Don’t Make Yourself a Prisoner

Sunrays and sunlight through tree tops

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

It’s possible to make ourselves the prisoners of others. How? By caring so much what they think that we let if affect how we practice our religion, how we dress, how we speak, even what names we call ourselves.

Prisoners have their names taken away and are given numbers. We do it voluntarily when we change Muhammad to Mo, Wael to Will (I’ve been advised by some to do this but I have always refused), and Khadija to Kim.

Prisoners are told how to dress. We do it to ourselves by giving up our hijabs and kufis in order to fit in. We enslave ourselves to the cultural dictates of others. We humiliate ourselves by suppressing everything that says, “I am Muslim.”

Prisoners are sometimes refused the right to pray or to have a Quran. We do it to ourselves by missing our prayers because we are afraid of being seen in public; or putting away our Quran and letting it gather dust.

Prisoners are given no choice in their diets. We do it to ourselves by eating the non-halal meat that is put in front of us, because we are ashamed to say, “I only eat halal.”

Prisoners learn to remain silent. We do it to ourselves when others speak of faith and religion – sometimes even criticizing Islam in our presence – and we remain silent because we are embarrassed to speak up.

“And believe in what I have sent down confirming that which is [already] with you, and be not the first to disbelieve in it. And do not exchange My signs for a small price, and fear [only] Me.” – Quran, Al-Baqarah, 2:41

Allah gave us a great gift, He gave us truth and guidance, and others are hungering for it, so don’t hide it! We must be ourselves, be proud (not the pride of arrogance but of gratitude), let our faith show, shine our light! A lamp in the darkness cannot be hidden!

Don’t make yourself a prisoner! Wear your Islamic clothing without embarrassment, eat halal without apology, speak your name with pride, pray on time no matter where you are, read the Quran on the bus or the subway if you wish, and when people ask you about your faith, tell them with a smile, “I am Muslim.” Speak your truth without fear. Be proud of Islam. Be free, and hold your head up high, bowing only to Allah.

Advice from a Cloud (If a Cloud Could Speak)

Cloud and birds

Advice from a cloud

By Wael Abdelgawad, with contributions by Arif Kabir | IslamicSunrays.com

Everyone deserves water to drink, so shower your kindness on sinners and saints alike.

People will see different things in you:  relief, comfort, or a fearsome sign of a storm. Pay no mind, and go about your life peacefully.

It’s a beautiful thing to provide shade on a hot day (to comfort those in distress).

You sometimes drift aimlessly, but by the will of God, and following your heart, you eventually find the clear current and resume your journey.

Oppose evil with thunder and lightning, but with others be soft as cotton.

Not everything is as it seems:  the darker the cloud, and the heavier the storm, the more water it brings to cleanse the earth and support new life.

Never forget, you are mainly made of water. Make sure to always replenish yourself with pure sustenance.

There’s a rainbow right behind the storm.

Can you think of any other advice a cloud might give? Please share.

30 Inspirational Islamic Sayings and Short Poems

Field of flowers and sun shining

Inspirational Islamic sayings by Wael Abdelgawad, Hanan Bilal, Imam Zaid Shakir and Others

By Wael Abdelgawad, Hanan Bilal, Imam Zaid Shakir and Others

1

The Prophet Muhammad (s) said: “Be kind, for whenever kindness becomes part of something, it beautifies it. Whenever it is taken from something, it leaves it tarnished.” – Imam Bukhari’s Book of Muslim Manners.

2

Abdullah bin Al-Haarith said, “I didn’t see anyone who smiled more than the Messenger of Allah (s).” – (At-Tirmithee, 3641).

