Allah and His Messenger are the lights in the darkness of this world

The sun bursting from behind the clouds

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Matthew Arnold, the English poet, wrote:

“Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

In this poem, Arnold envisioned the world as a place of darkness, conflict and confusion, with no light to show the way out. To him the beauty of the world was just an illusion, a dream; and the reality of life was one of struggle and pain.

Indeed, the world seems to become a more dangerous and hopeless every day. The news is filled with dire stories about war and starvation, the inexorable destruction of the natural environment, pollution of the oceans, terrorism, and crime. Most recently we have been reading about the “Arab Spring”, in which the people of several nations have risen up against their dictators. As inspiring as these events are, in the midst lie acts of horrific cruelty. In Libya it is rumored that 100 officers who refused to order soldiers to fire on protesters, were burned alive. La hawla wa la quwwata il-laa billah. How horrendous.

Wouldn’t a sane person be afraid of such a world? Wouldn’t an intelligent person be consumed with anxiety, and wouldn’t a very intelligent person be plunged into despair?

The thing about fear, anxiety and despair is that they flourish in spiritual darkness, just as some species of mushrooms can only grow in the dark. They might be represented by the image of a monster hiding in the corner of a dark room.

What do you do when you’re afraid there’s a monster in the closet, or creeping quietly toward you? You turn on the light.

The Light is Allah

For us, the light is Allah, and the Quran through which He communicates with us. Our guiding light is the natural bond we have with Allah, and our instinctive yearning to know our Creator. Let’s cherish that bond and strengthen it, and it will fill us with light.

Allah’s light is our salvation from fear of the unknown; fear of failure; fear of loss and pain; fear of poverty, illness and injury; fear of enemies who want to hurt us; fear of strange things; fear of death.

“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things.” – Quran, Surat An-Nur, 24:35

An Illuminating Lamp

And what about the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him)?

Allah says in the Quran, Surat Al-Ahzab, 33:45-46,

“O Prophet, indeed We have sent you as a witness and a bringer of good tidings and a warner, And one who invites to Allah, by His permission, and an illuminating lamp.”

The Messenger too is a source of light. He is an illuminating lamp, which is what you hold up so you can see the way ahead. His Sunnah gives us a brilliant path to walk. It shows us the way past all the evils that lurk in the darkness, including the evils of racism, nationalism, anger, selfishness, dishonesty, hypocrisy, and greed.

I’m not saying that all we must do is read the Quran and pray, and those dire problems that I mentioned earlier will evaporate. Not at all.

But the solutions to those problems lie within the Quran if we look. The Quran is the light that shows us the way out out of the gloom that we have created for ourselves, and example of the Messenger (peace be upon him) is a beacon that lights the way forward.

Light in Our Hearts

The verse I quoted above, from Surat an-Nur, mentions the example or similitude of Allah’s light. The Sahabi (companion of the Prophet) Ubayy ibn Ka`b said, ‘The similitude of His light [takes place in] the Muslim’s heart.’ [Ibn Kathir, 3:464]  Faith, dhikr, love of Allah and compassion toward all creatures, cause that light to grow in our hearts, until it spreads and appears on our faces, our hands, in our eyes, on our tongues, and even in our homes. As Allah says, “Or is one who was dead, and whom We gave life and made for him a light by which to walk among people, like one who is in a darkness from which he cannot emerge?” [6:122]

Other people can sense this light, and some will be guided by it, while others reject it. Those who reject it might even be angered by it, because it represents a refutation of a lifestyle based on narrow material concerns.

Ibn `Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “When the Messenger of Allah got up to pray at night, he would say:

(O Allah, to You be praise, You are the Sustainer of heaven and earth and whoever is in them. To You be praise, You are the Light of the heavens and the earth and whoever is in them.)

When life starts to feel like a burden, and your vision contracts so that all you see is darkness, don’t give up. Don’t despair. Remember that there is a light to show you the way. The light is Allah. His light is expressed through the Quran and through His Messenger. Turn to it, and it will grow in your heart and bring you peace. It will give you strength and joy, and will transform you and all those around you.

Arabian lamp shining

God knows our needs

Single tree and big, bright clouds in a blue sky

“God sends help from people and places you least expect… Alhumdulilah! The people you count on don’t show up, and God sends someone better equipped to handle it. He knows all of our needs and the exact time we need them.”

– Bilal Mustafa

Careful with my thoughts

Corner Brook, Canada

“Being careful with my thoughts, because what I think becomes what I say. Being mindful with my words, because my thoughts and words influence my actions. Being reflective and serious about my actions, because my actions become my habits. Striving to do more good than I have in the past, because my good deeds develop habits that develop my character. Examining my character to ensure that it is pleasing to my Lord.”

– Hanan K Bilal

Beginnings from endings

Butterfly emerging from its cocoon

Butterfly emerging from its cocoon.

Amidst the rush
of worldly comings and goings,
observe how endings
become beginnings.

