You Matter

Man surrounded by sun rays

You matter, as much as the sun and the sea. I know that may seem hard to believe sometimes. It may feel like you are walking through this world without leaving a mark; like no one sees who you truly are; like your existence has no greater significance, no purpose except survival, work, and getting by.

That’s not the case. The truth is that you are important and special, even if it’s not apparent to you. I remember one time years ago when I was in the San Francisco Bay Area and attended the mosque in Santa Clara for Jum’ah. After salat, a man approached me. He was a handsome young Indian or Pakistani man in his twenties, professional looking, perhaps a software engineer or doctor. He asked if my name was Wael, and I said yes. He told me that I had been his counselor at the Muslim Youth Camp almost twenty years before, when he was a kid and I was a teenager. He said that I had changed his life, and that he still remembered the things I had taught him. All the years since then – when I sometimes felt sorry for myself and wondered if I had accomplished anything in life – I had no idea that I had changed the life of one young man. I wonder, if I had that effect on him, did I affect others as well?

Is it possible that you and I are living our lives, doing the things we do, and not realizing what wide ripples we are sending out into the world?

In September 2012 I attended a martial arts seminar in Newport Beach, California. During the first day of training I injured my shoulder. I went to an empty room next door and lay on the floor, in terrible pain. A woman who was attending the seminar saw me. She brought me an ice pack, then checked on me repeatedly over the course of the day. I did not even know her name. But when I think of that seminar, what I remember is that woman’s kindness. Her compassion – which was perhaps a small thing to her – made my injury bearable.

I have no doubt that you too have changed someone’s life, or helped someone through a time of pain. I know that there is someone out there who looks up to you. Someone you have inspired. Someone who needs your friendship. Someone you have saved without realizing it. And someone you will save in the future, Insha’Allah.

You Matter to Allah

You are important to Allah Ta’aala (God). Consider that:

  1. Allah created you to be His khalifa (representative) on the earth.
  2. Allah created you with the best of forms.
  3. Allah created an ideal environment for you to grow. The earth is just the right distance from the sun. It has an ideal mixture of oxygen and nitrogen in the air. It is beautifully laid out with forests, oceans full of fish, mountains, grass and sky.
  4. Allah provides your daily needs. Every bite of food you put in your mouth, and every breath you take, comes from Him.
  5. Allah sent you Prophets and a Book so you would not be spiritually lost.
  6. Allah is closer to you than your jugular vein. That is not a warning from Allah, it is an expression of love and care. Who do you want to be close to? You want to be close to those you love.
  7. We might think that we are far down the list on those of whom Allah loves. But Allah is all-powerful, and needs nothing from human beings. He doesn’t need the favor of the mighty, or the wealth of the rich. He only desires our gratitude and ‘ibadah. The kings of the world, and the young, strong, famous, and educated – they have no advantage over you when it comes to Allah’s favor. To Allah, you are as important as any other person.

Would Allah have done all of this if you were not important to Him? If you did not matter?

Your journey in this life lies before you like a path through a beautiful valley. You have places to go, and things to do. Allah caused you to be born at this moment in the history of the world, as the person you are, for a reason. Your purpose is unfolding before you day by day. Your life has important meaning. Your victories, your injuries and illnesses, the losses and heartbreaks you suffer, have meaning.

Have faith in Allah’s plan for you. If you’re going through something difficult, then know that Allah will not abandon you. Things will get better, Insha’Allah. You will not be stuck in this moment forever. Take a breath, say a dua’, and be peaceful within yourself.

Have Faith

I know you have talents and gifts Alhamdulillah. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, because everyone is unique. Use your own special talents in Allah’s cause, to make a better life for yourself and your family, and to make the world a better place.

Let go of self-recrimination. The past is not a curse, it’s a gift. It teaches you and makes you wise. If you’ve been through hardship and survived, that’s a blessing! It means you are strong and capable, and Allah is preparing you for something important.

Have faith in your own heart. Believe in Allah, in our noble Messenger Muhammad (sws), in the Ummah, and in the future. Whatever pain we suffer in this life is not in vain. We may cry and groan, but Allah sees our suffering and will compensate us more than we can imagine, as long as we are patient and keep faith. Allah the Most High has a plan for us, and He is the best of planners.

Feeling Unwanted

Heart shaped leaf

“By the morning brightness…”

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

I was asked to write a post on this subject. Sorry it took so long.

