“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”
– Ibn Isaq, “The Life of Muhammad”
The Prophet Muhammad (salallahu alaihi wa sallam) said,
“Whoever relieves a believer of a hardship from the hardships of this world, then Allah will relieve him of a hardship from the hardships of the Day of Resurrection… Allah is helping the servant as long as the servant is helping his brother, ” [Hadith Tirmidhi /Muslim].
Do you need help? Help others, and Allah will help you.
Helping others doesn’t have to consist of anything grand. Even a smile is sadaqah. Removing a harmful thing from the road is sadaqah. Speaking gentle words to someone in distress, or feeding a meal to someone who is hungry, or making a donation to help an orphan… or donating blood, or working a few hours a month for a charity, or visiting someone who is sick… all those things are valuable. They are not nothing. They are important and worthwhile acts.
Changing the world starts with every person doing one small thing. And in the process, you help your own soul, and you bring happiness to your own heart, and you get the blessings and barakah of Allah. What a deal!
dressed in white
works so hard
prays at night.
dressed in black
a climbing path.
dressed in red
on her head.
dressed in pink
she’s much stronger
than you think.
dressed in green
of the deen.
dressed in blue
heart is strong
words are true.
dressed in brown
in humble prayer
she bows down.
dressed in grey
when she smiles
lights up the day.
– Wael Abdelgawad, 2010
What the Word “Muslim” Means to Me
The word alone triggers such different reactions in different people.
The literal definition of the word Muslim is “one who submits,” meaning one who submits to Allah, believing in Him and obeying His commandments.
More specifically, the word Muslim is the participle of the same Arabic verb of which Islam is the infinitive. The feminine form is Muslimah, though a female Muslim is often referred to as simply a Muslim.
There are many false stereotypes about Muslims in the West, or one might say in the non-Muslim world in general, and also many misconceptions among Muslims themselves; but I will not go into those in this article.
Instead, I’d like to share my thoughts and feelings on hearing the word Muslim and contemplating its meaning. I am using the word in a gender-inclusive sense.
Faithful. Allah is his Master, and the Quran is the wellspring of his life. Muhammad ibn Abdullah (pbuh) is his beloved Messenger, and all the Sahabah * (see glossary at bottom for explanations of many terms) are his guiding stars. Tawheed is his creed, taqwa his garment, imaan his cool summer rain, and ihsaan his aspiration.
Harmonized. She has chosen to live as Allah created us to live, in harmony with all around us, including nature, human beings, and the earth itself. She is plugged into the reality of the universe.
Peaceful. His manner is gentle. He is not angry or violent. He would never raise his hands except to defend himself, his family, or other innocents.
Generous. If I knock on his door, he will invite me in to his home and offer me honey tea and baklawa. He will ask about my family, and be a believer with me, remembering Allah so that his house remains a place of life. When the salat (prayer) time arrives he’ll spread the musallas and pray with me.
Kind. His eyes are soft and smiling. He shakes my hand firmly, with a brotherly openness. If I need help, offers it. He is charitable, ready to give his last coin to someone hungry or ill, knowing that it will return to him seven hundred fold, and that all deeds are recorded and nothing is lost.
My brothers and sisters. Arab, African, Indian, Thai, Filipino, Chinese, European, American, Latino, and anyone around the world who says, “Laa ilaaha il-Allahu, Muhammadan Rasul-ullah” (There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah)… they are my family, my Ummah, my nation. If they are free, I breathe easier. If they are fed, I sleep better. If they are mentally and spiritually conscious, I am liberated.
Feeling each other’s pain. If she is suffering or oppressed, I feel it like the pain in my own limbs. If she is sad, lonely or confused, I do whatever I can to guide and help. I can never ignore her agony, any more than I could ignore a sliver in my own eye.
Friends, compatriots. When I see him, I feel comfortable and at ease, whether I know him or not. I greet him with “As-salamu alaykum” and I smile. I can engage him in conversation, even if I know nothing about him. I know his language no matter what it is. If he tells me something good I say ma-sha-Allah. If he mentions some blessing or favor in his life, I say Alhamdulillah. If he mentions something he hopes to do, I say Insha’Allah. We understand one another.
