If You Have an Abusive Parent, Learn to Value Yourself

Colusa County valley, California

Valley in Colusa County, California

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

It would be nice if we all had loving and supportive parents. Some do, Alhamdulillah. To have kind, caring parents is a great gift.

But some have parents who are critical, demeaning and harsh. Do you have an abusive parent who tells you that you are worthless, stupid and good for nothing? If so, you can’t spend your life waiting and hoping for that parent to love you and be proud of you. It’s not going to happen, my friend. Most likely your parent was raised harshly himself/herself and doesn’t know how to act any other way. Accept that reality and learn to value yourself, no matter what anyone says.

You will have to be strong and independent in spirit. You will have to find validation of your worth within yourself. You do have worth, after all. You are as unique and beautiful as the sun and the moon, the sea and the stars. You are special and gifted and you will need to realize that on your own, even in the face of external abuse.

Seek your support from Allah.

“And We have certainly honored the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created…” – Quran, 17:70.

Allah has honored you. Dignity is your birthright. It’s okay if you’re not perfect. No one is. You can still love yourself, with all your special gifts and funny habits, and whatever is lacking, well, you can work on it. That’s what all of us do.

“I Know Who I Am”

It can be very hard to resist the negative labels that parents put on us. Nothing wounds like an insult from a parent. Their words have a way of worming into our brains even when we know better.

We must be patient with them without buying into their negativity.

This is not to say that parental abuse is acceptable. Not at all. Respect goes both ways. Parents have a duty to raise their children with kindness and love. If your parents are physically abusing you, then that’s a situation that you should try to get out of. Separate yourself from them if possible. Be safe, and know that they too will face God one day in judgment, and will be called to account for their deeds.

This article is focused more on the issue of verbal abuse. The truth is that even if you are accomplished, well behaved, and devoted, some parents will continue to abuse you verbally. Even if you have moved out, married and have children of your own, and only see your parents occasionally, they might continue to find fault with everything you do, and generally devalue you. I’m not saying it’s okay. I’m saying it’s an unfortunate reality with some parents, and you cannot allow it to define you.

Write some positive affirmations about yourself. Affirmations are true statements that express your best qualities, and also express what kind of person you strive to be. They represent the ideal you.

I personally have a list of 29 affirmations, and here’s number 12 on my list:

“12. I am a good son to my parents. I am patient and loving with them. When speaking to them I maintain a positive, independent and calm spirit, knowing who I am and confident in my choices.”

Read your affirmations every day. Even if you don’t quite believe your own affirmations at times, even if you feel inwardly skeptical, keep reading them. When you speak to your parents, breathe deeply and slowly. Don’t let anything they say make you anxious or excited. Tell yourself silently, “I know who I am.”

Allah loves you and has a plan for you. Believe this and move forward, and when you have children, shut down the cycle of negativity and do better than your parents did. It’s okay to be better than your parents. Any good parent wants their children to surpass them.

Show your own children patience, gentleness and endless love.

May Allah bless you and fill your heart with self-knowledge, self-dignity, and hope for the future.

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.

Quiet the Noise and Weep Before Allah

Sunrays shining through the forest

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Road repair! Televisions blaring! Radios playing, phones ringing, appliances beeping, traffic roaring, horns honking, commercials, mall music, elevator music… That’s the external noise.

Then there is shame, worrying about the bills, frustration over relationships, guilt, anger, resentment… That’s the internal noise.

There’s so much clamor in our lives, outside and inside, that we can’t hear our own hearts anymore. We can’t hear Allah’s guidance, or we don’t recognize it when we do.

We need to find moments of total silence to pray, make dua’, read Quran, contemplate Allah… We need periods of uninterrupted calm to get back in touch with our fitrah, that pure nature given to us by Allah. We need to confess everything to Allah, lay ourselves bare before him and beg forgiveness, then forgive ourselves for what we’ve done, and pardon others who have harmed us, so that we can get rid of the baggage of bitterness and anger.

