Give It To Allah

Sun shining on a river in the wilderness

Beautiful post by Imam Zaid Shakir:

As-Salaam Alaikum Beloveds,

Sometimes, when the situation seems too big, too complicated, too unbearable, give it to Allah. His capabilities are boundless. When you find yourself at a loss for words, you just don’t know what to say; ask Allah to guide your tongue, His words are inexhaustible.

When you find your courage challenged, your strength waning and don’t even know if you will be able to get out of bed to face another day in a seemingly dirty, dark, death-wishing dunya, ask Allah to lift you up, His strength will more than suffice you.

If you are feeling that the menacing clouds of tribulation gathering over the Sea of Despair are harbingers of yet another gut-wrenching storm, take time to pray. You will find that the light of truth will shine its life-giving rays through those clouds, caressing your heart, quickening it and allowing you to live, love and laugh for another day. Who could ask for more?

Ramadan is Half of Sabr (Patience & Endurance)

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Does the suffering of the Muslim Ummah leave you feeling depressed and constantly angry? Read this transcript of a talk by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. It’s long, but take the time to read it, as it’s really quite profound:

“One of the things about the current crises in the Muslim world, is that it’s very disheartening for people. A lot of people feel really, really.. I get calls from people lately and they’re.. A lot of depression in our community. I mean, really, like.. A lot of people feel very, very down. And the thing about.. what you’re doing when you succumb to those feelings and those emotions—and the Prophet (sws), you know, he had periods where he was down—undeniably, you know, he was a human being. So, that’s part of being a human being; you don’t have to be up all the time. But, to succumb to that. To allow the conditions of this planet to enter you into a grief state, you’re just adding yourself to a long list of Iblees’s victims. That’s all you’re doing. He has a long list of victims. And what he wants to do is just depress everybody, to thrust depression into your hearts.

So, you know, we really have to resist that temptation. Because it’s actually, it’s somewhat of a self-indulgent one. No matter how hard whatever we’re going through—and each one of us, we all know our troubles. Because Ibn Abbas said, ‘the nature of this dunya is that it is dar al balaa.’ That is the baseline nature of the world; it is a place of tribulation. That’s what it is.

And the Prophet (sws) said—he calls Ramadan ‘shahr as-sabr’, and he said, ‘Ramadan nifs as-sabr’—‘Ramadan is half of sabr.’ And the ulema said, Rajab Hanbali said, the reason Ramadan is half of sabr is because sabr is in three parts; being patient with obedience, patience in restraining yourself from disobedience, and being patient with the decrees of God that are difficult, that are painful. And he said that Ramadan has all three. Because you’re restraining from doing things that are haram, you’re patient with being obedient, through your fasting. And then, there are difficulties that go just with depriving yourself of food, and water, and these things. It’s a qadar —qadar of Allah. So it’s accepting the qadar of Allah.

So, that’s the nature of the dunya. It’s dar al balaa. So people know what they’re going through, but.. Ibn Abbas said in every tribulation are three blessings, hidden; the first one is that it could be worse. If you lost a hand, you could have lost both hands. If you lost an eye, you could have lost both eyes. If you went blind, you could have gotten dementia. There’s always something that could have been worse, that’s the first. The second is that it’s in your dunya and not in your deen. So even if you lost money, it’s just money. If you lost anything, if it’s dunya, it’s not important. And the last one, is that you’re still in this abode; it’s not in the next one. Because that’s where the real tribulation is.

So whatever difficulties you’re having, there are people in this ummah right now having much worse.”

—Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Put Down the Stone

Wael and Salma, February 15, 2013

Wael and Salma, February 15, 2013

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

As-salamu alaykum everyone,

What’s up? How is everyone?

My apologies for not updating this page quite as often recently. Many of you know that my father died of a heart attack on November 28, 2012. I went through a period of deep sadness that lasted for a few months. Alhamdulillah, I’m doing better now.

I’m doing a lot of writing these days, but the reason you don’t see it here is that I’ve been working on a novel featuring Muslim characters. I’m about half done, Insha’Allah. I’ve also been nurturing my “I Love Islam” Facebook page, which now has almost 100,000 followers. I don’t write articles for that page, but you can see some inspiring images and little blurbs that I’ve written.

Of course I continue to manage the IslamicAnswers.com advice page, and that takes time every day, as it is a high-traffic website. It provides common-sense advice on marriage and family issues.

