Nothing is Lost

Beautiful garden with flowers

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Nothing is lost. The years of your life that you poured like water into a now-failed marriage, or the immense love and attention you gave a child or brother or friend who now treats you like an enemy, or the work you did for a company that closed down, or the sweat you put into a project that ultimately failed… none of that is lost.

It’s particularly hard when a relationship collapses, leaving bitterness where previously there was passion. It’s galling. You feel confused, betrayed, depressed. Even years later you might feel that you wasted those years, that you poured love from your innermost core and watched it go down a drain.

The viewpoint of faith

I understand the feeling. I’ve been there. I’ve been perplexed and depressed, with the phrase “Everything falls apart” running through my head, thinking about how all things collapse in the end, and how good things never seem to last.

But that is the narrow viewpoint of depression. It is a singularly negative viewpoint, and therefore it is not the viewpoint of imaan (faith), because faith is the parent of hope. Faith gives you a window into the unseen, the world that Islam calls al-ghayb, and one of the elements of the unseen world that Allah has informed us of is that nothing is lost:

“And their Lord responded to them, “Never will I allow to be lost the work of [any] worker among you, whether male or female; you are of one another.” (Quran, Surat Aal-Imraan, 3:195)

Allah knows the frustration and pain we feel, so He assures us that none of our deeds are lost, not only because He sees all, but because we are “of one another”, in other words we human beings are all connected. We are all a part of each other, and so any love and work that one of us puts forward affects us all.

And Allah says,

“So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, And whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it.” (Quran Surat Az-Zalzalah, 99:7-8)

Your love did not evaporate into nothingness. Your sweat and blood were not poured down a drain. Those years of your life, those anxious moments and anxiety dreams, were not in vain. Your silent good deeds, and the most tender moments of your heart, were witnessed by the One who matters, for Allah sees all. Everything is seen and valued. Every good deed is blessed, every act of love is rewarded, everything is returned to you in barakah many times over. Nothing is lost.

The Prophet Nuh (pbuh)

When the Prophet Nuh (peace be upon him) preached to his people, calling them to tawheed (monotheism) amidst the whirlpool of polytheism, they stuck their fingers in their ears and mocked him… and in the end the flood came upon them because of their wickedness, destroying them all except for a handful of followers… destroying even Nuh’s wife and one of his sons.

When this happened, was Nuh a failure? Were his ages of hard work in vain? Were his deeds lost? Do you find yourself saying, “Poor Nuh”?

If so, then you have missed the point. Nuh was a Prophet, a hero, and a survivor. He fulfilled his mission and delivered the message. That was his job and he did it. It was witnessed by Allah, so Nuh will receive his reward. Furthermore he was saved from the flood, and went on to have more children, and to leave his own legacy of offspring and teaching. And here we are, thousands of years later, knowing his name, repeating his story, learning from him! His story has become a part of universal human mythology. How then could he be a failure? He affected the world in a profound way until the Day of Judgment, and he achieved that only by doing his job.

So I would like to suggest a replacement for the negative mantra, “Everything falls apart.” A truer statement, and one based on faith, would be, “Nothing is lost.”

Karma, the universe and the Law of Conservation of Energy

But what if you don’t believe in Allah? Well, first of all I would say that’s a shame, because every time you put a bite of food in your mouth that’s a grace and a blessing from Him. Going back to Nuh for a moment, The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “When the death of the Messenger of Allah Nuh approached, he admonished his sons: ‘Indeed I would give you far reaching advice, commanding you to do two things, and warning you against doing two things as well. I charge you to believe that there is no God but Allah and that if the seven heavens and the seven earths were put on one side of a scale and the words “There is no God but Allah” were put on the other, the latter would outweigh the former. I warn you against associating partners with Allah and against pride.” (Saheeh al-Bukhari).

But even so, if you are Buddhist or Hindu then you believe in cause and effect on a cosmic level. You believe that the good you do returns in one way or another, and any evil you perpetrate also boomerangs into your own soul. These are the fruits of karma. So again, nothing is lost.

If you deny God and believe only in science and energy and matter, then you know that still, nothing is lost! The universe is a finite system. Our universe began at a single point in time – what scientists call the Big Bang. The cosmos is expanding, flying out in every direction, until one day in the unimaginable future it will reach the limits of expansion and begin to contract, slowly at first then faster, drawn inwards by gravity until it collapses into the nothingness from whence it came. Within this finite universe, energy can be transformed into matter, or matter into energy, but nothing new is created, and nothing is lost. There is no universal drain. In science this is known as the Law of Conservation of Energy:

“Energy in a system may take on various forms (e.g. kinetic, potential, heat, light). The law of conservation of energy states that energy may neither be created nor destroyed. Therefore the sum of all the energies in the system is a constant.”