We must open our eyes to the clear light of Allah’s huda (guidance), and have tranquility in our hearts, and quiet in our minds, so we can recognize the guidance when it comes.

We cannot silence the modern world. But we can make personal changes. It’s okay to have periods of silence in our lives. We don’t constantly have to have our phones or MP3 players with us, or be listening to lectures… We don’t have be doing something every moment of the day.

So many of us are afraid to be alone and silent because that’s when the disturbing thoughts come:  resentment over the way someone treated us, regret over a lost love, shame over things we’ve done in the past, anxiety about the future. Believe me, I know exactly what that’s like.

It’s okay to feel those things. In fact we need to feel those things, to deal with them and confront them. When those feelings come we can turn to Allah and say, “Ya Allah, I have made mistakes, forgive me. I am lost, please guide me. I am worried, help me.” Let the tears come. Weep before Allah. Those tears are precious to Him. Allah, the Exalted, says:

“And they fall down on their faces weeping and it increases their humility.” (17:109)

Abu Umamah Sudaiy bin `Ajlan Al-Bahili (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said:

“Nothing is dearer to Allah than two drops and two marks: A drop of tears shed out of consciousness of Allah, and a drop of blood shed in Allah’s way. Regarding the two marks, they are: Marks left in the Cause of Allah and a mark left in observing one of the obligatory acts of worship of Allah, the Exalted.” [At-Tirmidhi].

And if tears do not come, that’s okay too. As long as you are honest with yourself and with Allah, and turn to Him with sincerity and humility, that’s what matters.

Find a place that is your special place, a refuge where you can be alone to pray, recite Quran, do dhikr, meditate and think. Amid the chaos and noise of modern life, take time to be alone with your Lord.

For me that place is in my bedroom with the door closed and the lights dimmed, late at night when everyone is asleep. I sit on the floor on a musalla and confess everything to Allah. But I also want to find an outside refuge, someplace in nature.

Do you already have a special place like that? Tell me about it. And if you don’t, then your mission is to find such a place, then comment here and tell me about it Insha’Allah.

Quick Quotes: Compassion, Taqwa, Allah, Nature, the Heart

Drop of water on a vine

Compassion

“Hatred and bigotry are NOT the permanent conditions of man. Dictators fall and pass. War, oppression and hunger remain, but the power to change those terrible things is in our hands. Allah made us khulafaa over the earth. We have the ability to forgive, to understand, and to comfort one another. I believe that compassion is the essence of who we are. Is the best part of us, the quality that makes us worthy of the mercy of Ar-Rahman. Our love is an elemental force, a vast untapped potential. We only have to be who Allah created us to be. If we can aspire to that, and hew to it, it will suffice us and the earth itself.”

– Wael Abdelgawad

***

“Do not become proud of your position. Do not become harsh toward those weaker than yourself. And always speak of Allah’s kindness to you.” – Ibn Isaq, “The Life of Muhammad”

Taqwa

“If we let Taqwa – Allah-consciousness – become our guide then it leads us to self-awareness and sincerity. A person who cultivates Taqwa can never become a terrorist, an oppressor, a hypocrite. A person with true Taqwa must shed compassion as the sun sheds light.” – Wael Abdelgawad

Changing the World

“Sometimes I want to ask God why He allows poverty, famine and injustice in the world when He could do something about it; but I”m afraid He might ask me the same question.” – Anonymous

Allah

“People will love you for a short time but Allah will love you forever. People will listen to you sometimes, but Allah will listen to you all the time. People will forgive you sometimes, but Allah forgives every time.” – Anonymous

***

“You don’t need a Plan B if Plan A is for Allah.” – Bilal Int’l

Nature

I gave my Salam to the mountain
And I drank from the mountain stream
And I walked upon its surface
And it all felt like a dream
And this mountain it is a Muslim
And I feel like he’s my friend
And as I climbed on to his peak
I wished it would never end

– Hamza Robertson

The Heart

“Your heart is a mirror that reflects the world. If it’s clean, it will see the world as it really is. If it’s dirty and warped, it will see a warped vision of the world.” – Yasmin Mogahed