As far as my own work goes, I’ve been developing a website with a variety of text tools for writers and web publishers. It’s called TextElf.com. Feel free to check it out, though it’s still in development, so not everything looks perfect yet.

And of course amid all this, I care for my daughter Salma – she is six years old and is my joy ma-sha-Allah – and I practice martial arts fairly intensively. Salma has become an amazing reader for her age, and is also an imaginative and resourceful artist. In the martial arts arena, I am hoping to test for nidan (2nd degree black belt) in Jujitsu this year, Insha’Allah.

Since I’m here anyway, I’ll take a moment to say a few words, inspired by something that I read recently:

Put Down the Stone

Imagine you take something light – say a stone that weighs one pound – and hold it out at arm’s length, with your arm rigid. In the beginning it’s easy, right? But after a while your arm begins to tire. Your shoulder aches, your muscles tremble, and the stone begins to feel like a boulder. The pain becomes agony and the only thing you want in the world is to set the stone down. All other considerations are forgotten.

Did the stone become heavier? In absolute terms no, but because you could not set it down, it became a mountain.

That’s how it is with the burdens of life. You’re anxious about how you’re going to pay your bills or your debt, worried about your parent whose health is deteriorating, worried about your job or school grades, fearful that you will not find a good husband or wife, stressed about problems in your marriage, self-critical because you are not the kind of good Muslim you feel you should be…

The longer you hold on to these worries the heavier they become, until life itself feels like a burden.

We all know the feeling.

Just as with the stone, you must set these burdens down.

The only way to do that is to hand them to Allah. This is called tawakkul, or trust in Allah. It doesn’t mean that you flutter through life carefree as a butterfly, no. You strive to excel in every aspect of life, but you realize that the outcomes belong to Allah; so you trust Him to handle them. You hand over your fears to Allah. You set that stone down by giving it to Allah, Who feels no fatigue, and for Whom all things are easy.

Feeling Unwanted

Heart shaped leaf

“By the morning brightness…”

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

I was asked to write a post on this subject. Sorry it took so long.

Have you ever felt unwanted by the world, or abandoned? Personally, there have been times in my life when I felt that there was no one who truly loved me for who I was. I was wrong, of course. I was seeing the world through the dark glasses of depression, which distort the true image of the world.

We all go through gloomy periods when we feel that no one sincerely cares for us; that even our friends and family are using us, or only tolerating us because they have to.

Muslims raised in the West (especially converts) sometimes have a different dilemma. We may feel that “born” Muslims don’t really want us because we don’t fit in; and the non-Muslims don’t appreciate us either, because we are believers. So we don’t fit in anywhere.

Guilt

Feelings of being unwanted are also common among those who have committed sins. They may be plagued by guilt and feelings of worthlessness. People go so far as to feel that God Himself has abandoned them. At IslamicAnswers.com we get questions from people who say things like, “I know that Allah hates me,” or, “I don’t deserve Allah’s love.”

Often the intensity of people’s guilt is out of proportion to the deeds they have committed. I wonder if the child’s fear of abandonment (a universal human experience) doesn’t linger in the human psyche, waiting to leap out when things go bad, and say, “See! I knew I’d be abandoned one day.”

The Prophet (sws)

Let’s look at the Prophet Muhammad (sws), our noble example. He never committed sins; nevertheless, he went through periods when he  felt worried and stressed. Early in his Prophethood there was a time when the revelation of the Quran was suspended. The Prophet wondered if he had made some mistake that had caused Allah to abandon him.

Until Allah revealed Surat ad-Duha (Quran, Surah 93):

By the morning brightness

And [by] the night when it covers with darkness,

Your Lord has not taken leave of you, [O Muhammad], nor has He detested [you].

And the Hereafter is better for you than the first [life].

And your Lord is going to give you, and you will be satisfied.

Did He not find you an orphan and give [you] refuge?

And He found you lost and guided [you],

And He found you poor and made [you] self-sufficient.

So as for the orphan, do not oppress [him]. And as for the petitioner, do not repel [him]. But as for the favor of your Lord, report [it].

Syed Abul-‘Aalaa Maudoodi commented on the first verses of this Surah, saying,

“He (the Prophet sws) was given the consolation that revelation had not been stopped because of some displeasure but this was necessitated by the same expediency as underlies the peace and stillness of the night after the bright day, as if to say: “If you had continuously been exposed to the intensely bright light of Revelation (Wahi) your nerves could not have endured it. Therefore, an interval was given in order to afford you peace and tranquility.” This state was experienced by the Holy Prophet in the initial stage of the Prophethood when he was not yet accustomed to hear the intensity of Revelation. On this basis, observance of a pause in between was necessary.”

