Getting in Touch With Gratitude

Girl with arms raised to the sky

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

If a life comes down to what a man or woman has learned, then I’ll say this: you may feel discouragement, anxiety or despair, but you never know what’s coming tomorrow. Never give up on Allah, and never give up on yourself. Allah brings life and light from darkness. A closed room opens and becomes a road to the sunrise. Miracles happen every day, and I am a witness to that.

Gratitude

First, take nothing and no one for granted. Remember to be grateful for everything – for health, breath, the heart pumping in your chest, wholesome food on the table, rain falling unbidden from the sky, family, friends, the Quran, the Prophet (sws), everything. Gratitude is the first order of the day. Gratitude is the path to loving Allah. Gratitude is the only argument one needs against disbelief. It is the cure for sadness and materialism as well, and is the motivation to do better tomorrow.

When I sit down to eat with my daughter Salma, we first say Bismillah, then each of us names three things for which we are grateful. It has the effect of connecting us to the blessings of the moment – such as the food on the table – and the greater blessings that we often take for granted, such as the presence of family and the gift of Islam.

I’m a huge believer in gratitude, which is why I focus on it in my writings, including in my novel, Pieces of a Dream.

Ask from Allah

Second, know that you have nothing but what Allah has given you, and no protector but Him, so when you ask, ask from Allah. The book, “Don’t Be Sad” mentions a story:

A Muslim went to a certain country as a refugee and he implored the authorities there to grant him citizenship. He was denied, and all avenues were closed to him. Despite his many efforts at importuning others, all of his contacts failed. One day he met a righteous scholar, and explained his predicament.

The scholar said, `Supplicate to your Lord, for He is the One who makes things easy.’ This advice is given clearly in the following hadith:

On the authority of Abu Abbas Abdullah bin Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) who said:

One day I was behind the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) [riding on the same mount] and he said, “O young man, I shall teach you some words [of advice]: Be mindful of Allah and Allah will protect you. Be mindful of Allah and you will find Him in front of you. If you ask, then ask Allah [alone]; and if you seek help, then seek help from Allah [alone]. And know that if the nation were to gather together to benefit you with anything, they would not benefit you except with what Allah had already prescribed for you. And if they were to gather together to harm you with anything, they would not harm you except with what Allah had already prescribed against you. The pens have been lifted and the pages have dried.” (It was related by at-Tirmidhi, who said it was a good and sound hadeeth).

The refugee later related,

“By Allah, I stopped going to people for help or for intercession. Instead I began praying to Allah in the last third of the night just as the scholar told me to do. Just before the break of dawn, I would call to Allah and invoke Him for relief.

I submitted an application for citizenship without using any person of position to intercede for me. A few days passed and then suddenly, to my astonishment, I was called to pick up my citizenship request papers. They were stamped with ‘Approved.’

Forgive

Third, forgive yourself and do better tomorrow. Everyone loses control sometimes. Everyone sometimes hurts others and feels regret. Everyone has shameful experiences. Everyone.

Fourth, forgive others. Be gentle and assume the best when it comes to people’s intentions. Everyone is struggling in this world. Other people’s anger or criticism is almost always the product of their own fear.

Save one soul

Why does it seem sometimes that the Muslim world is so out of touch with gratitude? Why does it seem that we Muslims are consumed with anger and frustration?

It’s understandable. We Muslims are a conquered people. Our lands were divided by colonialists, we are ruled by tyrants and kings, and we are under siege or occupation by non-Muslim powers in many places. We watch as some of our most ancient cultures are reduced to rubble and conflict. At the same time, we’re dealing with major social issues like corruption, poverty, unemployment and inability to marry.

All of that generates feelings of anger, frustration and resentment. We see that reflected in the discontent of many Muslims.

Surely, however, we are not meant to live our lives in a constant state of frustration. After all, there has always been – and will always be – suffering in the world. So the question is, how do we acknowledge the suffering of the Ummah, and work for the betterment of the Muslims, while still maintaining our own inner peace and sense of gratitude? How can we feel outrage while not allowing it to eat away like acid at our imaan?

Going back to the hadith of ibn Abbas mentioned above, we must remember that no one can  help us or harm us with anything except that which is permitted by Allah. We must strive to do all we can for the sake of Islam, then leave the rest in Allah’s hands. If we are at least doing something, then we do not have to feel impotent.

It also helps to keep our focus small. No one can carry the suffering of the world on his or her shoulders. Try instead to help one person. There is value in saving one soul, or even assisting one person in a small way. When you have saved one soul, then save another, and another. In this way you become a part of a great movement of goodness and compassion that transforms the world.

All the while, be grateful. Focus on what you have, rather than what you do not have. Be aware of the visible blessings blossoming all around you, and imagine the many more invisible blessings showering down from Heaven.

Ouroboros – The Saga Continues!