Have you ever felt unwanted by the world, or abandoned? Personally, there have been times in my life when I felt that there was no one who truly loved me for who I was. I was wrong, of course. I was seeing the world through the dark glasses of depression, which distort the true image of the world.

We all go through gloomy periods when we feel that no one sincerely cares for us; that even our friends and family are using us, or only tolerating us because they have to.

Muslims raised in the West (especially converts) sometimes have a different dilemma. We may feel that “born” Muslims don’t really want us because we don’t fit in; and the non-Muslims don’t appreciate us either, because we are believers. So we don’t fit in anywhere.

Guilt

Feelings of being unwanted are also common among those who have committed sins. They may be plagued by guilt and feelings of worthlessness. People go so far as to feel that God Himself has abandoned them. At IslamicAnswers.com we get questions from people who say things like, “I know that Allah hates me,” or, “I don’t deserve Allah’s love.”

Often the intensity of people’s guilt is out of proportion to the deeds they have committed. I wonder if the child’s fear of abandonment (a universal human experience) doesn’t linger in the human psyche, waiting to leap out when things go bad, and say, “See! I knew I’d be abandoned one day.”

The Prophet (sws)

Let’s look at the Prophet Muhammad (sws), our noble example. He never committed sins; nevertheless, he went through periods when he  felt worried and stressed. Early in his Prophethood there was a time when the revelation of the Quran was suspended. The Prophet wondered if he had made some mistake that had caused Allah to abandon him.

Until Allah revealed Surat ad-Duha (Quran, Surah 93):

By the morning brightness

And [by] the night when it covers with darkness,

Your Lord has not taken leave of you, [O Muhammad], nor has He detested [you].

And the Hereafter is better for you than the first [life].

And your Lord is going to give you, and you will be satisfied.

Did He not find you an orphan and give [you] refuge?

And He found you lost and guided [you],

And He found you poor and made [you] self-sufficient.

So as for the orphan, do not oppress [him]. And as for the petitioner, do not repel [him]. But as for the favor of your Lord, report [it].

Syed Abul-‘Aalaa Maudoodi commented on the first verses of this Surah, saying,

“He (the Prophet sws) was given the consolation that revelation had not been stopped because of some displeasure but this was necessitated by the same expediency as underlies the peace and stillness of the night after the bright day, as if to say: “If you had continuously been exposed to the intensely bright light of Revelation (Wahi) your nerves could not have endured it. Therefore, an interval was given in order to afford you peace and tranquility.” This state was experienced by the Holy Prophet in the initial stage of the Prophethood when he was not yet accustomed to hear the intensity of Revelation. On this basis, observance of a pause in between was necessary.”

SubhanAllah, what a brilliant insight. I never considered this before: that if I’m going through a period when there’s no one who appreciates me – when I’m all alone – maybe it’s because that’s where I need to be spiritually. Maybe there is an important life lesson that can only be learned in solitude.

So not only has Allah not abandoned me – and He never will! – but He is guiding me, watching me, and bringing me along the best path for me at this moment.

That changes things completely. It tells me that my narrow perspective – “Allah is not helping me” – is 100% wrong. The truth is the opposite – Allah is helping me in ways I do not yet perceive. He is with me at every moment. He has never abandoned me.

Allah does not turn away from us. The light of His guidance shines unceasingly. His Mercy and Compassion are available at all times, day or night.

Rather, we are the ones who turn away from Allah. We cover our eyes to block His light so that we can continue in sin; or we turn away to pursue paths of lust and desire.

What About Family?

If we can acknowledge that Allah has not abandoned us, then why do we sometimes feel that the people closest to us are the ones who respect us the least?

Love between family members is taken for granted. We are “supposed” to love our families, so we sometimes don’t feel the need to express our love. Also, family members often feel that they have a right to criticize each other, so it can feel like our families only see the bad in us. Furthermore, when we see someone every day and know them intimately, we can become hyper-aware of their faults and bad habits.

What’s needed is compassion. We must forgive our family members, and focus on their good qualities. Everyone is imperfect. You may not see it so much with your friends because you don’t live with them, but everyone has bad habits. We need to spend time with our families outside of the obligated family functions. Go to the park with them, go on a road trip, etc.

Lastly, if you have a family member who is truly abusive, then avoid that person, and recognize that it’s not your fault. Not everyone can be what we would like them to be. Not everyone will approve of us and be proud of us as we would like, and that’s true even for family members sometimes.

