Diligence is the Mother of Good Luck

Hanalei River Valley in Kauai, Hawaii

Hanalei River Valley in Kauai, Hawaii... God created the earth and everything in it, and laid it at your feet

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

“Diligence is the mother of good luck.” – Arabic proverb

If you want something, work for it and do not stop. That’s how you create your own luck. Whether you were born into a rich family or a poor one, whether you are innately talented or not, whether you have charisma and charm or you are a tongue-tied nerd, it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice to be rich, talented, and charismatic, but you can succeed without them, and you’ll appreciate it all the more. All you have to do is hang on even after others have let go.

Don’t bemoan your fate. No one is born into a perfect family. Don’t complain about lack of resources. Allah created this world and everything in it, and laid it at your feet. If you’re facing the right direction, you can reach anywhere in the world if you keep on walking.

Find a Way

In 1997 I started a small web development consulting service. I really wanted to work with Muslims and help to create Islamic websites. As a small adjunct to my service, I started a Muslim matrimonial service. I thought of it as a hobby. That was the first incarnation of Zawaj.com Muslim Matrimonials. It was one of the first three such services on the internet. The problem was that I was not really a programmer (I was more of a graphic designer), and in the beginning I was hand-creating every page for every ad. The traffic climbed, until I was getting many new ads every day. It quickly became impossible.

I contacted some large web development firms to get a price quote for building a proper, automated matchmaking service. Their quotes were too high for me. I contacted some firms in India, and found one that would build the website first, and let me pay in monthly installments of $500. The bill was many thousands of dollars, and that was at a time when I could barely pay the bills. I agreed to the deal, not knowing where the money would come from. Every month I had to come up with $500 somehow. I eliminated all unnecessary expenses, I borrowed from my parents and my wife, and somehow I made it, and paid it all off.

More than ten years later, Zawaj.com is still my bread and butter.  I don’t know what I would have done without it. I feel that Allah guided me to make that choice, and I was smart enough and determined enough to seize the opportunity. For once in my life, ha ha!

Make your own luck. Make something happen. Find a way.

Diligence, diligence. Focus on your goal, work hard, don’t give up… be as persistent as the sun. Sometimes the sun is hidden behind clouds, but it’s there every day. It’s okay to have days when you’re tired, when it seems hopeless, when you wish life would give you a break, but just keep showing up every day and doing the work, and your break will come.

Whoever said that opportunity knocks once must not have been paying attention, because opportunities come along all the time. It’s just that you have to listen for them, and you must lay the groundwork so that you are ready when the knock comes.

Faith and Diligence

I’ll finish with a story from the life of the Prophet Muhammad (sws):

Narrated Khabbab bin Al-Arat:
We complained to Allah’s Apostle (of the persecution inflicted on us by the disbelievers) while he was sitting in the shade of the Ka’ba, leaning over his Burd (i.e. covering sheet). We said to him, “Would you seek help for us? Would you pray to Allah for us?” He said, “Among the nations before you a (believing) man would be put in a ditch that was dug for him, and a saw would be put over his head and he would be cut into two pieces; yet that (torture) would not make him give up his religion. His body would be combed with iron combs that would remove his flesh from the bones and nerves, yet that would not make him abandon his religion. By Allah, this religion (i.e. Islam) will prevail till a traveler from Sana (in Yemen) to Hadrarmaut will fear none but Allah, or a wolf as regards his sheep, but you (people) are hasty.”

What type of persecution was Khabbab referring to? Was it simple name calling, or Muslim businesses being boycotted? No, it was torture and murder. Bilal was laid in the desert with a huge stone on his chest. Others were place in chains, burned, stabbed by spears… all because they had adopted the religion of Allah. So it was no small thing they were complaining of. And yet all the Prophet had to say to them was that they were hasty, and that a time would come when all of Arabia would be united and safe. Someone standing beside him at the moment, looking around at the weak circumstances in which the Muslims found themselves, might have found such a statement hard to believe. But the Messenger of Allah (sws) had faith, and he had diligence, and those together can achieve anything.