SubhanAllah, what a brilliant insight. I never considered this before: that if I’m going through a period when there’s no one who appreciates me – when I’m all alone – maybe it’s because that’s where I need to be spiritually. Maybe there is an important life lesson that can only be learned in solitude.

So not only has Allah not abandoned me – and He never will! – but He is guiding me, watching me, and bringing me along the best path for me at this moment.

That changes things completely. It tells me that my narrow perspective – “Allah is not helping me” – is 100% wrong. The truth is the opposite – Allah is helping me in ways I do not yet perceive. He is with me at every moment. He has never abandoned me.

Allah does not turn away from us. The light of His guidance shines unceasingly. His Mercy and Compassion are available at all times, day or night.

Rather, we are the ones who turn away from Allah. We cover our eyes to block His light so that we can continue in sin; or we turn away to pursue paths of lust and desire.

What About Family?

If we can acknowledge that Allah has not abandoned us, then why do we sometimes feel that the people closest to us are the ones who respect us the least?

Love between family members is taken for granted. We are “supposed” to love our families, so we sometimes don’t feel the need to express our love. Also, family members often feel that they have a right to criticize each other, so it can feel like our families only see the bad in us. Furthermore, when we see someone every day and know them intimately, we can become hyper-aware of their faults and bad habits.

What’s needed is compassion. We must forgive our family members, and focus on their good qualities. Everyone is imperfect. You may not see it so much with your friends because you don’t live with them, but everyone has bad habits. We need to spend time with our families outside of the obligated family functions. Go to the park with them, go on a road trip, etc.

Lastly, if you have a family member who is truly abusive, then avoid that person, and recognize that it’s not your fault. Not everyone can be what we would like them to be. Not everyone will approve of us and be proud of us as we would like, and that’s true even for family members sometimes.

What About Friends?

I don’t have all the answers on this one, as I have not been totally successful in forming close, lifelong friendships. I had three solid, long-term friendships that lasted for 12 years, 25 years, and 27 years, respectively, but they came to an end. I have other casual friendships:  people whose histories I somewhat know, and are good to chat with, but not people I could call in an emergency.

I think part of the problem is that I am a generous and giving friend; and this attracts “takers” – people who are needy, manipulative or selfish.

I suspect that many of those who feel unwanted and unloved by their friends are making the same mistake. They are choosing friends who are takers, not givers. This gives you a temporary feeling of usefulness, because it appears that the other person needs you. But when you are feeling down, when you’re having a problem, when you need someone to hold you up – your “friend” is nowhere to be found.

But what happens if a person who is a “giver” – someone who is kind and compassionate – befriends another giver? You get a deep relationship in which the two of you support each other through good times and bad, Insha’Allah.

Wanted

You are wanted. Allah created you for a reason, and put you on this earth at exactly the time that you are needed.

If it seems that certain individuals do not appreciate you, consider the example of the Prophets, most of whom were rejected by their own people. Some, like the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), went from being respected and admired by his people, to being reviled. The point is that there will always be those who don’t appreciate you. Accept that, and work on becoming sincere with Allah. Trust in His plan for you. Trust that He is guiding you, and that if you go through hardships it’s because there are important lessons for you to learn.

Allah created you deliberately. You have a special and unique purpose on this earth. If you don’t see it yet, give it time. But trust that you are indeed wanted and necessary, as much as the mountains or the moon, and as much as any human being who ever lived. Be peaceful in your heart. Forgive others, and forgive yourself. Stay close to Allah, praise Him, ask His forgiveness, and thank Him for every  blessing in your life.

Advice from a Cloud (If a Cloud Could Speak)

Cloud and birds

Advice from a cloud

By Wael Abdelgawad, with contributions by Arif Kabir | IslamicSunrays.com

Everyone deserves water to drink, so shower your kindness on sinners and saints alike.

People will see different things in you:  relief, comfort, or a fearsome sign of a storm. Pay no mind, and go about your life peacefully.

It’s a beautiful thing to provide shade on a hot day (to comfort those in distress).

You sometimes drift aimlessly, but by the will of God, and following your heart, you eventually find the clear current and resume your journey.

Oppose evil with thunder and lightning, but with others be soft as cotton.

Not everything is as it seems:  the darker the cloud, and the heavier the storm, the more water it brings to cleanse the earth and support new life.

Never forget, you are mainly made of water. Make sure to always replenish yourself with pure sustenance.

