Give Me Something Better

Corner Brook, Canada

By Wael Abdelgawad |

The Messenger of Allah (sws) said: “There is no calamity that befalls one of the Muslims and he responds ‘Inna Lillahi wa inna ilahi raaji’oun, Allahumma ujurni fi museebati w’ukhluf li khayran minha,’ (Truly to Allah we belong & truly to Him we shall return, O Allah reward me in this calamity & compensate me with something better than it), but Allah will compensate him with something better than it.” (Muslim 918)

In other words, if you’ve lost something precious, or if disaster has hit you, and you respond with faith in Allah, asking Him to replace your loss with something better, then Allah will surely respond and give you something better.

SubhanAllah! What more could we ask? Allah is the only one who does this. If your house is destroyed, the insurance company will try to find a way to deny your claim, and if they finally pay then they will pay less than it’s worth.

The crucial thing is that the dua’ must be said in that moment of pain and loss, when you are really hurting. You can’t respond at first by saying, “Why did you do this to me Allah, I didn’t deserve this!” then months later when you’ve recovered somewhat, think you can say this dua’ and it will work for you.

The whole point is that in those moments when life is most difficult and you are totally thrown for a loop, you respond by turning to Allah. That’s the test. Those moments are the proving ground of your soul. If you can face Allah in those moments of agony and say – I trust You, all things return to You, I know you will give me something better – then indeed Allah will give you more than you can imagine.

May Allah give us the strength to remember Him and turn to Him instinctively in times of calamity and times of joy as well.

Survive, Strive and Thrive

Reaching for the light


By Wael Abdelgawad |

Survival is important. But when our basic needs are met – food, water, clothing, shelter, safety – then it’s time to look further and ask what Allah intends for us. What is our mission in life? What is our dream? What is our talent, our gift, our destiny? What does it mean to be truly alive?

Sometimes surviving is difficult enough, but as Muslims we’re asked to go beyond that minimum level of existence. We are asked to strive for excellence, to perform acts and create institutions that perpetuate goodness even when we’re gone, and to live lives of courage.

1. Survive

Survival alone can be a tremendous challenge. Some non-Muslims love to criticize Muslims as backward or violent, but they do not often speak of the suffering of the Muslims, and our struggle to simply survive. They don’t speak of Muslim suffering in East Turkestan, Palestine, Chechnya, Bosnia, Mindanao and so many other places.

And yet, with all our occupied nations, repressive governments, poverty and struggle, ours are not the nations with the highest suicide rates. That tragic honor belongs to Eastern European nations like Belarus and Lithuania, and East Asian countries like Korea and Japan.

We Muslims do not cut our wrists or overdose on sleeping pills. We survive. When things get tough, our religion teaches us to struggle and overcome. Islam teaches us to work, provide for our families as best we can, pursue education in order to improve our situations, emigrate, stay patient, and trust in Allah. Survive.

When the entire world cuts Palestine off and tries to starve them in their camps, the Palestinians build miles-long tunnels under the border and smuggle in everything from live goats to cooking oil, to entire cars, piece by piece. They don’t lay down and die. They struggle. They survive because they know where to turn for strength.

Who you are, and where you turn

My struggle is nothing beside that of the suffering people of Gaza, and I imagine yours is not either. Yet we all have our own personal pains and tragedies. The most painful moments of our lives prove who we are. Where do we turn in those moments?

Bilal Mustafa, an acquaintance of mine and founder of the forum says, “Asking the question “Why?” is life changing only if you turn to God for the answer. An answer from anywhere else is catastrophic…”

People of corruption turn to physical pleasure. People of addiction turn to drink and drugs. People of despair turn to suicide. People of hopelessness take no action but simply wait and suffer, doing nothing to bring about change because they have given up on the possibility of something better.

The believers turn to Allah. In those moments of confusion and pain, Allah is our refuge. In Allah there is comfort and strength.