What About Friends?

I don’t have all the answers on this one, as I have not been totally successful in forming close, lifelong friendships. I had three solid, long-term friendships that lasted for 12 years, 25 years, and 27 years, respectively, but they came to an end. I have other casual friendships:  people whose histories I somewhat know, and are good to chat with, but not people I could call in an emergency.

I think part of the problem is that I am a generous and giving friend; and this attracts “takers” – people who are needy, manipulative or selfish.

I suspect that many of those who feel unwanted and unloved by their friends are making the same mistake. They are choosing friends who are takers, not givers. This gives you a temporary feeling of usefulness, because it appears that the other person needs you. But when you are feeling down, when you’re having a problem, when you need someone to hold you up – your “friend” is nowhere to be found.

But what happens if a person who is a “giver” – someone who is kind and compassionate – befriends another giver? You get a deep relationship in which the two of you support each other through good times and bad, Insha’Allah.

Wanted

You are wanted. Allah created you for a reason, and put you on this earth at exactly the time that you are needed.

If it seems that certain individuals do not appreciate you, consider the example of the Prophets, most of whom were rejected by their own people. Some, like the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), went from being respected and admired by his people, to being reviled. The point is that there will always be those who don’t appreciate you. Accept that, and work on becoming sincere with Allah. Trust in His plan for you. Trust that He is guiding you, and that if you go through hardships it’s because there are important lessons for you to learn.

Allah created you deliberately. You have a special and unique purpose on this earth. If you don’t see it yet, give it time. But trust that you are indeed wanted and necessary, as much as the mountains or the moon, and as much as any human being who ever lived. Be peaceful in your heart. Forgive others, and forgive yourself. Stay close to Allah, praise Him, ask His forgiveness, and thank Him for every  blessing in your life.

Seeing Through Eyes of Hope

Big Wet Meadow in Cloud Canyon, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.

Big Wet Meadow in Cloud Canyon, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California.

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

We all feel weary at times. We feel like we’re fighting on so many fronts and that we have no helpers. At times our passion drains away and we feel like we’re just going through the motions. This happens to me. I think it happens to everyone.

At those moments, Shaytan (Satan) tries to push us into despair. Despair is one of Shaytan’s greatest weapons. If we are in debt, Shaytan tries to get us to despair of getting out of debt. If we’re ill, he tries to convince us to despair of getting well. If we have committed sins, he whispers to us to despair of Allah’s mercy and the possibility of forgiveness. He tries to make us despair of our futures, despair of our salvation, and fail to see the beauty in our lives.

Believers must resist Shaytan’s whispers. Believers must be people of hope, and must see the world through eyes of hope. Believers make life choices that are rooted in hope.

“Shaytan threatens you with poverty and orders you to immorality, while Allah promises you forgiveness from Him and bounty. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.” – Quran, Al-Baqarah, 2:268

So we have two different calls echoing in our ears. Shaytan calls us to fear, and grasping attachment to this material world.

Allah the Almighty, on the other hand, offers us forgiveness and true blessings. Allah offers us hope. Hope is not wishing on a star, or daydreaming. Hope is a real thing, because it’s a part of trusting Allah. After all, prayer is all about hope.

The Quran tells us that with every difficulty comes ease. Hope is an acknowledgment of that reality, that things will get better, and a time of ease will come.

When life becomes hard, we need to see through eyes of hope, not eyes of despair.

Salma

Salma

Eyes of Hope

The morning spills out
yellow like a poppy field.
My street is emerald with life:
olives and spring fire,
Chinese fringe and apricot.
My six year old daughter
kneels to pet a cat
but it runs, bell jingling.
“That cat is complicated,” she says.
Later she grasps my hand
and says, “Baba,
you are number one.”
There’s a smell of rain in the air.

When Salma was near
to being born, the doctor said
that the umbilical cord
was looped around her neck.
She could suffocate, he said.
For a week of nights my thoughts raced
as I lay in bed, listening to the frogs
in the field behind the house.
I prayed much harder
than I’ve ever prayed for myself.

As we walk, Salma collects
acorns and red berries,
fallen leaves and dandelions.
“I’m making a nature salad,”
she says. “I’ll hand you the things,
and you put them in the bucket.
That’s the process.”
I want to laugh, but I only smile,
and I follow Salma down the street
humbly, and with eyes of hope.