There’s a rainbow right behind the storm.

Can you think of any other advice a cloud might give? Please share.

30 Inspirational Islamic Sayings and Short Poems

Field of flowers and sun shining

Inspirational Islamic sayings by Wael Abdelgawad, Hanan Bilal, Imam Zaid Shakir and Others

By Wael Abdelgawad, Hanan Bilal, Imam Zaid Shakir and Others

1

The Prophet Muhammad (s) said: “Be kind, for whenever kindness becomes part of something, it beautifies it. Whenever it is taken from something, it leaves it tarnished.” – Imam Bukhari’s Book of Muslim Manners.

2

Abdullah bin Al-Haarith said, “I didn’t see anyone who smiled more than the Messenger of Allah (s).” – (At-Tirmithee, 3641).

3

“Allah. It all starts with Him – the universe, humanity, and our own conception – and it all comes back to Him in the end. There’s no victory without Him, no progress, no peace. Strengthen your relationship with Him in the easy times, and you will find Him beside you in the hard times.” – Wael Abdelgawad

4

“Allah (God) is an exponential word.” – Imam Zaid Shakir

5

“Keep your head up, forge forward fee-sabeel-illah, keep praying, learning, thinking, following your dreams, and loving the people in your life. It’s all worth it, it all matters and makes a difference. Every single thing you do is meaningful, even when you don’t see it. You are my brothers, my sisters, my heroes.” – Wael Abdelgawad

6

“When you’re out of ideas, that’s when faith comes in. Let Allah show you the way.” – Wael Abdelgawad

7

“No one should ever be depressed by his or her worldly situation as long as he or she is walking on the path leading to Paradise. Attaining Paradise is the great objective of this life, and the person who gains it is victorious, regardless of what he achieved in the world.” – Imam Zaid Shakir

8

Allah has a beautiful plan
for every woman and man.
Trust Allah and pray
and He will light the way.

– Wael Abdelgawad

9

“When I am feeling low and downtrodden I just find a quiet place and sit alone with my favorite book (the Quran)! When I turn each of its miraculous pages my heart begins to feel lighter and the world around me brighter! The love, warmth and security of each word sets in and it is in these very moments that I know for sure in my heart how much Allah really loves me! Alhamdulillah! Subhanallah! Allahu Akbar!” – Asmaa Deanna-Dee

10

“‘Oh, but what’s the use of trying to be a good Muslim when I end up sinning again and again?’… Well, what’s the use of bathing when you get dirty again and again? Salat (prayer) is a purifier. Though you sin again and again, keep returning to Allah for purification. Fasting is a purifier, Zakat is a purifier, Hajj is a purifier… We can use the same analogy for hope and motivation. We have to keep finding them again and again. That’s the nature of life.” – Wael Abdelgawad

11

“Try to become an embodiment of compassion and mercy in your daily life. Do not wait for a situation to occur that will call out these virtues in you. Rather, seek out opportunities where you can manifest them along with all of the other prophetic virtues. Do not live your life passively waiting to be used, roused or stimulated into action by events. Live an active life wherein you become the one who is initiating acts of goodness and kindness in all that you do. Be an embodiment of the truth you represent. Let your words and comportment convey the dignity of the believer to all that you meet.” – Imam Zaid Shakir

12

“Wash your heart every morning with salat, then warm it up with dhikr. Approach life with hope and faith. Every day do your best, Allah will do the rest.” – Wael Abdelgawad

13

“God is truly AWESOME! I see the POWER of GOD moving in MY LIFE, in my families’ lives, in the world….GOD has GREAT things in store for us. All we have to do is submit and accept GOD’s direction for our lives. I accept!” – Hanan K. Bilal

14

“I believe in Allah because He believes in me… and in you too. He made us Muslim, didn’t He? That is a gift and a blessing. So believe in His plan for you, because He believes in you, He has faith in you, He has a purpose for you.” – Wael Abdelgawad

15

“Is not the help of God close by? Certainly it is. God says “Call upon Me and I will respond.” Don’t tire on calling on Him. Don’t despair from receiving His Mercy. Despair is a sign of disbelief.” – Imam Zaid Shakir

16

“It’s okay to feel sad, anxious, lonely, frustrated, and confused. Feeling these emotions doesn’t make you less of a believer. The difference between the believer and non-believer is that the believer remains patient and turns to Allah for help.” – Wael Abdelgawad

17

“Sharpen the mind, harden the body, soften the heart, and be of service to others.” – a motto for the believer, by AbdelMalik Ali.