It’s been said that man can live about forty days without food, three days without water, eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope. I would add that without Allah we would not survive for a millionth of a second. “Say, ‘Have you considered: if your water was to become sunken [into the earth], then who could bring you flowing water?'” – Quran, Al-Mulk, 67:30

2. Strive

Striving is a step up from survival, and is defined as reaching for something beyond the basic necessities. As we reach for more, let’s remember why we are here. There’s a song by a famous rapper that says, “Get rich or die tryin’. ” That’s not our philosophy. We are supposed to know better.

And I have not created the jinn and the men except that they should serve Me.
I do not desire from them any sustenance and I do not desire that they should feed Me.
Surely Allah is the Bestower of sustenance, the Lord of Power, the Strong.
– (Quran 51:56-58)

We’re here to worship Allah in every aspect of our lives. That includes treating our families with compassion – and notice I didn’t say love, because we all love our families but we’re not always compassionate toward them – being honest in trade, speaking the truth, and standing up for justice.

I do not diminish the significance of survival for those who have been through trauma. When, like the twenty to fifty thousand Bosnian Muslim women who were systematically raped by Serb soldiers during the Bosnian war, you can say, “I survived this. I was raped, my men were killed, my village demolished and burned, but I am still here, I survived, and I still believe in Allah…” – when you can say such a thing, then the power of survival becomes manifest. When you can say, like the Palestinians, “Our masjids and homes have been demolished, our leaders assassinated, our culture brutalized, our people killed and tortured, but we are still here, we survived, and we have not surrendered our freedom or our dignity…” When you can say that, then survival becomes a tremendous victory.

But you know what? Even in those places, people don’t “merely” survive. They rebuild, marry, have children, and sometimes they come out of it stronger in faith than before, with their history burning in their hearts and their faith rekindled like torches. We see that in Bosnia today.

If they can do that, then what should we expect of ourselves? Should we be satisfied with, commuting, paying the bills, watching the idiot box and raising children who care more about the latest video games than about Allah, the Messenger, the Quran, the Sahabah, striving to excel in life, creating something meaningful, and changing the world?

3. Thrive

Allah says in a Hadith Qudsi: “He who is hostile to a friend of Mine I declare war against. My servant approaches Me with nothing more beloved to Me than what I have made obligatory upon him, and My servant keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I love him. And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he seizes, and his foot with which he walks. If he asks me, I will surely give to him, and if he seeks refuge in Me, I will surely protect him. I do not hesitate to do anything that I am going to do more than My hesitation at taking the soul of a believer who does not want to die, for I dislike displeasing him.” (Bukhari, 8.131: 6502. S).

That’s what it is to thrive. You become so close to Allah that you are filled with love, awe and fear of Him, and you glorify Him with everything you do. You’re no longer attached to your whims and desires, but to Allah. You eat to live, you treat your body like a temple, you pursue your dreams like a soaring hawk, you laugh and relax with friends, you are a walking daa’iy, you embody the principle of jihad as spiritual and social struggle.

I am nowhere near that state of existence, but that’s what I dream of for myself, my daughter, and my future family. I want to grow joyously and ferociously, to constantly challenge myself, and overcome new obstacles. I don’t want to waste a single day. I want to think of Allah first every morning.

If you want this as well, then it’s a choice that we must make. It doesn’t happen naturally. Chaos and problems happen naturally, wind and sun happen naturally, but to thrive as a human being is a mindset. It’s a choice worth making, because it feels good and right.

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

Ocean wave with the sun shining through

By Wael Abdelgawad |

“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 – 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!

Poem: Fill it With Al-Fatihah

Beach foam

Fill it With Al-Fatihah

Wounded brother, sister in belief:
pour out your cup of hurt and grief
and fill it with lavender leaf.
Fill it with sunlight seed
and the moon’s reedy laugh.
Fill it with the history of grass,
and the joy of breath.
Fill it with hope
and the poetry of God.

