Your “Stuff” is Not a Part of You

Mountains above a beautiful valley with flowers

By Wael Abdelgawad |

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Simplicity of the Prophet’s Life (sws)

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Moment I Regret, and a Non-Materialistic Friend

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

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

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

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

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

Everything is possible for those who believe

Iceland mountain valley

A mountain valley in Iceland

By Wael Abdelgawad |

Nourish your dreams. To achieve anything requires faith in Allah, belief in yourself, imagination, vision, persistence, hard work, and sometimes blood and tears.

The will of Allah and the power of your heart and mind make an unbeatable combination. Everything is possible for those who believe – anything you can envision, and many things you can’t.

I’m thinking of a ragtag group of desert Arabs, who, in the course of a single generation, transformed the world forever. I am speaking of course of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions. What they did was impossible – there’s no other word for it. But through the power of Allah, and the tremendous determination of one man, and the faith of those who followed him, the impossible became possible. Because of their faith and sacrifices, you and I can utter the words, “Laa ilaha-il-Allah” and put them into practice in our lives.

Your dreams don’t have to be that grand. Whether you dream of building a new masjid for your community, writing a novel, competing in sports, becoming a doctor, doing charity work overseas, memorizing the Quran, or any other good and meaningful goal – it can be achieved by the will of Allah. But you can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen. Feed your dream as you would feed a newly planted seed. Care for it, devote time to it, don’t give up, and watch it grow before your eyes.

Allah and His Messenger are the lights in the darkness of this world

The sun bursting from behind the clouds

By Wael Abdelgawad |

Matthew Arnold, the English poet, wrote:

“Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

In this poem, Arnold envisioned the world as a place of darkness, conflict and confusion, with no light to show the way out. To him the beauty of the world was just an illusion, a dream; and the reality of life was one of struggle and pain.

Indeed, the world seems to become a more dangerous and hopeless every day. The news is filled with dire stories about war and starvation, the inexorable destruction of the natural environment, pollution of the oceans, terrorism, and crime. Most recently we have been reading about the “Arab Spring”, in which the people of several nations have risen up against their dictators. As inspiring as these events are, in the midst lie acts of horrific cruelty. In Libya it is rumored that 100 officers who refused to order soldiers to fire on protesters, were burned alive. La hawla wa la quwwata il-laa billah. How horrendous.

Wouldn’t a sane person be afraid of such a world? Wouldn’t an intelligent person be consumed with anxiety, and wouldn’t a very intelligent person be plunged into despair?

The thing about fear, anxiety and despair is that they flourish in spiritual darkness, just as some species of mushrooms can only grow in the dark. They might be represented by the image of a monster hiding in the corner of a dark room.

What do you do when you’re afraid there’s a monster in the closet, or creeping quietly toward you? You turn on the light.

The Light is Allah

For us, the light is Allah, and the Quran through which He communicates with us. Our guiding light is the natural bond we have with Allah, and our instinctive yearning to know our Creator. Let’s cherish that bond and strengthen it, and it will fill us with light.

Allah’s light is our salvation from fear of the unknown; fear of failure; fear of loss and pain; fear of poverty, illness and injury; fear of enemies who want to hurt us; fear of strange things; fear of death.

“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things.” – Quran, Surat An-Nur, 24:35

An Illuminating Lamp

And what about the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him)?

Allah says in the Quran, Surat Al-Ahzab, 33:45-46,

“O Prophet, indeed We have sent you as a witness and a bringer of good tidings and a warner, And one who invites to Allah, by His permission, and an illuminating lamp.”

The Messenger too is a source of light. He is an illuminating lamp, which is what you hold up so you can see the way ahead. His Sunnah gives us a brilliant path to walk. It shows us the way past all the evils that lurk in the darkness, including the evils of racism, nationalism, anger, selfishness, dishonesty, hypocrisy, and greed.

I’m not saying that all we must do is read the Quran and pray, and those dire problems that I mentioned earlier will evaporate. Not at all.

But the solutions to those problems lie within the Quran if we look. The Quran is the light that shows us the way out out of the gloom that we have created for ourselves, and example of the Messenger (peace be upon him) is a beacon that lights the way forward.

Light in Our Hearts

The verse I quoted above, from Surat an-Nur, mentions the example or similitude of Allah’s light. The Sahabi (companion of the Prophet) Ubayy ibn Ka`b said, ‘The similitude of His light [takes place in] the Muslim’s heart.’ [Ibn Kathir, 3:464]  Faith, dhikr, love of Allah and compassion toward all creatures, cause that light to grow in our hearts, until it spreads and appears on our faces, our hands, in our eyes, on our tongues, and even in our homes. As Allah says, “Or is one who was dead, and whom We gave life and made for him a light by which to walk among people, like one who is in a darkness from which he cannot emerge?” [6:122]

Other people can sense this light, and some will be guided by it, while others reject it. Those who reject it might even be angered by it, because it represents a refutation of a lifestyle based on narrow material concerns.