18

“When we’re out of ideas, surrounded by problems, and feeling totally alone… we’re not alone. Allah is with us. If we pray sincerely and strive to the best of our capacity, He will put light in our minds and hearts and help us from directions we did not expect.” – Wael Abdelgawad

19

“We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly. Let’s all practice having a lot more love for self and others… LOVE is a verb… it’s an action in constant motion…. we are either loving or unloving… love starts at home with our family.” – Hanan Bilal

20

“If Allah brings you to it, He will bring you through it.” – Unknown author

21

“If we let Taqwa – Allah-consciousness – become our guide then it leads us to self-awareness and sincerity. A person who cultivates Taqwa can never be a terrorist, an oppressor, or a hypocrite. A person with true Taqwa must shed compassion as the sun sheds light.” – Wael Abdelgawad

22

“You will not believe until you are merciful to each other. Your faith is not complete until you are merciful to each other.” – Imam Zaid Shakir

23

“Even when we think we have nothing, we have Allah, and Allah is everything.” – Wael Abdelgawad

24

Let love be selfless
and truth fearless;
Let our breasts be flooded with light –
Make our hearts clear as crystal.

– Muhammad Iqbal

25

“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. Do you see it in yourself?” – Wael Abdelgawad

26

“True religion shines from the face of the believer and impresses itself on others without words. It is subsequently followed by words that are uplifting and beneficial.” – Imam Zaid Shakir

27

It’s okay if you’re not free from sin;
Allah will forgive you, and let you in.
Just turn to Him, and from your soul
ask forgiveness, and make Him your goal.

– Wael Abdelgawad

28

“I asked Allah for strength and Allah gave me difficulties to make me strong. I asked Allah for wisdom and Allah gave me problems to solve. I asked Allah for courage and Allah gave me obstacles to overcome. I asked Allah for love and Allah gave me troubled people to help. I asked Allah for favors and Allah gave me opportunities. Maybe I received nothing I wanted, but I received everything I needed – Alhamdulillah.” – Anonymous

29

“Forgiveness is not for the weak. Being able to forgive those who have wronged you is a mark of spiritual strength and confidence. When you forgive, you grow, your heart begins to heal, your back straightens up, your eyes clear so that you can see the road ahead. Anger is a spiritual sickness; but when you forgive you live.” – Wael Abdelgawad

30

“You are all my family. I know that you are human and imperfect. Some are confused, some struggling, some tired, needing a moment’s rest. Tired of the rain and needing the rainbow. I love you all fee-sabeel-illah. Have no fear. Allah is with you and will not abandon you for a single heartbeat. The rainbow is coming, or maybe it’s already here and all you need to do is look up. ” – Wael Abdelgawad

Getting Through Mini-Depressions

Flower bud in sunlight

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Many people periodically go through short depressions when they feel negative about everything in their lives. There are ways we can minimize these depressions, and steps we can take to ensure we don’t sabotage our relationships when we’re feeling blue.

In my case, I go through regular periods of mini-depression every few months. My mood will be utterly black, my mind filled with self-critical thoughts: “I’m a failure, I’m a hypocrite, I have no real friends, I’ve wasted my life…” But even in the depths of depression I know that the mood will not last. One good night’s sleep will restore me to normal, Insha’Allah. So I keep my mouth shut and do not express those negative thoughts to family or friends, because I know I will regret it later if I do….

Does this happen to you? If so, then pay attention to your own emotional cycles so that you know what to expect. Control yourself when you’re feeling down. Speak only what is good, or stay silent.

Let’s be very clear:  You should not ignore genuine problems in your life. If something is missing or making you unhappy, work on it Insha’Allah. I’m also not saying that you should remain silent about real issues that you face. If you’ve got problems in your family, it’s important to communicate to resolve them. It’s also good to talk to a therapist or counselor.

But when you are depressed, your viewpoint becomes skewed, and it’s not necessarily representative of reality. So when you have those dark thoughts that say, “My life is worthless and I hate everyone,” don’t express those to anyone except your therapist or counselor. Don’t call up your best friend and say, “You’re not a true friend, you don’t care about me.” That’s not productive and will only destroy your relationship.

When you’re depressed, hold on to your lifeline with God, eat well and get plenty of rest, and be patient until the mood passes Insha’Allah. Try to fill your life with good things: people you care about, work that matters, hobbies you love, good books to read, exercise you enjoy… these good things provide a safety net when you’re feeling blue.

