Allah First

The sun shining from behind a cloud

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Allah first, glorified and exalted be He. Not career, money, savings, stocks, investments, 401K, IRA. Allah first. Not family, because we cannot serve our families well unless we serve Allah first. Not culture, nationality, “race”, caste, tribe, clan, lineage, social status (all of which are utterly meaningless).

Allah first. Not material, shopping, sales – people get up early for a sale but can’t wake up for Allah – smart phone, internet, computer. Allah, Allah, Allah first. Not movies, shows, fake celebrities who are worshiped like idols. Not sports teams, city, school, neighborhood.

Only when we put Allah first can we stay that we have understood “Laa ilaha il-Allah” (there is no God but Allah) – this simple sentence and testimony of faith, over which Prophets have been killed, believers persecuted, and which has been so little understood even by Muslims.

This Laa ilaha il-Allah was the call of every Prophet and Messenger from time immemorial. Allah says about it, “…and know that Laa ilaaha ill Allah (there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah)…” [Quran 47:19, 20:8, 3:18, 59:22-3]

And Abu Sa`eed al-Khudri said, that the Messenger of Allah (S) said:

“Moses (AS) said: ‘O Lord! Teach me something that I can remember You with and I can supplicate You with’. He (Allah Ta’ala) said: ‘Say ‘Laa ilaaha ill Allah’, O Musaa’. He (Musaa) said: ‘All of your servants say this’. He (Allah) said: ‘If the seven Heavens and those who dwell in them other than Me and the seven Earths are put into one pan (of the scale) and ‘Laa ilaaha ill Allaah’ is put into the other; ‘Laa ilaaha ill Allah’ would be heavier.'” [Ibn Hibbaan and Haakim]

Laa ilaha il-Allah is the stuff of legends. It is the calling card of the Eternal Prime Mover. It has rights over us. It’s a contract, an oath, a promise to love Allah before the people, fear Allah more than the people, and to ask ourselves in every situation, “What does Allah want me to do here?” It’s a vow to trust Allah before the people, call upon Allah in times of hardship, thank Allah in times of plenty, and know in our bones that our return is to Him.

Quick Quotes: Compassion, Taqwa, Allah, Nature, the Heart

Drop of water on a vine

Compassion

“Hatred and bigotry are NOT the permanent conditions of man. Dictators fall and pass. War, oppression and hunger remain, but the power to change those terrible things is in our hands. Allah made us khulafaa over the earth. We have the ability to forgive, to understand, and to comfort one another. I believe that compassion is the essence of who we are. Is the best part of us, the quality that makes us worthy of the mercy of Ar-Rahman. Our love is an elemental force, a vast untapped potential. We only have to be who Allah created us to be. If we can aspire to that, and hew to it, it will suffice us and the earth itself.”

– Wael Abdelgawad

***

“Do not become proud of your position. Do not become harsh toward those weaker than yourself. And always speak of Allah’s kindness to you.” – Ibn Isaq, “The Life of Muhammad”

Taqwa

“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 become a terrorist, an oppressor, a hypocrite. A person with true Taqwa must shed compassion as the sun sheds light.” – Wael Abdelgawad

Changing the World

“Sometimes I want to ask God why He allows poverty, famine and injustice in the world when He could do something about it; but I”m afraid He might ask me the same question.” – Anonymous

Allah

“People will love you for a short time but Allah will love you forever. People will listen to you sometimes, but Allah will listen to you all the time. People will forgive you sometimes, but Allah forgives every time.” – Anonymous

***

“You don’t need a Plan B if Plan A is for Allah.” – Bilal Int’l

Nature

I gave my Salam to the mountain
And I drank from the mountain stream
And I walked upon its surface
And it all felt like a dream
And this mountain it is a Muslim
And I feel like he’s my friend
And as I climbed on to his peak
I wished it would never end

– Hamza Robertson

The Heart

“Your heart is a mirror that reflects the world. If it’s clean, it will see the world as it really is. If it’s dirty and warped, it will see a warped vision of the world.” – Yasmin Mogahed