Fill it with Quran
and the moment before dawn.
Fill it with Allah’s soul-saving light,
and the power of His love
expressing in your life.
Fill it with dhikr like gold,
and Prophetic stories
that were old
a thousand years ago.

Fill your cup with beach foam
and the smell of baking bread;
with the mark of prayer
impressed upon your head;
with lemon drop soup
and the comfort of your bed.
Fill it with gratitude
for His gifts from above.
Fill your cup, and laugh,
for you are loved.

Wael Abdelgawad

April 14, 2011

Letter from a reader #3

Sunlight shining through a lava tube, into a cave

Alhamdo lillah for this site.

May Allah protect you and keep you safe. I came across this site in search for a dua that I was desperately requiring for my despair, anxiety and depression i was experiencing.

Keep up the great work.

Is there somewhere i could contribute to poetry?

– Sister Wafa

Fast 7-Step Cure for Depression by Dr. Bilal Philips

Sun rays shining through green trees

This is Dr. Bilal Philips’s “Fast” cure for depression.

Do a complete focused fast on Mondays and Thursdays, and do the following:

1) Get up and read from the Quran in Arabic and English – “Inna fee Khalqis samaawati wal Ard” (Surat Aali Imraan, 3:191-end) and crying.

2) Make a focused wudu’ and pray Tahajjud, followed by:

3) a very light Suhoor (brown bread, olives and extra virgin olive oil + 2 table spoons full of canned tuna or one egg) followed by:

4) a day of focused sunnah and Fard prayers.

5) Utilize throughout the day any of the Prophetic du’aas requesting ease like:

“Allahumma laa sahla illaa maa ja’altahu sahlaa, wa anta taj’alus sa’ba in shi’ta sahlaa.”

(O Allah, nothing is easy except what you make easy, and You can make what is difficult easy if You wish)

As well as the other du’aas for depression like: Allaahumma rahmataka arjoo falaa takilnee ilaa nafsee tarfata ‘ayn. wa aslih lee sha’nee kullah. Laa ilaaha illaa Ant. (O Allah, it is Your mercy that I hope for, so don’t leave me in charge of my affairs even for the blinking of an eye. And rectify all of my affairs for me. Nothing has the right to be worshipped except You). – See Hisnul Muslim – the Muslim Fortress – for more.

6) Then break the fast with 3 dates and a glass of water and pray Maghrib;

7) Have a light Iftaar followed by a focused Ishaa prayer.

The depression should begin to lift, if not go altogether from the very first day of the Fast cure. It will work if you do it believing with all your heart, strongly that this Prophetic formula WORKS and the degree to which it does work depends on how seriously you take it and apply it.

Nothing is Lost

Beautiful garden with flowers

By Wael Abdelgawad |

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.

You Are Not Alone

Lonely tree and sun rays

By Wael Abdelgawad |

Sometimes it seems like every person in this world of seven billion souls is living a quarantined, lonely experience. You take the subway to work and everyone reads her own novel, or rests his head against the seat, not meeting anyone else’s eyes. Each person is surrounded by an invisible sphere of seclusion. Or you walk down a crowded downtown street, with thousands of people intent on their own lives and errands, disengaged from all around them…

Every one of us is the center of our own universe, living within our own skulls, constrained by the limitations of our senses. None of us can ever truly know the inner thoughts and feelings of another. This awareness can be isolating and depressing.

But let me give you a different perspective:

First, there is Allah. He knows the innermost hopes and fears of each of us. He is with us, watching us, protecting us and guiding us at all times. He loves us and wants good for us. So in a very real sense, none of us is alone. Allah is the unifying factor, the Master of all, the One who created a universe that functions in harmony and symmetry; even the chaos of nature is part of a greater pattern, and serves Allah in its way.

