Not Giving Up On Humanity

Beautiful roadBy Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

I’m not ready to give up on humanity. The world is torn by war, and billions are crushed by poverty and hunger. Torturers practice their dark arts in the prisons of the world. Raveners consume the rainforests. The oceans fill with garbage…

But I’m not ready to give up on this world, or on the human experiment. We were not created in vain. God said to the angels, “‘Verily, I will place humankind generations after generations on earth.’ They (the angels) said: ‘Will You place therein those who will make mischief and shed blood, while we glorify You with praises and thanks and sanctify You?’ God said: ‘I know that which you do not know.’” (Quran 2:30)

Notice that God did not say, “No, they will not make mischief and shed blood.” Rather He said, “I know that which you do not know.”

Could it be that He saw our potential for greatness? That He saw within us the seeds of compassion and transformation? They say that a man must hit rock bottom before he can change. Could that be true for us as a species? Could it be that we must explore these disgraceful depths before we can turn around and evolve? One thing is certain: this must be our final century, or our first. We will continue to a hurricane of self-destruction, or we will begin a new way of living.

We must find a way to solve our problems without war. We must stop burning fossil fuels. We must abandon the culture of disposal goods and begin to live sustainably. We must redistribute resources more equitably. We know what we have to do. It’s not a mystery. We simply have to find the moral courage to do it. And we need better leaders. We must remove the reins of power from men who serve the gods of greed and selfishness.

Martin Luther King Jr., in one of his last speeches (“Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam”), said:

“With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when the lion and the lamb will lie down together, and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid because the words of the Lord have spoken it. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when all over the world we will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last!” With this faith, we’ll sing it as we’re getting ready to sing it now. Men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. And nations will not rise up against nations, neither shall they study war anymore.”

Sadly, the global trend at the time of this writing is toward division and hatred. We are seeing the rise of nationalist sentiment and so-called leaders who call upon the worst instincts of their people, fanning the flames of racial division.

Still, I insist on having faith. I insist on believing in the future. Because, after all, what is the alternative?

Men will beat their swords into plowshares… Is that possible? Yes, why not? It’s within our power to choose a better way to live.

Will we? I don’t know. But I suspect that the human story contains a few surprises yet to be seen.

We All Make Mistakes

Bird flying over the sea

Allah made us in a state He loves

By Amy Estrada for IslamicSunrays.com

Ibrahim has just graduated and started a good job, and is ready to marry. He and his family meet several prospective spouses, but more than one of them is a suitable match. Ibrahim is confused. He wants to make a wise choice, but the choice isn’t clear. Of the few that seem like good candidates, none rises above the others. Who should he choose?

He prays istikhara and consults family and friends. He makes dua’, but the uncertainty remains. The only thought going through his mind is which person is the “right” one. The idea that he may choose the “wrong” one, thereby making a mistake and perhaps creating a future of pain for himself, becomes crippling.

We all make mistakes. When I say mistakes, I don’t mean moral errors, or temptations to which we succumb. I mean honest mistakes in judgment and in choice.

It’s part of the human condition to hold ourselves to high standards. We want to never make a wrong choice, or create regrets. Regrets are painful, and we are programmed to get away from pain. In fact, most of us spend our lives trying to avoid pains of all kinds. Avoiding regrets is a logical part of that endeavor.

But is that really the type of life Allah expects or even wants us to live?

It’s clear Allah wants us to avoid sinful actions and habits. He clearly outlines the consequences of errors not only in the way we live our lives apart from His laws, but even errors in our belief and understanding. The Quran warns against waywardness over and over. Yet I think sometimes we take these admonitions and use them to create an expectation of perfection for ourselves.

Fatima has been offered a job ninety minutes from her home. She’s not excited about spending a total of three hours commuting each day, not to mention the cost of gas and bridge tolls, but the job is a good one in her field. A week before she is to begin the new job, she is offered another job only ten minutes from home. It’s not quite as good as the other, but she could do so much with those extra three hours. Pray, read, spend time with family and friends… What to do? The wrong choice could affect her entire career. For days she racks her brain trying to decide, until she becomes physically ill.