3

“Allah. It all starts with Him – the universe, humanity, and our own conception – and it all comes back to Him in the end. There’s no victory without Him, no progress, no peace. Strengthen your relationship with Him in the easy times, and you will find Him beside you in the hard times.” – Wael Abdelgawad

4

“Allah (God) is an exponential word.” – Imam Zaid Shakir

5

“Keep your head up, forge forward fee-sabeel-illah, keep praying, learning, thinking, following your dreams, and loving the people in your life. It’s all worth it, it all matters and makes a difference. Every single thing you do is meaningful, even when you don’t see it. You are my brothers, my sisters, my heroes.” – Wael Abdelgawad

6

“When you’re out of ideas, that’s when faith comes in. Let Allah show you the way.” – Wael Abdelgawad

7

“No one should ever be depressed by his or her worldly situation as long as he or she is walking on the path leading to Paradise. Attaining Paradise is the great objective of this life, and the person who gains it is victorious, regardless of what he achieved in the world.” – Imam Zaid Shakir

8

Allah has a beautiful plan
for every woman and man.
Trust Allah and pray
and He will light the way.

– Wael Abdelgawad

9

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

10

“‘Oh, but what’s the use of trying to be a good Muslim when I end up sinning again and again?’… Well, what’s the use of bathing when you get dirty again and again? Salat (prayer) is a purifier. Though you sin again and again, keep returning to Allah for purification. Fasting is a purifier, Zakat is a purifier, Hajj is a purifier… We can use the same analogy for hope and motivation. We have to keep finding them again and again. That’s the nature of life.” – Wael Abdelgawad

11

“Try to become an embodiment of compassion and mercy in your daily life. Do not wait for a situation to occur that will call out these virtues in you. Rather, seek out opportunities where you can manifest them along with all of the other prophetic virtues. Do not live your life passively waiting to be used, roused or stimulated into action by events. Live an active life wherein you become the one who is initiating acts of goodness and kindness in all that you do. Be an embodiment of the truth you represent. Let your words and comportment convey the dignity of the believer to all that you meet.” – Imam Zaid Shakir

12

“Wash your heart every morning with salat, then warm it up with dhikr. Approach life with hope and faith. Every day do your best, Allah will do the rest.” – Wael Abdelgawad

13

“God is truly AWESOME! I see the POWER of GOD moving in MY LIFE, in my families’ lives, in the world….GOD has GREAT things in store for us. All we have to do is submit and accept GOD’s direction for our lives. I accept!” – Hanan K. Bilal

14

“I believe in Allah because He believes in me… and in you too. He made us Muslim, didn’t He? That is a gift and a blessing. So believe in His plan for you, because He believes in you, He has faith in you, He has a purpose for you.” – Wael Abdelgawad

15

“Is not the help of God close by? Certainly it is. God says “Call upon Me and I will respond.” Don’t tire on calling on Him. Don’t despair from receiving His Mercy. Despair is a sign of disbelief.” – Imam Zaid Shakir

16

“It’s okay to feel sad, anxious, lonely, frustrated, and confused. Feeling these emotions doesn’t make you less of a believer. The difference between the believer and non-believer is that the believer remains patient and turns to Allah for help.” – Wael Abdelgawad

17

“Sharpen the mind, harden the body, soften the heart, and be of service to others.” – a motto for the believer, by AbdelMalik Ali.

18

“When we’re out of ideas, surrounded by problems, and feeling totally alone… we’re not alone. Allah is with us. If we pray sincerely and strive to the best of our capacity, He will put light in our minds and hearts and help us from directions we did not expect.” – Wael Abdelgawad

19

“We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly. Let’s all practice having a lot more love for self and others… LOVE is a verb… it’s an action in constant motion…. we are either loving or unloving… love starts at home with our family.” – Hanan Bilal

20

“If Allah brings you to it, He will bring you through it.” – Unknown author

21

“If we let Taqwa – Allah-consciousness – become our guide then it leads us to self-awareness and sincerity. A person who cultivates Taqwa can never be a terrorist, an oppressor, or a hypocrite. A person with true Taqwa must shed compassion as the sun sheds light.” – Wael Abdelgawad

22

“You will not believe until you are merciful to each other. Your faith is not complete until you are merciful to each other.” – Imam Zaid Shakir

23

“Even when we think we have nothing, we have Allah, and Allah is everything.” – Wael Abdelgawad

24

Let love be selfless
and truth fearless;
Let our breasts be flooded with light –
Make our hearts clear as crystal.

