Two strangers bridging barriers with the Quran

Beautiful Quran

By Wael Abdelgawad |

A colleague of mine named Farah* who is a medical doctor in Boston recently sent me the following email:


I had a beautiful experience today at work. A lady who spoke very little English was admitted, and she was very upset – she came over to me and I said Salaam… Her eyes lit up, she took my hand and started reciting Al Fatiha. We said it in unison and she smiled – “sister”.

We then shared a couple of other surahs – she knows more in Arabic than I do in English! Even though we couldn’t have conversed in our national languages, we could communicate in a far more significant way, by sharing our love for Allah.

In Boston at the moment it’s a bit scary, but this lit up my day and gave me hope that we will be alright in the end, inshaAllah.

My sister from the other side of the world held my hand and said Alhamdulillah.

Wa salaam


* Names and locations were changed at my colleague’s request.

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

Beautiful mountain meadow

By Wael Abdelgawad |

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

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

I said, “Yes.”

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

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

One sister wrote:

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

Another said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does Islam continue to grow in the West?

Sun rays in a green forest

By Wael Abdelgawad for

Someone posted this question recently on an Islamic forum that I belong to:

There all kinds of people coming to Islam. There are some that even convert in huge masses (20+ people). It’s the fastest growing religion in the UK and USA. Just visit Youtube. How is that a religion that is put down in the media constantly is the most popular choice today?

Let me put it in marketing terms to start. I don’t want to cheapen our deen which is the most beautiful way of life, ordained for humanity by Allah. But most people in this consumer culture of the West understand marketing concepts.

In the marketing industry they say that there is no such thing as bad publicity. That may or may not be true, but I do believe it is true when you have a quality product. Islam is a quality product.

I have heard of many people who initially wanted to learn more about this “terrible religion” that gets so much bad press. So they picked up a book on Islam or a copy of the Quran, began reading, and SubhanAllah, were guided to the truth.

That’s the way of it.

Throwing a rubber ball at the ground

This deen is a clarion call, it is the sunlight through the clouds. It is manifest truth. As much as the enemies of Allah try to badmouth Islam, they only serve its cause. As Allah says (paraphrasing) in the Quran, they desired to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah will complete His light, though the disbelievers may detest it.

Someone once said to me that those who try to damage Islam are like someone throwing a rubber ball down on the ground. The harder they throw it, trying to smash it, the higher it bounces back in the air.

When I say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, that doesn’t mean that I am happy about things like terrorist attacks, “honor killings”, female genital mutilation and other bad actions that bring bad publicity to Islam. I despise those acts and I utterly condemn them, not only because they damage the image of Islam and make life harder for Muslims, but because they are evil in themselves, and they bring suffering to innocent people.

No, when I say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, I am thinking more of the lies that are told about Islam. Hateful preachers who insult the Prophet (peace be upon him); or the often-made false claim that Islam was spread by the sword; or the bigoted epithets (like “Islamofascists”) that are used to try to discredit Islam in the eyes of the public. In the end, all these lies will fail, because truth is clear from falsehood.

Quran 61:8

Quran 61:8

(8) They want to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah will perfect His light, although the disbelievers dislike it.

(9) It is He who sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth to manifest it over all religion, although those who associate others with Allah dislike it.

(Umm Muhammad translation)

The enemies of Islam think that Allah’s light is like a candle that can be blown out with the breath from their mouths, by propagating false rumors and lies about this deen. They might as well try to blow out the light of the sun. Allah’s light is far more powerful even than that.

Quran is a light

O humankind, there has come to you a conclusive proof from your Lord, and We have sent down to you a clear light.” (Quran 4:174)

Allah has manifested His light in the revelation of the Quran. It is an eternal book, protected by Allah, unchanged, shedding light like a lamp that never runs dry. It illuminates the souls of those who read it and practice it, and so light spreads in the world, purifying it.

That’s why the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, “The best amongst you are those who learn the Quran and teach it.” [Al-Bukhaari] Because the Quran is the source of guidance and a light, and by spreading it we ensure the victory of Islam over oppression, we perpetuate Truth in the world, and we offer guidance to the lost.

The Quran is also a source of internal peace. Recitation and contemplation of the Quran soothes the heart and carries away the stresses of life, and it brings one closer to Allah. That’s why the Prophet (pbuh) said, “No people assemble in one of the houses of Allah, and recite and study the Book of Allah, except that tranquility prevails over them, mercy encompasses them, the angels surround them, and Allah makes a mention of them in the presence of those near Him.” [Muslim]

Wow. SubhanAllah.

So it’s not surprising when you hear stories from people who were non-Muslims; became curious about Islam due to the constant fear-mongering in the media; decided to pick up a Quran and check it out for themselves; and found themselves moved, and their hearts touched, so that they accepted Islam. It’s a very common story.