***

“When you get close to giving up take a step back, pray and come right back to it. You just never know who you could be inspiring out there. May Allah keep our faith strong and grant us the ability to turn back to Him and to be grateful for that ability and many more…ameen ya Rabb. This goes out to all those who inspire me.” – Fauzia Mohamed

Look Beyond the Packaging: How to Choose a Husband, Wife or Friend

Rainbow over a baobab tree

The most beautiful things in the world don't come in packages

By Wael Abdelgawad | Zawaj.com

(This piece was written for Zawaj.com, and I am reprinting it here):

Is his hair nicely styled? Is he the perfect height? Are his dimples so cute when he smiles?

Is her makeup just right? Does her body have the perfect curves? Do her feet arch perfectly in those killer high heels?

This is packaging, it’s irrelevant.

American, Pakistani, Arab, African, black, white, this is a veneer. These qualities are insignificant by any true, spiritual standard. When you’re feeling ill and are curled up in bed, it’s not an Arab or American who holds your hand and tells you that it will be okay, who takes your temperature and cools your forehead with a towel, who makes you chicken soup with lemon… it’s a human being, a husband or wife who loves you.

We must get beyond superficial and meaningless classifications like race and nationality. In one of the most powerful condemnations of tribalism that I have ever read, the Prophet Muhammad (sws) said, in a hadith narrated by At-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud,

“There are people who boast of their dead ancestors; but they are more contemptible in the sight of Allah than the black beetle that rolls dung with its nose. Behold, Allah has removed from you the arrogance of the time of Jahiliyyah (Ignorance) with its boasting of ancestral glories. Man is but a God-fearing believer or a miserable sinner. All people are the children of Adam, and Adam was made from dust.”

And about the impulse to nationalism and racism in general, he said, “Leave it, it is rotten.” (Agreed upon).

Alright, how about this:  That guy wanting to court you, is his Armani suit cut just right? Are his shoes sleek and stylish?

That woman who caught your eye, does her dress drape elegantly on her figure?

You know what? That Armani suit can’t stand on its own. It needs a hangar to stay upright. That elegant dress can’t raise your children right.

We must learn to look beyond appearances. I’m not saying that appearance is irrelevant, but how much of our attraction is based on true human beauty, and how much is based on distorted standards and poisonous imagery pumped into our brains by TV, movies, and advertising? In other words, to what degree have we been brainwashed?

The world of advertising teaches us to focus on the wrong things. Consultants are paid millions to design the perfect package for a box of cereal or an energy drink, just the right shape and bright color to catch your eye and entice you to open your wallet. Meanwhile, the product – likely as not – is actually bad for you, consisting of sugar, salt, chemicals and dyes. These advertisers are teaching us to make choices based on packaging and image.

What they are teaching us is entirely ruinous and wrong.

Human beings are not consumer products. We’re not disposable. When you marry someone you’re in it for the long haul. You’re with them when they wake up in the morning with crust in their eyes and hair pressed to one side of the their head; when they get laid off from work because the company is “downsizing”, and you don’t know how the bills will get paid next month; when they’re depressed, tired, sick; when they make mistakes, when they say and do the wrong things, when they lose their temper, when they’re afraid or insecure…

This is as serious as it gets. This is life, and a shiny but empty package won’t get you through it, won’t help on you the path, won’t hold you up when you’re weak, or make you laugh when you’re down. The package can’t do that. Remember that when you buy something, the package ends up in the trash. If you choose someone for the package only, you may be bitterly disappointed when the storm comes and no one is there to shelter you, or to hold.

These are lessons learned through heartache and disappointment.

Look deeper. Find a gentle and honest heart, a strong backbone, a striving spirit. Look to what the person does, how they live, how they treat people, how they relate to the Almighty. Look to that shimmering soul inside, and discern whether it’s a selfish and bitter soul, or loving and true. Look beyond the packaging to the core, and trust your God-given instincts, and you’ll find yourself a rare happiness, a precious partnership, or a true friend.