Ouroboros - a story by Wael Abdelgawad

Ouroboros, by Wael Abdelgawad

As-salamu alaykum. If you haven’t seen me posting as frequently here lately, it’s because I’ve been immersed in writing a fictional series about a group of young Muslims living in California and dealing with inner and outer enemies.

Some of you may remember the fiction series I published at the popular MuslimMatters.org blog. Almost exactly one year ago I ended  “Hassan’s Tale” with a cliffhanger. Ever since then my readers have been waiting for the story to finish.

Well, the end is finally in sight! The exciting conclusion to Hassan’s Tale – titled Ouroboros – is now appearing weekly at MuslimMatters. Part 1 is here: Ouroboros: Trapped!

If you have not read the previous stories, please start at the Story Index and read Pieces of a Dream, A Lion is Born, The Deal, Kill the Courier, Dispatch Wizard and Hassan’s Tale before you start Ouroboros.

I hope you do check the stories out. Let me know if you like them!

How Satan tricked a pious man

Tall tree, huge tree, beautiful tree

There was a pious man among the Banu Israel who always remained busy in the worship of Allah. A group of people came and told him that a tribe living nearby worshiped a tree. The news upset him, so with an axe on his shoulder he went to cut down that tree.

On the way, Satan met him in the form of an old man and asked him where he was going. He said he was going to cut a particular tree. Satan said, “You have nothing to be concerned with this tree, you better mind your worship and do not give it up for the sake of something that does not concern you.”

“This is also worship,” retorted the worshiper.

Then Satan tried to prevent him from cutting the tree, and there followed a fight between the two, in which the worshiper overpowered Satan. Finding himself completely helpless, Satan begged to be excused, and when the worshiper released him, he again said, “Allah has not made the cutting of this tree obligatory on you. You do not lose anything if you do not cut it. If its cutting were necessary, Allah could have got it done through one of his many Prophets.”

The worshiper insisted on cutting the tree. There was again a fight between the two and again the worshiper overpowered Satan.

“Well listen,” said Satan, “I propose a settlement that will be to your advantage.”

The worshiper agreed, and Satan said, “You are a poor man, a mere burden on this earth. If you stay away from this act, I will pay you three gold coins everyday. You will daily find them lying under your pillow. By this money you can fulfill your own needs, can assist your relatives, help the poor, and do so many other virtuous things. Cutting the tree will be only one virtue, which will ultimately be of no use because the people will grow another tree.”

This proposal appealed to the worshiper, and he accepted it. He found the money on two successive days, but on the third day there was nothing. Enraged, he picked up his axe and went to cut the tree. Satan as an old man again met him on the way and asked him where he was going.

“To cut the tree,” shouted the worshiper.

“I will not let you do it,” said Satan.

Again a fight took place between the two, but this time Satan had the upper hand and overpowered the worshiper. The latter was surprised at his own defeat, and asked the former the cause of his success. Satan replied, “At first, your anger was purely for earning the pleasure of Allah, and therefore Almighty Allah helped you to overpower me, but now it has been partly for the sake of the gold coins and therefore you lost.”

***

Dear readers, what do you feel is the lesson of this story?

Two strangers bridging barriers with the Quran

Beautiful Quran

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

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

Assalaamualaikam

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
Farah

——————–

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

The Heart of the Matter

Clouds and sun rays

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Sometimes we have a problem with a Muslim or Muslims, and we get frustrated and we think, “I don’t want to be around those people anymore.” Or something happens at the Masjid (the mosque) that we don’t like, maybe the Imam says something we don’t agree with, or we don’t like the Masjid policies, and we feel offended and we stop going. Maybe we pray at home, and stop associating with Muslims, then maybe over time we become slack in our prayers, but we tell ourselves it’s okay because we’re still Muslim “in our hearts”.

That’s one kind of trap.

On top of that it’s hard to represent this deen among non-Muslims. It’s hard to carry yourself as a Muslim at work when you’re the only one there and you’re aware that some of your co-workers are bigots or are operating on negative stereotypes. It’s hard to wear the hijab when some people look at you as if you’re a terrorist.

So maybe we give up the outer trappings of Islam, telling ourselves that we have to survive in this society.

That’s another trap.

And if you’re a convert and your family is opposed to your conversion to Islam, that’s another weight to carry. If they are openly hostile, and if you still live with them as they mock your deen (maybe in front of your children) and try to undercut your childrens’ practice of Islam by feeding them pork or letting them have “a little taste” of wine… or something comes on the news about a conflict in the Muslim world and your family says, “Look, those Muslims are at it again…” And you don’t know how to respond, or you don’t want to start another fight so you keep your mouth shut, but inside you feel humiliated and confused…

And if you are isolated from the Muslim community for racial reasons (this is not supposed to happen but it does) or for simple cultural reasons, because you can’t speak Arabic or Urdu and you don’t fit in, and you haven’t been able to make any Muslim friends, or you feel that the Masjid crowd don’t regard you in the same way as so-called “born Muslims”… instead they look at you as an oddity, or a child, or a trophy of some kind, as if your conversion somehow validates their faith…

Well, then, you might start to say to yourself, “What’s the point? Is it really worth it? Is it even really true?”