– Muhammad Iqbal

25

“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. Do you see it in yourself?” – Wael Abdelgawad

26

“True religion shines from the face of the believer and impresses itself on others without words. It is subsequently followed by words that are uplifting and beneficial.” – Imam Zaid Shakir

27

It’s okay if you’re not free from sin;
Allah will forgive you, and let you in.
Just turn to Him, and from your soul
ask forgiveness, and make Him your goal.

– Wael Abdelgawad

28

“I asked Allah for strength and Allah gave me difficulties to make me strong. I asked Allah for wisdom and Allah gave me problems to solve. I asked Allah for courage and Allah gave me obstacles to overcome. I asked Allah for love and Allah gave me troubled people to help. I asked Allah for favors and Allah gave me opportunities. Maybe I received nothing I wanted, but I received everything I needed – Alhamdulillah.” – Anonymous

29

“Forgiveness is not for the weak. Being able to forgive those who have wronged you is a mark of spiritual strength and confidence. When you forgive, you grow, your heart begins to heal, your back straightens up, your eyes clear so that you can see the road ahead. Anger is a spiritual sickness; but when you forgive you live.” – Wael Abdelgawad

30

“You are all my family. I know that you are human and imperfect. Some are confused, some struggling, some tired, needing a moment’s rest. Tired of the rain and needing the rainbow. I love you all fee-sabeel-illah. Have no fear. Allah is with you and will not abandon you for a single heartbeat. The rainbow is coming, or maybe it’s already here and all you need to do is look up. ” – Wael Abdelgawad

The Heart of the Matter

Clouds and sun rays

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Sometimes we have a problem with a Muslim or Muslims, and we get frustrated and we think, “I don’t want to be around those people anymore.” Or something happens at the Masjid (the mosque) that we don’t like, maybe the Imam says something we don’t agree with, or we don’t like the Masjid policies, and we feel offended and we stop going. Maybe we pray at home, and stop associating with Muslims, then maybe over time we become slack in our prayers, but we tell ourselves it’s okay because we’re still Muslim “in our hearts”.

That’s one kind of trap.

On top of that it’s hard to represent this deen among non-Muslims. It’s hard to carry yourself as a Muslim at work when you’re the only one there and you’re aware that some of your co-workers are bigots or are operating on negative stereotypes. It’s hard to wear the hijab when some people look at you as if you’re a terrorist.

So maybe we give up the outer trappings of Islam, telling ourselves that we have to survive in this society.

That’s another trap.

And if you’re a convert and your family is opposed to your conversion to Islam, that’s another weight to carry. If they are openly hostile, and if you still live with them as they mock your deen (maybe in front of your children) and try to undercut your childrens’ practice of Islam by feeding them pork or letting them have “a little taste” of wine… or something comes on the news about a conflict in the Muslim world and your family says, “Look, those Muslims are at it again…” And you don’t know how to respond, or you don’t want to start another fight so you keep your mouth shut, but inside you feel humiliated and confused…

And if you are isolated from the Muslim community for racial reasons (this is not supposed to happen but it does) or for simple cultural reasons, because you can’t speak Arabic or Urdu and you don’t fit in, and you haven’t been able to make any Muslim friends, or you feel that the Masjid crowd don’t regard you in the same way as so-called “born Muslims”… instead they look at you as an oddity, or a child, or a trophy of some kind, as if your conversion somehow validates their faith…

Well, then, you might start to say to yourself, “What’s the point? Is it really worth it? Is it even really true?”

That’s obviously a huge, deadly trap.

Okay, if you’re a “born Muslim” you might not reach the point of that last statement (“Is it even true?”) because for most of us who were raised Muslim, Islam is bred into us from childhood, and it’s a part of us even when we don’t understand it or appreciate it. But you still might feel that identifying as a Muslim is too much trouble… it’s easier to associate with non-Muslims, abandon your prayers, drink wine at the company dinner, have relationships with non-Muslims, and not have to battle against society every day, not to mention battling against your own nafs (desires). This is an easy trap to fall into if you are a professional living alone.