At home in Allah’s house. He can walk into a masjid anywhere in the world and feel at home. He can perform wudu’, prostrate himself to Allah, take a copy of the Quran off the shelf and read it, stand shoulder to shoulder in prayer with strangers, and feel a sense of rightness and belonging.
An Islamic worldview. She shares my world view and cultural understanding, no matter her nationality or race. She knows that this life is only a test, a moment of frenzy between a sleep and a sleep, like a desert flower blooming and wilting in a single afternoon. She knows that the aakhirah is the home that calls; her heart is filled with hope and fear of Judgment.
She steps out of her door each day and does the right thing, because that is her covenant with Allah, and because she loves to do good. She sees the signs of Allah in the miracle of a hummingbird or the majesty of Mt. Kilimanjaro; in the swirls of her fingertips, and in the knowledge of Allah that lives in her heart.
Pursuing excellence. Doctor, teacher, farmer, engineer, human rights worker, taxi driver, tour guide, seamstress, Olympic athlete. Striving for excellence in all things as a matter of worship and a way of life. Truth-telling, fair, sincere in business and in love.
Family. Mother, father, giddo (grandpa), nena (grandma), niece, nephew, cousin, wife, daughter, son. Respecting their elders, kind to their youth. Full of love like the sunrise. Embracing like the warm Mediterranean. Laughing like light on the water. Supporting like the granite of the earth.
Seeker and guide. Da’iyy, Imam, Quran reciter, submitting in prayer, fasting in Ramadan, performing the Hajj. A voice calling in the darkness. Footsteps to follow in the sand. A bringer of truth. Promoting good and forbidden evil, with the hand, the tongue or the heart.
Patient and grateful. Striving her utmost but never trying to force the outcome because the end belongs to Allah. Never giving up; patient; strong.
If she has suffered, if she has been beaten or abandoned, if she has been hungry or confused or lost, she comes through it stronger, knowing that Allah is on her side.
If she has been blessed to live in wealth and ease, to have a loving family, rich food, tailored clothing and a beautiful home, then she thanks Allah, knowing that everything she has is a blessing and a trust from Him, and knowing that the way to show thanks is to give and share.
No matter what, she is humble before Allah, never arrogant, never looking down on others.
Standing up. He is concerned that the image of his religion has been hijacked by a few extremists, and by those who practice ignorant cultural traditions. He stands up for human rights, freedom, and the dignity of all human beings. He stands against terrorism in all forms, against oppression of those who follow other religions, and against “honor killings”, racism, female genital mutilation, intolerance, and destruction of churches or monuments of other religions.
Suffering. Battered by war. Torn by sectarian strife. Oppressed by tyrants and dictators. Invaded by foreign powers. Massacred. His land stolen, his homes and farms bulldozed, his holy places demolished, his leaders arrested, his people driven from their ancestral homes.
Starving. Politically imprisoned. Tortured by his own nation’s police, tortured by foreign invaders.
Crying out for freedom, struggling valiantly, never giving up, never accepting subjugation, never submitting to anyone but Allah.
Submitting to Allah.
What does the word “Muslim” mean to you?
Glossary of Terms:
By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com
“O you who believe! be careful of (your duty to) Allah and be with the true ones.” – Quran 9:119
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said,
“You must be truthful, for truthfulness leads to righteousness and righteousness leads to Paradise. A man will keep speaking the truth and striving to speak the truth until he will be recorded with Allah as a Siddeeq (speaker of the truth). Beware of telling lies, for lying leads to immorality and immorality leads to Hellfire. A man will keep telling lies and striving to tell lies until he is recorded with Allah as a liar.” (Muslim)
Ali Ibn Abi Talib (ra) said: “The truth teller achieves three things: trust, love, and respect.”
You know the expression, “The truth shall set you free?” It might be amended to say, “Telling the truth shall set you free.”
