Poem: I Choose to Follow Him

Sunshine over a golden lake

The following poem is written by sister María M, a very recent convert to Islam. She lives in Spain.

I Choose to Follow Him

I choose to follow Him,
despite others opinion,
despite others judgment,
despite others whispering,
despite others look,..

I choose to follow Him,
surrendering to His Love,
claiming for His Forgiveness,
asking for His Compasion,
enjoying His Grace,…

I choose to follow Him,
falling to my knees,
puting my eyes down,
living His Word as
the air I breath,
being His Blessings
the blood in my veins,…

I choose to follow Him,
thanking for every step I take,
greeting everyone I meet,
conscious of my ignorance,
trying to be my best,…

I choose to follow Him
knowing that…
It was His choice not mine
that I choose to follow Him.

– María M, January 2 2011

Mighty Mighty Muslims

Huge sunrays in a blue sky

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

There’s a children’s song that I learned as a teenager, at the Muslim Youth Camp. It’s called, “Mighty Mighty Muslims”, and it’s just a little ditty, more of a travelling song than anything else:

We are the Muslims,
the mighty mighty Muslims,
everywhere we go
people want to know
who we are,
who we are,
so we tell them,
so we tell them,
We are the Muslims (and repeat).

By the way, some Muslims apparently chanted this at New York City’s annual Muslim Day Parade, and some non-Muslim observers took offense, as they found it to be supremacist or exclusive in some way. That’s nonsense. Chanting it at a NYC parade may not have been the brightest idea in the current climate of growing bigotry; but I never thought of this as anything but a children’s song, a way of helping kids to feel good and positive about their faith in an environment that is often discriminatory against it. It’s not about being better than anyone else or putting anyone else down.

The fact is that everywhere we go (if we are dressed in traditional Islamic garb like kufi caps or hijab) people do take notice. Sometimes they stare, sometimes ask questions about our faith, and sometimes cast insults. This song is a way of saying to kids, hey, it’s okay if people notice you, andyou have nothing to be ashamed of. Be proud and strong in your faith.

Who would have thought a little children’s song could become a political issue? SubhanAllah, things have gotten ridiculous these days. May Allah guide them.

Did you learn this song as a child? I’m curious how well known it is.

I decided to expand it just a little to turn it into a teaching song for Salma (my daughter) and other Muslim children. Here’s my expanded version:

Bismillah we say
when we start the day
and everywhere we go
people want to know
who we are, who we are,
so we tell them, so we tell them,
We are the Muslims,
mighty mighty Muslims,
no matter where we’re from
we say salamu alaykum,
we pray in the night
and at the morning light.

If anyone is desperate to know the tune, I could record it and put it on here. But be warned, I’m no singer. Maybe someone else could take it and make something really catchy out of it.

Poem: Why Do You Save Me?

Sun rays shining from behind the clouds

Why Do You Save Me?

Allah, why do You save me?
Why do You guide me gently,
and push me to the light?
Am I more in Your sight

than a walking shade?
Am I bright? Do You see
my coruscating heart?
Am I living my true life?

If not, then in which shining valley
does it lie?
In whose wide eyes,
in what hungry land?

Why did You draw me by the hand
from my prison bed?
What of the souls I have loved
who are lost, who have fled

to distant cities
or turned their heads
after speaking
of inexpressible sadness?

Those who have known me best
have betrayed me,
or I have betrayed them.
Is that the grief of Bani Adam?

Why do You pull me
from the pit,
casting light on me,
accepting my regret,

giving me dreams like comets,
or signposts
to a hidden shrine?
Dreams like hands in mine.

Why, Allah? Am I more
than I seem to myself?
Where did my soul reside
in the world before birth?

If souls are troops
collected together
then where is my unit,
where was my creche?

Who am I to them now?
Who am I to the Prophets,
to the angels sweeping the sky,
to my daughter

and those who will proceed?
Who am I to You, Al-Azeez,
who hold night and day;
and when will I find my way?

Wael Abdelgawad
12-15-2010

Poem: My Greatest Need is You

Lonely tree and sun rays

Rabi’ah al-Adawiyya, the author of this poem, was a major spiritual influence in the classical Islamic world. She was born around the year 717 C.E. in what is now Iraq.

My Greatest Need is You

Your hope in my heart is the rarest treasure
Your Name on my tongue is the sweetest word
My choicest hours
Are the hours I spend with You —
O Allah, I can’t live in this world
Without remembering You–
How can I endure the next world
Without seeing Your face?
I am a stranger in Your country
And lonely among Your worshippers:
This is the substance of my complaint.

Poem: The Last Bison

American bison

An American bison

The Last Bison

You glow
like Venus in the delicate dawn’s light.
You are sunshine
on blue water,
a patch of sky, bright
on a winter day,
an aspen
shaking off snow.
A flash of flowing robe
and clear eyes.

I am a dark star,
a sculpted bronze
coated in tar,
a stranger than fiction
Truman Capote dream.
I’ve got bitterroot tea
for blood. I’m the last bison
on the vanishing plain,
struck by bullets
from passing trains.

Will I wake one morning
and feel strangely light,
the pain and fright of a lifetime
flooded away
as if by my native Nile,
leaving me scoured,
pure, blinking like a child?
Will I stand and stretch,
laugh in surprise, and then,
remembering my Lord,
bow and prostrate, purifed?

Wael Abdelgawad, November 2010

Poem: With Allah, in Islam

Giraffe with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background

With Allah, in Islam

You’re pushing your way through the crowd,
shining like a rough diamond,
chasing changes, gurus, clover, sound…
that thing to quiet the hidden doubt…

but you won’t find it in the avenues of man.
It’s with Allah. It’s in Islam.

You’ve got African earth in your eyes,
saffron under your nails, star fruit, indigo,
snow in your midnight hair,
American dust on your boots.

It’s not there, in the places of man.
It’s with Allah. It’s in Islam.

You’re seeking lightning, heat, serenade,
and quiet whisper, truth or lie… a sliver of jade,
a sighting of something real, some grain
that doesn’t turn, doesn’t die, doesn’t fade.

It’s not there, in the breast of man.
It’s with Allah. It’s in Islam.

Wael Abdelgawad, 2009

Poem: Going to Meet Allah

Rainbow over a beach rock

Going to Meet Allah

Where are we going today?
Why are we going this way?

What lies around the bend?
Where does this road end?

What is the sum of strife?
What is the measure of life?

How can we get free
from chains we can and cannot see?

We’re going to meet Allah.

Fear is a hurricane;
Imaan is a summer rain.

Hatred is a gnawing cancer;
mercy is the only answer.

Peace on me and peace on you;
trust Allah and we’ll get through.

Love Allah with all your power;
get ready for the final Hour.

We’re going to meet Allah, going to meet Allah,
going to meet Allah, going to meet Allah.

– Wael Abdelgawad, 2008

The Transformative Power of a Child’s Love

Salma smiling

My daughter Salma

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

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

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

A Difficult Youth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Broken Heart

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

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

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

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

A Terrible Depression

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

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

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

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

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

Elements of Recovery

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

Salma dancing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

I Live

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wael Abdelgawad
Fresno, California – 2009

Poem: Bring it In

Beautiful farm painting

Bring It In

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

– Wael Abdelgawad, June 2008

Poem: In the Mud

Pigeon and eagle

In the Mud

Is there a tragedy greater
than a bird without wings?

Yes. It is a winged bird
that is afraid to fly.
If it would only stretch its wings
it could spring into the air
like a wind. But it imagines
that it will fall
so in the mud it crawls
looking to the sky
like an afterlife.

Wael Abdelgawad
November 11, 2010

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