Ibn `Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “When the Messenger of Allah got up to pray at night, he would say:

(O Allah, to You be praise, You are the Sustainer of heaven and earth and whoever is in them. To You be praise, You are the Light of the heavens and the earth and whoever is in them.)

When life starts to feel like a burden, and your vision contracts so that all you see is darkness, don’t give up. Don’t despair. Remember that there is a light to show you the way. The light is Allah. His light is expressed through the Quran and through His Messenger. Turn to it, and it will grow in your heart and bring you peace. It will give you strength and joy, and will transform you and all those around you.

Arabian lamp shining

You change the world, or the world changes you

Iceland waterfall and rainbow

By Wael Abdelgawad |

Keep faith in yourself and don’t let anyone else define your reality. You are strong and unique. You have a particular mission in this life that only you can fulfill. You can wake up in the morning and change the world, one small step at a time, just by fulfilling your unique mission.

Maybe you think, “Hey, I don’t want to change the world. I just want to stay sane, take care of myself and my family, perform the Islamic rituals and hope for Jannah.”

The thing is, life is always a contest between the world changing you, or you changing the world. The world pushes, and if you don’t push back then it will inevitably corrupt you in one way or another.

Today’s world tries to change you through the pressures of:

  • blind materialism
  • consumerism
  • sexual imagery in the media
  • constant advertising
  • negative portrayals of Islam
  • alcohol and drug use
  • peer pressure

to name a few.

Sometimes the pressures are more brutal and blunt: emotional or sexual abuse, pornography, violence, racism, bigotry, misogyny, hatred and war.

Iman (faith) is not static. It rises or it falls, but it never freezes in place. If the world is not changing you then you must be changing the world.

You change the world by spreading light, teaching truth, being honorable and kind, behaving with sincerity in all things, showing compassion to all people, and always being just. You exert an outward pressure of truth that has a transformational effect on those around you, beginning with your family, and then rippling out to all those you come in contact with, and then everyone they come in contact with, flowing outward in concentric circles.

The ultimate world-changer – and our eternal example – was the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Allah describes Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the Quran as an illuminating lamp: “O Prophet, indeed We have sent you as a witness and a bringer of good tidings and a warner. And one who invites to Allah, by His permission, and an illuminating lamp.” (Quran, Al Ahzab 45-46).

The Prophet’s light radiates throughout humanity and the ages. Any objective observer must admit the power and influence of the Prophet’s tremendous struggle. A non-Muslim writer named Michael Hart, in his book, “The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History”, ranked the Prophet Muhammad as the single most influential human being in history.

The Prophet grew up in a society of idol worship, moral corruption and constant blood feuds, but he never allowed that society to taint his innocent nature. Not knowing how he should worship Allah, he kept himself distant from the evil around him and sought Allah in his own way, until Prophethood came to him. When it did, he accepted the burden and fulfilled the trust, exerting an outward pressure so powerful that it changed the entire world forever.

The same is true for you and I, on a smaller scale. We’ve been given a trust and a mission. We are to be callers to Tawheed, witnesses for truth, a civilizing force, champions of human equality, and restorers of human values (the fact that many modern Muslims have failed abominably on every point does not change the truth of this).

“O you who have believed, fear Allah as He should be feared and do not die except as Muslims [in submission to Him].

And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favor of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers. And you were on the edge of a pit of the Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses that you may be guided.

And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful.” (Quran, Aal-Imran: 102-104)

That is our mission and trust. If we fulfill it – even if we only try – we will change the world, maybe incrementally, maybe profoundly.

If we fail, then the world will change us, and not for the better.

There is one key to success in fulfilling our mission to change the world. It’s not purity, because in a post-Prophethood age, no one is truly pure. Purification of the soul is indeed a lifelong goal to strive for, but it is not the key.

It’s not wisdom, or power, or finance. It’s not even knowledge. Knowledge is the most powerful tool there is, but like any other tool it can be used or misused. That’s why a little knowledge can be a powerful thing, while great knowledge can sometimes be crippling.

Purity, wisdom and knowledge are goals for us to pursue. But none of those is the single most important key to changing the world.

The key is sincerity in all things:  sincerity with Allah, with your family, your friends, your colleagues, and – this is the greatest challenge of all – sincerity with yourself. Sincerity enc0mpasses purity, because actions done sincerely are done with purity of intention, and with obedience to Allah. Sincerity implies selflessness, seeking knowledge and applying it with compassion, kindness, respect, and fairness.