Trust in Allah

I started out by answering the question, “How does Islam continue to grow in the West in spite of all the negative press and lies?” Now I want to add a final message for my Muslim readers: Don’t despair when you see the forces of falsehood arrayed in all their power against Islam. When you read about Muslims being oppressed in Palestine, Chechnya, East Turkestan (a Muslim province of China) and so many other places, you should feel pain and sympathy for your brothers and sisters, but don’t let your heart be filled with rage or hatred.

Don’t despair! Hatred and despair are the opposites of faith; they lead to corruption and are the fuel that drives evils like terrorism, where people cast aside the principles of their religion, and allow themselves to be seduced into blind violence, justifying it to themselves because they are so angry.

Trust that Allah will perfect His light. Do your part to serve the cause of Islam (that is key!), and then trust that Allah will manifest the Truth over all, no matter who stands against it. Trust also that Allah will guide you, and bring you into the light, and reward you in this life and the next.

In these next two verses there is a double message, one for the People of the Book (the Christians and the Jews), calling them to the light that Allah has revealed; and one to the believers, calling on them to “pursue His pleasure to the ways of peace…”, in other words to seek Allah’s pleasure through compassionate and righteous action on the paths of peace.

“O People of the Scripture, there has come to you Our Messenger making clear to you much of what you used to conceal of the Scripture and overlooking much. There has come to you from Allah a light and a clear Book; By which Allah guides those who pursue His pleasure to the ways of peace and brings them out from darknesses into the light, by His permission, and guides them to a straight path.” (Quran 5:15-16)

Had Allah willed, He would have made you one Ummah

Mountain field with wild flowers

By Wael Abdelgawad for

Allah says in the Quran, Surat Al-Maaidah (5:48):

To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ.

The differences between us, differences of religion, ethnicity and nationality, are a test and a blessing. They are a part of Allah’s plan. If He had willed it, He could have made us all one single Ummah, with no disagreements and no variations, homogeneous like a field of grass, all blending together so that the eye could rest on any one person and he would look no different from any other. Allah could have made us all with the same language, same faces, eyes and hair, same customs and traditions, same cuisines, same art and architecture… But that doesn’t sound like a very interesting or exciting world, does it?

The religious differences among us are a test. The other differences are blessings.

Never let the vast variety of human tongues and traditions become a source of hostility, suspicion or despair. Never let the physical distances between us become a source of frustration. Be grateful for the beauty of a Tibetan monastery high in the Himalayas, or the tang of Thai curry, or the beating of the drum at an Indonesian wedding, or the great variety of cultures found in your own hometown. Be glad for the opportunity to be exposed to something different, and to let your mind open like a flower.

If the differences between people present a challenge, then welcome the challenge; Allah has given you that challenge for a reason, so look for the opportunity to learn. It is there.

A book is a garden

Bogor Botanic Gardens lily pond

Bogor Botanic Gardens lily pond

By Wael Abdelgawad for

“A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.” – Arab proverb

A book in your pocket is like a secret treasure. It is a magical means of transportation, a source of knowledge, a historical record, and a treasure chest containing the knowledge of human minds and hearts, or in the case of the Quran, the message of Allah to humanity.

You can take the book out of your pocket and lose yourself in it, forgetting about all the worries of the world, just as you can do in a beautiful garden.

Fozia, a Muslim sister from the UK, points out that a book helps one develop through acquiring knowledge, as a garden blossoms through the growth of its flowers and creatures…

Making the Impossible Possible

Indeed, to carry a garden in one’s pocket is impossible, but that’s the thing about books, they make the impossible possible. A family that has been stuck in poverty for generations can break that cycle by sending one child to higher education. Someone who comes from the most desperate circumstances can achieve the seemingly impossible and become a doctor, engineer, or even President, all through the power of education. The power of books.

That reminds me of a quote by Cesar Chavez, the famous campaigner for farm workers’ rights, who is now deceased. He said,

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”

This process of social change that he describes starts with a book. It starts with education. The ultimate Book is the Quran, and it is a world-changing book. It brings light where there was darkness, and changes human beings from the inside out.

The First Revelation of the Quran

Does anyone need proof that the processes of personal growth and social change both start with books? Consider the first revealed verses of the Quran itself, in Surah 96, Al-‘Alaq:

1. Read in the name of your Lord Who created.
2. He created humankind from a clot.
3. Read and your Lord is Most Honorable,
4. Who taught (to write) with the pen
5. Taught the human being what he knew not.

The moment of the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a moment of immense significance for all humanity, possibly the most significant moment in human history. It follows that the message is one of great significance as well.