The greatest love

Personally, as someone who has suffered from the tendency of all things to fall apart – what we might call the entropy of love – the purely scientific perspective is cold comfort. When I’m mourning the loss of a friend, it’s no comfort to know that the universe is a closed system, and that nothing is lost in the physical, atomic sense.

But it is a great comfort to know that all the love, work and good I’ve done means something, both in a spiritual sense, and in a human sense.

The American writer Washington Irving wrote, “Love is never lost. If not reciprocated, it will flow back and soften and purify the heart.”

Every act of mercy, every charity, every moment of love you have given another human being, ripples out through degrees of separation, affecting the world in a profound way. Even if a relationship is broken, even if the person now views you with enmity, it doesn’t invalidate what you did. The love that you gave is seen by Allah. On the earthly plane, that love affects your own heart in good ways, then it percolates out to those around you and changes the world. It matters. It was not in vain. Nothing is lost.

Since I’ve been speaking of love, let me finish with a reminder of the most important love of all. The famous scholar Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya wrote:

“Truly in the heart there is a void that can not be removed except with the company of Allah. And in it there is a sadness that can not be removed except with the happiness of knowing Allah and being true to Him. And in it there is an emptiness that can not be filled except with love for Him and by turning to Him and always remembering Him And if a person were given all of the world and what is in it, it would not fill this emptiness.”

The greatest love we can have is our love for Allah, and it is always requited. Allah’s love descends upon us in every moment, in more ways than we can see or understand. Alhamdulillah.

Lift the Torch High: How the Sight of Others in Pain Should Affect Us

Beautiful sunshine in a blue sky

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

“The sight of other people in trouble is almost always something talked about or something laughed at. We must be careful what we laugh at, because we never know when it will be our turn to deal with those same troubles. If we won’t say or contribute something good to improve the situation, then we can at least be quiet.” – Hanan K Bilal

Sister Hanan is right. The sight of other’s misfortunes should never become a source of amusement. News of death, illness or hardship should never become a juicy piece of gossip.

It could be our turn next. Do you think anyone signs up to get cancer, or lose their job, or have a child who uses drugs, or to experience a failed marriage? Do you think you have some shield against misfortune? You do not, my friend. You absolutely never know what tomorrow will bring, or if it will come for you and me at all.

Beyond that, when we mock those who suffer, when we find the agony of others titillating, we’ve lost the thing that makes being human worthwhile. We’ve lost our hearts.

Extending Mercy

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) has told us that, “Those who have mercy will receive the mercy of the Most Merciful. Have mercy on those who are on earth, the One in heavens will have mercy on you.” (Tirmidhi)

Our mercy should extend even to animals, for they too are included in “those who are on earth”. Once the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, told the story of a person who had fed water to a thirsty dog by climbing down a well and bringing water in his shoe, and attained Paradise for that act.

I used to know someone who, whenever he heard of someone in the local community who was experiencing hardship, asked many questions to learn all the details. But it’s not because he wanted to help. When I asked him, “Why do you care?” He said, “I don’t care. I just want to know who to blame for the situation.” In other words, he was looking for an opportunity to cast aspersions on another member of the community.

That person has lost his way. May Allah help him and guide him, soften his heart and fill him with love for fellow human beings.

The Messenger of Allah has told us how we should look upon those in pain:

Nu`man bin Bashir (May Allah bepleased with them) reported: the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, “The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When one of the limbs suffers, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness and fever.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

In a very powerful statement of our human obligations, Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, “Do not envy one another; do not inflate prices by overbidding against one another; do not hate one another; do not harbour malice against one another; and do not enter into commercial transaction when others have entered into that (transaction); but be you, O servants of Allah, as brothers. A Muslim is the brother of another Muslim; he neither oppresses him nor does he look down upon him, nor does he humiliate him. Piety is here, (and he pointed to his chest three times). It is enough evil for a Muslim to hold his brother Muslim in contempt. All things of a Muslim are inviolable for his brother-in-faith: his blood, his property and his honour.” (Muslim)

The Deed is the Destination

Let’s allow the sight of those in pain to move us, even to hurt us, because therein lies our redemption. Therein lies our salvation from our own sins and sufferings. When I say the sight of others’ pain should move us, I mean literally that it should make us move, make us act to help.

There is so much pain already in this world. I don’t want to add an atom’s weight to it, and I know you don’t either. Let’s be sources of ease and comfort to others. Let’s be helpers to Allah, which means being helpers to humanity. Let us be beacons of love. Does that sound like a huge, impossible standard? It’s really not. There is such a dearth of selfless caring in the world, that someone who lets the smallest amount of compassion flow freely becomes a torch bearer to all around.

It doesn’t even matter if those whom you help appreciate it. I once knew someone who took a small boat full of clothing, food and toys to the impoverished Kuna Indians of Panama, who live on tiny islands off the Caribbean coastline. She was bitter because they did not thank her, and the families who received the gifts tried to hoard them rather than sharing with other families. I can see how that might be disappointing, but as Muslims we must act fee-sabeel-illah, in the cause of Allah. The value lies in the act itself. We cannot control other people’s hearts, and we cannot determine outcomes. The deed itself is the destination.