– Wael Abdelgawad

Don’t You Fall Now

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

“Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor —
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now —
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”

– Langston Hughes

Resilience is Contagious

Lonely country road

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

“Resilience is contagious.” – Amy Estrada. Sure, life comes along now and then and blows you off your feet. That’s alright. What matters is that you get back up.

You don’t have to have the answers. You don’t have to be superman or superwoman. When the thundercloud opens up, who among us can stop the rain? When the hurricane blows, who can stay on his feet? No one.

When the storm passes, stand up. Dust yourself off, take stock, and move forward in the name of Allah. If the storm has disoriented you and you don’t see the way forward, look to the Quran. “And if there should come to you guidance from Me – then whoever follows My guidance will neither go astray [in the world] nor suffer [in the Hereafter].” (Quran, Surat TaHa, 20:123). The Quran is a mighty book. Never underestimate it. If you cannot speak Arabic and find the English translations unwieldy, get one of the modern translations that are easier to read, like those by Umm Muhammad, or Thomas Cleary.

When you get knocked down and then stand up tall, with strength, others see it, and it rallies them. Your spouse sees it, your children see it, your friends see it, and of course Allah sees it. Don’t think of it as showing off. Not at all. Think of it as brotherhood and sisterhood, all of us helping each other, giving each other strength, being good shepherds to our flocks.

Superman is no hero, he’s impervious to bullets! Real heroes get hurt, they get down on themselves sometimes, they’re imperfect, they struggle to pay the bills and raise their children, they struggle to be become stronger in their faith, but they struggle! They don’t give up.

That’s inspiring, and it’s contagious, and maybe sometimes it will be someone else inspiring you, and maybe sometimes it will be you, getting up after the hurricane, showing us all how it’s done.

Faith, love and kindness are secret weapons to change the world

Sunrise about snowy fields

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Faith, love and kindness are not cute ideas or naive catchphrases. They are elemental forces with the power to alter human hearts, and to change the world. They are transformative emotions and behaviors that were bestowed upon us by Allah, who is Al-Rahman (The Most Merciful) and Al-Wadood (The Most Loving). They are stronger than hurricanes, and they transcend the birth and death of individuals, and the rise and fall of nations.

Don’t we still have love for the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), and for the Sahabah, all of whom lived many generations and nations ago? In fact we look upon them as our heroes and leaders and we love them as if they were dear friends. This is proof of the enduring nature of love, which survives when all else changes around us.

Faith, love and kindness are the secret weapons that Allah has given us to conquer corruption, cynicism, hatred, racism, and evil, in ourselves and in the world.

These ideas are not naive, as some might say. Was the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) naive? He suffered in his mission, but he persevered. His mission was rooted in faith and love of Allah, and expressed through kindness to all people. There are so many stories about him showing tremendous kindness to rude and even murderous people, and changing their hearts in the process. He succeeded in the face of impossible odds. His success is a testament to the power of these noble emotions and behaviors.

That’s why I illustrated this piece with a photo of sun rays shining on a dark and snowy world. Because these powerful emotions and behaviors are not the stuff of sunny afternoons, cotton candy and daisies. They are like a guiding star that is only seen in the darkness. They come into their own and show their true power by confronting and overcoming hatred, bitterness, painful loss, war, poverty and despair.

I describe them as behaviors because faith that exists only in the heart is not true faith. Faith is proven by action. Faith is defined by the way you live your life. The same is true for love and kindness. Love is a verb, not a noun. It’s not an abstract feeling in your heart, but a matter of behavior, the way you treat people, the way you help, forgive, and show mercy to people.

Love Works Miracles in the Heart

It may be a cliche’ to speak about love changing the world. It’s not something we can envision in concrete terms. So let me bring it down to the level of one human being.

Growing up, I had a friend named Ismail. He was a few years younger than me – when I was 17 he was 14, I think – and had grown up in a dysfunctional family that had moved around constantly and had not bothered to educate the children, so that at the age of 14, Ismail was functionally illiterate.

I began tutoring Ismail and his younger brother, teaching them to read and write. I started from scratch, teaching them the alphabet and the sounds of the letters, and working up to small phonetic words. I tutored them for one hour every day, seven days a week, in the living room of their apartment. Their parents were not supportive. I was never paid. Sometimes their parents were fighting with each other at the same time I was trying to teach. At times I noticed that the two boys could not concentrate because they were hungry, so I began feeding them before our study sessions, and giving them multivitamins. Slowly they began to learn, until they could write short essays and letters on their own.