Being honest is liberating. It might be difficult or emotionally uncomfortable at times, but it’s so much more freeing to the spirit than lying, or living a lie. We don’t have to remember what lies we told to whom, or whether someone will uncover something from our pasts. We don’t have to feel like hypocrites for speaking words we don’t really mean.
The Body Tells the Truth
Did you know that a liar is betrayed by his own body? We all know about the obvious signs that are monitored by lie detectors, such as increased body temperature (manifested visually as sweating), and raised blood pressure. But there are many other signs that are detectable visually. If you live in the USA you may have seen the television drama “Lie to Me”, about a scientist who acts as a human lie detector by studying body language and facial “micro-expressions”. This is based on real science.
For example, when people are lying, they generally avoid eye contact. Frequently, liars will gaze downward and to the right. Another sign is that liars often fidget, moving hands or feet, drumming fingers, or adjusting clothing. Also, liars may subconsciously try to “hide” the lie by covering their mouths, or making a motion that is symbolic of covering the face, such as touching the nose or an eye. These are all attempts to cover up the lie, and are a subconscious expression of shame. Lastly, the liar may fold his arms or cross his legs, which are defensive gestures, as if he is trying to cover himself up.
SubhanAllah. Even when a person’s mind is willing to lie, the body is not. It’s as if a part of him is adhering to fitra, the pure nature of every human being, and is unwilling to go along with the sin.
After all, the body is always in a state of submission to Allah. The heart beats as Allah made it to do, the blood flows, the nerves fire, the cells generate energy, carry oxygen or process waste, white blood cells attack invaders… all these autonomous processes go on without conscious thought, obeying the imperatives given to them by Allah. This is an expression of Islam at the most basic level. So even when a person’s tongue may commit a sin by lying, on a deeper level the body is still in submission.
In fact, everything in existence submits to Allah and praises Him, and functions as a sign of His power. Allah says,
“Do you not see that Allah is exalted by whomever is within the heavens and the earth and [by] the birds with wings spread [in flight]? Each has known his [means of] prayer and exalting [Him], and Allah is Knowing of what they do.
And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and to Allah is the destination.
Do you not see that Allah drives clouds? Then He brings them together, then He makes them into a mass, and you see the rain emerge from within it. And He sends down from the sky, mountains [of clouds] within which is hail, and He strikes with it whom He wills and averts it from whom He wills. The flash of its lightening almost takes away the eyesight.
Allah alternates the night and the day. Indeed in that is a lesson for those who have vision.
Allah has created every [living] creature from water. And of them are those that move on their bellies, and of them are those that walk on two legs, and of them are those that walk on four. Allah creates what He wills. Indeed, Allah is over all things competent.” (Quran 24: 41-45)
All of the things described in these verses exist in submission to Allah. Only we, children of Adam (and the jinn), have been given the ability to disobey. When we rebel – and that includes lying – we come into conflict with Allah, with society, with all other living creatures, with the weather that surrounds us, and even with the night and day!
Last but not least, we come into conflict with our own bodies. How could that be anything but harmful? Isn’t it a sign to us that lying is wrong on a very deep level?
Truth Builds Trust
My daughter Salma is three years old. She goes to bed at 7:30pm, and I remain beside her until she sleeps. On certain evenings I have a martial arts class, and I hope that Salma will fall asleep quickly so I can hurry to my class before it’s over (my mother watches her until I return). Sometimes Salma asks me, “Baba, are you staying home tonight or going to your class?”
I know that if I lie and say, “I’m staying home,” that will comfort her and she’ll fall asleep quickly, allowing me to go to class. On the other hand, if I say, “I’m going to my class,” she’ll deliberately struggle to stay awake, chattering and rolling around in bed, because she does not want me to leave.
So what do I do? I say, “If you fall asleep soon I will go to my class, otherwise I will stay.” I tell her the truth, even it means that I miss my class, because I could not live with myself if I lied to her for selfish reasons, even if it’s a “harmless” lie.
Some days I get to my class, some days I don’t.
