Let’s Love Ourselves First

Water drop on the tip of a leaf

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

We can get so caught up in trying to fix other people’s problems, that we forget to fix ourselves. We can spend all our time helping family members, running around, “sacrificing”, while our own souls are weary, discouraged and approaching despair. We can champion important causes, or do vital work in our jobs, while we cover up or ignore wounds from our past, until we cannot even look at ourselves with respect or love.

I suppose we all have our coping mechanisms. For me, it’s martial arts. When I’m troubled or unhappy, I tend to immerse myself in my martial arts practice. It occupies my mind, allows me to forget my problems, and wears out my body so I can sleep.

Others may plunge themselves into their work, or distract themselves with books, music or television, or busy themselves with other people’s problems. But you can only keep this up for so long. If you don’t face what’s going on internally, the darkness will eventually spread and blot everything else out.

We have to come to terms with ourselves, or happiness will elude us forever.

How can we love and cherish others if we do not love ourselves? How can we extend ourselves to create something good in the world, if what we have inside is not sound and peaceful? How can we raise happy children if we are not happy? Children are very perceptive; if you are troubled and hurt inside, they will pick up on that, and it will affect them. If you really want to love your children properly, you need to make peace with your own soul.

Sometimes there are so many distractions in our lives, so much external noise, that we can’t hear our own hearts anymore. We need to quiet our minds and get back in touch with our fitrah, that pure nature given to us by Allah. We need to ask Allah’s forgiveness, then forgive ourselves, so that we can get rid of the baggage of shame. Only then can we then forgive others, and let go of anger or resentment.

We must listen to our intuition, and hear our hearts speaking, and open ourselves to the clear light of Allah’s huda (guidance).

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.

Do You See it In Yourself?

Sunlight shining through a tree

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

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. If I met you, I’m sure I would see the miracle and beauty in you too. Do you see it in yourself?

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.

Love Can Change the World

Sun rays shining from behind the clouds

This is an excerpt from a song by Aaron Niequist. They are a Christian chorus, and this is a Muslim blog, but I consider that irrelevant. It’s a beautiful song.

Love Can Change the World

Bridges are more beautiful than bombs are
Bridges are more beautiful than bombs.

Listening is louder than a lecture
Listening is louder than a shout

But Love – Love can change the world.
Oh do we still believe that
Love – Love can change the world.

An open hand is stronger than a fist is
An open hand is stronger than a fist

Wonder is more valuable than Wall Street
Wonder is more valuable than gold.

Repeat chorus

May we never stop this dreaming
Of a better world

May we never stop believing
In the impossible.


©2005 AARONieq Music

The Gift of a Child

My father pulling my daughter Salma in her wagon in the backyard

My father pulling my daughter Salma in her wagon in the backyard

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

A friend of mine recently wrote about her son:

“There are moments in parenting that break your heart open with boundless love, where you see your child so clearly navigating their own space… a funny mix of pride, empathy and fall-over-yourself love and gratitude for the gift of your child ensues, followed by tears….watching Wilder walk up to a new friend on the playground at a new school and navigate the space between shy and easy was just such… thank you universe for giving me that moment.”

I know what she means. Earlier this morning I told my daughter Salma a joke and she gave me a smile as sweet as a mango that made my heart melt. And just now she climbed into the chair next to mine and said, “Baba, cover your eyes.” I did but I peeked between my fingers because sometimes she leaps onto me full bore, with her knees pointed at me, as if I’m a trampoline. But this time she climbed into my lap, and kissed me on the cheek.

Of course she followed it up by telling me she was bored, and asking me to buy her a new doll. Still, having this child has taught me to love as I never did before. I have learned patience, sacrifice, and aspiration, not for myself but for another.

I recently listened to a lecture by Umm Sahl of Damascus in which she remarked that our children do not belong us, but to Allah. They are given to us in trust, and we are their shepherds.

I can see that. How could I own or possess something so beautiful, and powerful, so unique? No one but Allah can hold a human being in their hand, seeing the essence of that person, knowing and appreciating every atom.

What a tremendous responsibility a child is. What a tremendous gift. May Allah make us all equal to the task, and help us to fulfill our roles as shepherds, providing tarbiyah and love, and ushering in a better generation than our own, Insha’Allah.



Be the Person You Are Looking For

Double rainbow and bluebird

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

When seeking a marriage partner, or even if you’re already in a relationship, be the kind of person you want to be with. If you want someone who puts Allah first, then put Allah first! If you’re looking for someone kind and open hearted, then be kind and open hearted. If you want someone athletic and slim who loves sports and the outdoors, then be athletic and spend time outdoors. If you want someone who is calm and trustworthy, then express those traits in your own life.