The most beautiful, powerful things in the world don’t come in disposable packages. Mountains, trees, ocean, sky, stars… their true attributes are bared to the world. They don’t need packages because they are stunning and profound in their essence.

As someone said, beautiful things are not always good, but good things are always beautiful.

By basing your life choices on matters of substance, you’ll avoid social and financial traps that ruin so many. You’ll build friendships as real and solid as mountains, with people you can trust with your reputation, your heart and your life. You’ll do work that matters, and leave a legacy that improves people’s lives in unforgettable ways.

When You Forgive, You Live

Valley of forgiveness

In ancient Chinese thought, the state of broadmindedness and forgiveness is like a wide, deep valley.

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Forgiveness is not for the weak. Being able to forgive those who have wronged you is a mark of spiritual strength and confidence. When you forgive, you grow, your heart begins to heal, your back straightens up, your eyes clear so that you can see the road ahead. Anger is a spiritual sickness; but when you forgive you live.

I know this isn’t easy. In an earlier article I mentioned my time in Fort Worth. There was one particular person there who treated me quite badly. It’s very difficult for me to hold an image of that person in my mind and say, “I forgive you.” It’s almost frightening in some strange way. But in doing it, I feel something in my chest let go, and I find tears in my eyes, and a smile on my face. SubhanAllah.

It doesn’t matter if the other person deserves forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. If someone has hurt you, don’t worry about receiving an apology or explanation, or making them understand you. You’ll rarely get an explanation that makes sense. In fact, if you want to move on, the best way to do that is to forgive. Resentment is a chain that binds you to the other person, but forgiveness breaks the chain, so that you can release that person along your anger.

Not to mention, as the poet Oscar Wilde said, “Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.”

In ancient Chinese thought, the state of forgiveness is like a wide, deep valley. That’s because it opens your mind and allows your thoughts to flow freely, while anger constricts your mind and makes you blind.

“Hold to forgiveness, command what is right, and turn away from the ignorant.” (Qur’an, 7: 199)

In other words be constantly forgiving but don’t give up your principles (“command what is right”). If you’ve forgiven the ignorant and they persist in their hurtful ways, then move on and leave them behind. Separate yourself from those who are negative, and seek the company of people who are supportive and kind. Hold no rancor. When you lay your head on the pillow, sleep in peace, and you’ll wake with tranquility.

I admit that I’m working on this. It’s easy to say, “I forgive you.” The hard part is getting to a place where my heart is clear, where I have no resentment or fear. At times I hold conflicting emotions: I might love someone, but mistrust them. I think I should take a lesson from my daughter Salma. I make mistakes with her, but her love flows like a mountain stream. No one forgives with more grace than a child, and no one forgives more fully than God.

Let Go of Grudges, for Your Own Sake

Sunrise over the prairie

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

“Pardon them and overlook – Allah loves those who do good.” (Qur’an 5:13)

If we hold grudges, our spirits get stuck like trapped birds. We can’t fly the way we’re supposed to, because our own resentments bind us and hold us down. When you hate someone, they don’t feel it. Only you do. It affects only your own heart, until your heart hardens and your vision narrows, and life loses its joy and zest.

We must forgive each other and forgive ourselves. Let go of resentments from the past. Do it for your own sake, because letting go and forgiving is the only way to be happy.

Whatever others have done against you, let it go. Consign it to Allah, then forgive. Whatever you have done against others, apologize and ask forgiveness, and ask Allah’s forgiveness as well.

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) was seated in a gathering with the sahabah (his companions) when he looked towards the entrance and said, “A man of Paradise is coming.” At that instance someone who seemed to be very ordinary entered the masjid where they were seated. One sahabi was curious as to why the Prophet had said such a thing about this man, so he followed the man to his house. The sahabi told the man of Paradise that he was a traveler, and was invited to stay as a guest. For three days the sahabi watched the man of Paradise, but he saw nothing unusual in the man’s character or worship. Finally he told the man what the Prophet had said and asked him what was so special about him. The man thought for a long time and said, “There might be one thing — before going to sleep every night I forgive everyone and sleep with a clean heart.”