It also doesn’t matter if others mock us for being compassionate. And yes, that happens sometimes. People will call you naive, foolish, idealistic… That’s okay, let them, and let it slip away. For every one who taunts you, ten others will be inspired, and once again it does not matter because we do what we do fee-sabeel-illah, not for the respect and admiration of others. The mission is action, and the end is with Allah.

Lift the Torch

There is darkness in the world. It is spread by the wicked among Muslims and non-Muslims. It takes the form of cruelty, bigotry, abuse of those who are weak, political imprisonment, torture, and war for material gain. It lies over the cities and continents like a shadow.

We need torch bearers of truth, justice and love. We need the torch of Islam and imaan (faith) held high. Lift the torch high. Laa ilaha il-Allah.

The Transformative Power of a Child’s Love

Salma smiling

My daughter Salma

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

I’m going to share something highly personal, something I would not normally share, but I see now that my writing on this blog is changing people’s lives, and that’s possible only because I am honest. The most vital lessons in life come from suffering. If we don’t share the pain then the message learned will not pass undiminished from heart to heart.

I have always been a loyal friend. I am the kind who believes in friendship as an enduring and meaningful bond. I am a trusting person, someone with a passionate love for the Ummah, a sense of outrage for the oppressed, and a deep faith in Allah and in humanity itself, even after all I have been through.

A Difficult Youth

My teen years were very difficult. I isolated myself from my own family, emotionally and geographically. For a while I slept in my car or in an ice cream truck that I owned, sometimes went hungry, even as I devoted countless hours to tutoring two disadvantaged children, teaching them to read and write. I would sometimes visit friends just so I could raid the fridge and get a bite to eat. I remember once digging some old egg salad out of the back of a friend’s fridge, then becoming badly sick. I collapsed in the street and was hospitalized for food poisoning.

My parents tried hard to reach out to me and help me during that time, but I was lost in my own confusion and determined to estrange myself.

Later I paid for a bedroom in an apartment that was shared among 11 people, mostly college students. I was often confused. I was expelled from the university three times, until something clicked in my final year when I discovered poetry and I suddenly began getting straight A’s.

Still, my life continued to be a mess until my mid to late twenties (I am now 45). I lived in difficult environments. I saw terrible things. I was attacked or robbed more than once and I was sometimes afraid. I experienced despair at times, and yet I became so strong, like a mountain, or a grizzly bear. When I was 27 I got a steady job and worked hard, trying to save money to start a business, until one day my roommate stole all my money and disappeared. After that I lived for six months in the YMCA, in a room so narrow that I could reach out with my arms and touch the opposite walls.

I say all this so that you know that I am not naive. I’m quite aware of the evil of which human beings are capable.

Those frightening years are behind me. I have been a working professional for many years now. I was married for almost ten years, and I have a lovely daughter Alhamdulillah. I own a beautiful home, thanks to Allah’s blessings and bounty.

As far as human relationships, I have made a conscious choice to trust people, to be open to other people’s hearts, because I never want my soul to become pinched and dark with suspicion and fear.

A Broken Heart

My divorce and the time following it was difficult. As it turned out, however, I yet had one more painful experience to go through. A few years ago I became engaged to a Muslim woman who I thought was perfect for me. Truth be told, she was someone whose family I had known most of my life, and I had always harbored some hidden feelings for her. Like me she had been through hard times in her youth but had come through loving Allah, loving the deen, wanting to better herself in every way and change the world.

I felt she was very special and I was so excited that we would be married. We spoke about sharing our lives, raising good Muslim children, and one day sitting on a porch watching our grandchildren play. We spent time together in halal ways, getting to know each other better. It was a wonderful time.

Sure, we occasionally had arguments. I sometimes said or did the wrong thing, and there were aspects of her behavior that troubled me, but I understood that no one is perfect. I felt that Allah was giving me a great gift, a reward for all my years of hardship. I was so grateful for that.

Then something happened, I don’t know what. I could speculate, but I will not. About one month before we were to be married, she changed her mind. We tried to work through it and even went to see a counselor, but the sister’s attitude became cold, sarcastic at times, even hostile. She seemed like a completely different person. It was a tremendous shock to me. After a few final humiliations, I walked away. I felt used and betrayed as never before in my life.

A Terrible Depression

The end of that dream, that beautiful future that I had seen not only for myself but for my daughter and the sister’s children as well, was a tremendous blow. I was shaken to the core. I questioned my own judgment and perspective. How could I have been so wrong? I doubted Allah’s guidance to me. Why had Allah done this to me? I felt like a shambling wreck of a human being. I could not even believe in friendship any more. At Iftar dinners in Ramadan I didn’t try to talk to the people around me. My friendly, trusting nature had been shattered. There was some piece of me, some vital component of the organic, spiritual being that was “Wael”, that was busted. It had been smashed as surely as if she had taken a hammer to my head.