We fall into these traps because we forget what this deen is. Shaytan (Satan) isolates us just as a wolf isolates a sheep, driving it away from the herd; then he plays games with our minds so that we become reactive, responding emotionally to circumstances in our environments. (“That Muslim cheated me, so I don’t trust Muslims anymore.”) Shaytan gives us pathetic rationalizations that we latch onto as if they really mean something. (“I’m a single Muslim alone in a non-Muslim environment. It’s not practical for me to live an Islamic lifestyle right now.”)

Or whatever.

We fall into these spiritual traps because we forget what Islam is all about. We forget the heart of the matter, the core, the fulcrum upon which the universe turns, the foundation of reality itself:

Laa ilaha il-Allah.

There is no God but Allah.

Laa ilaha il-Allah

Frankly, if you became Muslim for any reason other than this, then you never understood Islam to begin with. And if you were raised Muslim but were not taught the infinite importance of this single sentence, then you were not really raised as Muslim. You were only taught cultural practices.

This is Islam. This is what all reality is based on. This is what religion has been since the beginning of time. This is what all the Prophets brought (may Allah bless them all). Every element of creation acknowledges this truth except us; every child is born on this truth (which is why we are all “born Muslim”):  This truth that we were created by a single, indivisible God; that our Creator is Loving, Merciful and Compassionate; that everything we are and everything we own comes from Him; that we began with Him as a breath, and we return to Him as dust; that He witnesses everything we do; that He rewards the good and punishes evil; that He loves us and wants good for us in this life and the next; that He answers when we call and guides us when we ask; that we owe gratitude to Him for every heartbeat, every lung full of air, every bite of food, and every glimpse of truth.

No one deserves our love and obedience before Allah. Our first loyalty is to Him.

No one can help us but Allah; and no one can harm us but Him. When we’re struggling and we cry out to ourselves, “What am I going to do? Who will help me? What is the way forward for me?”, we need to address those cries to Allah! The answers will not come from our own thoughts or tears; the answers won’t come from banging our fists or pulling our hair. The answers will come from Allah.

Forget for a moment about all those other factors that you are reacting to:  how so-and-so treated you, how your family treats you, what the non-Muslims say, what the policies are at the Masjid, how some Muslims gossip or discriminate, blah, blah, blah, these things are distractions and traps.

I’m not saying that these things should not affect us. We’re human beings and we can’t help being affected by how other human beings treat us. Our relationships with family and society are real and they matter. But these factors should never cut us away from Laa ilaha-il-Allah. If they do, then the wolf has isolated us, cut us away from the truth and begun to devour our souls.

Truth. If you are in Islam for any other reason, then indeed, what is the point?

This is a characteristic of a believing Muslim, that he or she is committed to truth like a plant to the sun. We must have a passion for the truth, we must be willing to die for the truth.

Sumayyah bint Khayyat

When I speak of dying for the truth, I think of Sumayyah and I find my eyes becoming wet.

Sumayyah bint Khayyat was a slave of Abu Hudhayfa ibn al-Mughira. She was married to Yaasir, an immigrant to Makkah. Because he was an immigrant and not a member of any local tribes, Yaasir had no influence or support. He went to Abu Hudhayfa seeking sponsorship and Abu Hudhayfa gave him his female servant, Sumayyah, in marriage. Sumayyah soon gave birth to ‘Ammaar and Ubaidallah.

When Sumayyah’s son ‘Ammaar became a man in his thirties he came to know about the faith of Islam which was being preached by the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him). This took place in 615 C.E., five years after Muhammad’s (sws) declaration of Prophethood. ‘Ammaar embraced Islam after deep thought and consideration. He then expressed what he heard from the Prophet (sws) to his parents. At once, Yaasir and Sumayyah embraced Islam as well (may Allah be pleased with them all, and reward them with the highest station in Paradise).