That’s obviously a huge, deadly trap.

Okay, if you’re a “born Muslim” you might not reach the point of that last statement (“Is it even true?”) because for most of us who were raised Muslim, Islam is bred into us from childhood, and it’s a part of us even when we don’t understand it or appreciate it. But you still might feel that identifying as a Muslim is too much trouble… it’s easier to associate with non-Muslims, abandon your prayers, drink wine at the company dinner, have relationships with non-Muslims, and not have to battle against society every day, not to mention battling against your own nafs (desires). This is an easy trap to fall into if you are a professional living alone.

We fall into these traps because we forget what this deen is. Shaytan (Satan) isolates us just as a wolf isolates a sheep, driving it away from the herd; then he plays games with our minds so that we become reactive, responding emotionally to circumstances in our environments. (“That Muslim cheated me, so I don’t trust Muslims anymore.”) Shaytan gives us pathetic rationalizations that we latch onto as if they really mean something. (“I’m a single Muslim alone in a non-Muslim environment. It’s not practical for me to live an Islamic lifestyle right now.”)

Or whatever.

We fall into these spiritual traps because we forget what Islam is all about. We forget the heart of the matter, the core, the fulcrum upon which the universe turns, the foundation of reality itself:

Laa ilaha il-Allah.

There is no God but Allah.

Laa ilaha il-Allah

Frankly, if you became Muslim for any reason other than this, then you never understood Islam to begin with. And if you were raised Muslim but were not taught the infinite importance of this single sentence, then you were not really raised as Muslim. You were only taught cultural practices.

This is Islam. This is what all reality is based on. This is what religion has been since the beginning of time. This is what all the Prophets brought (may Allah bless them all). Every element of creation acknowledges this truth except us; every child is born on this truth (which is why we are all “born Muslim”):  This truth that we were created by a single, indivisible God; that our Creator is Loving, Merciful and Compassionate; that everything we are and everything we own comes from Him; that we began with Him as a breath, and we return to Him as dust; that He witnesses everything we do; that He rewards the good and punishes evil; that He loves us and wants good for us in this life and the next; that He answers when we call and guides us when we ask; that we owe gratitude to Him for every heartbeat, every lung full of air, every bite of food, and every glimpse of truth.

No one deserves our love and obedience before Allah. Our first loyalty is to Him.

No one can help us but Allah; and no one can harm us but Him. When we’re struggling and we cry out to ourselves, “What am I going to do? Who will help me? What is the way forward for me?”, we need to address those cries to Allah! The answers will not come from our own thoughts or tears; the answers won’t come from banging our fists or pulling our hair. The answers will come from Allah.

Forget for a moment about all those other factors that you are reacting to:  how so-and-so treated you, how your family treats you, what the non-Muslims say, what the policies are at the Masjid, how some Muslims gossip or discriminate, blah, blah, blah, these things are distractions and traps.

I’m not saying that these things should not affect us. We’re human beings and we can’t help being affected by how other human beings treat us. Our relationships with family and society are real and they matter. But these factors should never cut us away from Laa ilaha-il-Allah. If they do, then the wolf has isolated us, cut us away from the truth and begun to devour our souls.

Truth. If you are in Islam for any other reason, then indeed, what is the point?

This is a characteristic of a believing Muslim, that he or she is committed to truth like a plant to the sun. We must have a passion for the truth, we must be willing to die for the truth.

Sumayyah bint Khayyat

When I speak of dying for the truth, I think of Sumayyah and I find my eyes becoming wet.

Sumayyah bint Khayyat was a slave of Abu Hudhayfa ibn al-Mughira. She was married to Yaasir, an immigrant to Makkah. Because he was an immigrant and not a member of any local tribes, Yaasir had no influence or support. He went to Abu Hudhayfa seeking sponsorship and Abu Hudhayfa gave him his female servant, Sumayyah, in marriage. Sumayyah soon gave birth to ‘Ammaar and Ubaidallah.

When Sumayyah’s son ‘Ammaar became a man in his thirties he came to know about the faith of Islam which was being preached by the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him). This took place in 615 C.E., five years after Muhammad’s (sws) declaration of Prophethood. ‘Ammaar embraced Islam after deep thought and consideration. He then expressed what he heard from the Prophet (sws) to his parents. At once, Yaasir and Sumayyah embraced Islam as well (may Allah be pleased with them all, and reward them with the highest station in Paradise).