For a few months I was more deeply depressed than ever in my life. I have my daughter Salma with me from Wednesday to Saturday each week, then she goes to her mother. My depression was worst after I dropped off Salma each week. On the way back, on highway 152, I would sometimes think about accelerating to 100 mph and then veering into a tree, just so that the sense of loss and betrayal would end. Yes, I’m a Muslim, and I fear Allah. And I have a commitment to my daughter. But when you are intensely depressed your thinking changes. I remember thinking that Allah would forgive me because He would understand my suffering. And that Salma would be better off, because I was not a good father to her.

In retrospect I know that my perspective was abominably skewed, and I also know that I would never actually have harmed myself. I’m too much of a believer for that. But even the fact that the thought was there shows how horribly shaken and miserable I was at that time.

And it’s true, at that time I wasn’t the best father. I tried hard to hide my depression in front of Salma, but I did not always succeed. I remember one time I was having lunch with her in the kitchen and in spite of my internal pain I was trying to hard to smile and be cheerful for her. I never wanted to let her see how much I was hurting. And suddenly she said to me, “Are you sad, Baba? You seem sad.” Such words from a three year old girl. Her words touched me so deeply that I began to cry in front of her, and I said, “Yes baby, I am sad, but not because of you. You’re a good girl and I love you.”

That is still a terribly painful memory, and one that brings tears to my eyes.

Elements of Recovery

I got through it. I survived because of three things: Allah, my practice of martial arts, and my daughter.

Salma dancing

The first of those – Allah – should be obvious. Without Allah none of us could survive an instant on this crazy ball spinning through endless vacuum. And for a Muslim, Allah is the source of strength. He is the refuge, the bringer of peace, the One who heals hearts. Alhamdulillah.

The second – martial arts – is a lifelong passion. I plunged myself into my practice of the arts, teaching or studying classes six times a week, and practicing for hours at home. When I’m training, everything else leaves my mind. I immerse myself in the motion, the physical exertion. It leaves no time to think, to feel sorry for myself. Curiously, lifting weights (something else I enjoy) is the opposite. During the rest break between sets I have time to think, and I find that weight lifting brings out whatever I’m feeling and intensifies it. If I’m feeling good and confident, weight lifting makes me feel like a superman. If I’m depressed it spills out like acid and cripples me. So I gave up weight lifting. Martial arts, however, is a medicinal whirlwind, a kind of therapy in motion.

The third thing that helped me survive was my daughter. Here’s the thing about being a parent, and you mothers and fathers out there already know this, but I’ll try to articulate it anyway:  you can’t afford to sit around feeling sorry for yourself. You have this little person to whom you are the sun, moon and stars. This little person who, when she falls and scrapes her knee, wants only to be comforted in your arms. This person who can’t sleep at night without your voice reciting Quran, singing a nasheed or telling her a story. This person who cannot live without you because you feed her (with Allah’s bounty), clothe her, and care for her in every way.

This little person looks up to you and admires you. She loves you more than anyone else in the world. She needs you as a plant needs sunshine. With a relationship like that, there’s no time for debilitating self-pity. If you can’t be strong for yourself then you must find your backbone and courage for the sake of the child.

Beyond that, this awareness that another human being is completely dependent on you, and loves you utterly, transforms you, because you are no longer the center of the universe. Your child is. That’s the amazing thing. Every other relationship in life is one where, though we may feel love and caring for the other person, we still generally think of our own well being first. Even the best friendships have an element of competitiveness to them. With your parents, you may have the greatest respect for their accomplishments in life, but you still might hope to exceed them.

With a child it’s different. If there’s a choice between feeling pain yourself or letting your child be afflicted, every parent will choose himself. When my daughter was younger she couldn’t fall asleep unless I let her rest her head on my arm. My arm would go numb and sometimes ache, but I’d keep still as long as it took for Salma to sleep. This is how it is with a child. We will give up anything to protect our children. We worry about them far more than ourselves. We fret about their health, their upbringing as Muslims, about raising them as polite and successful human beings, about their futures…

holding Salma upWith children, we become truly unselfish for the first time in our lives. We live outside ourselves. Someone else becomes the axis of worldly existence. We love someone else more than we love ourselves. As Muslims we are told that we have not truly believed until we love the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) more than we love ourselves. In that case, our love is expressed through obedience and following the Prophet’s example.

With a child, the act of loving someone more than ourselves is constant, suffusing us from skin to soul. There is no other experience in life that allows us – or compels us – to transcend the limitations of self in this way. And in the process, the love of a child rescues us. People give up addictions, leave abusive relationships, change professions, move from one city or country to another, rediscover God, learn and study, all for the sake of a child.