– Dr. Wayne Dyer

Fly, bumble bee, fly!

Bumble bee and flower

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

“Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway.” – Mary Kay Ash

Just because someone thinks or says that you are not capable of something, it doesn’t make them right, no matter who they are.

Rather than attend to the insidious whispers of others, believe in Allah the Almighty, who created you as a powerful creature. Do you think Allah would create a weak being to act as His khalifah (agent) on earth?

“Behold, your Lord said to the angels: “I will create a khalifah (vicegerent) on earth.” They said: “Will You place therein one who will make mischief and shed blood? – while we do celebrate Your praises and glorify Your holy (name)?” He said: “I know what ye know not.” (Quran: 2:30)

What do you think that thing was that Allah knew that the angels did not know? Think about it.

Believe in the Messengers and Prophets (peace be upon them), and the Sahabah, all of whom did things that to our modern, “pragmatic” minds, seem impossible.

Believe in yourself, the voice of your conscience, and the urgings of your heart. When you dream of great things, don’t dismiss them as daydreams. They are the promptings of your soul, which knows better than your conscious mind what you can truly achieve.

Fly, bumble bee! Spread your wings and fly.

Life is not a rehearsal

River beneath a stone arch

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

Constant Regret is Mental Suicide

You can look so hard and long at the door that has closed, that you miss the fact that another has opened before you. In the end you remain stuck in one place. That’s why it’s been said that regret is a form of mental suicide.

This might be fine if you’re Woody Allen, who said, “My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.”

For the rest of humanity (including myself), if you’ve made mistakes, do your sincere tawbah, ask forgiveness, then forgive yourself (and others) and reconcile with your own soul.

Life is not a rehearsal. You get one shot. This is your chance to demonstrate your character, worship your Lord, leave behind a legacy of kindness and love, and save your soul. This is it, and it will be over before you know it.

You can’t go back and change anything, not the smallest frown or wrong word, so don’t sit around wishing you could. Regret for the past and fear for the future are two thieves who work together to siphon away every last ounce of your will, heart and hope, until you are immobilized, unable to change your life for the better.

The point in between, the point that allows you to live positively and move forward with hope, is this moment, today. Doing your very best each day, moment to moment, is all you can do, and all you are expected to do.

It’s Not Easy

Someone said to me, “I wish it were that easy to shake off feelings of regret and guilt.”

It’s not easy. It starts with tawbah (repentance), then a commitment to change your life one step at a time. Sometimes a person needs tools and assistance to change, including salat (prayer), dua, meditation, affirmations, counseling or therapy, Islamic study groups and good friends. In order to do any of this you have to stop staring at that closed door behind you, and commit to walking through the open one before you. It starts with a choice.

For me personally, the four things that allowed me to move forward from an extremely painful situation in 2009 were prayer, poetry, martial arts and taking care of my daughter. Though I was simmering in self-pity and anger, I knew I had to be strong and healthy for my daughter, so I did the work. It took a year for me to get past it, but now Alhamdulillah I am wiser, and a better father and better martial artist.

For someone else it might be writing, art, work, going back to school, running, reading Quran, or dhikr (praising God). Everyone is different, but the common factor is that moving forward requires a choice, and some sort of action.

Be Intrepid

Do better now and tomorrow. Be intrepid in Allah’s cause. Live your life fearlessly. When you walk fee-sabeel-illah you cannot be harmed, not because you are impervious to pain but because every situation either brings you blessings or makes you stronger, and so it’s a barakah…

Abu Suhayb ibn Sinaan narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) said: “How amazing is the case of the believer; there is good for him in everything, and this characteristic is exclusively for him alone. If he experiences something pleasant, he is thankful, and that is good for him; and if he comes across some diversity, he is patient, and that is good for him.” [Muslim]

Don’t ever settle for less than what’s right

Sun rays coming from behind a cloud, sunrays

“Prepare yourself for greatness, don’t ever settle for less than what’s good, right, sound. Believe in the power of your prayers. Move in the direction that you know you need to go, not the direction that you want to go. Don’t ever settle for less than what’s good, right, and sound – if we do, we will only be cheating ourselves. God has great things in store for you… patiently work towards making them happen!” – Hanan K. Bilal

No one else can define your reality

Natural stone bridge

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

“Someone’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.”

– Les Brown, author and motivational speaker.

Don’t blindly accept other people’s negative judgments of you. Reject their pessimism. Be strong, know yourself, and know that no one else can define you. Other people’s insults may hurt, but they don’t define you. Some people love to say “no”, to tell you what you cannot do, to tell you why your dreams are impossible or impractical, to tell you what a fool you are, to tell you not to bother trying. Such people claim to be pragmatists and realists.

In reality, such people are poison. It is their opinions that are not based in reality. It’s their opinions that are founded in cowardice and cynicism. Their opinions are inherently self-limiting. They have locked themselves into prisons of the mind. They have taken the ships of their dreams and smashed holes in the hulls before ever setting sail. Because they have given up on their dreams, they want you to do the same.