Back then I worked for the United States Geological Survey, measuring water levels at farms in the Central Valley, and taking water samples to be tested for various fertilizers and pesticides. It was hot, difficult work. I’d ride my motorcycle more than an hour to the huge corporate farms on the west side of the valley. Armed with survey maps, I would trudge across vast farms in 100 degree heat, seeking the sumps that brought up ground water for irrigation. If the farms had been recently irrigated the ground might be soft and my feet would sink into the mud with every step. Some of the sumps were a dozen feet deep or more, so in order to get a sample I had to toss a chain link ladder down into the sump, climb down, fill a test tube, and climb back out. I was very aware that if the ladder broke I could get stuck in the sump, and I might not even be missed for two or three days (no cell phones in those days). It worried me.

So I began asking Ismail to come to the farms with me. He wasn’t doing anything anyway – he was not enrolled in school because he could not function anywhere near his grade level. He’d ride on the back of the motorcycle as we passed through dusty, poverty-stricken migrant towns like Mendota and Firebaugh, sometimes swerving to avoid patches where tomatoes or oranges had fallen from farm trucks and been splattered by traffic. By the time we arrived, our helmet face shields would be crusted with dead gnats and butterflies. At the farms, Ismail would help me locate the wells, keep an eye on me while I climbed down, and then ride back with me. Sometimes on the way home I’d feel him tilting a bit and I’d realize he had fallen asleep on the motorcycle, so I’d give him a nudge with my elbow to wake him up.

Ismail was like a brother to me. I tutored him not because I wanted anything from him, but because he was like family. I loved him, though I never would have told him so. I was not raised to speak such words.

When I was twenty years old, Ismail got a scholarship to study at the Islamic University of Madinah, in Saudi Arabia. When it was time for him to leave I drove him to Los Angeles and took him to the airport. The next year was hard for him. The living environment in the university dorms at Madinah was austere, and Ismail was lonely. I used to send him letters with jokes, or stories about the people back home.

One day Ismail called collect, and as we spoke I told him to keep his head up, that we were all proud of him. Ismail’s voice became choked with emotion and he said, “I love you, Wael.” Strange as it may seem, I had never heard those words before from anyone. I was never aware that I needed to hear those words, or that they would mean anything to me, but the instant I heard them, they struck my heart like a hammer, and I found myself speechless.

I don’t know if I can explain what those words did to me. Somehow they gave meaning to all the difficulties I had been through up to that point. The failures at college, the confusion and deep loneliness, the brief bouts of homelessness. Those words seemed to crawl through my chest, sowing seeds of light and warmth. They gave me strength.

Even now, twenty five years later, I feel the impact of those words. I am still close to Ismail, though we live in different states. I call him sometimes – he told me recently that he is writing his autobiography, ma-sha-Allah – and I worry about him. I love him. And I find that the light of those words – and the sincerity behind them – is still inside me, and is one of many things that inspire and empower me. This is the miracle that love performs in the human heart.

Love Overcomes Hatred

A few years later, when I was working in Fort Worth (in my early 20’s), there was a supervisor who used to harrass me. He was abusive toward everyone, but he seemed to have a particular dislike of me. I don’t know why. Well, I had been experimenting with meditation, and had been reading a few books about spirituality. One day I decided that I would go about my day trying to see the soul within each person. With each person I met, I would look past the exterior appearance, past the external behaviors, and try to perceive the soul inside.

It may sound silly or new-agey, but I noticed a difference immediately. I was able to see things in people that I had not previously perceived. In particular I saw a lot of fear. As I was walking toward the cafeteria, I saw the abusive supervisor standing near the door. I tried to forget everything I had experienced at his hands, and look to his soul. I can’t say exactly what I saw, but as I approached him, he smiled at me. This was so unexpected and incongruous, that I didn’t know how to react and I continued on my way without response.

After that day, I noticed a change. That supervisor and I certainly did not become friends, but he stopped being hostile toward me. I cannot really explain this, except to speculate that the act of looking to a person’s soul is a form of love, just as listening deeply, without judgment, is an act of love. We are so unaccustomed in this life to people regarding us in a pure way, without judgment, without responding to our appearance or dress, without resentment for past mistakes, that when someone does it, it’s disarming. It transforms.