Mr. Evatt

I went to high school in Saudi Arabia, and I had an American teacher who I really liked. He was my English teacher for two years and his name was Mr. Evatt. He was from Georgia and had long hair and a heavy Southern drawl. He lived in an old neighborhood of Riyadh that was situated on a dusty, rocky hilltop. Every morning our school bus would pick him up, and I always found it amusing when we’d pull up and he’d be standing in the dirt road, smoking a cigarette, his shirt already plastered with sweat at 7 am , and a herd of goats climbing on the rocks all around him. He used to call us students, “wallets”, which was his version of “walad“, which means boy in Arabic. He’d come into the classroom and shout, “Siddown, little wallets!” But was a good teacher and I respected him.

Sometime during the second year, I was passing by the teacher’s lounge and the door was open. I heard a few of the teachers talking about Arabs. I paused outside the door to listen, and I heard Mr. Evatt refer to his students as “sand-ni****s.” I was very hurt. I think it also fueled the beginning of a deep resentment and intolerance in me that lasted for many years. I returned to the USA for college, and for a long time, if I ever found out that one of my non-Muslim friends harbored the least bit of bigotry against Muslims or Arabs, I would cut that person off forever. I had no patience for it.

I also had an increasing sense that I did not belong in American society. I had always been proud of being an American, but while I loved America, America did not seem to love me back. I was turned down for a job because of my religion, openly mocked on a few occasions, visited at home by the FBI, stopped at the airport for questioning and invasive searches… I became restless and unsatisfied with life in America. None of that had anything to do with Mr. Evatt of course, but that insult that he cast on us students represented my first awareness of bigotry; it became, in my mind, a symbol of racism.

My most satisfying times were my trips abroad to Mexico or Costa Rica. Finally I left the USA and emigrated to Panama.

I was happy in Panama. It was a peaceful, beautiful place. The people there had no preconceptions about Arabs and Muslims. I think I was able to finally relax, and breathe easily. I came back to the USA in late 2008 for family reasons, but I’ve realized that somewhere along the road, I let go of the grudges I was holding. I’m more easy going with people now. I have a martial arts teacher who has some anti-Arab ideas, but I am patient with him. Who knows, maybe his interactions with me will help to dispel his stereotypical beliefs. People need to be educated, not condemned. It’s the only way forward. “Pardon them and overlook – Allah loves those who do good.”

It’s so much simpler to extend love to people, and show them the way, rather than react with anger. And it’s better for my own soul. I feel calm now, and balanced. Alhamdulillah. If I could see Mr. Evatt now, I would thank him for being a good teacher. He must have cared about us, or he would not have made the effort. And maybe I would ask him about the statement he made. But I wouldn’t blame him or get angry. I wish him well.

Forgive Yourself

This is important. Forgiveness needs to extend in all directions, even to yourself. Whatever you’ve done against yourself, forgive yourself. Don’t hold grudges against yourself. We humans all make mistakes. “Pardon them and overlook – Allah loves those who do good.”

Don’t call yourself names. You are not stupid, shameful, or useless. Just the opposite! You are bright, special and unique, with a special mission in this life. If you feel that you have been corrupted by sin, then the glory of Islam is that innocence can be yours again, with tawbah. We Muslims don’t believe in original sin. All human beings were created pure, on the fitrah. That is your birthright.

That’s why ‘A’isha reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as having said: “None of you should say: ‘My soul has become evil,’ but he should say: ‘My soul has become remorseless.'”

In other words, your soul has not turned into an evil thing. It is not totally lost. It is just at a point when it is not feeling remorse or sorrow for its actions. But that can be changed! The soul can be softened through prayer, dua’, dikhr (remembrance of Allah), fasting, reciting Quran, doing good to others, and other acts of worship, until your soul once again feels remorse, and can return to a state of purity. SubhanAllah!