Once again I find myself reaching out to form friendships, smiling, choosing to trust, to have faith in people, to see what is good in the world. I find myself living joyfully, laughing with my daughter, teaching her (among other things) about the brotherhood and sisterhood of Islam. I do this not out of naiveté but because I know that she is watching and learning. From me she takes her cue and learns how to approach the world.

What do I want her to learn? To be suspicious and cynical, not to trust or believe in people? Heaven forbid. I want her to be a person of Imaan (faith). The Prophet (pbuh) said that Imaan has over 70 parts, and among those are love for Allah, sincerity, gratitude for His favors, being merciful to all creatures, fulfilling promises, having no envy or malice toward anyone, being just, making peace, and caring for neighbors. This is how I want Salma to approach the world, so this is how I must be, no matter how I may have been hurt in the past. It’s a choice I must make.

By our love for the child, and the child’s love for us, we are utterly transformed.

***

Here’s a poem I wrote last year, after I got through the hardest part of that ordeal:

I Live

Like a summer storm,
like a caught breath
tasting of spice,
like the sudden blast of a train’s horn

when you’re daydreaming on the tracks,
love came. My diamond,
my redwood queen, my lioness,
came into her own and loved me

for a time… And then
My forest queen
cast down my sylvan dream,
and sneered at my passion…

So I lived without passion.
My heart’s wings shriveled
so I lived without flying.
My promises were met with lies,

so I lived without joy.
I was run through the back
with a tin spear
so I lived without loyalty.

Darkness fell on my eyes
so I lived without light.
Purpose deserted me
So I lived without direction.

But I lived! And I live. I go on,
knowing myself, lifting my head,
amazed at my power,
jealous of no one,

amazed by my ability to heal,
astounded by the way my love returns
like lava, the way my daughter
hugs me and kisses my nose,

believing in me, loving me,
sure that I am the most important person
in the world, the most capable.
For her, I will be.

I live! I awake at dawn
and go on, shaken but strong,
titanium lining my bones,
fire in my eyes, and Allah

leading me, calling me,
forgiving me, loving me,
never giving up on me,
coming to me walking as I crawl.

Wael Abdelgawad
Fresno, California – 2009

Poem: Bring it In

Beautiful farm painting

Bring It In

Let’s bring it together.
Everything moves in circles,
everything whirls, but sometimes
you cut across the tide
and find yourself in the light
of a strange sun. Bring it in.
Smaller circles, far from the din
of the city, we meet:
your breath and mine,
warm and sweet,
tighter, closer, moving in time
to the galaxy, earth, air,
until we are the center, paired,
and all turns in harmony.
Let’s bring it in, become
lion and lioness, oak and stone,
shelter and home.
Mother and father,
husband and wife,
lover and loved,
passion and fire,
dunya and deen,
family, hearth, laughter
and one true dream.

– Wael Abdelgawad, June 2008

Stop trying to control others, and change yourself instead

Man and his camel before the sunset

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Quran 13:11)

Brothers and sisters, each of us must accept that we can only change ourselves. That is the key to changing our situations in life. We can’t control anyone else’s feelings or actions. We cannot make anyone love us, treat us better, respect us even when we deserve it, accept us even when we are right, befriend us even when we are sweet, or believe in us even when we’re true.

Dua’ is not a magic spell that allows you to control other human beings.

Neither will Allah coerce anyone to love us or accept us. Of course He can – He has power over all things – but it is not His way. Allah created us with free will, the ability to choose our own paths in life, and He does not take that away by controlling our emotions or compelling us down predetermined roads. Yes, everything is written, but that does not mean it’s forced, only that the outcome is known to Allah in advance.

I am thinking specifically of people who imagine that there is some special dua’ (prayer) they can say to make someone love them, or stop abusing them and treat them kindly instead. There is not, to my knowledge, and Allah knows best. And the same principle extends to all human interactions: dua’ is not a charm or potion that you can use to control others.

This is true even in very important matters such as guiding people to the truth and bringing them to the worship of Allah. We can certainly pray for Allah to guide someone, but we must understand that Allah’s guidance consists of showing clear signs, no more. It’s up to the individual to make the choice to believe or not. Allah does not force the outcome.

“And if there was any Quran by which the mountains would be removed or the earth would be broken apart or the dead would be made to speak, [it would be this Quran], but to Allah belongs the affair entirely. Then have those who believed not accepted that had Allah willed, He would have guided the people, all of them?” (Quran 13:31)

In other words Allah could certainly force everyone into submission if He willed, or He could manifest miraculous and powerful signs – such as the earth splitting or the dead speaking – that would compel all human beings to submit in fear and awe, as He said:

“If We willed We could send down a sign from heaven to them, and then their necks would be lowered to it in subjection.” (Quran 26:4).

For that matter, Allah could have created us all in submission from the start. He chose not to.