For example, photographer and human rights activist Asmaa-Deanna Dee says, “When I am feeling low and downtrodden I just find a quiet place and sit alone with my favorite book (the Quran)! When I turn each of its miraculous pages my heart begins to feel lighter and the world around me brighter! The love, warmth and security of each word sets in and it is in these very moments that I know for sure in my heart how much Allah really loves me! Alhamdulillah! Subhanallah! Allahu Akbar!”

Also remind yourself of the good things in your life, and try to be grateful for them. Do not look to those who have more than you, but those who have less. Think of the times in your life when God has helped you, guided you, and saved you. He will do so again.

By the way, I don’t get those mini-depressions as often anymore. I’m not sure why, but it could be that I exercise every day now. Also, I am active in the Muslim community, I write passionately about subjects that are important to me, and I have a daughter who I love… my life is full of good things Alhamdulillah.

May your life also be full of good things.

If Allah brings you to it, He will bring you through it

If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it

If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

If Allah brings you to it, He will bring you through it. Whatever misfortune you have experienced, let Allah show you the way out.

Has your heart been broken? Have you experienced disappointment and loss? Trying to figure out how to be happy again? You need only three things: faith, hope and time. Keep the faith alive in your heart, even if it’s just a spark. Hold on to your hope for the future, even by the tips of your fingers. And let time pass… In time your faith will blaze again, your hope will soar.

So be patient, trust Him, thank Him, and look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Hang in there. He will bring you through.

“Attach your heart to God and you will never be let down.” – Imam Zaid Shakir

“When I cry or lose or bruise, so long as I am still alive, nothing is ultimate. So long as there is still a tomorrow, a next moment, there is hope, there is change, there is redemption. What is lost, is not lost forever.” – Yasmin Mogahed

Get Up and Do Your Thing

Africa and Europe from space

Africa and Europe from space

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riding the Waves of Life, Part 1: Ten Strategies for Dealing with Hardship

Ocean wave with the sun shining through

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

“When the seas of life are rough, grab a surfboard and ride the waves.”

That’s something my old friend Samayya used to say. Actually she used to say that she was “boogie boarding on the waves of life.”

So what does it really mean to ride the waves of life? Does it mean that the problems of life are irrelevant and we can just surf over them and have fun?

Not at all. If you know Samayya, then you know that life has never been easy for her. She was married to an abusive man, got divorced and raised a child on her own while working multiple jobs, and yet she always found a way to move forward. She never stopped seeking truth and growth. She struggled to provide for her children, not only financially but Islamically as well. Nothing was ever handed to her. She has had to work hard for every single step forward. So when she says she’s boogie boarding on the waves of life, you can be sure that it’s not the whimsical statement of some spoiled trust fund kid.

1. Don’t panic:  Everyone Experiences Hardship

To me, Samayya’s statement is first of all an acknowledgement that life is hard – sometimes extremely so. Allah says,

“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return. Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided.” – Quran 2:155-157

The philosopher Philo of Alexandria said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” But we often don’t see into the depths of affliction that other people are experiencing. We pass people on the street, or we see them in the masjid, and we don’t realize that one person has a parent dying of cancer; another is caring for an aunt who suffers from dementia; another has a disabled or mentally ill child; another is living in an abusive relationship and cannot find a way out; another is facing the loss of his home; another has experienced divorce and is feeling the anguish of heartbreak and loneliness. (These are all examples from people I know in my own life).

We don’t see these things on the faces of strangers, and even the people we work with often keep such things to themselves. Maybe they don’t want to burden us, or maybe they don’t feel close enough to tell us, or maybe they don’t want to be seen as complainers. So we sometimes imagine that we are the only ones suffering.

When we know that every single person on this planet experiences pain and loss, we will not panic or despair when it happens to us. We will recognize that such trials are a part of life, and we can survive and come through the other side.

2. Trust in Allah’s Plan for You

People often ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The problem is that we human beings have narrow vision. Compared to Allah, we know nothing. A thing may seem bad, when in reality it is good for our souls or our futures. If you can permit me a clichéd example, you might miss an important flight and think that it’s a disaster, then the plane crashes and you realize your life was saved.  In reality the consequences will not always be so obvious. You might be engaged to someone and so excited, then the engagement falls through and you are heartbroken and asking, “Why did this happen?” And what you don’t see is that maybe the person was unfaithful, or has a drug problem, or is violent, and Allah has saved you from a life of misery.