In fact, check this out: Abu Huraira narrated, “The Prophet said, “If Allah loves a person, He calls Gabriel saying, ‘Allah loves so and-so; O Gabriel! Love him.’ Gabriel would love him and make an announcement amongst the inhabitants of the Heaven. ‘Allah loves so-and-so, therefore you should love him also,’ and so all the inhabitants of the Heaven would love him, and then he is granted the pleasure of the people on the earth.”
(Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Hadith 431)

Wow, subhanAllah. That is a lot of love being directed your way! That’s hardly congruous with the notion of an isolated existence.

Second, there is our noble Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Regardless of our nationalities, our schools of thought or “sects”, we are united in honoring and revering him. We study his life, repeat his words, and send blessings on him. We live our lives by his teachings. We look up to him and love him as we love ourselves.

Third, there is our great deen of Islam. At any given moment, at this very second, there are Muslims in the world standing shoulder to shoulder in prayer, all facing the same location on the earth. Islam has brought us together in a unique and unprecedented global brotherhood and sisterhood. Though we may be strangers to each other in a physical sense, spiritually we are connected. We care about each other, we feel each other’s joys and fears.

Yes, we are biological beings, each living within our own limited bodies. When you or I think, no other human hears us. When you eat, no one else tastes it. When your head hurts, no one else feels the pain. When you harbor private aspirations and terrors, no one else feels the beating of your heart.

But Allah is with you, my brother, my sister. Allah hears. Allah is always ready to comfort you, respond to your prayers, and bless you with His grace.

And the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) struggled so hard for you. Yes of course, he fought for you! You are a part of his Ummah. You are one of his flock. His mission was for you as much as anyone else. On the Day of Judgment he will intercede for his Ummah; he will claim us, and struggle for us just as he did in his earthly life.

Lastly, we Muslims all share a spiritual bond, a common understanding of the world. We are family (even if some of us don’t act like it).

When the loneliness of life feels heavy on your back, remember that the isolation of human existence is an illusion. You are not alone. You are surrounded by guidance, blessings, and caring. You are loved, even when you do not see it. You are not alone.

Sincerity is the Stairway to Heaven

How many of us are stumbling in the dark, or sitting quietly in despair, not knowing where to turn? How many of us have giant boulders blocking our progress, preventing us from living happy lives? How many of us are stuck, trapped, immobilized like fish in a huge net? Sometimes we get so frustrated at our situations that we don’t see that our problems themselves are a test and opportunity given by Allah.

By Wael Abdelgawad for

Rainbow over mountain foothills

I’ve made terrible mistakes that have had serious, life-altering consequences. Other blunders have caused me shame or embarrassment, or contributed to the loss of important relationships. I have sometimes misjudged people and been hurt, and I have sometimes hurt other people.

I’ve had the awful experience of being betrayed by a friend, a man I trusted completely. It is the most heart-wrenching feeling in the world. I’ve never betrayed anyone in that way, but I have certainly let people down.

My marriage came to an end in part because of mistakes that I made. I was never unfaithful, violent or cruel, but I did not enter the marriage with full dedication in my heart, and I failed to reciprocate the level of love and trust that I was offered. Looking back, I can see that Allah gave me opportunities to advance the marriage to a place of mutual love and faith, and I failed to embrace them.

A few years ago, a woman revealed something deeply personal to me. She spoke of a trauma in her past, and her fears for the future. I listened silently, but internally I grew increasingly agitated as I filtered her words through my own insecurities, thinking of how her thoughts impacted me. I ended up walking out on her. That shameful moment is etched in my mind in black ink. I apologized hours later, but some things cannot be undone.

I know that many of you have similar stories.

These mistakes, and others I made I when I was younger, have caused me to feel distress, regret, bitterness, doubt, and confusion. And yet, I thank Allah for my missteps. I’m not happy that I have hurt others. I have asked their forgiveness when possible, and I ask Allah’s forgiveness. But I recognize that because of my foolish actions, and their sometimes awful consequences, I have grown as a Muslim, a father, a potential husband, a martial artist, a writer and a human being, in ways that I would not have thought possible. I feel that Allah is shaping me, molding me into a man with a softer heart and a harder body; nurturing my spirit, calling my soul down the road it needs to walk.