If you want someone who is absolutely honest, then be absolutely honest!

For those who are already married and wish their partners were different in some way, realize that you cannot change anyone else. The impetus to change has to come from them. What you can do is set an example. Walk the path yourself, and hold out your hand, and maybe your partner will follow. Just make sure you do it with love, not with judgment. I’m sure you’ve noticed that if you’re close to someone who is dedicated to something, you get interested in it too, sometimes without even meaning to. If you have a friend who loves to play ping pong, you’ll end up playing ping pong with them sooner or later. This happens in marriages too. Show your love for Quran, or salat, or healthy food, or fitness, and it will rub off on your partner.

For those who are seeking a partner, spend less time looking outward, and more time filling your own heart with love and joy.

Don’t imagine that you can be irreligious, selfish and sedentary, and yet attract someone who is pious, generous, and fit. And if you are miserable, you’re not going to attract someone happy who will complete you and fill your life with joy. I’m sorry to break it to you, but it doesn’t work that way. If you are depressed and emotionally unhealthy, you are going to attract one of two types:

1. Someone who is also unhappy and unhealthy in ways that build on your misery like pieces of a sick puzzle. These kinds of matches are destructive, and lead to silent, non-communicative marriages; or infidelity and/or divorce.

2. A predator who may be stronger than you but is still unhealthy, and will prey on your unhappiness and weakness, using you up the way an olive press squeezes oil from the fruit.

Become a Diamond Among the Stones

If you are unhappy, then transform yourself first. Work on your spirit, mind, and body. Get involved in the world, exercise, study, strengthen your imaan, develop some hobbies, make friends. Pursue your goals and dreams.

Please understand, I’m not saying that you should develop these qualities just to attract a partner. No, do it for God and for yourself, so that you can grow as a human being. Be active in your ‘ibadah (worship), be humble and sincere. Do it for your own soul, and your heart.

If you do this, then you will find that good people will be automatically attracted to you. Like attracts like. If you are joyful, confident and sweet, you will appeal to someone similiar. Of course you might also attract lying, cheating bozos – the world is riddled with them – but you’ll be able to see through their lies and kick them to the curb.

Look, you don’t have to be perfect. Out of all the qualities I’ve mentioned, the most important is sincerity. It’s okay if you’ve got flaws. I sure do! I can make my daughter Salma a peanut butter sandwich (she likes it with honey) or scrambled eggs, and I can open a tin of green beans, but beyond that I couldn’t cook my way out of a tissue box. I weigh more than I should (my knees remind me of it daily), and I’m a klutz with mechanical repairs. Some of these things I’m working on, and others I’m not too concerned about, but I’m always struggling to improve myself in some way, every day. The crucial thing is, I’m sincere. I don’t pretend to be someone I’m not, and if I find that my words don’t match my deeds, then I try to reform my deeds, or I moderate my speech.

Be sincere. Be honest. Live the life you aspire to. Be the ideal you that you see in your mind. You will become a joy magnet, and the ideal person who is fated for you will find you even in a crowd, like a diamond among the stones.

Poem By a Reader: As the Seasons Change

Fall Leaves

Sister Wafa submitted the following poem:

As the Seasons Change

As the seasons change
The leaves turn yellow, orange and brown
eventually falling
the trees are looking bare now
The sky is grey
Winter has arrived outside my door
The most merciful the great is protecting me from it all.
My heart is filled with warmth from his grace upon me.
You are the one and the only that will make the seasons change within my heart.

– Wafa

Poem: Everything to Gain

Sunlight illuminating the clouds


Everything to Gain

I open to you like a door
on a spring morning.
Your voice is a sun song.
Your words are water and earth.
I hold your heart like a newborn.
I hang on
because I have everything to gain.

Wael Abdelgawad

Poem: Where My Heart Beats

Snow fall on a maple tree


Where My Heart Beats

You are the rich soil
from which life grows.
You are the morning snow
on a maple tree.
Your soul glitters before me
like the sun on the sea.
Your name is a kiss,
your voice an embrace.
There is no place for me
in this bewildering life
but in your arms.
There is no corona
more captivating than your eyes.
Where your feet walk,
I find my smile.
Where your head rests,
that is my bed.
Where your hands touch and flutter,
that is where my heart beats,
and if I lived a thousand years
still I would love you
like the evening tide,
immense and ripe with life.

Wael Abdelgawad
Fresno, California
February 15th, 2011

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Pieces of a Dream