This is the power of love.

I’m not suggesting that all oppression in this world can be overcome with a look. There is evil in the world. There are times when we must fight to defend our lives and our families. Certain entities are immune to the power of love (the current murderous regime in Syria is not going to be overthrown with love). But even in the context of conflict, love and faith are powerful. Some Russian soldiers in Chechnya embraced Islam after being captured by the mujahideen and treated with kindness. Some soldiers in Egypt who were ordered to fire upon civilians refused to do so after being embraced or kissed by protesters.

The Prophet Muhammad (sws) himself was a reluctant warrior who disliked fighting except as a last resort. He was one of the first military leaders in history to lay down stringent rules for humane warfare, prohibiting even the killing of animals or burning of crops. He was a champion of faith, not fighting. His mission was one of compassion. The most powerful tools in his arsenal were the Quran and the testimony of “Laa ilaha il-Allah” (there is no God but Allah). That is how he changed the world.

Proof of this is that, as Wikipedia reports, “The sum total of all casualties on all sides in all the battles of Muhammad range from 1200 to 1500 dead according to the most authoritative sources.” This is outrageously low by today’s standards. We are talking about a series of defensive battles over the course of a dozen years, involving hundreds of thousands of fighters on both sides, in which all of Arabia came under the sway of Islam. But the key is that the Prophet (sws) was not fighting for wealth, or personal power, or vengeance. It is said that he never took personal revenge on any human being. He fought for truth alone, and taught his followers to do the same.

Love Defeats Bigotry

I don’t mean to portray myself as an enlightened soul. I’ve made my share of mistakes and I still struggle not to be judgmental or reactive. But I’ve also had experiences that have shown me the way forward. One was with my former sister-in-law, Crystal. I am divorced now, but I was married for ten years. Laura (my ex-wife) and her family were not Muslim, and her family had their reservations about our marriage. Her mother expressed a fear that I would kidnap our future children and take them to Egypt (even though I’ve never lived in Egypt). “Like Sally Field in ‘Not Without my Daughter'”, she said.

One day I was at a restaurant with Laura, her mother and her sister. When the waiter came to our table, he said to me, “As-salamu alaykum.” I did not know him, but I was wearing a kufi and had a beard. I replied, “Wa alaykum as-salam.” Crystal began laughing, and after the dinner was over, when we were going to the car, she began saying, “Salami, salami, baloney.”

At the time I was in a mental state where I was fed up with bigotry. I had experienced a lot of it, and I had no more patience for it. I told Crystal that her behavior was rude and bigoted. She got extremely angry, and after that I was a persona non-grata at my in-laws’ house. I was not invited to their home for any reason, and there was no communication whatsoever between me and them for more than a year. After that my mother-in-law reached out to me tentatively, and offered a makeshift apology, which I accepted. But Crystal remained angry.

Later, Laura and I moved to Panama. The place where we lived was so beautiful and peaceful, and the natives were so accepting of us, that I found my heart healing. The in-laws still didn’t quite accept me – in fact Laura’s father came to visit once and told me angrily that my religion was ridiculous and backwards – but I found that it did not bother me so much. When I returned to the USA for a visit I spoke to Crystal. I said, “I apologize for my attitude in the past. I love you and your family. You all mean a lot to me.” I said that sincerely, holding in my mind all the good I had experienced from Crystal over the years, and forgiving the bad.

From that moment on, my relationship with Crystal was transformed. She came to visit us in Panama and had a great time. After my divorce, when I returned to California, Crystal actually began attending my martial arts class. She became more open minded, began exploring religious thinking outside of the narrow Christian fundamentalist box she had always lived in. I’m not saying that any of that is because of me. But what I can attest to is that ever since I gathered the resolve to say to her, “I love you and I value you,” she has not showed a hint of bigotry or anger toward me, and in fact has become a pleasant person to relate to.

I”m afraid I may be telling a string of random stories here. I don’t know if I’m communicating this thesis I have, this understanding, that sincere love is transformational. When you can love someone without desire, expectation, or judgment, it utterly changes your relationship with that person, even with those who hate you. I believe this is the essence of faith. It is the heart of da’wah. It is the Golden Rule.

I have given examples of one-on-one interaction, but I believe that love and kindness can work their wonders just as well when it’s one to a thousand, or ten to a million, just as a single great ocean wave can flood a whole city, except that love is a good flood that washes away the fires of hatred.

