoke out to me saying: O’ My cousin! Fear Allah (SWT) and do not harm my chastity. Hearing this, I crushed my lustful tendencies and decided against the evil act. O’ Lord! If that deed of mine had been out of absolute sincerity and only for the purpose of acquiring Your pleasure, deliver us from grief and perdition.”

Suddenly they witnessed that the huge boulder had moved away a little, faintly brightening up the interior of the cave.

The second person spoke out, “O’ Lord! You know that I had a father and a mother, so old that their bodies had bent over due to their excessive age, and that I used to tend to them regularly. One night, having brought them their food, I observed that both of them were asleep. I passed the entire night near them, the food in hand, without waking them up for fear of disturbing them. O’ Lord! If this deed of mine had been only for the sake of Your pleasure and happiness, open up a way for us and grant us salvation.”

As he completed his speech, the group noticed that the boulder had moved aside a little more.

The third person supplicated, “O’ Knower of every hidden and manifest! You know Yourself that I had a worker who used to work for me. When his term had reached its termination, I handed over to him his wages, but he was not pleased and desired more and, in a state of dissatisfaction and displeasure, he went away. I used his wage to purchase a sheep, which I looked after separately and very soon I had a flock in my possession. After a period of time, the worker again approached me for his wage and I pointed towards the flock of animals. Initially, he thought I was ridiculing him, but later, realizing my seriousness, took the entire flock and left. O’ Lord! If this act had been prompted by sincerity and had only been for Your pleasure, deliver us from this quandary.”

At this point the entire boulder moved aside from the mouth of the cave and all three emerged from it, joyous and ecstatic, and continued their journey.

We’re not Prophets or Sahabah, but the principles of human nature hold true. Think about the amazing symbolism of the story above. The three men were trapped in the dark, facing the possibility of death by thirst or starvation. Allah saved them only because of the power contained within their sincere deeds, done solely for His pleasure.

Boulder blocking the road

How many of us are stumbling in the dark, or sitting quietly in despair, not knowing where to turn? How many have giant boulders blocking our progress, preventing us from living happy lives? How many are stuck, immobilized like fish in a net? Sometimes we are so frustrated at our situations that we don’t see that our problems themselves are tests and opportunities given by Allah.

To develop as human beings, to become better people and move closer to Allah, we must experience hardship. That is a fundamental principle of our creation. Those are the rules. They are no different for us, sitting here in the year 2011/1432 Hijri, than for the Prophets and great mortals of the past.

“Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until [even their] messenger and those who believed with him said, ‘When is the help of Allah?’ Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near.” (Quran, Al-Baqarah, 2:214)

In hardship lies opportunity. Adversity is the soil in which we grow. The challenge is to recognize that, and to know that Allah is very near, guiding us all along.

Stairway to heaven

One remarkable lesson I’ve learned in the last few years is that for a mu’min (believer), and for someone who truly wants to advance spiritually, sincerity is the key. I’m talking about sincerity in its own right, even when it is not reciprocated, and not seeking anything in return,  but only as a philosophy of living and a personal discipline.

“He is the Living (One): There is no god but He: Call upon Him, giving Him sincere devotion. Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds!” (Quran, Ghafir 40:65)

I have come to recognize that the process of being sincere with Allah, with others, and with myself – and that is the most grueling of all- is tremendously difficult, but that it leads to important and amazing places that can’t be reached any other way. There is a stairway to heaven, and the only way to get a leg up on it, and then to climb, is to practice sincerity. That includes purity of intention (niyyah), and purity of worship.

I’ve even come to believe that a person, after seeing the value of sincerity as the only path to growth; and after setting out on that steep path for that reason; must then deliberately forget the reason, practicing sincerity alone, because part of being sincere is not demanding or expecting an outcome, but doing it for its own sake, fee-sabeel-illah, period.

There’s a story of a boy who came to a martial arts master and said,
“How long will it take me to become a master in your art?”
The master replied, “Ten years.”
“Ten years?” the boy said. “That’s a long time. What if I train twice as hard as your current students, how long will it take?”
“Twenty years,” said the master.
“What if,” said the boy, “I train day and night, dedicating all my energy? How long will it take?”
“Thirty years,” said the master.
“What?” exclaimed the boy? How come every time I say I will train harder, you say it will take longer?
“Because,” said the master, “With your eyes fixed on your goal, you have no eyes to see the way.”