Invite Allah’s Power and Wisdom Into Your Life

Man surrounded by sun rays

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Allah’s power and wisdom are limitless and beyond our comprehension. But guess what? There is a key that brings Allah’s infinite wisdom into play in your life. That key is prayer. Salat and dua’ are like a special hotline that transcends the veils of space and time and goes directly to Allah. Prayer is the means and the voice that Allah has given us to speak to Him, ask His forgiveness, and request His assistance and wisdom in any situation that we are dealing with. And it works.

“And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me and believe in Me that they may be guided.” Quran, Al-Baqarah 2:186

Miracles happen every day. Do you not believe that miracles can happen in your life as well? Do you think that you are too insignificant for that? SubhanAllah. Allah sees and knows every fallen leaf, every grain in the darkness of the earth; and He knows your innermost thoughts. He is closer to you than your jugular vein. (Quran 50:16)

Do you think that Allah’s nearness to you is because He mistrusts you? No! Allah has nothing to fear from you, and therefore nothing to mistrust. Allah is near to you because He loves you. He is near to you because He cares about you and understands your pain. He is near to you so that He can help you. You matter, as much as the ocean, the trees and the stars. You are important to Allah, not as a general concept, but you, as an individual person with your own private needs and fears. You only have to turn to Him, and call upon Him; and His wisdom, power and guidance will manifest in your life.

I personally went through a very difficult period when I was younger. At the time I felt that I had failed in life. I was beginning to feel some despair. But I kept my faith in Allah, and I prayed to Him in the day and the dark of the night. I trusted Allah, and I knew that He would not abandon me. And then the last person I would expect, an acquaintance who I hardly knew and who had no reason to care about me or my situation, suddenly took an interest and began helping me. Within a short period of time I had a job, and was able to get my own apartment, and my life had changed completely. It was literally a miracle. Even now it blows my mind. Allah stepped into that situation, and He made the impossible possible, because I believed in Him and I prayed.

Miracles happen every day. Allah hears you. You matter.

“O You the Ever Living Who sustains all that exists! O You Who created the heavens and the earth without precedence. O You, Who owns the glory and the honor, none has the right to be worshiped except You. We seek refuge with Your mercy. Grant us success in all of our matters. Please, do not abandon us to rely on ourselves even for an instant nor on any of Your creation.” – (dua’ mentioned in Tafsir ibn Kathir, in the tafsir of Surat Ar-Rahman, ayahs 26 to 30.)

Every day do your best, Allah will do the rest

Idyllic village next to beautiful mountain

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Wash your heart every morning with salat, then warm it up with dhikr. Begin each day with faith in you heart, and know that no matter how steep the mountain, Allah is with you as you climb. Every day do your best, Allah will do the rest.

Knowing Who to Believe, and Who to Trust

Forest path

Finding your way through the forest

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

The world is chaos. There is an underlying order in nature, but human society is a tsunami of lies, disinformation, conflicting claims, selfishness and greed. This news channel says one thing, that one says another. One group claims to be freedom fighters, others call them terrorists. One person tells you to practice Islam this way, another says that way. You meet someone and he or she seems honest, while others say, “Don’t trust him, he’s no good.” You make personal choices for your life, and people criticize you and say you are foolish or misguided.

What confusion! How do you know what to believe, and who to trust?

Answer:  Believe in Allah. Trust Him. Invite His word and guidance into your life and open yourself to it fully.

Next, believe in Allah’s Messengers, His books, the angels, the Day of Resurrection, and that certain things are predestined and beyond your control (Qadar).

These are the six pillars of Imaan (faith).

Lastly, believe in yourself. With Allah guiding you, have no fear. Believe in your instincts, your choices, and your own heart. This is the most difficult challenge, but it’s vital. Know yourself, and believe in yourself.

If you get that down, it’s clear sailing. You’ll know which people you can trust, and which ones you can’t. You’ll know which causes you can support, and which ones are lies. That’s the power of faith. It lights the way and makes things clear. The Quran is Al-Furqaan, the criterion by which all things can be judged. The authentic Sunnah is our guide that shows us how to put the Quran into practice in our lives.

These are the sources of Truth. As the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said during his last sermon, on the occasion of the Hajj and on the day of ‘Arafah, in the Uranah valley near Makkah, with ten thousand people listening:

“O people, no Prophet or Messenger will come after me and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O people, and understand the words which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things: the Qur’an and my example, the Sunnah; and if you follow these you will never go astray.” (Agreed upon)

Islam is as-sirat al-mustaqeem, the Straight Path. When you have knowledge of the Truth, you cannot be distracted or fooled by falsehood.