Pain is a catalyst to growth

If we look back at the lives of the Sahabah, and the great scholars and leaders of Islam, and the noble Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself, the times in their lives when they made the greatest leaps forward were times of crisis. When the Prophethood came to Muhammad (pbuh), when Jibreel visited him in the cave and hugged him painfully and commanded him to “Recite!”, he was fearful. It was the greatest moment of change in his life, but also the most frightening.

An ancient illuminated manuscript of the Quran

The great Companion ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab (ra) came to Islam after a terrible fight with his sister, when he caught her and her husband Zaid reciting Quran, and he flew into a terrible rage and beat them both. Then he felt shame and regret; he demanded to see the manuscript they had been reading. Upon reading it, he was deeply shaken by its beauty, and the nobility of its call. He went straight to Al-Safa, where the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was meeting with his companions. He asked permission to enter, then declared his conversion in front of the holy Prophet (pbuh). ‘Umar went on to become one of the Prophet’s closest and companions, and then the second Khalifah of the Muslim world after the death of the Prophet (pbuh).

Many of the Sahabah went through terrible hardships in the name of Islam. Many were tortured. One, Salman Al-Farisi, left behind a life of comfort and nobility in order to search the world for the truth, finally ending up as a slave before the word came to him of the Prophet that he had sought for so long.

My point is not to say that they suffered, so be patient. This has been said voluminously. My point is that their suffering led them to astonishing places spiritually. Because they were sincere and pure of heart, their suffering purified them, and raised them to a kind of generational nobility unseen in human history. Materially, they literally became the masters of the world, but only because they first proved that they did not desire it. Even from their position as rulers they were humble as the dust, like ‘Umar, who, as commander of the second largest empire in the world, ate bread made from coarse flour, and wore patched clothes.

There is a story told by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in a saheeh hadith:

“Three persons from the tribe of Bani Israel got together and started out on a journey. On the way, clouds gathered above them and it started to pour with rain and so they sought shelter in a nearby cave.

Suddenly, a large boulder slipped and blocked the entrance to the cave, trapping the three inside and transforming the day into a dark night for them. They had no other alternative except to turn to Allahn (SWT) for help.

“Let us use our sincere deeds as a means to obtain deliverance from this predicament,” suggested one of them. All the others agreed with the suggestion.

One of them said, “O’ Lord! You are aware that I have an extremely attractive cousin and that I was infatuated and obsessed with her. One day, finding her alone, I took hold of her and wanted to satisfy my carnal desires, when she spoke out to me saying: O’ My cousin! Fear Allah (SWT) and do not harm my chastity. Hearing this, I crushed my lustful tendencies and decided against the evil act. O’ Lord! If that deed of mine had been out of absolute sincerity and only for the purpose of acquiring Your pleasure, deliver us from grief and perdition.”

Suddenly they witnessed that the huge boulder had moved away a little, faintly brightening up the interior of the cave.

The second person spoke out, “O’ Lord! You know that I had a father and a mother, so old that their bodies had bent over due to their excessive age, and that I used to tend to them regularly. One night, having brought them their food, I observed that both of them were asleep. I passed the entire night near them, the food in hand, without waking them up for fear of disturbing them. O’ Lord! If this deed of mine had been only for the sake of Your pleasure and happiness, open up a way for us and grant us salvation.”

As he completed his speech, the group noticed that the boulder had moved aside a little more.

The third person supplicated, “O’ Knower of every hidden and manifest! You know Yourself that I had a worker who used to work for me. When his term had reached its termination, I handed over to him his wages, but he was not pleased and desired more and, in a state of dissatisfaction and displeasure, he went away. I used his wage to purchase a sheep, which I looked after separately and very soon I had a flock in my possession. After a period of time, the worker again approached me for his wage and I pointed towards the flock of animals. Initially, he thought I was ridiculing him, but later, realizing my seriousness, took the entire flock and left. O’ Lord! If this act had been prompted by sincerity and had only been for Your pleasure, deliver us from this quandary.”