Either that, or they look at you and they see a bundle of preconceptions. They see a stereotyped image created in their own minds, someone who to them is the “wrong” race, or the “wrong” religion, or has the “wrong” qualifications, and based on that they will try to tell you what’s “wrong” with you, and to set roadblocks in your path.

Don’t let them define you. Don’t let them tell you who you are, or what you can or cannot do.

Mistakes and Appearances Do Not Define You

You are much more than just the sum of the mistakes you’ve made. Your past mistakes are not brands of shame, but teachers, stimuli to change and do better.

You also cannot be judged by the superficial circumstances of your life: your nationality, race, age, the language you speak, your favorite foods or colors, your birth date, your height or weight, whether your lips are narrow or full, whether your hair is lustrous or thin, whether you have six-pack abs or love handles. These things do not define you.

For you pop culture fans out there, there’s a scene in The Matrix where Neo is riding in a car, gazing out at the city, at all the places he used to know. He says, “I used to eat there. Really good noodles. I have these memories from my life. None of them happened. What does that mean?” And Trinity replies, “That the matrix cannot tell you who you are.”

Free Your Soul

So what truly defines you? Two things: your beliefs, and your character. What you believe, and how those beliefs manifest in the way you act in the world, the way you respect yourself, the way you maintain your integrity no matter what, the compassion and love that you show to those less fortunate, your courage, your talents, your beautiful dreams. Your faith and modesty, sincerity, friendliness, work ethic, hospitality, willingness to forgive.

These are the things that truly define a human being. No one can dictate them to you, no one can give them or take them away. Only Allah can guide you, and only you can choose what to do with that guidance.

Abu Malik Al-Harith bin Asim Al-Ashari said that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

“Purity is half of faith. Alhamdu-lillah [Praise be to Allah] fills the scales, and Subhana-Allah [How far is Allah from every imperfection] and Alhamdu-lillah [Praise be to Allah] fill that which is between heaven and earth. Prayer is light; charity is a proof; patience is illumination; and the Quran is an argument for or against you. Everyone starts his day and is a vendor of his soul, either freeing it or bringing about its ruin.”

You are the vendor of your own soul. You set your soul free, so that your spirit rises like the sun; or you ruin it, debasing yourself. You shape your own character. You define yourself. No one else can tell you who you are. No one else has the right.

Ramadan is over, but we are still Muslims

Sunset over a lake in Canada

“Ramadan is over. Life goes on. But we are still Muslim, and Allah is still our Lord. We still call to Allah even though we’re not surrounded by hundreds every night who are doing the same. We still pray our salat because it’s required of us inside of Ramadan and outside of it. We hold on tight to this passion for seeking Allah’s great pleasure and we will fight for it if we feel it slipping.

We are not Ramadan Muslims, we are Real Muslims, and we act like it.”

– Shezena Mohammed, creator of the “Islamic Inspiration” Facebook page.

Choose love and peace will follow

Statue of Lady Justice

Statue of Lady Justice in London

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

There is a saying: ““Choose love and peace will follow. Choose peace and love will follow.”

As Muslims we also understand that justice and fairness are vital, and I think this is one of the distinguishing factors of our deen (our Islamic way of life). Other religions speak of love, but do not emphasize justice. But when people are brutalized and oppressed, what does it mean to speak of love or peace? When a man has his boot on another man’s neck, while he loots his home and hurts his family, does it mean anything to tell the victim to be peaceful?

No, without justice you can never have peace. That’s why Lady Justice carries a sword in one hand and a balance in the other. The sword represents the authority of law to enforce peace and punish criminals. But the sword would be meaningless without the balance, which indicates the principles of fairness on which laws must be built. This representation of justice is common, and in some versions the lady is blindfolded, indicating the justice should be applied equally to all regardless of race or social status.

War, bigotry and hatred are not the original human condition. They are not inevitable. They don’t represent the natural state of the human heart.

  1. War is almost always a product of greed and selfishness.
  2. Bigotry is not a natural human trait, but is usually bred and whipped up by cynical leaders looking to exploit people’s ignorance for personal aggrandizement. People like Hitler, or Slobodan Milosevic, or the politicians and radio hosts who whipped up genocidal hatred in Rwanda, or even the USA’s new crop of radical right-wing fanatics like Sarah Palin. These people exploit ignorance, and not only cater to it but feed it for political gain.
  3. Hatred is not the original human condition, but a product of oppression and suffering.

Treat people fairly, be honest, and do not covet what is not yours, and there will be no war. Peace is not an elusive dream, or a mysterious goal at the end of some obscure path. The road to peace is obvious, but it takes unerring honesty, and total justice.

So I would amend the saying to, “Act justly and peace will follow. Choose peace and love will follow.”

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