I follow this same strategy in every aspect of my relationship with her. If she says, “Baba, can we go to the zoo on Saturday?” I never say, “We’ll see,” just to placate her and change the subject. Someone did that with me in my childhood and I always hated it because I knew that it really meant “no” and was just an obfuscation. So with Salma I might say, “If it’s sunny we can go to the zoo Insha’Allah,” and when the day comes and it’s sunny I will take her to the zoo no matter what, short of an emergency. Or I might say, “Sorry baby, we need to go shopping on Saturday and we won’t have time.”
My point is that I’m always honest with her even when the answer may upset her, and the result is that she trusts me. I see in my interaction with her that she accepts my word and believes me.
I know these are small examples. There’s nothing earth shaking about telling the truth to a little child. But you know, many people do routinely lie to their children for the sake of convenience.
Le’ts be ourselves and be honest. Le’ts take these small examples and do a close examination of our interactions with all our family members, our friends, our work colleagues, and our business partners. Do we sometimes lie to simplify matters or to make ourselves look good?
Or do we always tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable?
If we were to adopt a policy of truth at all times, what consequences would that have? Really think about it. How would it affect our credibility, our friendships, and our work relationships?
I believe that, contrary to what our fears and insecurities may tell us, being honest in all our relationships would lay a deep and strong foundation and allow those relationships to flourish.
Tell the Truth Without Harm
There should be no exceptions to honesty, but telling the truth is not a compulsion to harm yourself, nor a justification for harming others.
For example, no Muslim should openly manifest his immoral actions or past. It was narrated that Saalim ibn ‘Abd-Allah said: I heard Abu Hurayrah say: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) say:
“All of my Ummah will be fine except for those who commit sins openly. Part of committing sins openly is when a man does something at night and Allah conceals it, but in the morning he says, ‘O So-and-so, last night I did such and such.’ His Lord had covered his sin all night, but in the morning he removed the cover of Allah.”(Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5721; Muslim, 2990)
In my capacity as an editor of IslamcAnswers.com, I have often been anonymously asked some version of this question: “I lived a sinful lifestyle at one point, including committing zinaa, but I have repented. Now I am engaged to be married and my fiancé wants to know about my past. What should I say? If I tell him/her everything, he may break off the engagement, but if I lie then I’ll be building a future on a foundation of dishonesty.”
My response is that one should give a reply along these lines: “My past is between me and Allah. For whatever sins I have committed, I have asked Allah’s forgiveness and continue to do so. I will not say more. Please judge me according to the person I am now, just as I will do with you.”
If that response is not satisfactory to the other person and he continues to pry, I guarantee you he is not good husband (or wife) material for you. If you don’t tell him everything, he will continue to harangue you endlessly. And if you do, he will be jealous and probably never forgive you. No one needs that kind of judgment in life.
Of course if something material has resulted from past mistakes – for example if one has a child from a past relationship, or has acquired an STD – then that must be revealed, as these are things that will affect a spouse in a continuing way.
Truth Builds Rock-Solid Friendships
As far as harming others, Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: I asked the Messenger of Allah (pbuh): “Who is the most excellent among the Muslims?” He said, “One from whose tongue and hands the other Muslims are secure.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
If you see your brother making a serious mistake, correct him in the kindest possible way. That is a form of honesty. If you have nothing good to say, stay silent. That too is is an aspect of truth telling. No matter what, do not be needlessly hurtful.
Telling the truth in this way creates strong and healthy friendships, because it builds trust. Real friends don’t just tell you what you want to hear. They don’t say, “Oh yeah, you’re great, that’s wonderful,” when inside they’re thinking, “What a crazy thing to do,” or, “What is he up to now?”
But they’re not cruel or harsh either. They tell you the truth kindly. If they think you’re doing something harmful, they tell you with compassion. When you have a friend like that, you know you can trust every word out of his/her mouth, so when your friend compliments or supports you it means something and lifts your spirit, because you know it’s from the heart.
Real friends are not saccharine-sweet liars, nor are they relentlessly negative. They see the good in you, they appreciate you and let you know it, but when you need some honest advice they are there with the right words.