Allah knew exactly what He was doing when He made you. If you don’t trust your own judgment, then trust Allah’s.

Tonight, let go of your grudges and sleep with a clean heart. Tomorrow the day is new, and life goes on. You have far to go and much to do. Look ahead, with a sunrise in your eyes.

Low Imaan? Don’t Get Discouraged

Tall, majestic tree

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Don’t get discouraged if your imaan (your faith) is low sometimes. You are not a lost case. Imaan is organic and can be cultivated. Just as a tree needs sunshine, water and good soil; imaan needs salat (prayer), dua’ (asking Allah), sawm (fasting), dhikr (remembrance of Allah), sadaqah (charity), Quran recitation, contemplation of Allah’s signs and blessings, and the company of good people and mu’mineen.

Authentic Islamic knowledge is also important. The more you increase your knowledge, the more you understand the depth of Laa ilaha il-Allah. The more you study, the more you are awed by the Majesty of Allah; the more you appreciate the beauty of Islam and its completeness, the more your mind feels certain, and your heart feels assured, and your soul feels peace. All of this leads to taqwa (Allah-consciousness) and increased imaan.

You don’t have to change your life in one day, or adopt all these behaviors at once. Try to implement them in your life one at a time.

When the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) sent Mu’adh ibn Jabal to the people of Yemen to teach them about Islam, he said, “O Muadh! You are going to a community who are of the People of the Book. So, first invite them to bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. If they accept this, then inform them that Allah makes five prayers in a day and night obligatory for them. If they accept this, then inform them that Allah makes charity (i.e., Zakat) obligatory for them. (It is) to be taken from their rich and given to their poor.” [Bukhari]

You can start the same way. Keep Laa ilaha il-Allah on your tongue all the time, and start doing your salat. You will feel the difference in your imaan right away, as it takes root and grows.

Of course avoiding sins and making tawbah (repentance) for past sins is part of the formula too, but don’t despair if you are still committing sins. Start doing the behaviors of imaan as I described, and this will lead you in a very natural way to giving up sin, and making tawbah. You will not have to force it. Just as a river washes the dirt from your skin, actions like salat and dhikr will wash away your desire for sinful things, and you will find your connection with Allah getting stronger and stronger.

Abu Hurayra (ra) narrated, “I heard the messanger of Allah (pbuh) saying, ‘Suppose one of you had a river running at his door, and he washed from it five times a day: would any dirt remain on him?’ They (the companions) said, ‘No dirt will remain on him.’ He (the Prophet pbuh) said, ‘That is the likeness of the five prayers. Allah remits sins with them.'” (agreed upon)

Of course you should ask Allah to renew the imaan in your heart and always make it grow. But you must also strive and struggle. Allah says:

“Verily, Allah does not change the condition of a people until they (first) change that which is in their hearts.” (Quran, Surat ar-Rad 13:11)

You must put in the work. You can do it. Your soul is as capable of purity and imaan as anyone else’s. Your soul obeys the laws of creation that Allah has set down. It will respond to these actions of imaan. Go ahead. I know you can do it, Insha’Allah.

Some people say, “I can’t pray, I am too corrupted. I have committed too many sins. I would feel like a hypocrite, and I’m sure Allah would not accept my prayer. I have to stop all my sins first, then I can pray with a clean spirit.”

That’s like saying, “I can’t take a shower because I am too dirty. I need to get clean first, then I’ll take a shower.”

The salat is the purifier. You perform salat for many reasons, one of which is to wash away your sins. Even if you continue to commit sins, keeping on doing your salat, just as you bathe every day because you get dirty ever day.

If it doesn’t feel like it’s working right away, give it time. Keep on performing your actions of imaan. Don’t give up. When you plant a seed, you don’t see anything at all for many days. And then all you see is a tiny shoot. Give your tree time to grow. Give yourself time to change. Trust the process that Allah has given us. Your imaan will come back Insha’Allah, and will soar to the sky.

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 | IslamicSunrays.com

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.

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