***

“When you get close to giving up take a step back, pray and come right back to it. You just never know who you could be inspiring out there. May Allah keep our faith strong and grant us the ability to turn back to Him and to be grateful for that ability and many more…ameen ya Rabb. This goes out to all those who inspire me.” – Fauzia Mohamed

Live the Moment – It’s All You Have

Amazing meadow, river, mountain and sunrays

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Try to appreciate the present moment and truly live it, rather than using it up by feeling guilty about the past, or fretting about the future. Regret for the past is a waste of spirit, and worrying about the future is pointless.

Hanan Bilal, a community activist and motivator from Florida, asks, “When will we stop living in the past and longing for our future? All we really have is this moment. The question is what are we going to do right now? Our time is now!”

The Past

That’s not to say that contemplation of past and future is verboten. The Quran tells stories of the past in order to educate us. The Messenger of Allah (sws) told us many stories of past Prophets and the Bani Israa’il, for the same reason. We study world history, we study the seerah of our Prophet and the lives of the Sahabah, because it inspires and informs.

I taught a martial arts class several hours ago and I’m still reviewing it in my mind, examining what I could do better next time. That’s part of the learning process for me.

I have a sweet young daughter named Salma and I often think about my time with her, something funny that she said, or the small gifts that she likes to make for me. Yesterday she made me a card that says “I love Baba.” A few days ago we had a poetry reading at our local Muslim community center, and in between readings our host told jokes. For some reason Salma positioned herself in the front row, and every time our host told a joke I heard Salma laughing loudly, even though I’m sure she did not understand the jokes (“do vegetarians eat animal crackers?”). Crazy kid, ha ha. So yeah, I think about past moments. But I’m not stuck in the past. I think about those moments because they educate me or make me smile, so they become a part of my present and future.

On the other hand, I occasionally think about my former marriage, and those are usually not good thoughts, because I tend to dwell on the mistakes I made, and I feel sadness or guilt. I’ve already contemplated deeply on that period in my life, and I’ve learned my lessons. I don’t need to keep returning there in my mind, punishing myself. If I did, then I would indeed be stuck in the past, unable to move forward. That is the kind of pointless regret that weighs people down and burdens their spirits.

The Future

We plan for the future by having goals, getting an education, working hard, saving money, always learning and improving ourselves. We plan for our aakhirah by dedicating ourselves to Allah, worshiping, giving our money to the poor and orphans, and humbling ourselves. We build our futures step by step. But it’s not productive to sit around biting our nails and thinking, “What if I fail my exam, oh, when will I get married, what’s going to happen if I lose my job, how will I pay my bills…” You make yourself sick and it doesn’t help.

Don’t worry, plan. There’s a huge difference! Then acknowledge that you don’t control the future. That’s Allah’s province.  Trust in Him, let him be your guide, find your security in Him.

The security of the dunya is false security. Suffering is the lot of all Adam’s children, in one way or another, and death comes when we’re ready or not. The security of Allah is real and transcends this world.

The Moment

This moment is all we have, my friend. The past is gone, and the future never comes, because when we get there, we’re still in the present.

If you take this moment to breathe deeply and say, “SubhanAllah wa bihamdihi” – glory to Allah and all praise to Him – and then thank Allah for the blessings in your life, or sit down and play a game with your child, go for a walk in the sunshine, maybe take a few nature photos, call an old friend, write your spouse a love note, read a verse from the Quran and contemplate it – then you have lived! You have turned that moment into a precious gem, something to smile about and feel good about.

Let’s live the moment, be conscious of it, feel it, and give Allah the credit, and in doing so let’s turn the moment into a circle of sunshine and barakah.

P.S. Isn’t that the most amazing photo above? I absolutely love it. I want to roll around in that grass, bathe in that river, call the adhaan to the sky, and build a small house among those trees. SubhanAllah.