At this point the entire boulder moved aside from the mouth of the cave and all three emerged from it, joyous and ecstatic, and continued their journey.

We’re not Prophets or Sahabah, but the principles of human nature hold true. Think about the amazing symbolism of the story above. The three men were trapped in the dark, facing the possibility of death by thirst or starvation. Allah saved them only because of the power contained within their sincere deeds, done solely for His pleasure.

Boulder blocking the road

How many of us are stumbling in the dark, or sitting quietly in despair, not knowing where to turn? How many have giant boulders blocking our progress, preventing us from living happy lives? How many are stuck, immobilized like fish in a net? Sometimes we are so frustrated at our situations that we don’t see that our problems themselves are tests and opportunities given by Allah.

To develop as human beings, to become better people and move closer to Allah, we must experience hardship. That is a fundamental principle of our creation. Those are the rules. They are no different for us, sitting here in the year 2011/1432 Hijri, than for the Prophets and great mortals of the past.

“Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until [even their] messenger and those who believed with him said, ‘When is the help of Allah?’ Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near.” (Quran, Al-Baqarah, 2:214)

In hardship lies opportunity. Adversity is the soil in which we grow. The challenge is to recognize that, and to know that Allah is very near, guiding us all along.

Stairway to heaven

One remarkable lesson I’ve learned in the last few years is that for a mu’min (believer), and for someone who truly wants to advance spiritually, sincerity is the key. I’m talking about sincerity in its own right, even when it is not reciprocated, and not seeking anything in return,  but only as a philosophy of living and a personal discipline.

“He is the Living (One): There is no god but He: Call upon Him, giving Him sincere devotion. Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds!” (Quran, Ghafir 40:65)

I have come to recognize that the process of being sincere with Allah, with others, and with myself – and that is the most grueling of all- is tremendously difficult, but that it leads to important and amazing places that can’t be reached any other way. There is a stairway to heaven, and the only way to get a leg up on it, and then to climb, is to practice sincerity. That includes purity of intention (niyyah), and purity of worship.

I’ve even come to believe that a person, after seeing the value of sincerity as the only path to growth; and after setting out on that steep path for that reason; must then deliberately forget the reason, practicing sincerity alone, because part of being sincere is not demanding or expecting an outcome, but doing it for its own sake, fee-sabeel-illah, period.

There’s a story of a boy who came to a martial arts master and said,
“How long will it take me to become a master in your art?”
The master replied, “Ten years.”
“Ten years?” the boy said. “That’s a long time. What if I train twice as hard as your current students, how long will it take?”
“Twenty years,” said the master.
“What if,” said the boy, “I train day and night, dedicating all my energy? How long will it take?”
“Thirty years,” said the master.
“What?” exclaimed the boy? How come every time I say I will train harder, you say it will take longer?
“Because,” said the master, “With your eyes fixed on your goal, you have no eyes to see the way.”

The same is true for the deen, and the deen is life. You can’t climb a stairway to heaven if you’re looking up at the sky, or staring into the distance at some pretty thing, or wishing for recognition, or craving hedonistic pleasure. You have to keep your eyes on the path, so you don’t fall. Experience the moment. Cherish what you have and be grateful. Bring all your love, compassion and determination to bear with each passing hour. Purify your heart, and trust Allah with the destination.

A surprising change

The last few years have been difficult for me, but they’ve brought about a surprising and marvelous change. It’s been a time of monumental growth, and I don’t mean my waistband, which fortunately has shrunk a bit. I’ve grown as a Muslim. I have blossomed as a writer, expressing ideas that have percolated inside me for decades. I have improved tremendously as a martial artist, finally coming to a place (after decades of practice) where I can create combinations spontaneously, and apply martial principles effectively on the fly. I have become such a better father to my daughter Salma. I never thought I could be as comfortable, patient and loving with her as I am now. All I can say is, Alhamdulillah!