Lead the Way

Do you want to see something different in the world? Show it. Do you want to see things moving in a better direction? Then get stepping and walk it, and I guarantee that others will follow, because they have seen the problems as well, and they are waiting for someone to lead the way.

Do you want to be a better Muslim, father, mother, son, daughter, sibling, or friend? Then be it. Now is the moment. The past is prologue leading to this moment.

Are you waiting for someone else to show love and kindness first? Are you waiting for someone else to be vulnerable or brave, to put himself out there, to take the first step, to show the way? There is no someone else. You are the someone else. You…  are…  someone.

Le’ts open ourselves to faith, love and kindness. Let’s change the way we move in the world, the way we behave with Allah, the way we treat people, the way we interact with every person. Let us become testaments to the power of these transformative behaviors, not through our words but through our actions. Let’s express a new sincerity from our hearts and walk through the world like believers. Let’s become people of Allah, people of Jannah (Paradise), people of imaan (faith), love and mercy.

When the Unstoppable Force Meets the Immovable Object

Rhinoceros charging

The unstoppable force

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

There’s a centuries old Chinese story about a man trying to sell a spear and a shield. When asked how good his spear was, he said that his spear could pierce any shield. Then, when asked how good his shield was, he said that it could defend from all spear attacks. One person asked him what would happen if he were to take his spear and strike his shield; the seller could not answer. This led to the idiom of “zìx?ang máodùn“, or “self-contradictory”.

Today we would call this a paradox. A modern phrasing of this particular paradox might be, “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?”

The scientist and author Isaac Asimov answered this by saying that the question was essentially meaningless, because a universe in which there exists such a thing as an irresistible force is, by definition, a universe which cannot also contain an immovable object, and vice versa.

I want to look at this paradox from a personal angle, in terms of challenges in our relationships and at work, and confronting the myriad obstacles of life.

I believe that – within this worldly plane and subject only to God’s decree – the human will triumphs over all. I can become either the unstoppable force or the immovable object.

Unstoppable Force

Try it. When faced with a challenge, become the unstoppable force. Don’t give up, no matter what. If one approach does not work, try another. Ignore those who tell you that what you’re doing is impossible. Learn from failure and try again. When the road is dark, ask Allah for guidance and feel your way forward. When the path is obscured with thorns and branches, blaze your own trail. You will find that through sheer determination, the so-called “unstoppable force” will crumble before you like a clod of dirt, Insha’Allah.

I’ve experienced this. By not taking “no” for an answer, I’ve gotten jobs when there were no jobs to be had. By being persistent and patient and never losing hope, I’ve experienced true love. By never quitting even when I was tired and discouraged, I’ve become a martial arts expert.

I first began practicing martial arts as a teenager. I used to literally walk across the desert outside Riyadh to get to karate class, carrying stones in case I needed to keep the wild dogs at bay. Later, when I lived in Oakland, I took up a different martial art called Hapkido. When I moved to Panama I found a Hapkido school and I rode the bus over an hour each way to get there. The bus had no air conditioning and was packed with tired Panamanians going home from work. It was noisy, hot and uncomfortable. People covered their mouths with cloths because of the smog. The Hapkido school also had no air conditioning. After class I would wring the sweat out of my uniform.

When I later moved up to a village in the mountains there were no martial arts schools nearby, so I bought mats, laid them in my living room, and recruited a few locals to come to my house for training. I even convinced my gardener to practice with me, on the clock. So I was paying him to learn from me, just so I could have a practice partner! When I returned to California I found no Hapkido school, so I started my own class, and three years later that class is still going strong. Meanwhile I have earned black belts in two other martial arts.

I’m not boasting, I’m simply trying to give you a real-world example. When you want something badly enough, become the unstoppable force. Keep moving toward your goal no matter what.

Immovable Object

Conversely, when you feel like you are under attack, become the immovable object. Duck your head and root yourself like a mountain, and the “unstoppable force” will break around you like a breeze. Whether you are under attack for your faith, or being criticized for making life choices that others do not understand, hold your ground and do not yield an inch, as long as you are on the right path.

When the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) began preaching in Makkah, the people were idol worshipers. The Prophet used to go to the Ka’bah, the square mosque which is the oldest house of worship on earth, and preach the idea of “Laa ilaha-il-Allah”. There is no God but Allah. In other words no idol is worthy of worship, no human being should be deified, no saint or angel should be venerated. Only Allah (God – the Creator).