What is this message of great significance, these first few profound and powerful words?

Read, and write, and do it in the name of Allah.

Allah exalted and honored human beings by giving us knowledge, the capacity to acquire more knowledge, and the tools to record and share our knowledge, whether verbally or in print. He commanded us to make use of these tools, and to do it in Allah’s name so that our motives and methods remain pure, and so that the results will be beneficial to humanity and not destructive or oppressive.

We are supposed to use our knowledge to create vaccines for diseases, not to create deadly viruses for biological warfare. We should use nuclear power to generate clean energy, not to design bombs that can destroy nations. We must use robotic technologies to create artificial limbs for victims of war or accidents, or to explore the depths of the sea, or to clear old minefields without loss of life, or to rescue miners trapped deep underground… not to build hunter-killer drones that destroy innocent human lives while the operator moves a joystick a thousand miles away.

Knowledge must be employed “in the name of your Lord Who created,” not in the name of greed or vengeance.

This is especially important today, when fantastically powerful technologies are being developed every day. Supercomputers, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, cloning, quantum physics… If these technologies are not tempered with faith and wisdom, humanity could unleash horrors on the world that will make previous wars and genocides look like a bad case of the measles (no disrespect intended to victims of past conflicts).

A New Course for the World

The Quran was also a message that the time had come to change humanity’s meandering course. Human beings all over the world had been creating societies, customs and laws based on superstition. Some societies were based on artificial castes. Others were based on worship of human beings, or worship of the dead, or cult-like religions, or collections of taboos and myths.

The revelation of the Quran signified the beginning of a new course for the world, a lighted path based on scholarship, science and the systematization of knowledge. The engines of this new period would be literacy, scholarship, Tawheed (Oneness of God), and righteousness.

Human history, with its long and bleak stretches of ignorance and suffering, like a vast desert with only a few small oases, was given a permanent garden in the form of a book: the Quran.

A book is a garden in your pocket. It’s natural, inspiring, and life-changing. It’s your own personal haven. But only if you read it and let it into your heart.

You Are Perfectly Created

Sun Rays by Roy Lichtenstein

Allah is the Master Createor and He made you perfect

By Wael Abdelgawad for

In many verses of the Quran the human being has been described by Allah as being created in the best form, or created perfectly:

“We have indeed created humankind in the best of molds.”
Quran 95:4 (Surat At-Tin, The Fig)


“Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then of that clot We made a (foetus) lump; then we made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh; then we developed out of it another creature. So blessed be Allah, the best to create!”
(Quran 23:14) (Surat Al-Mu’minun, The Believers)


“The work of Allah who has perfected everything (He created).
Qur’an 27:88 (An-Naml, The Ant)


“He is the One Who has made perfectly everything He has created: He began the creation of human beings with clay, And made his progeny from a quintessence of the nature of a fluid despised: But He fashioned him in due proportion, and breathed into him something of His spirit…”
Quran 32:7-9 (As-Sajdah, the Prostration)

These ayaat do not speak only of the human being’s physical form. The perfection of man and woman includes the human spirit; the human will; the human emotional capacity, intellectual drive, innate curiosity, desire to excel, ability to love without bounds; and our yearning for Allah, even when we do not recognize it.

Allah is speaking of you.

Not some random historical human being. Not only Adam and Hawaa. Not only the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).


Discarding negative self-conceptions

So often we are critical of ourselves. We call ourselves stupid – I do this sometimes when I forget something, smacking my forehead and saying, “Ah, I’m an idiot!”

We find fault with our bodies, sometimes severely so. I certainly have had issues of insecurity surrounding my body. I think all of us do, unless we are Olympic athletes.

Sometimes, when we fail at something, we wonder what’s wrong with us, why can’t we do this or that as well as other people?

Have we ever considered that such negative self-conceptions contradict our faith?

Aren’t we Muslim? Don’t we believe in Allah, and in the Quran? Yes? Then we must believe that we were created perfectly. We were created by the Master Creator who does not make errors.

Allah made no mistakes when He made you.

Your spirit is perfect, your soul is perfect, your mind is perfect, your heart is perfect, and even your body is perfect.

Allah says that He breathed into us something of His spirit! Do we realize how immense that is, how profound, how awesome? Allah the Eternal, The First and The Last, The Majestic, The Omnipotent, has breathed a part of His spirit into Bani Adam, this little two-legged creature of clay, and made us perfect. Me, you, our children and friends, our neighbors and co-workers, and even drug addicts, thieves, torturers and tortured, abusers of every stripe, and everyone walking this earth, believers and disbelievers, were all created perfect in every way. It’s hard to wrap our minds around that. But we must accept it as an article of faith.