As Allah says,

But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not. – Quran 2:216

So trust in Allah’s plan for you. This is why belief in Qadar (Divine predestination) is one our pillars of imaan (faith). Because we believe that Allah loves us, and is caring for us and guiding us, even in times of misfortune.

3. Don’t Think That You are Being Punished

In the same vein, so many people seem to think that hardships are a punishment from Allah. They write to IslamicAnswers.com – another of my websites – and they say, “Why is Allah angry with me? When will Allah stop punishing me?”

SubhanAllah, the truth is just the opposite. Allah attaches no value to the things of this world. That’s why you see so many of the corrupt and powerful living in material luxury. They are being given rope with which to hang themselves. Material comforts are meaningless to Allah. If Allah wants good for you, He tests you. Allah causes us to suffer in this life so that we can be purified, so we can grow and be ready for Jannah.

Doesn’t He say in the Quran:

Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars. – Quran 29:2-3

The waves of life run roughshod over everyone. If you read about the lives of the Prophets, they all suffered in one way or another, some to an extreme degree.

Our Noble Messenger Muhammad (pbuh) never knew his father, then lost his mother at a young age, then his grandfather. He had garbage dumped on his back in Makkah, and stones thrown at him in Ta’if until his shoes filled with blood. He lost his wife Khadijah (ra) because of the hardship of the boycott against the Muslims. He lost his son. He suffered.

Look at the lives of the Sahabah; many were tortured, and some were tortured to death. Do you think that Allah was punishing them? No, He was martyring them! They were heroes!

4. Check Yourself

Even if your misfortune is a punishment, it’s still a blessing because it means that Allah has chosen to punish you in this dunya (earthly life) for your sins, rather than subject you to the much worse punishment of the aakhirah (hereafter). That is a kindness from Allah, and He would not do it if He did not love you.

The other reason we are punished is so that we can learn and do better. When we punish our children, it’s not because we hate them, but because we love them and we want them to learn and become better human beings. Allah also loves us, and wants us to be purified, and to fulfill our potential. That is a blessing from Allah.

So if you seem to be going through constant hardships, check yourself. Be brutally honest as you assess your life. Ask yourself, “Am I still on the straight path, or have I wandered? Am I living my life according to the Quran? Am I taking the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) as my example? Am I sincere with people and myself?”

Recognize that if the misfortune you have experienced causes you to analyze your life honestly and make positive changes, then there was a purpose behind the pain. That too is a blessing.

5. Find Solace in the Simple Joys

We have established that no one is exempt from misfortune in this life. The question is how to handle it. How do we deal with pain and loss so that it does not overwhelm us? How do we continue to find happiness in life?

To continue the waves metaphor, I was once knocked down by a large wave when I was twelve years old. I lived in Tripoli, Libya at the time and used to spend much of my free time at the beach. I was in water up to my waist or so, when a huge wave slammed into me and dragged me along the bottom, under water, tumbling me over and over. I was panicked and frightened and swallowed a lot of water. When I recovered, my skin was scraped raw from the sand, and I knelt on the beach, coughing up sea water.

Other times I’d time the wave’s entry and body surf on top. That was so much fun.

Surfing atop the waves means that your troubles don’t totally grind you up and scrape your spirit raw like that wave did to me. Instead you  find solace in your relationship with Allah, and in the simple joys of life. Sit down with your child on a cold evening and have a cup of hot chocolate, and savor the rich taste. Pray Fajr then watch the sun rise, and listen as the birds begin to wake and sing. Buy a camera and take photographs of beautiful things in nature, or anything that you find appealing. Read the Quran, go for a hike, play frisbee with your friends. Devote some attention to your hobbies, whether it be writing poetry, knitting, running, or any other productive past time.

6. Be Grateful

Whatever blows hit you, you have been given the greatest gift and blessing of all:  Islam. It was not done because of any special merit on your part. You are not more worthy of Islam than a poor herdsman from Ethiopia, or a Japanese fisherman. It’s only the grace of Allah.

Be grateful for your ability to see and hear, and for the food on your table, and the roof over your head. You can’t imagine living without any of these things, but so many people do not have them! Focus on what you have been given, rather than what you have been denied.

7. Keep a Sense of Wonder

Going back to my friend Samayya for a moment, I think one of the reasons she has come through life’s hardships so well is that she continues to cultivate a sense of wonder. She is in awe of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. She goes outside with her children to gaze at the full moon. She can be inspired by an ayah from Quran, and moved by a poem. Her sense of wonder keeps her spirit young, and her innocence alive. She knows how to laugh. I won’t say that she doesn’t struggle with anger, bitterness and fear, but don’t we all? The trick is to not let those negative emotions consume us. Experience them, then let them go, and return to the sense of awe and wonder that makes us tremble before Allah.