The same is true for the deen, and the deen is life. You can’t climb a stairway to heaven if you’re looking up at the sky, or staring into the distance at some pretty thing, or wishing for recognition, or craving hedonistic pleasure. You have to keep your eyes on the path, so you don’t fall. Experience the moment. Cherish what you have and be grateful. Bring all your love, compassion and determination to bear with each passing hour. Purify your heart, and trust Allah with the destination.

A surprising change

The last few years have been difficult for me, but they’ve brought about a surprising and marvelous change. It’s been a time of monumental growth, and I don’t mean my waistband, which fortunately has shrunk a bit. I’ve grown as a Muslim. I have blossomed as a writer, expressing ideas that have percolated inside me for decades. I have improved tremendously as a martial artist, finally coming to a place (after decades of practice) where I can create combinations spontaneously, and apply martial principles effectively on the fly. I have become such a better father to my daughter Salma. I never thought I could be as comfortable, patient and loving with her as I am now. All I can say is, Alhamdulillah!

A key element in that process of change has been facing the uncomfortable fact that I have not always been sincere, and then embarking on this path of earnestness and honesty as an approach to life. It’s not easy in the least.

Most of us lie to ourselves. It’s enormously difficult to take responsibility for our failings, even the partial responsibility that, realistically, is usually ours. It’s much easier to shift blame to others, or to external factors. But then the same lapses and misjudgments get repeated over and over again, until we start to say, “Why me?”, all the while knowing in our hearts that we ultimately bear responsibility, but still being unwilling to face that truth.

When we’re ready

We have to learn to trust that Allah will bring us what we need when we are ready. That doesn’t mean that we don’t labor. Of course we do, in fact we are an Ummah of aspirations, an Ummah that reaches for excellence. But we do it fee-sabeel-illah, purely in Allah’s cause. We should never let selfishness, base desire or greed take over, because when we do we guarantee failure.

We strive, pursuing our dreams but never trying to force the outcomes, and we constantly check and re-check the purity of our intentions. We focus on serving Allah and being the best Abdullah, Fatimah, Leyla or Fuad that we can be. Then we have certitude that Allah will give us what is proper.

To take one example, I often feel acutely the absence of a woman in my life. I love to laugh, have fun, be affectionate and discuss ideas, and I miss sharing my life with that special someone. I also want more for Salma. I believe – I hope – that I am a good father to her, but she needs the guidance of a Muslim woman. I teach her about Allah and Islam, but she needs someone to teach her how to be a Muslimah.

I have placed profiles on a few matrimonial sites, and I am not shy about putting the word out, or contacting someone who seems interesting. However, nothing has come of it, and I accept that. I’m not trying to force anything artificial. My focus is on improving my ibaadah (worship). Increasing my knowledge. Strengthening my body. Becoming a better and better father. Reconciling with my past, forgiving myself, being gentle with myself and others, finding new ways to express love in my life, all with sincerity, not craving any material outcome.

When I’ve set myself on that stairway with my eyes aglow and my heart beating softly, when I have reached the level of purity that Allah expects, when He sees that I am ready – then I trust that He will bring the right woman into my life.

A way of being

Sometimes when I reach out to a friend in need or a stranger in pain, I sense their worry that I might have a hidden agenda. Not because there’s anything oily about me, but because they are not used to anyone behaving unselfishly, so they assume there must be a catch. They mistake a way of being, a conscious way of behaving in the world, for manipulation or ambition. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said,

“The Most Merciful (God) shows mercy to those who have mercy on others. Show mercy to those on earth, and the One above the heaven will show mercy to you.”

Stairway to heaven

I choose to try be the kind of person I aspire to, the person I see as the ideal “Wael”. Making that effort has nothing to do with how others behave. It doesn’t matter if others are merciful. It doesn’t matter if they are kind, or even polite.

Jesus (pbuh) says in the Bible, “If you love only those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”

I have adopted this approach as a direct result of the hardship I’ve experienced. I could easily have gone the other way, toward cynicism and bitterness. Many do. But that’s a dark road. It’s not a life I want to live, and not what I want to teach my daughter.

I look back at the mistakes I’ve made in life, and I see that every screwup carried within it the seed of a powerful lesson, and I thank Allah with every sinew of my being that He allowed me to recognize that, and to cultivate those seeds, rather than suffering in vain.

I regret the pain I have caused others; but I regret none of the pain I have suffered, because without it I would be weaker; more vain; less compassionate; less trusting of Allah; and less grateful. I would not be on even the lowest rung of the stairway to heaven.

So Alhamdulillah, Who loves us enough to test us, so that we can be purified, become strong, and become sincere.

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