When Banu Makhzum (the tribe of Makhzum) learned that Yaasir, Sumayyah and ‘Ammaar had accepted Islam, they arrested them and burned their home. Abu Jahl and others chained the family in the burning desert. They whipped them, burned them with torches, and put heavy rocks on their chests. The Prophet (sws) went to the place where they were tortured. He lacked the political power or social influence to stop what was happening to them – in fact he was being regularly abused himself in those days – but he wept and told them, “Patience, family of Yaasir. Verily, your meeting place will be in Paradise.”

Upon hearing the Prophet’s words, Sumayyah proudly recited, “I testify that you are the Messenger of Allah and that your promise is true.” Allah had put courage in her heart and the sweetness of imaan in her soul, so that it overrode all her fear of death. Finally, Abu Jahl stabbed her in the privates with his spear and killed her. I am sorry to share such graphic details, but if Sumayyah could bear for it be to done in the name of truth, then I can bear to tell it. Sumayyah became the first martyr in Islam. Abu Jahl then kicked Yaasir until he died. ‘Ammaar survived the torture and went on to live and fight beside the Prophet (sws) for many years more.

I have no words to express my awe at Sumayyah and Yaasir’s strength and sacrifice. I will only point out that the Arabic word for martyr is shaheed, which means witness.

Witness to what?

Consider this:  our testimony of faith in Islam, the statement that one must declare to become Muslim, is, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” This is called the shahadah, the witnessing. Shaheed and shahadah come from the same root, sha-ha-da, he witnessed.

Why? Because someone who says, “Laa ilaha-il-Allah” is witnessing the truth, and must be ready to die for that truth. This the heart of the matter, the beginning and the end.

The Heart of the Matter

Life can get you down. Human relationships can be hard. When you’re alone, Islam can start to feel like a burden. You get confused, and you forget the heart of the matter.

Remember the heart of the matter. Contemplate Laa ilaha-il-Allah. Say it out loud or silently a hundred times every day, two hundred, more. Think about its implications and how everything in Islam proceeds from it. Think about how it should affect every aspect of your life. The Messenger of Allah (sws) said that if the earth and everything in it were placed on one side of a balance, and Laa ilaha-il-Allah were placed on the other, Laa ilaha-il-Allah would outweigh it.

Laa ilaha-il-Allah is charged with power. It pours out truth like the sun pours light. When we say it, and read about it, and think about it, we find that we want to order our lives according to its truth. When that happens, Islam becomes easy. All those external problems and pressures don’t magically disappear, but we begin to see the way through them to the other side, because we are connected to Allah, and He is guiding us, showing us a light, filling us with light. I repeat, we are connected to Allah. That is the heart of the matter.

Your “Stuff” is Not a Part of You

Mountains above a beautiful valley with flowers

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

You are not defined by the stuff you own. Your “stuff” is not a part of you. Your “stuff” will break, disappear, or be left behind one day.

In fact what truly defines our character is how we react to loss. If we were stripped of all the possessions we love, who would we be in that moment? Would we still be grateful to Allah, patient, trusting?

Hopefully it never comes to that.  But seriously, those times of greatest sadness and joy are when our thoughts must turn to Allah, The Eternal, The Merciful, The Wise.

Allah says, “Never will you attain the good until you spend from that which you love. And whatever you spend – indeed, Allah is Knowing of it.” [Quran 3: 92]

Think about that. Allah is telling us to give away the things that we love the most! SubhanAllah! Why does Allah ask this of us?  Is it to liberate us from slavery to material possessions? To f0cus our minds on Allah and the aakhirah (hereafter)? To prevent the evil that results from the love of money? To benefit the poor?

Yes, for all of those reasons. Excessive attachment to any material thing is misguidance. The love of possessions is a spiritual trap.