“Say, ‘Indeed, my Lord has guided me to a straight path – a correct religion – the way of Abraham, inclining toward truth. And he was not among those who associated others with Allah.’ Say, ‘Indeed, my prayer, my rites of sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allah , Lord of the worlds. No partner has He. And this I have been commanded, and I am the first [among you] of the Muslims.'” (Qur’ân 6: 161-163).

That is the ultimate level of sincerity, and the challenge of a lifetime. If you can even approach that level of sincerity, you will change the world, whether you intend it or not.

Life is always a contest between the world changing you, or you changing the world. The prize that lies in the balance is the fate of your soul. Who will win?

The Wisdom of the Prophet: the Incident of the Epileptic Woman

Beautiful mountain meadow

By Wael Abdelgawad |

There is a hadith narrated by ‘Ata bin Abi Rabah:

Ibn ‘Abbas once said to me, “Shall I show you a woman of the people of Paradise?”

I said, “Yes.”

He said, “This black lady came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said, ‘I get attacks of epilepsy and my body becomes uncovered; please invoke Allah for me.’ The Prophet said (to her), ‘If you wish, be patient and you will have Paradise; and if you wish, I will invoke Allah to cure you.’ She said, ‘I will remain patient,’ and added, ‘but I become uncovered, so please invoke Allah for me that I may not become uncovered.’ So he invoked Allah for her.” – Bukhari :: Book 7 :: Volume 70 :: Hadith 555

This hadith was published recently on, and I was fascinated by the many comments from readers who have epilepsy and have been inspired or comforted by this hadith.

One sister wrote:

“(This hadith) was a comfort to me as an epileptic when I had a seizure outside of a masjid on the pavement in Philadephia during a busy Jumaah afternoon. When I came to, my niqab was removed, my hijab loosened, and my husband and a brother were helping the paramedics that had arrived. Because of this hadith I felt comfort in spite of being such a spectacle, alhamdulillah.”

Another said:

“I too am an epileptic. When I first reverted to Islam over 3 years ago, one of the sisters who witnessed my Shahada wrote this hadith out and gave it to me. It is a HUGE comfort to know this. May Allah ease the trials of all epileptics and those who suffer from any disease and grant us all sabr. Ameen!”

And there were other similar comments, from men and women, ma-sha-Allah.

I don’t have epilepsy or any other serious sickeness, Alhamdulillah (praise God)  for all His blessings. But as I read the comments of people who do have some illness and have been tremendously comforted by this hadith, all of a sudden I realized the huge wisdom of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in what he said to the epileptic woman. He could have simply invoked for her and she would have been cured, and then all of us 1,400 years later would read the story and say, “Ma-sha-Allah, another miracle to prove his Prophethood.” But it would have no lasting personal significance.

Instead, by asking the woman to be patient and promising her Jannah (Paradise), the Prophet (pbuh) has sent a message of hope down through the ages to all the other sufferers in the world:  Allah sees your suffering. Your pain will be compensated, and your patience rewarded with the greatest possible prize.

Even today epilepsy cannot be cured, though it can be controlled somewhat through medication. So even now, all these years later, in this age of medical wonders, this hadith still has immediate significance for people who suffer from this illness, and in fact from people who suffer from any illness, from cancer to leprosy to bipolar disorder.

Another point of note is that every Prophet was sent with certain types of miracles appropriate to the understanding of their people. Musa (Moses, peace be upon him) was sent with the staff of power and the white hand, because his mission was to a people steeped in sorcery. “Medical miracles” – curing the sick, even bringing the dead back to life – were the hallmark of the Prophet Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus son of Mary, pbuh), because he was sent to a people who specialized in healing arts.

If the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had made it his habit to cure the sick, the Christians might say about us Muslims, “Oh, you are only taking Biblical stories and applying them to your Prophet.”

Instead, though the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) performed his share of wonders, he was given the greatest miracle of all, the Quran, a living proof through the millenia, and a source of eternal guidance. This is appropriate because his immediate mission was to a people of poetry, of language and eloquence; while his greater mission was to all of humanity.

“Say: ‘If the whole of mankind and Jinns were to gather together to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like of it, even if they backed up each other with help and support.'” (Quran 17:88)

Did the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), a mere shepherd and trader living almost one and a half thousand years ago in the lonely deserts of Arabia, realize the lasting significance of his actions? Did he perceive the way his words and deeds would echo down the annals of history?

Sure he did. He was a man of great wisdom, courage and natural intelligence. He did not do things randomly, especially in matters of worship. And he was guided by Allah in these matters, so that his actions could serve as an example for humanity until the Day of Resurrection.

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Pieces of a Dream