Represent Your Faith, Come What May

Reaching for the light

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Some people worry about appearing Muslim because they don’t want to attract negative attention from non-Muslims. They want to be liked and accepted. So they hide their deen. At work or on a journey they worry about doing salat in public and may actually miss prayers. They are reluctant to wear hijab. They don’t even like to greet their fellow Muslims with salam in public.

I say that it’s better to be hated for what you are, than loved for what you are not.

When you appear before Allah, do you want to say, “I hid my religion and the non-Muslims accepted me.”

Or do you want to say, “People harassed me and despised me, because I represented Islam.”

Be proud of who you are – not the pride of arrogance but the pride of self-respect. Be grateful for Allah’s greatest favor to you, Islam. Represent your faith, no matter how people respond. I think you’ll find that most people will respect you for it. In fact I have noticed that practicing, representing Muslims are sometimes treated like sages or priests. But if you are mocked for being Muslim, that’s an honor and a barakah for you on Yawm Al-Qiyamah.

Stand up straight and smile. Speak your truth without preaching. Perform your salat wherever you are, without ostentation. Greet your fellow Muslims with enthusiasm, wish people a happy Eid (even non-Muslims!), wear your Islamic garments, have no fear, and be yourself, a believer.

Believe in Allah, Because He Believes in You

Amazing sunrays and clouds

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you’re weary and alone, let faith carry you

Desert buttes

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

There are times when we’re alone, discouraged, and just plain weary. Times when it seems like there’s no one left who matters.

That’s when faith counts more than ever. That’s when faith is tested.

Don’t give up. Keep hope in your heart. Remember that in the darkest cave, the deepest canyon, the most barren desert, Allah is still there.

Let faith carry you at those times, and let Allah guide you, and you will come through to a better place. It’s a promise from Allah:

“And whoever is conscious of Allah, He will make for him a way out (from every difficulty). And He will provide for him from (sources) he never could imagine. And whoever puts his trust in Allah, then He will suffice him. Verily, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Indeed Allah has sent a measure for all things.” (Quran: 65/2-3)

Walking This Path Together

Jasper National Park, Alaska

Jasper National Park, Alaska

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

I’m just a guy who has lived an unorthodox life. I have been alone and chained. I have seen frightening violence. I have also wandered the mountain trails in Central America, camped in the snows of the Sierras, and laid on my back in the Sahara, watching a meteor shower decorate the sky. I have witnessed the birth of my child, and received great gifts. I have been so blessed by Allah, so cared for, as He rescues me and heals my heart, again and again. I have been loved monumentally, and have learned to love in return.

Maybe I’ve learned a little something, and maybe I possess the talent to put it into words. Am I someone special? Yes, but so are you! Some of you amaze me. Young or old, married or single parents raising children with no help, sacrificing for your families, finding your way in the world, working, creating, struggling, studying, teaching. I have much to learn from you. I have a long ways to go in this life Insha’Allah, and many strange paths to walk, and so do you. I am happy that we are walking this path together, in this moment.

Allah Does Not Make “Throw-Away” People

Sunrise over the Great Smoky Mountains, USA

Sunrise over the Great Smoky Mountains, USA

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Have you ever felt “thrown away”? Cast aside like trash that is no longer valued or wanted?

It’s not a good feeling, is it?

Sometimes we feel this way when we’ve been rejected by someone we love; or when we are relentlessly criticised by a spouse, parents, family or friends. We can also feel this way when it seems like we’re not living up to society’s expectations.

Feeling this way makes you doubt yourself, makes you wonder if you are a worthwhile human being, if you have anything meaningful to offer, if you are someone worthy of love and praise.

When you feel this way, you might begin to act this way. You stop valuing yourself, and you start behaving as if you are worthless, ugly, invisible, unredeemable. You do things that you know are bad for you, either because you no longer care, or you think no one else cares. Or maybe just to fulfill the negative labels that others have put on you.

I want to tell you something very important: Allah does not make “throw away” people. He does not create waste.