A key element in that process of change has been facing the uncomfortable fact that I have not always been sincere, and then embarking on this path of earnestness and honesty as an approach to life. It’s not easy in the least.

Most of us lie to ourselves. It’s enormously difficult to take responsibility for our failings, even the partial responsibility that, realistically, is usually ours. It’s much easier to shift blame to others, or to external factors. But then the same lapses and misjudgments get repeated over and over again, until we start to say, “Why me?”, all the while knowing in our hearts that we ultimately bear responsibility, but still being unwilling to face that truth.

When we’re ready

We have to learn to trust that Allah will bring us what we need when we are ready. That doesn’t mean that we don’t labor. Of course we do, in fact we are an Ummah of aspirations, an Ummah that reaches for excellence. But we do it fee-sabeel-illah, purely in Allah’s cause. We should never let selfishness, base desire or greed take over, because when we do we guarantee failure.

We strive, pursuing our dreams but never trying to force the outcomes, and we constantly check and re-check the purity of our intentions. We focus on serving Allah and being the best Abdullah, Fatimah, Leyla or Fuad that we can be. Then we have certitude that Allah will give us what is proper.

To take one example, I often feel acutely the absence of a woman in my life. I love to laugh, have fun, be affectionate and discuss ideas, and I miss sharing my life with that special someone. I also want more for Salma. I believe – I hope – that I am a good father to her, but she needs the guidance of a Muslim woman. I teach her about Allah and Islam, but she needs someone to teach her how to be a Muslimah.

I have placed profiles on a few matrimonial sites, and I am not shy about putting the word out, or contacting someone who seems interesting. However, nothing has come of it, and I accept that. I’m not trying to force anything artificial. My focus is on improving my ibaadah (worship). Increasing my knowledge. Strengthening my body. Becoming a better and better father. Reconciling with my past, forgiving myself, being gentle with myself and others, finding new ways to express love in my life, all with sincerity, not craving any material outcome.

When I’ve set myself on that stairway with my eyes aglow and my heart beating softly, when I have reached the level of purity that Allah expects, when He sees that I am ready – then I trust that He will bring the right woman into my life.

A way of being

Sometimes when I reach out to a friend in need or a stranger in pain, I sense their worry that I might have a hidden agenda. Not because there’s anything oily about me, but because they are not used to anyone behaving unselfishly, so they assume there must be a catch. They mistake a way of being, a conscious way of behaving in the world, for manipulation or ambition. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said,

“The Most Merciful (God) shows mercy to those who have mercy on others. Show mercy to those on earth, and the One above the heaven will show mercy to you.”

Stairway to heaven

I choose to try be the kind of person I aspire to, the person I see as the ideal “Wael”. Making that effort has nothing to do with how others behave. It doesn’t matter if others are merciful. It doesn’t matter if they are kind, or even polite.

Jesus (pbuh) says in the Bible, “If you love only those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”

I have adopted this approach as a direct result of the hardship I’ve experienced. I could easily have gone the other way, toward cynicism and bitterness. Many do. But that’s a dark road. It’s not a life I want to live, and not what I want to teach my daughter.

I look back at the mistakes I’ve made in life, and I see that every screwup carried within it the seed of a powerful lesson, and I thank Allah with every sinew of my being that He allowed me to recognize that, and to cultivate those seeds, rather than suffering in vain.

I regret the pain I have caused others; but I regret none of the pain I have suffered, because without it I would be weaker; more vain; less compassionate; less trusting of Allah; and less grateful. I would not be on even the lowest rung of the stairway to heaven.

So Alhamdulillah, Who loves us enough to test us, so that we can be purified, become strong, and become sincere.

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

Beautiful sunshine in a blue sky

By Wael Abdelgawad for

“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.

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Pieces of a Dream