Because of this preaching the Quraysh (the Arab tribe which held sway in Makkah, and to which the Prophet Muhammad himself belonged) persecuted him relentlessly. And yet he persisted, gaining followers, until the Quraysh became desperate. They met with Muhammad (sws) privately, and offered to make him king of Quraysh, and to bestow great wealth on him, on the condition that he stop preaching. He replied, “…if they should put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left, even then I shall not abandon the proclamation of the Oneness of God. I shall set up the true faith upon the earth or perish in the attempt.”

Allahu Akbar! That is the immovable object! I will not detail the extreme suffering that was imposed upon the Prophet Muhammad (sws) and his family after that; the economic boycott, the assassination attempts and attempted wars of extermination against the Muslims; suffice it to say that Islam persisted and grew until it became one of the two dominant religions of the world. All because one man was unstoppable and immovable.

Patiently Persevere

Wheat field and rainbow

Wheat field and rainbow

“The writer Mustapha Sadiq Ar-Rafei wrote, ‘When I looked into history I found a small number of individuals whose lives mirrored the life cycle of a grain of wheat. They were torn from their roots, then crushed, then ground in mills, then kneaded with fists, then rolled out and baked in ovens at high temperatures… just so they could provide food for others.’

Patiently persevere in the face of hardship hoping for a good outcome because you never know how many dead hearts you will bring to life in the process. No hardship lasts forever. There is always an end.”

–Babar Ahmed

Islam is a Game Changer

Poppy flower leaning toward the light

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Islam is a game changer. Every other system, every human-made “ism” – feudalism, tribalism, nationalism, monarchism, capitalism, communism, fascism – treats human beings like commodities or less. Every other system simply plays around with variables like distribution of wealth and labor, or elevates one group of human beings based on lineage or geography, while devaluing others to less-than-human status.

All these systems are fundamentally uncivilized, even barbaric.

Islam changes everything. Islam says, we’re going to uphold the fundamental dignity of all human beings.

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

Allah has honored all the children of Adam. Not only Muslims, not only men, not one race or nation, not only the wealthy or beautiful, but all humans. As for the nature of man, Allah says, “[So mention] when your Lord said to the angels, ‘Indeed, I am going to create a human being from clay. So when I have proportioned him and breathed into him of My [created] soul, then fall down to him in prostration.'” – Quran, 38:71-72

A being into whom Allah breathed cannot help but be noble by nature. Yes, we humans are corruptible and shortsighted, but we don’t have to be. Our nature is pure. We can, at times, rise above our own foolishness and become great.

When it comes to morality, Islam takes the approach of trusting human beings to live by values like compassion, justice, fairness, help for the poor, brotherhood and sisterhood, devotion to God, and non-attachment to material luxuries.

That’s what Islam is supposed to be!

This is why certain oppressive cultural practices found in parts of the Muslim world are so abominable. I’m talking about  so-called honor killings, female genital mutilation, denial of education to women, violence against religious minorities, etc. These practices must be abolished. They are anathema to everything Islam represents.

Islam came to promote an idea of human dignity based on:

1- Our relationship with Allah;

2- The love and mercy we show one another;

3- The utilization of our free will for a higher purpose.

All human beings are created in the best of molds (You Are Perfectly Created). All human beings are born on the fitrah, the pure and natural way, with an inborn inclination to recognize the Creator and do good. Racism and nationalism are abhorred and abolished. Women are recognized as intellectual and spiritual beings, not property, objects, or vassals.

That’s Islam as it should be. It’s a revolutionary system. Rather than a limited material or tribal system, it is for the first time in history a human system. If we’re practicing anything less then we’re not practicing Islam. If we look down on certain races, if we hate people because of their nationality or religion, if we subjugate women, then we’re practicing a fraud, and shaming ourselves before the world.

Islam rises above everything that came before. Islam came to change the world, and to elevate the essential nobility all human beings, a nobility not based on nation or tribe, but on our eternal souls. That’s the call of Islam. That’s the path we must follow.

Too Small to Make a Difference? – Ask a Mosquito

Mosquito white background

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

“If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent the night with a mosquito.” – African proverb.

A mosquito makes a difference in an annoying way, but the principle is the same. One person can stop a great injustice. One person can be a voice for truth. One person’s kindness can save a life. One person matters.

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