These scenario can also play out when someone is deciding which university to attend, thinking about moving, or even taking a vacation. We have programmed ourselves to think there is only one “right” way to do things, and every other way is wrong. We stress ourselves out trying to figure out what that one “right” way is when it’s not readily clear.

The Prophet SAWS said:

“The believer is not required to humiliate himself.” He was asked, “How does one humiliate himself, O Messenger of Allah?” He replied, “He takes on tests that he cannot bear.”

This hadith can be applied to many different situations, but the takeaway is that we shouldn’t put undue stress on ourselves. Essentially, we shouldn’t make life harder on ourselves than it already is. To do so is a form of self-humiliation.

When we try to be perfectionists, striving to make choices that are flawless and regretless, we put a standard on ourselves that we as humans were not meant to bear. In trying to get it “exactly right”, we create more pain – perhaps even greater pain than the one we’re running from.

In the Quran, Allah describes the people of Paradise as those “who avoid great sins and shameful deeds, only (falling into) lesser faults; truly your Lord is ample in forgiveness. He knows you well when He brings you out of the earth and when you are hidden in your mother’s wombs. Therefore do not ascribe (claim) purity to yourselves. He knows best who the God-conscious ones are.”

It seems here we are told to avoid sins and shameful deeds, but we are allowed to have ‘lesser faults’.  We are allowed to make mistakes and still have a fair chance of achieving Jannah. We aren’t supposed to live such a life that we could “ascribe purity to ourselves”. A life of perfection. It’s not meant for us.

Let’s give ourselves permission to be human. Allah made us in a state He loves and cherishes, so why try to make ourselves something we’re not? It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to make a choice and it not be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It’s just a choice, and in shaa Allah we will learn from it either way. It’s okay to start on a path, take a risk, or even make an investment, and fail. No one intends to fail, but failure is one of the best ways to gain wisdom and valuable experience.

There’s an uplifting movie I recommend to anyone struggling with this issue. It’s Disney’s Meet the Robinsons. As Aunt Billie said in that movie:  “From failing, you learn. From success, not so much.”

To Be Human is to Move

Woman climbing Mt. Everest

On May 16, 1975, then 35-year-old Junko Tabei became the first woman to reach the summit of Mt. Everest.

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

It is your Lord who drives the ship for you through the sea that you may seek of His bounty. Indeed, He is ever, to you, Merciful. – Quran 17:66

To be human is to move. To learn and improve ourselves. To evolve. To fall, take our bruises and stand again, wiser for the experience. To use our bodies, minds and spirits to do good in the world, for ourselves and others.

Mountains and statues stand still. And the dead – the dead do not move. They lie in one spot, powerless, no longer able to say, “I love you,” or, “I seek forgiveness.” No longer able to pray. No longer able to walk, run, play, visit friends. Unable to move.

But to be human – and alive – is to move:  move on, move forward, move upward! To be human is to speak your heart, pray to the Creator, and strive to do better each day, so that when our time comes, and we join our ancestors in the grave, we have something good to carry with us to the next life.

“I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”  ~Frederick Douglass

The old pottery seller and the kindness of human beings

Pottery seller with his donkey in Istanbul, Turkey.

Pottery seller with his donkey in Istanbul, Turkey.

Farhia Yahya tells a true story on SuhaibWebb.com of an incident she witnessed in Cairo:

An old pottery seller was walking with his donkey. The donkey reared, sending the pottery crashing to the ground. The poor man, seeing his livelihood destroyed, was heartbroken. His face turned dark with sorrow as he surveyed the wreckage of his goods.

Then a wonderful thing happened. People came out of apartments, shops and cars to help him pick up the pieces. Then they gave him money, purchasing his broken clay.

In Farhia’s words, “It was incredible to see the hearts of people move like this. Humanity may disappear and people may be cruel towards the poor in certain places and at certain times, but in other places and at other times, the humanity is truly beautiful.”