Allah says,

“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clearly distinct from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.” (Quran,  2:256)

On the day the Muslims opened Makkah, the Prophet (pbuh) recited, while watching the idols being smashed:

“…And say [O Muhammad]: ‘Truth has come, and falsehood has departed, Indeed is falsehood, [by Nature], ever bound to depart.’” (Quran, Al-Isrâ’: 81).

The same is true on a personal level. When Truth arrives in your heart, and you put it into action in your life, you will find that falsehood can no longer stand before you.

You’ll walk calmly amid the media whirlwind, the spin, the claims, the bigotry and greed, the selfish people who only want to use you, the betrayers who would hurt you without remorse. You will know who to believe and trust, because you know yourself, and you carry truth inside you.

Poem: A Peace That Sings

Dandelions blowing in the wind

A Peace That Sings

By Shireen

My soul breathes a breath it has never quite taken before
So crisp, so clean, so pure
And a giddy little grin will peak upon my lips
For no particular reason, just a peace within sings so deep
And though the meaning of life’s lesson is upon me now
I can’t help but feel that I know nothing of anything, but to God I remain, to God I bow
Time and time again we search, we befriend but in the end there are things that remain questionable
Should a friend really be so textable?
Really, is there nothing else to do other then keep us entertained
Twitter,or Facebook, Blackberry or Iphone, Google and Amazon E books
It’s all the same really, friends too many
One or two may know me
But never have they given me this feeling I feel
This ease, this lightness upon my chest, this gushing goodness of “man, God is Indeed The Best!”
Why? some may ask. Wasn’t that a test?
Yes, but a test is only a question mark away from a reward
Will you submit to that which you cannot control? Or will your choice be hard, and dramatic turmoil?
I resolve with, I need not fight if I have the angels fighting for me
I will not wander blindly when I have light making a way clearly
I will not speak ill of what’s meant to be, when I have the All Knowing watching over me
I will not be among the ungrateful, before I become alone just me and me
My life is a breath of fresh air for which I pray lasts until I return home
Though fears I have, it’s not something any human can console
For words don’t come when I try to speak it, just thoughts and only God Knows the Meanings
So I stop here, Praising the All Knowing, The All Wise
Hoping for the best, fearing my weaknesses and begging for success!

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.

Poem: Going to Meet Allah

Rainbow over a beach rock

Going to Meet Allah

Where are we going today?
Why are we going this way?

What lies around the bend?
Where does this road end?

What is the sum of strife?
What is the measure of life?

How can we get free
from chains we can and cannot see?

We’re going to meet Allah.

Fear is a hurricane;
Imaan is a summer rain.

Hatred is a gnawing cancer;
mercy is the only answer.

Peace on me and peace on you;
trust Allah and we’ll get through.

Love Allah with all your power;
get ready for the final Hour.

We’re going to meet Allah, going to meet Allah,
going to meet Allah, going to meet Allah.

– Wael Abdelgawad, 2008

The Transformative Power of a Child’s Love

Salma smiling

My daughter Salma

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

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

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

A Difficult Youth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Broken Heart

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

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

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

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

A Terrible Depression

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

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

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

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

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

Elements of Recovery

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

Salma dancing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

I Live

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wael Abdelgawad
Fresno, California – 2009

Agents of Hope, Agents of Despair

Rainbow over a road

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

“Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth!” – Quran 24:35

The Quran is a guidance, and the Sunnah (way) of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is a shining beacon. They are both agents of hope in the hearts of humanity. We too must be agents of hope in the lives of those around us.

We must never be agents of despair. Shaytan (Satan) is the ultimate agent of despair. That is his specialty. He strives to destroy our faith in Allah, our faith in ourselves, our faith in others.

Terrorists are agents of despair. They seek not to build, but to destroy by inducing fear, suffering and chaos.

We too can sometimes unwittingly become agents of despair.

If you ever find yourself telling someone that their dreams of achieving something great are unrealistic; if you find yourself cutting someone down verbally, pointing out their faults ruthlessly, mocking their failures, or teasing them in a hurtful way, stop! You are functioning as an agent of despair in that person’s life.

If you find yourself demeaning yourself in this way, focusing on your own failings, stop! You are acting as an agent of despair in your own soul.