I have at times given away things that were precious to me, thinking they would mean as much to the other person as they do to me. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t, and yes it hurts my feelings when the other person doesn’t value my gift; but eventually I get over it, because the point is the act of giving. And maybe – Insha-Allah – I’ll have something to show Allah on Yawm Al-Qiyamah (the Day of Resurrection), maybe I’ll be able to say, “O Allah, I gave away these things that I loved,” and maybe that will earn me some forgiveness, Allah knows.

There is a powerful spiritual lesson in taking an object that you love, and giving it away. I remember a middle-aged brother named AbdulKareem (Damis-Salaam, for those of you who know him). He worked hard, supported a family, and got by on a tight budget. One time he got a nice brown leather coat, the long kind that comes down to the knees. It looked good on him. Then a younger brother, a teenager with poor manners, said, “Man, that’s a cool coat. Can I have it?” Without a word, AbdulKareem took off the coat and gave it to the teenager. There’s such a strength of character, such freedom from attachment, in being able to do that. That was 27 years ago and I imagine that AbdulKareem (who is an old man now) has forgotten all about it. But Allah sees and remembers.

The Simplicity of the Prophet’s Life (sws)

This deep generosity was one of the qualities of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It’s said that he never refused anyone who asked him for anything, if it was his to give.

Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas: “Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) was the most generous of all the people, and he used to reach the peak in generosity in the month of Ramadan when Gabriel met him. Gabriel used to meet him every night of Ramadan to teach him the Qur’an. Allah’s Messenger was the most generous person, even more generous than the strong uncontrollable wind.” [Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 1, Number 5]

Aside from being generous, the Messenger of Allah (sws) had no attachment to “stuff”. The extreme simplicity of his lifestyle was astounding. He never ate lavish food (not even soft bread), never ate on a dining cloth, and never filled his belly even with barley bread. His household often went many days with no cooking fire in the oven, living on dates and water, and occasionally a glass of milk donated by the neighbors. His mattress was a piece of tanned skin filled with rough palm fibers.

Once Umar Ibn al-Khattab (radhi allahu anhu) entered upon the Messenger of Allah (sws) when he was lying on a mat of palm fibers that had left marks on his side. Umar (ra) said: “O Messenger of Allah, why do you not get something more comfortable than this?” He (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) said: “What do I have to do with this world? My relationship with this world is like that of a traveler on a hot summer’s day, who seeks shade under a tree for an hour, then moves on.” [Musnad Ahmad and al-Hakim. Saheeh al-Jamee (5545)]

So you see, he lived like this not out of necessity, but out of choice. Money often came into his household (especially later in his life when Islam spread to all of Arabia) but he would give it all to the poor, retaining nothing.

Excessive possessions are anchors that drag us down. The hunger for material goods is a kind of sickness. It causes us more stress than happiness, and in the end we gain nothing genuine.

A Moment I Regret, and a Non-Materialistic Friend

I once got angry with my daughter when she was no more than four years old, because she pulled the soft cover off my headphones and tore it. I chastised her roughly (verbally only) and she cried. I immediately felt deeply guilty and I hugged her and told her it was okay. I still regret that moment and I wish I could take it back. It would have been enough for me to tell her once, kindly, that she should not do that again. Instead I made my beautiful child cry because of a meaningless possession. I don’t ever want to do that again. One moment of happiness with my child is  more precious to me than a thousand stupid headphones.

I want to divorce myself as much as possible from the desire for needless possessions.

When I was a bicycle messenger in San Francisco many years ago, I had a colleague, Jennie, who could pack all her possessions in a pair of bicycle saddlebags. Anything that wouldn’t fit in the bags, she’d give away. She had a small flat in the Mission district, and when later she was moving to a little place up on 2nd Avenue, she called me and a few friends over to help. It turned out she called us not to help her pack, but so she could give away to us whatever possessions she had accumulated that wouldn’t fit in her saddlebags. I had another messenger friend, Ben, who lived in a small travel van. He was a kayaker and sailor. When not working, Ben spent much of his time on the sea or the bay. Interestingly, Jennie and Ben were both non-Muslims, yet they lived more simply than any Muslim I have known.