In case we have any doubt, let’s look at the ayah above from Surat At-Tin again, but this time with the preceding verses included:

“By the fig and the olive, and the Mount Sina, and this city of peace (Makkah), We have indeed created humankind in the best of molds.”

Allah is declaring an oath by some of the most powerful symbols in existence (an explanation of these symbols is a matter for another article) that humankind was created in the best of molds. When Allah swears in this way it is because He wants to you sit up and open your mind to what is being said; to accept it wholeheartedly and draw it into your chest; and not to have an atom of doubt.

Of course that doesn’t mean that everything you do is perfect. It refers to your capacities, your potential. You were created without flaw, with a pure soul imbued with fitra, a powerful mind, and a body whose magic is still not understood by modern science. You are perfectly capable of fulfilling every obligation that Allah has laid on you; of bearing any burden that is laid on your shoulders; and of achieving any noble dream that Allah has placed in your heart.

What does it mean for us?

So what does that mean for me and you to see ourselves as perfect? I am asking seriously and rhetorically. What does it mean when we can’t fall back on self-pity? What does it mean when we are no longer allowed to view ourselves as flawed?

What does it mean when we have to accept that we can achieve any “crazy dream” that may smolder in our hearts? What does it mean when we look at ourselves in the mirror and see perfect, beautiful faces, no matter the shape of our features? What does it mean when we realize that we have within ourselves the capacity to reach the same heights of imaan (faith) as the sahabah, or the same level of intellectual rigor as Imam Al-Bukhari or Sheikh ibn Taymiyyah, or the same purity and unwavering trust as Sayyidna Maryam? (may Allah be pleased with her).

Do we begin to see that they were simply human beings who acknowledged the perfection with which Allah created them? They strove their utmost to live up to that perfection, placing no boundaries or limitations upon themselves. They were not extraordinary people in their creation; they were only extraordinary because they accepted Allah’s words and thrust themselves utterly into the river of the Quran (or in Maryam’s case, immersed herself completely in tawakkul [trust in Allah], and taqwa [consciousness of Allah], allowing themselves to expand to fill the capacity of the flawless mold that Allah created them in, and refusing to allow themselves to be defined or demeaned by anyone else’s opinion. Nor did they allow themselves to be mentally or spiritually diminished or damaged by the harsh circumstances of life.

We have the same option. You, me, all of us.

You are perfect, whether you admit it or not. Go with it. Live up to it. It’s not a burden but a liberty. It is the freedom to be who Allah put you on this earth to be. It’s the freedom to dream and achieve without the chains of self-doubt or self-deprecation. It’s the freedom to accept yourself, love yourself, and allow yourself to love others fee-sabeel-illah, in Allah’s cause, and to live a full life of meaning and worth.

Allah knows every fallen leaf, and He knows you

Fallen autumn leaves

Not a leaf falls but with His knowledge

By Wael Abdelgawad for

“With Him are the keys of the unseen, the treasures that none knows but He. He knows whatever there is on the earth and in the sea. Not a leaf falls but with His knowledge: there is not a grain in the darkness (or depths) of the earth, nor anything fresh or dry (green or withered), but is (inscribed) in a record clear (to those who can read).” – Quran 6:59

SubhanAllah, Glory to God. Imagine, brothers and sisters. Allah knows every fallen leaf in your yard, in the gutter, drifting on the wind, or compacted layers deep in the depths of the darkest forest.

To us fallen leaves may be trash to be swept away, or food for worms, or mulching material. Perhaps to a child they are a source of amusement by scooping them into a pile and jumping in (I used to do that while waiting for the kindergarten bus in autumn, when I was growing up in Davis, California).

But Allah knows every leaf: its history, its individual veins and ragged edges, even its microscopic cells.

Don’t you think then that Allah knows your own pain, and fear, and suffering?

“And indeed We have created man, and We know whatever thoughts his inner self develops, and We are closer to him than (his) jugular vein.” (Quran 50:16). This does not mean that Allah is physically closer than your jugular vein; rather it refers to His knowledge, understanding, and power. And it could refer to the angels appointed to you, who sit on your right and left, noting everything you say and do.

Allah’s knowledge is with you at every moment. He created you, and He understands your innermost thoughts. Don’t you think that Allah is ready to comfort you, forgive you, help you, and guide you? Don’t you think that a God who knows and cares about each leaf would care about you, a unique creature of great complexity, a special soul that struggles and stumbles and carries the heavy burden of free will?

Don’t you think that Allah rejoices at your successes when you struggle in His path? Don’t you think that He is happy to see you happy, and is pleased to see you learn and grow, just as you are with your own children?

Indeed, Allah knows you, and sees you, and cares about you more than you can imagine.

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Pieces of a Dream