When you make a mistake (and don’t we all make mistakes every day?), ask Allah for forgiveness, recover, and stand up straight. Resolve to do better next time. Never hate yourself, or if you do then don’t do it for more than a few seconds before you shake it off. Never wallow in self-pity or self-recrimination. The past is gone and you can never go back and change it, but you can learn from it, and become a stronger and wiser person.

Life is difficult. Life is painful at times. That is part of its nature. But it is also beautiful, profound and full of meaning. You too are beautiful and profound. Allah did not create humanity in vain, and that includes you. Your life has meaning and purpose. Seek that purpose. Hold on to your connection with Allah and strengthen it, follow it. Be an agent of hope in your own heart, and change your life for the better. Then act as an agent of hope to those around you, and you will affect their lives in positive and profound ways, even when you are not aware of it.

If you must criticize, do it with kindness. If you disagree, do it with sincerity. If you see good in someone, tell them. If you love someone in the cause of Allah, tell them. If you see pain, strive to be a balm, to provide relief. If you see someone hurting emotionally, give a kind word. Be a living example of truth. Be a walking agent of da’wah, showing the beauty of Islam through your actions. Stand up for what’s right.

Be an agent of hope in this world, and you will follow in the footsteps of the Prophets.

“I Want” – a poem

Center of the Milky Way galaxy, as seen from Cherry Springs State Park

Center of the Milky Way galaxy, as seen from Cherry Springs State Park, one of the darkest places in the eastern USA. The Milky Way is a vast collection of more than 200 billion stars, planets, nebulae, clusters, dust and gas. Our own Sun and solar system are also part of the Milky Way galaxy. Brilliant Jupiter is the brightest "star" in the image, seen at left.

I Want

I want to travel back in time
and prevent my daughter
from jamming her toe in the shopping cart
and getting a blood bruise.
I want her to laugh so hard
she sprays her cereal and milk.
I want her never to shake her head
in shame or regret.
I want her to love Allah,
to raise hands in duaa,
to feel the deen in her veins
like a pulse.

I want my father
to be given the heart of a mustang,
and barring that
to welcome his Qadr with ease,
not squeezing his hands into fists
or cursing in pain.
Never mind what he thinks of me.
I want him to call on Allah
with joy and relief,
to find sweetness in the dusk of his life.
I want peace for him Yaa Allah;
caress him with endless rahma.

I want the Muslim people
to find their power, art,
science; and the quiet joy
of ‘ibadah and Allah’s love.
Let them step into the century
free from tyranny, standing tall
with Islam as hope and heart.
Let them drink from the bubbling spring
of the Quran.
Let them breathe.
Let them free themselves
and transform the world.

For myself, who knows?
Still I shake my head and laugh,
wondering who I am,
and when I’ll find my secret name.
I say with truth
that I don’t flinch,
no snarl crosses my face,
and I don’t lie about my past.
No acid fills my mouth. No fear,
no hate, no shame.
Instead, I want…
I want

to leap into the night sky
and grab a bushel of stars,
bring them to earth burning in my hands.
Once, in Tucson,
the morning sun turned everything
– the desert, the buildings,
even the men standing in line to eat –
yellow as an egg yolk.
I want to bottle that pure yellow
and drink it into my veins
until I’m hot and glowing
from heart to fingernails.

Laugh, I don’t care!
Yes I am a crazy man.
Let me tell you, somewhere
in a dingy cell a man is being beaten
and starved; somewhere
a sister is being raped;
I want to give my life
to put a stop to it,
and I offer it to Allah:
take it. I understand my words.
Use me for a purpose
and let me be remembered

for saving one life,
making one person weep in relief,
rescuing one soul from pain.
For myself I ask so little:
to be held in loving arms
and a sweet voice in my ear.
Is that too strange a dream?
To take a wife and hug her fiercely,
see my daughter learn the deen,
to graduate to black belt
after all these years.
To bring relief to pain…

For myself, so little.
In the end I forfeit all.
Yaa Allah, I surrender all
but your love! I give up
the stars and sun,
the run of time and coin,
and the embrace of love…
But for others:
my father, Salma,
and those I’ve lost; for the hurt and hungry
praying for relief… for them
I want, I want, I want.

– Wael Abdelgawad, July 2009

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