Read my recent poem, Fill it With Al-Fatihah, which deals with this process of finding joy amid pain.

8. Reach Out to Others

When you are suffering, reach out in two ways. First, go to someone you can trust and tell him or her about your problems. There is value in sharing your pain. You may not want to burden someone else, but a true friend will be there for you, and will be happy to listen. There is a proverb: Happiness shared is happiness doubled; sadness shared is sadness halved.

Second, reach out to others who are in pain and comfort them. You may think you have nothing to offer, but you’d be surprised what a little bit of gentleness can do. A kind word and a pat on the shoulder can do wonders, and in the process you will experience a human moment, a connection, that will help you with your own problems as well.

9. Accept Change

It’s been said that chaos brings growth and liberty; while order brings habit and stagnation. From the most difficult periods of your life will come change. Continuing the waves metaphor, ocean waves keep the beach clean by carrying away dead matter and debris; and they bring in fresh water and food for the tide pools. At the same time the waves leave behind beautiful sea shells and driftwood for collectors.

Think about a beach and how popular it is. Would anyone go to a beach if it had no ocean, or no waves? People go there to experience the motion of the waves rushing in and out. The sea shore is a place of constant change and renewal, and that is its beauty.

I mentioned that I once got knocked down by a wave, and that sometimes I would surf atop the waves. Well, other times I would dive straight into the large waves. By diving into the center of the wave, you negate its power and you come out on the other side unharmed.

Diving into the wave means that you accept the hardship that has come into your life. You approach it with sabr (patience) and determination, trusting Allah, knowing that He will bring you through. You embrace the lesson that it brings, for every single hardship in life – big or small -carries a lesson.

To use an example from my own life, I went through a divorce in 2008, then I was engaged to be married in 2009 and that relationship failed as well. I went through a period when I was deeply depressed and confused. I could not understand why Allah had led me down such a lonely path. But I persevered. I kept my faith in Allah, and I tried to be a good father to my daughter. I continued working, writing, and practicing martial arts. I also looked deeply into my own actions, and questioned my own sincerity. I concluded that regardless of what mistakes other people may have made, I bore a share of responsibility for my misfortunes. In my marriage, I was not fully present. For various reasons, I held back some of my love. In the relationship that followed, I was not 100% patient and trusting. I allowed my insecurities and fears to get the best of me at times.

Coming to these realizations allows me the opportunity to do better next time. I have pledged to hold nothing back with my future wife, Insha’Allah, whoever that may be; to release all the immense love that I have; and to be patient and trusting at the times when I am most full of fear. I have also become a better father, a better writer, and a better martial artist.

My pain was not wasted because I learned from it. I dived into the wave and came out the other side, confident that I am a better human being, and that I will do better next time, Insha’Allah.

10. Ponder True Victory

There are two kinds of true victory. Neither one includes material wealth, which is fleeting and ultimately meaningless:

“Whatever you have will end, but what Allah has is lasting. And We will surely give those who were patient their reward according to the best of what they used to do.” – Quran 16:96

The first true victory is spiritual success. That is recognizing Allah’s guidance, following it, sticking to it, and being grateful for it. It’s a victory because it helps us to live lives of meaning and purpose, and to be peaceful and patient.

The second victory is Jannah (Paradise), and that is the ultimate achievement.

Sometimes we experience a victory in life and we clearly recognize it. Other times we may achieve a milestone of success and not even realize it, because it comes veiled in pain or loss. We must trust that Allah’s promise is true, and that victory belongs to the believers in this life and the next. Take heart, and don’t fear. Allah’s victory is near, even when we don’t see it. Allah is merciful to us and He wants good for us. Have a good opinion of Allah, and let your faith in Him be strong and ever renewed, like the well of Zamzam that never runs dry, or the waves of the sea that keep coming and coming, day and night.

“By the time, Indeed, mankind is in loss; Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.” – Quran Surah 103 (Al-Asr)

***

In part two of this article I will Insha’Allah discuss some specific spiritual actions that make a tremendous difference. These include salat, dua’, dhikr, affirmations, meditation, and fasting.

In part three I’ll look at some physical actions that directly affect our emotional state, including exercise, massage and a healthy diet.

Stay tuned!

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