We humans do that. Increasingly in this modern society, we manufacture cheap items that are meant to be used once then thrown away. Disposable razors, diapers, soda bottles, packaging… hospital visitors are given disposable gowns and gloves… Our oceans are filling up with garbage. There is a floating plastic garbage patch in the Pacific that is the size of Texas. It is known as the Pacific Gyre and contains 3.5 million tons of trash.

We human beings do that. We create such waste.

Allah does not do that.

Look around at what Allah has created: the oceans, mountains, clouds and majestic trees; birds and animals from the eagle to the elephant; the stars, sun and moon; the four seasons, each with a special beauty; and a treasure-trove of amazing, healthy foods like olives, mangoes, almonds, oranges…

Allah says in the Quran, Surat Aal-Imran, 3:190-191:

“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding. Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], “Our Lord, You did not create this in vain; exalted are You [above such a thing]…”

Allah created nothing in vain. Nothing that He made is disposable or worthless. Every one of His creations is precious and has a profound purpose, from the smallest bacterium to the greatest nebula. Everything is beautiful. Including you.

Allah did not create you to be thrown away. You are not disposable. Whether or not you are ready to admit it, you have a profound purpose in this life. You are priceless, beautiful, unique, redeemable, and worthy of love. Because Allah made you that way.

We must begin valuing ourselves according to how Allah has valued us. Those people who would devalue us, they are not walking in our shoes, living our reality. They’re not responsible for our souls, and we are not responsible for theirs:

“No bearer of a burden can bear the burden of another.” (Quran 6:164; 17:15)

If others are not responsible for us, and cannot bear our burdens, then they have no right to value or devalue us. Allah has given us honor, therefore our honor is with Allah, not with the people. Allah has given us purpose, therefore our purpose is with Allah, not with the people.

Every person has a dignity and value that has been granted by Allah. It is inherent in our makeup and cannot be taken away by anyone. Every person is a gift. Every person is a miracle. Including you.

Look Beyond the Packaging: How to Choose a Husband, Wife or Friend

Rainbow over a baobab tree

The most beautiful things in the world don't come in packages

By Wael Abdelgawad | Zawaj.com

(This piece was written for Zawaj.com, and I am reprinting it here):

Is his hair nicely styled? Is he the perfect height? Are his dimples so cute when he smiles?

Is her makeup just right? Does her body have the perfect curves? Do her feet arch perfectly in those killer high heels?

This is packaging, it’s irrelevant.

American, Pakistani, Arab, African, black, white, this is a veneer. These qualities are insignificant by any true, spiritual standard. When you’re feeling ill and are curled up in bed, it’s not an Arab or American who holds your hand and tells you that it will be okay, who takes your temperature and cools your forehead with a towel, who makes you chicken soup with lemon… it’s a human being, a husband or wife who loves you.

We must get beyond superficial and meaningless classifications like race and nationality. In one of the most powerful condemnations of tribalism that I have ever read, the Prophet Muhammad (sws) said, in a hadith narrated by At-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud,

“There are people who boast of their dead ancestors; but they are more contemptible in the sight of Allah than the black beetle that rolls dung with its nose. Behold, Allah has removed from you the arrogance of the time of Jahiliyyah (Ignorance) with its boasting of ancestral glories. Man is but a God-fearing believer or a miserable sinner. All people are the children of Adam, and Adam was made from dust.”

And about the impulse to nationalism and racism in general, he said, “Leave it, it is rotten.” (Agreed upon).

Alright, how about this:  That guy wanting to court you, is his Armani suit cut just right? Are his shoes sleek and stylish?

That woman who caught your eye, does her dress drape elegantly on her figure?

You know what? That Armani suit can’t stand on its own. It needs a hangar to stay upright. That elegant dress can’t raise your children right.

We must learn to look beyond appearances. I’m not saying that appearance is irrelevant, but how much of our attraction is based on true human beauty, and how much is based on distorted standards and poisonous imagery pumped into our brains by TV, movies, and advertising? In other words, to what degree have we been brainwashed?