If Allah chose to leave such critical issues within the realm of our free will – vital issues such as acknowledging the truth of Allah’s power, worshiping Him or serving false gods, following the Prophets or rejecting them (and some even killed their Prophets!) – if He chose to leave these all-important issues within the realm of our agency, and under the dominion of our discretion, do you think He is going to violate the principle of free will in order to force your boyfriend or girlfriend to love you and come back to you?

I’m sorry, but this is what it seems to come down to for some people. They actually speak of committing suicide if the boyfriend/girlfriend does not return (ignoring the fact that this relationship is Islamically unlawful in the first place), then they want a dua’ that will force the object of their desire to fall in love, as if dua’ is some kind of magic potion from a fairy tale.

Nor is dua’ going to force your husband to stop abusing you and become kind and loving. Nor will it change occupiers into happy campers so that they quit their occupation, or turn tyrants into hippies who wear flowers in their hair and open the political prisons. I’m not belittling these oppressive situations – they have haunted me for most of my life, and I consider myself a human rights activist. And I’m not saying that dua’ is not effective against oppression – actually the Prophet (pbuh) has told us that the dua’ of the oppressed is one of those categories of dua’ that is guaranteed a response.

Narrated Abu Ma’bad, that the Prophet said, “… and be afraid of the curse of an oppressed person because there is no screen between his invocation and Allah.” Sahih Bukhari: Volume 2, Book 24, Number 573.

But the response is not going to be forcing someone else to change heart, or become loving, kind or peaceful. That is an artificial expectation and it doesn’t work that way.

What, then? Is it all hopeless? No, far from it! The hope does not lie in changing someone else, it lies in changing yourself. That’s the whole point. Your free will and power do not extend over others, but they do encompass yourself. When you make a sincere choice to change your own life, when you purge yourself of blind desire, bitterness, self-pity, addiction and sin, when you work at it like your life depends on it, and when you make sincere and pure dua’ to Allah, then Allah’s help comes. New doors open, maybe not the solutions that you thought you wanted, but something better.

“And those who struggle in Our cause, We shall certainly guide them to our paths. For verily Allah is with those who do right.” (Quran 29:69)

A steep road, but not an impossible one

Sometimes there’s serious internal work that must be done before we can change. I’ve said that we cannot control others, we can only control our own choices, but some of us are out of control. We keep making the wrong choices over and over again, and we don’t know why, so we seek to blame our situations on others, and we imagine that they are the ones who need to change, not us.

How did we get to be this way? It usually traces back to the way we were raised. Parents are supposed to be loving and supportive, and most of them are, Alhamdulillah. But there are many rotten parents out there as well, dysfunctional people who turn their homes into environments of confusion and suffering. These parents might be alcohol or drug addicts, violent towards spouses and children, or verbally demeaning.

I remember one family I knew well when I was young. The parents were Muslim converts, and they had five children. The mother was German, and the father Arab. They used to scream at each other daily, in front of the children. The mother would shout, “Arab savage!” And the father would shout back, “German barbarian!” The father would sometimes strike the mother or throw things. I remember one time when he picked up a vacuum cleaner and held it over his head like a war club, shouting. It sounds comical, but the effect on the children was not so funny. Both parents often yelled at the children and insulted them. The children were under nourished, partly because the family was always short of money (the father never held a steady job), and partly because the environment was so chaotic that mealtimes were neglected. In their teens, the two eldest children had not learned to read and write.

This family was active in the masjid, their friends were all Muslim, they attended Muslim youth camps in summer… an outsider would never guess at the insanity that existed inside the home.

Those children are all adults now. One married a non-Muslim abuser who beat her while she was pregnant. She became an alcoholic and drug user before she finally returned to Islam many years later. One left Islam and became a Hindu. One is chronically ill and has never married. He’s bitter and expresses many racist ideas toward Arabs in particular. One married an Algerian man who beats her badly enough to put her in the hospital, yet she refuses to leave him. Only the eldest has what you would consider a healthy and normal Muslim family, though he expresses an unexplainable sense of deep sadness that has persisted inside him for years. The parents themselves have been divorced for many years, and each lives alone in their home countries.

Parents like these can do a number on you for life. They can knuckle your self-esteem into the ground, crush your sense of self-worth, and give you a skewed picture of what a family is supposed to be. If you grew up in such a home then you may have been thoroughly indoctrinated into believing that all the abuse heaped on you is your own darn fault.

As a result some of us have uncontrollable tempers, or a lack of will to resist abuse, or a lack of faith in our own talents and dreams. And so the cycle of broken spirits and bad parenting is perpetuated into another generation.