When Banu Makhzum (the tribe of Makhzum) learned that Yaasir, Sumayyah and ‘Ammaar had accepted Islam, they arrested them and burned their home. Abu Jahl and others chained the family in the burning desert. They whipped them, burned them with torches, and put heavy rocks on their chests. The Prophet (sws) went to the place where they were tortured. He lacked the political power or social influence to stop what was happening to them – in fact he was being regularly abused himself in those days – but he wept and told them, “Patience, family of Yaasir. Verily, your meeting place will be in Paradise.”

Upon hearing the Prophet’s words, Sumayyah proudly recited, “I testify that you are the Messenger of Allah and that your promise is true.” Allah had put courage in her heart and the sweetness of imaan in her soul, so that it overrode all her fear of death. Finally, Abu Jahl stabbed her in the privates with his spear and killed her. I am sorry to share such graphic details, but if Sumayyah could bear for it be to done in the name of truth, then I can bear to tell it. Sumayyah became the first martyr in Islam. Abu Jahl then kicked Yaasir until he died. ‘Ammaar survived the torture and went on to live and fight beside the Prophet (sws) for many years more.

I have no words to express my awe at Sumayyah and Yaasir’s strength and sacrifice. I will only point out that the Arabic word for martyr is shaheed, which means witness.

Witness to what?

Consider this:  our testimony of faith in Islam, the statement that one must declare to become Muslim, is, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” This is called the shahadah, the witnessing. Shaheed and shahadah come from the same root, sha-ha-da, he witnessed.

Why? Because someone who says, “Laa ilaha-il-Allah” is witnessing the truth, and must be ready to die for that truth. This the heart of the matter, the beginning and the end.

The Heart of the Matter

Life can get you down. Human relationships can be hard. When you’re alone, Islam can start to feel like a burden. You get confused, and you forget the heart of the matter.

Remember the heart of the matter. Contemplate Laa ilaha-il-Allah. Say it out loud or silently a hundred times every day, two hundred, more. Think about its implications and how everything in Islam proceeds from it. Think about how it should affect every aspect of your life. The Messenger of Allah (sws) said that if the earth and everything in it were placed on one side of a balance, and Laa ilaha-il-Allah were placed on the other, Laa ilaha-il-Allah would outweigh it.

Laa ilaha-il-Allah is charged with power. It pours out truth like the sun pours light. When we say it, and read about it, and think about it, we find that we want to order our lives according to its truth. When that happens, Islam becomes easy. All those external problems and pressures don’t magically disappear, but we begin to see the way through them to the other side, because we are connected to Allah, and He is guiding us, showing us a light, filling us with light. I repeat, we are connected to Allah. That is the heart of the matter.

Conversation With Salma – “He Won’t Change”

My daughter Salma at McDonald's

My daughter Salma

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

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 IslamicAnswers.com, 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!

Sleeping Peacefully When the Wind Blows

Wisconsin farm with red barn

Can You Sleep when the Wind Blows?

Years ago, a farmer owned land along the Atlantic seacoast. He constantly advertised for hired hands. Most people were reluctant to work on farms along the Atlantic. They dreaded the awful storms that raged across the Atlantic, wreaking havoc on the buildings and crops. As the farmer interviewed applicants for the job, he received A steady stream of refusals.

Finally, a short, thin man, well past middle age, approached the farmer.

“Are you a good farm hand?” the farmer asked him.

“Well, I can sleep when the wind blows,” answered the little man.

Although puzzled by this answer, the farmer, desperate for help, hired him. The little man worked well around the farm, busy from dawn to dusk, and the farmer felt satisfied with the man’s work.

Then one night the wind howled loudly in from offshore. Jumping out of bed, the farmer grabbed a lantern and rushed next door to the hired hand’s sleeping quarters. He shook the little man and yelled, “Get up! A storm is coming! Tie things down before they blow away!”

The little man rolled over in bed and said firmly, “No sir. I told you, I can sleep when the wind blows.”

Enraged by the response, the farmer was tempted to fire him on the spot. Instead, he hurried outside to prepare for the storm. To his amazement, he discovered that all of the haystacks had been covered with tarpaulins. The cows were in the barn, the chickens were in the coops, and the doors were barred. The shutters were tightly secured. Everything was tied down.

Nothing could blow away. The farmer then understood what his hired hand meant, so he returned to his bed to also sleep while the wind blew.

When you’re prepared, spiritually, mentally, and physically, you have nothing to fear. Can you sleep when the wind blows through your life? The hired hand in the story was able to sleep because he had secured the farm against the storm.

We secure ourselves against the storms of life by grounding ourselves in the Word of Allah. We don’t need to understand, we just need to hold on to His commands in order to have peace in the middle of storms.

(Note:  I am not the author. I found this online some time ago, but I don’t know who wrote it. – Wael)

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