The world of advertising teaches us to focus on the wrong things. Consultants are paid millions to design the perfect package for a box of cereal or an energy drink, just the right shape and bright color to catch your eye and entice you to open your wallet. Meanwhile, the product – likely as not – is actually bad for you, consisting of sugar, salt, chemicals and dyes. These advertisers are teaching us to make choices based on packaging and image.

What they are teaching us is entirely ruinous and wrong.

Human beings are not consumer products. We’re not disposable. When you marry someone you’re in it for the long haul. You’re with them when they wake up in the morning with crust in their eyes and hair pressed to one side of the their head; when they get laid off from work because the company is “downsizing”, and you don’t know how the bills will get paid next month; when they’re depressed, tired, sick; when they make mistakes, when they say and do the wrong things, when they lose their temper, when they’re afraid or insecure…

This is as serious as it gets. This is life, and a shiny but empty package won’t get you through it, won’t help on you the path, won’t hold you up when you’re weak, or make you laugh when you’re down. The package can’t do that. Remember that when you buy something, the package ends up in the trash. If you choose someone for the package only, you may be bitterly disappointed when the storm comes and no one is there to shelter you, or to hold.

These are lessons learned through heartache and disappointment.

Look deeper. Find a gentle and honest heart, a strong backbone, a striving spirit. Look to what the person does, how they live, how they treat people, how they relate to the Almighty. Look to that shimmering soul inside, and discern whether it’s a selfish and bitter soul, or loving and true. Look beyond the packaging to the core, and trust your God-given instincts, and you’ll find yourself a rare happiness, a precious partnership, or a true friend.

The most beautiful, powerful things in the world don’t come in disposable packages. Mountains, trees, ocean, sky, stars… their true attributes are bared to the world. They don’t need packages because they are stunning and profound in their essence.

As someone said, beautiful things are not always good, but good things are always beautiful.

By basing your life choices on matters of substance, you’ll avoid social and financial traps that ruin so many. You’ll build friendships as real and solid as mountains, with people you can trust with your reputation, your heart and your life. You’ll do work that matters, and leave a legacy that improves people’s lives in unforgettable ways.

Get Up and Do Your Thing

Africa and Europe from space

Africa and Europe from space

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Life has been challenging lately. In July I’ve faced some financial setbacks, and also some personal setbacks that have hit me hard, and drained me emotionally to the point where sometimes I just sit in my padded computer chair and don’t feel like getting up. I feel like I hardly have the energy to get up and prepare some food to eat, let alone pray, work, go to class, care for my daughter…

And yet I do get up. I go out and teach a 2.5 hour martial arts class and I do it with vigor, because my students are looking to me for guidance and inspiration. I get up and do my volunteer job at the Muslim community center. I get up and take my daughter to the lake or the masjid, and have a tea party with her, and read her the latest chapter of “Fish Face”. I laugh with her and love her with everything I’ve got, because she needs me. I don’t have time for self-pity.

I get up and do my thing, because that’s what it is to be a man (or woman), to be a father (or mother), to be a Muslim, to be a friend, to be alive! You get up and do what you have to do. You pick your foot up and take a step, then lift the other one and take another step, and before you know it you are moving ahead, and time has passed and your problems have diminished and don’t hurt quite so much, or maybe you have overcome them entirely, because you are experiencing the joy of life. Your love for Allah, and your gratitude, and your attentiveness to the beauty and blessings around you, all wash the pain away like a river.

That’s what it is to be alive. SubhanAllah.

So, to all those reading this now, I send you light and love, and I know that no matter what physical or emotional aches you are experiencing, you will rise each morning with gratitude, you will take a step and move ahead, you will love and laugh, you will push self-pity to the side and live your lives with commitment, in the short time that we all have on this beautiful ball of brown and blue.

One last note:  Eat healthy foods, drink water and – very important – get enough sleep. These are all critical to maintaining an emotional balance and moving forward in life with a positive attitude.

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