Conversation With Salma – “He Won’t Change”

My daughter Salma at McDonald's

My daughter Salma

By Wael Abdelgawad |

Every weekend I drive my daughter Salma about two and a half hours to Casa de Fruta. Sometimes when I’m driving I tell her stories or riddles, sing songs, or play word games. Sometimes I give her an “Islamic studies quiz” or tell her stories of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

At other times I’m silent as I think about issues in my life. In the past I did not share these personal thoughts with Salma. She’s still quite young, after all. But sometime last year I began to realize that I could share my grownup concerns with Salma, filtered and brought down to her level, and that she could respond cogently. It amazed me then, and still does. I think children are deeply underestimated.

Today I told Salma that I have a student in my adults martial arts class – I’ll call him Jay – who has been driving me crazy for two years. She asked why, so I explained that Jay doesn’t listen to me, doesn’t pay attention, and acts up in class. He’s almost 40 years old, so you’d think he would know better.

Salma said, “So get rid of him.”

“I don’t want to get rid of him,” I said. “I just want him to change.”

“He’s not going to change,” Salma said.

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Because he never has.”

I was amazed by her insight. She’s absolutely right. If Jay has not changed in the two years that I’ve been teaching him, then why should I think that he will? I cannot control him or change his personality. I can only control the choices that I make. I could stop trying to get Jay to be the perfect student, and let him be who he is. I could pay less attention to him and focus on my other students. Or I could even ask him to leave the class.

In my role as Editor of, I get questions from people who are in bad relationships, or are having family problems. Often they complain bitterly about someone else’s behavior. For example a woman might complain that her husband has always been a womanizer and drinker, and how can she make him change? A man might complain that his wife has a harsh tongue, and is there any “wazifa” that will make her change? And so on.

Maybe these people need to talk to my daughter Salma.

We are deluding ourselves if we think that people are going to change long established patterns of behavior just because we don’t like it. People are who they are, and yes people can change, but the motivation for change must come from them. We can only change the choices we make.

One woman wrote to the website complaining that her husband saves porn on his computer. Every time she confronts him about this, he gets angry and accuses her of violating his privacy. She feels hurt and doesn’t know why he won’t stop.

Do you see how she’s stuck in a repetitive pattern that doesn’t work?

One sister said, “If that were my husband, the first time I found that stuff on his computer, the computer would be in the toilet!”

That is a change in behavior! I’m not saying it will definitely work, or that it will solve the problem, but it’s better than staying stuck in the role of victim. It’s a powerful choice.

Another sister said she would leave her husband, at least temporarily, until he commits to change. Again, this is a powerful choice. It may be extreme but at least it’s an active choice.

These are just examples.  The point is that if we’re stuck in reactive mode, responding to the other person’s behavior in a repetitive, predictable way, then nothing will change. We can either change the way we interact with the other person – and see if that changes their behavior in return – or we can remove ourselves from the negative environment. By making a choice, we reclaim our power, and set ourselves upon a path that feels right to us.

What did I do with Jay? He’s still in my class, but when there’s an activity that he won’t do, I give him something else to practice on the side. I don’t stress over his progress. I let him move at his own pace. For now, it’s working. Thank you, Salma!

Let’s Love Ourselves First

Water drop on the tip of a leaf

By Wael Abdelgawad |

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gift of a Child

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

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

By Wael Abdelgawad |

A friend of mine recently wrote about her son:

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

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

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

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

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

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



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