I can’t live that simply, or maybe I’m not willing to, but I do envy those who can. They have discovered something deep and true about the nature of the world. Life is not about stuff that costs too much, takes up space, wears out, breaks, and contributes nothing to the world. Rather, life is about experiences, family, learning, worshiping, and leaving a legacy of compassion and love. All those things last beyond our lifetimes, and beyond the veil of this life.

May Allah help us to live simply, and to be generous, and to value ‘ibadah, family and love more than “stuff”.

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.

Getting Through Mini-Depressions

Flower bud in sunlight

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your life also be full of good things.

If Allah brings you to it, He will bring you through it

If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it

If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

If Allah brings you to it, He will bring you through it. Whatever misfortune you have experienced, let Allah show you the way out.

Has your heart been broken? Have you experienced disappointment and loss? Trying to figure out how to be happy again? You need only three things: faith, hope and time. Keep the faith alive in your heart, even if it’s just a spark. Hold on to your hope for the future, even by the tips of your fingers. And let time pass… In time your faith will blaze again, your hope will soar.

So be patient, trust Him, thank Him, and look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Hang in there. He will bring you through.

“Attach your heart to God and you will never be let down.” – Imam Zaid Shakir

“When I cry or lose or bruise, so long as I am still alive, nothing is ultimate. So long as there is still a tomorrow, a next moment, there is hope, there is change, there is redemption. What is lost, is not lost forever.” – Yasmin Mogahed

Ask Allah, He WILL Help You

Beautiful sky at sunrise

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

If you ask Allah for guidance sincerely, believing in Him and trusting in Him, he WILL guide you. If you approach Him with humility and faith and ask Him for help, He WILL help you. “And your Lord says: “Call on Me; I will answer you.” (Quran 40:60). I personally have experienced this in my life again and again. Allah is real and miracles do happen.

I remember one time when I was deeply confused about something that mattered very much to me. I prayed to Allah late at night, and began crying. After my prayer, I laid down right there on the musalla (prayer rug), and fell asleep, and BAM, here comes one of the most powerful dreams I have ever had, with a very clear answer to my problem. Then the next night I’m outside and feeling some doubts again, and all of a sudden I see a tremendous meteor go flaming across the sky right in front of me. I was amazed and I laughed out loud because Allah could not have made it any clearer.

I’m not promising you a dream and a meteor (smile). But Allah’s promise is true. He WILL answer you, maybe in ways that you see clearly, or in ways that you don’t. The answer might be to protect you from harm, or to give you something better than what you requested. Or the answer might only be a feeling of faith and tranquility in your heart that allows you to move forward confidently. He WILL help you.

In a season of consumerist madness, let’s be grateful, and give

Beautiful farm valley

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

At this time of year the stores are pushing their sales at us. Advertising is everywhere. There if a frenzy to buy, buy, buy. Let’s realize that this is not a spiritual way of life. It’s not an appropriate lifestyle for someone who is dedicated to God. The consumerist madness is a deception. There’s no joy or peace attached to it. It’s a shallow illusion.

Look at what society has done to itself in the name of consumerism. A day of thanks (Thanksgiving) has become the prelude to “Black Friday”, the biggest shopping day of the year. It used to be that Black Friday did not begin until Friday morning, out of respect for Thanksgiving. Then the starting gun was moved to midnight, and now it has crept into Thursday evening. Nothing is sacred.

The Prophet ‘Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus the son of Mary), peace be upon him, has been turned into a marketing strategy. His purported birthday has become a month of shopping insanity, presided over by a mythical sub-deity named Santa. People go into debt, they fight over sale goods… no mention is made of faith.

We Muslims fall prey to the same consumerist lifestyle. Sometimes the holy month of Ramadan becomes a month of shopping, sleeping and binge eating, astaghfirullah.

Let us – Christians, Muslims, Jews and all people of God – not follow this path. Let’s hew to a way of sacrifice, zakat (purification), sadaqah (charity), zuhd (giving up material luxury). We don’t have to be monks, but we must focus on the things that matter: faith and family.