If any of that sounds like you, then you have a steep road to climb, but not an impossible one. You must find a way to break out of the ruinous mold that you’ve been forced into and emerge a new human being, light and free, or at least on your way to becoming free. It’s not an easy process; in fact it can be enormously difficult because it requires self-candor. It’s hard to look at ourselves honestly, with none of the self-deception that we normally employ like a crutch, and say, “I’m messed up inside. Regardless of how I got to be this way, I’m an adult now and I’m responsible for my own actions. I can’t keep blaming my problems on others, or on external circumstances. If I want a better life, I have to start by changing myself.”

That’s very hard. It requires prayer, dua’, study and introspection, and maybe therapy as well. It’s rigorous work, and it’s important, and it takes time. But it can be done.

The same is true for failed relationships, by the way. People say, “My husband/wife betrayed me and broke my heart. Now I can never trust anyone again.”

I’m very sorry that someone hurt you, but you must recognize that the choice not to trust anyone in the future is exactly that, a choice. Of course there’s going to be a period of mourning after a failed relationship, but if you let it affect you forever then that is something you are doing to yourself, not something the other person did to you. There comes a point when you must take responsibility for your own choices and acknowledge your own power. You can choose to love again, to trust again, to be happy again. It’s not necessarily easy, in fact it can be quite frightening, but it is certainly possible. And if you choose loneliness over the risk of being hurt again, then admit that it is your own choice, not some tragic doom that has been forced upon you.

You can make better choices, by Allah’s will.

You can make better choices, or at least different ones. You can wake up in the morning and be a better human being than you were yesterday. You can strengthen your relationship with Allah, pray at night, purify your spirit, exercise your body, eat your veggies and healthy proteins, study and work hard, love your family like a steady summer breeze, treat people with compassion, help someone who is suffering, speak the truth even when it’s not easy, and be a living example of taqwa.

And yes, have fun too, and pursue your dreams. Look within yourself to find your own God-given gifts, your own special treasure chest, and develop them. Bring something meaningful into the world. Be crazy if you have to – good crazy, not bad crazy. A shot of good craziness is sometimes exactly what the world needs.

If you make these changes sincerely, expecting nothing, doing it all to please Allah and to be the best you that you can possibly be, you’ll find the world changing around you in response. And yes, dua’ is an important part of this process, for dua’ is the essence of worship. But you won’t need to plead with Allah to make someone else do something, or be something, or feel something. Your duas will focus on other things, healthy things that have to do with your relationship with Allah, your struggle in His path, your destination in the aakhirah, relieving hardship in your life, helping your family and supporting the Ummah and all who are oppressed and in need.

You will have moved to a place of positively charged energy, a place of health and vitality, and you’ll find that what you need in life will come to you like a cat to catnip.

Poem: Let Me Be True

Lonely desert road

As-salamu alaykum. Islamic Sunrays was founded to express ideas of inspiration and hope in Islam. I try to tackle issues of personal responsibility, keeping faith in difficult times, understanding Allah as a compassionate and merciful God, realizing that all of our lives have value and meaning, and following our dreams.

It may seem at first that the following poem does not fit with these ideas. I think it does, but I’ll leave that to you readers to decide, and I will not prejudice you by trying to explain my concept of the poem’s meaning. Comments are always welcome and appreciated.

Let Me Be True

When it all comes down,
let me be true.
When seas thicken to brown,
and the world grows dim,
and love scatters
like ash on the wind,
and every man lies
to protect his skin:
let me be true to You Allah,
let me be true.

To the Messenger,
let me be near:
when in a dream I sat by him
against the beam of a wrecked ship,
he in a green turban, and a battle clashing…
we drank water, and breathed,
then he turned to me, and said,
“It’s not what you speak that matters
but what you do.”
To my heaven-blessed hero
let me be true.

To my love, let me be sincere.
I stand beneath a lamp
in a sphere of light
on a desert road. I don’t peer
into the night. I listen,
beard dewed with rain,
for the footsteps of her soul.
Let me lead her to Jannah
and fulfill the shepherd’s goal.
Let me soothe her sight,
carry her through storm,
and stand like a lion
as armies swarm on.

To my little daughter,
O Allah I implore you,
let me be forever true.
When she laughs and exclaims,
“You’re so strong, Baba!”…
When I speak God’s name
and she listens solemnly,
when she leaps and believes
that I’ll save her…
To her nature and her dreams,
let me be true.

To myself – the greatest dare –
let me be real as earth.
Through the cinder heaps
and broken cities of the world
let me sweep, through black smoke,
eyes streaming, striding
like a bear. Let me hold on
to Book and pen, knife and drum,
true love as gun and guide.
Let me bow down on the roadside,
true to the Lord of the Dawn.

Let me rise, head up,
bloody and torn
but voicing truth
to the livid eyes of death,
and spreading peace
where only hate was found.
Dress me in taqwa.
Feed me dust and bone
and find me where sea meets stone
at the Western edge
when, finally, every secret is dredged,
and the world is used and done.