Be a Glowstick

glowsticks

Glowsticks.

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

When you buy a glowstick, it’s just a tube of inert plastic with some liquid inside.  It doesn’t look like anything special. It certainly does not glow.

When you put it under pressure, however – when you bend it – a transformation occurs. A capsule inside the glowstick is crushed, and the stick begins to shine.

This is a good example for the mu’min – the believer. Life puts us under pressure, but if we rise to the challenge then we become more than we were. We become stronger, wiser, and more compassionate to others (because we know what pain feels like). We begin to shine with a new inner light.

Maybe, just like the glowstick, there’s something inside us that needs to be crushed in order for us to reach our full potential. Ego? Arrogance? Selfishness? Greed? Attachment to material goods?

And maybe the pressures of life are Allah’s way of crushing that obstacle inside us, so that our true light can start to shine.

“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, Al-Ankaboot (The Spider) 29:2-3]

The key is that Allah does not try us in order to  hurt us. Allah Himself is not in need of our character development, or our striving, or the results of our trials. It’s for us. However He tests us, it is for our own benefit.

So next time you feel yourself being pressured and bent, remember: it’s just a bend, not the end. Good things are coming, and with sabr (patience) you will come out better than before, Insha’Allah.

We Get What We Give

Green waterfall and stream

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

We get what we give. This is one of the laws of the dunya (this earthly life) and al-ghayb (the unseen) as well. When we give money to the poor and oppressed, God rewards us with more than we can imagine. When we share truth, greater truths are revealed to us. When we teach, we learn. When we show mercy, our Creator has mercy on us. When we smile, people smile back.

The same is true for love. When we give love, love comes into our lives.

Some people think, “I will open up my love when I meet someone who loves me truly.” Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. It’s only when we open up the gates and let our love flow, that loves comes rushing in.

Believe in Allah, Because He Believes in You

Amazing sunrays and clouds

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Witness to Your Life

Green waterfall and stream

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

When seeking a marriage partner, remember, a husband or wife is not just some pretty face that you get to admire or possess, or show off to your friends. This person is not a checkbook, a status symbol, a servant, or a household maid. This is not someone that you’ll see for a few minutes each day after work, and take to dinner parties.

You could marry someone only for looks or status then find yourself miserable, harped on, arguing every day, lonely within your marriage, or abused. All you rich and attractive people don’t take offense – you might be perfectly lovely and sweet – I’m just saying that appearance, wealth and lineage are no guarantee of happiness, and if you focus on those factors to the exclusion of the soul, then you will likely find yourself mismatched, brokenhearted and forlorn.

A spouse is someone you abide with for the rest of your life, even when you are wrinkled and bent. Someone to hold you when you’re sad, to support you when you’re tired, to cool your forehead when you’re sick, to share in your joys, tell jokes and play frisbee with; someone to pray with in the still morning hours, and struggle with to achieve Paradise.

This is someone to be a witness to your life, to know you intimately and recognize your worth as a human being (not that we need someone else to affirm our value – but it’s always nice to be recognized and seen). Someone to love you unceasingly, like a great river, even when you disagree. Someone to see your faults, and keep on loving you.

Make sure your priorities are in order. Look past the surface. Connect with the person’s soul. Find someone who will make you smile, and with whom you will be happy to share this strange journey we call life.

Let’s Love Ourselves First

Water drop on the tip of a leaf

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do You See it In Yourself?

Sunlight shining through a tree

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

One of Allah’s names is Al-Wadood, The Most Loving, and this is appropriate because a Creator must have love in order to create works of beauty and power. Allah created you out of love. He created you with intent. He created you to succeed, not to fail, and He gave you all the tools that you need to thrive. Open your eyes and see what a miracle you are, what a thing of beauty, what a gift to the world. I see that in every person I know. If I met you, I’m sure I would see the miracle and beauty in you too. Do you see it in yourself?

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