There are movements that advocate a simple living, back-to-nature, low-impact lifestyle.  In Islam this is called zuhd, which could be translated as detachment or asceticism. Zuhd is a choice that a person makes to give up the hunger for material possessions and transgressive carnal experiences, and live a simple lifestyle dedicated to God.

That’s what we need.

The faith in our hearts is more important than the brand name of the clothes we wear. Where our feet carry us – to someplace good or bad – is more important than the cost of our shoes. The sincerity in our hearts is more important than any gift. May Allah help us to see what is important in life.

The Enjoyment of Delusion

There’s a powerful verse from the Bible, Proverbs 30:8-9:

Give me neither poverty nor riches,
grant me only my share of bread to eat,
for fear that surrounded by plenty, I should fall away
and say, “Yahweh – who is Yahweh?”
or else in destitution, take to stealing
and profane the name of my God.

(Yahweh is an ancient Hebrew name for God).

If you visit the shopping malls at Christmastime, and read the news stories of people lining up from the night before and huddling in sleeping bags in order to buy the latest gadgets, then trampling each other in the rush; if you turn on the TV to the usual Christmas comedies and “Frosty the Snowman” cartoons, you see that God has been forgotten, and has even become taboo. It’s not politically correct to speak of God. Just watch what we broadcast, be hypnotized by our Christmas elevator music, buy and forget…

Allah says about this:

“Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion.” – Quran, Surat Al-Hadeed, 57:20

This theme is struck repeatedly in the Quran. The amusement and adornment of the dunya is an illusion that dries up and crumbles like a corn stalk, and becomes dust. It is empty, the enjoyment of delusion. Wow. That phrase, “enjoyment of delusion”, makes me think of a madman alone in a room, tied in a straight jacket, engaged in a pleasant delusion playing only in his mind.

I know people who have a bedroom devoted to all the junk that they have bought but do not use. They never enter that room and the door is kept locked. Isn’t that a kind of mental illness?

Gratitude

How do we resist the onslaught of the season? How do we remember Allah?

The greatest tool in our toolbox is gratitude. By looking at what we’ve been blessed with, our hearts become content. Socrates commented that contentment is natural wealth, while luxury is artificial poverty. Contentment does not mean complacency or passivity; it refers to a state of awareness of our blessings, and gratitude for the smallest to the greatest provisions – the tiniest cells in our bodies, to the grand earth itself.

Let’s become aware of what we have: the food on our plates, our ability to see and hear, the love and health of our families, sanity, intelligence, knowledge… these things are huge. When we open our eyes and start to see, then we become content and happy, and we see how meaningless are things are like big-screen TVs, the latest smartphone, or another new dress.

Let’s remember Allah the Eternal, and think of our aakhirah (hereafter). While others are are hungering for more, let’s be grateful for what we have, and give.

Our local Muslim community center here in Fresno participates in feeding the poor at soup kitchens; and is currently organizing a winter blanket and coat drive for the homeless. I encourage every Muslim community to do something similar. Get Muslim adults and children involved in the process of giving, whether to needy Muslims or non-Muslims.

It’s liberating to ignore the sales and seasonal hype. When we abandon the idea of acquiring goods, and instead focus on giving, we dump the whole propaganda machine on its head. We change everything. While the frantic buying of “stuff” makes us forget Allah, gratitude brings us back to Him. That’s why Allah brings together gratitude and remembrance of Allah:

“So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me.”
– Quran, Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:152

Being grateful to Allah means that our hearts become filled with love for Him; our bodies are obedient to Him; our tongues praise Him; we receive His favors with humility; we thank Him for everything we have received; and we use what He has given us for good. We could never repay Allah. The least we can do is thank him.

By being grateful and separating ourselves from the consumerist craziness, we set an example of how to live without avarice. We free our spirits, remove a burden from our backs, and shine a light for ourselves and others.

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