And I’ll tell you something: most people respect truth-tellers, even if they don’t agree with what’s being said.
The other key component is that real friends are discreet. Many years ago I had two good friends – I’ll call them Ali and Mo (not their real names) – who were given scholarships to study at the Islamic University of Madinah. They left together. After some time I heard a rumor that Mo had gotten in some trouble in Saudi Arabia and had been arrested and jailed. I did not know the details. When Ali returned to California for summer break, I asked him, “What happened to Mo? Tell me the whole story.” To my great frustration, Ali would not reveal a single detail. All he said was, “The Saudi authorities are planning to deport Mo; when he returns you can ask him yourself.” Mo was my friend too, I was concerned about him. Plus, I admit that it was such a juicy piece of gossip that I could not resist. But Ali would not budge, even though I was several years older than him and had been like a brother to him for years.
One consequence is that I trust Ali more than most. I know that he’s as firm as a mountain. I know that if I tell him something in confidence he will not repeat it, and that he never backbites or gossips about my faults.
Real friends keep your secrets, don’t speak about you to others, don’t repeat rumors. Again, that builds a rock-solid foundation of trust.
I want to be a friend like that, don’t you?
See Also: Let’s Tell Our Children the Truth
People often translate “Taqwa” as “fear of Allah.” Not so. Linguistically it means “to protect” or “to shield”, as in to protect oneself from wrongdoing. The root word is Waqa (spelled with the Arabic letters wow qaf ya) which means to preserve something, to take good of something, to be cautious, to protect, prevent, obviate a danger, or to preserve a thing against any harm or injury.
The meaning of the root wow-qaf-ya ? ? ? is demonstrated in Quran 16:81, where garments are mentioned as a means for protection from heat, and coats of armour for protection in fighting.
In the Shari’ah, Taqwa refers to consciousness of Allah. It describes a state of awareness of Allah in everything you do, and letting that awareness guide your actions and shield you from harm.
Allah often tells us in the Quran to “Ittaqoo-(A)llah”, which is generally translated as, “Fear Allah.” By understanding the linguistic meaning of the root word, we can grasp that the phrase more accurately means, “Take Allah as your Protector.” Or it could mean, “Guard yourself against the consequences of violating Allah’s commands (by obeying Him).”
Fear of Allah is a component, but it is balanced with love of Allah, gratitude to Allah, hope for Allah’s mercy, and remembering Allah’s infinite blessings on us. It also includes patience, forgiveness, acceptance (reda), generosity and treating people with love.
Taqwa is also not just a matter of ritual. As Allah says in the Quran:
“It is not taqwa that you turn your faces toward East or West, but it is taqwa to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book and the Messengers, to spend of your substance out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts you have made; to be firm and patient, in pain and adversity. Those are the truthful and those are the muttaqun.” [Qur’an 2:177]
Taqwa is achieved by following Allah’s guidance, staying on the Sirat al-Mustaqeem (the Straight Path), worshiping Allah, and cultivating an awareness of Allah as our Creator, Sustainer and Lord.
One who has Taqwa is a muttaqi. The plural is muttaqeen or muttaqoon. Some of the characteristics of Muttaqeen/muttaqoon mentioned in the Quran are:
Sometimes it seems to me that Islam is vast, and incorportes so many beautiful spiritual concepts. It seems that achieving a single Islamic “concept” such as Taqwa could be a lifelong journey. I think this is a good thing. Men and women should always have something to strive for.
In Quranic verses 2:2, 3:138 and 5:46, it has been stated that the Quran is huda(n)-lil-muttaqeen (a guidance for those who have Taqwa). The Quran teaches us how to protect ourselves against the perils of this life, and how to preserve ourselves against the punishments of the aakhirah (the Hereafter). Ayah 39:28 also explains that the purpose of the Quran is Taqwa (of those who would follow it). So the Quran is a guide to becoming muttaqeen.
A basic practice that helps to build taqwa is reciting the Quran with contemplation of its meaning and message. Let us make time to implement that today, even if only for ten minutes, and see how it strengthens our spirits and shines a light on the path ahead.