Wael Abdelgawad, 10-25-2010
Fresno, California

How to earn Allah’s love, and the love of the people

Waterfall and stream


By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

A man came to the Prophet and said, “O Messenger of Allah, direct me to an act which, if I do it, will cause Allah to love me and people to love me.” He (the Prophet pbuh) said, “Renounce the world and Allah will love you; renounce what people possess and people will love you.”

This does not mean to give up all worldly possessions. Islam is not a religion of monasticism. It means that we should never value material possessions above our relationship with Allah. Give up the hunger for wealth, the blind scrabbling for dollars no matter the consequence, the obsession with the number on your bank statement. Give these things up, renounce them, and dedicate yourself to the worship of Allah. Live a righteous life, and pursue excellence in everything you do, including your work and family life.

Live simply, humbly, earning your livelihood and providing for your family without trying to own the “best” and latest of everything.

Do this, and love will flow to you from Allah.

Three Parts of Zuhd

Zuhd refers to asceticism or detachment; removing from one’s heart the attachment to the material pleasures of life. Since I have said that we have no monasticism in Islam, what do we mean by zuhd?

Yunus ibn Maisarah said, ” Being detached from this world does not mean that you should forbid what Allah has permitted, nor that you should squander money. Rather, it is a state in which you are more certain of what is in the hand of Allah than you are of what is in your own hands: your state in misfortune is the same as your state at other times; your attitude towards those who quite rightly criticise you and those who quite rightly praise you is the same.”

There are three things that are mentioned here:

1. You are more certain of what is in the hand of Allah than what is in your own hands. At first, this sounds crazy. After all, I can see that shiny silver dollar – or crisp $100 bill – in my own hand, while I cannot see what Allah holds, right? The money in my bank account offers me financial security, right?

Wrong. The money in your hand could be snatched away or lost, while the balance in your account could be devalued in an instant, or lost in an economic crash. Meanwhile, even if your money remains sound, your heart could stop and in one moment you would have passed beyond the bounds of this life. There is no amount of money that can offer true security in this life. It’s an illusion.

As for what is in Allah’s hand, it is everything, everything! It is your sight, the breath in your lungs, the blood coursing through your veins; the food in your mouth, the water you drink, the sunshine that causes plants to grow. It is everything.

Abu  Hazim az Zahid was asked, “What is your wealth?” he said, “Two kinds of wealth dispel all fear of poverty:-  trust in Allah, and not being attached to what people have.” He was asked, “Don’t you fear poverty?” He said, “How can I fear poverty when my Lord owns all that is in the heavens and on the earth and all that is between them and all that is beneath the ground?”

2. Your state in misfortune is the same as other times. What is that state? It is gratitude. If you suffer a financial loss, or the death of a loved one, your are patient because your underlying condition is trust in Allah. You accept your loss, and you continue to be grateful for what you have. And if you are blessed, you thank Allah and you don’t imagine that it’s because you are superior in any way. You stay humble and grateful, and so your state of being is the same at all times.

3. You have the same attitude toward those who criticize you or praise you. Again, this seems strange at first reading. But what it really means is quite simple: you don’t care what people think. What matters is your love of the truth, and earning Allah’s pleasure. You don’t care about titles and accolades, or the condemnation of shallow people. Their opinions do not matter, because pleasing or impressing others is not your goal, and not even a part of your thinking or niyyah (intention). That’s why the praise of others does not corrupt your intentions and make you arrogant, and the criticism of others does not shut you down, or make you surrender your dreams.

The Aakhirah Abides

Stop competing with others for the most luxurious car, the biggest home, the best suits of clothing, the most sparkling jewelry. Stop playing the game of “I’m richer than you.” Stop caring what people possess, stop envying others for their wealth, stop desiring what they have or comparing yourself to them… and the people will love you.

We all desire the luxuries and pleasures of the world to some degree; but the believer keeps that desire in check, holds it back, in the hope of receiving something better in the aakhirah (the life after). The believer knows that the pleasures of this world are as fleeting as an ice cube in the sun. All worldly luxuries vanish, decompose, biodegrade… while what is with Allah remains. The cities of men fall, while prayer survives. The Earth itself will crumble and burn, but the aakhirah abides.

He has certainly succeeded who purifies himself
And mentions the name of his Lord and prays.
But you prefer the worldly life,
While the Hereafter is better and more enduring.
(Quran 87:14-17)

Love Allah and His Messenger above all; after that, love and respect your own soul, and then let that respect radiate to your family, your friends, your colleagues, the waitress who serves you at the coffee shop, the mechanic who fixes your car… do this, and immense, untold love and respect will flow your way from humanity, nature and the very universe itself.

Poem: One God, One Deen, One Love

Hands making duaOne God, One Deen, One Love

One God
one deen
one Earth
one humanity
one struggling Ummah
one family
one woman

for my overflowing heart
and may Allah
guide her to me
no matter how far
with a smile
and a gentle,
gentle touch.

– Wael Abdelgawad

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