Survive, Strive and Thrive

Reaching for the light


By Wael Abdelgawad |

Survival is important. But when our basic needs are met – food, water, clothing, shelter, safety – then it’s time to look further and ask what Allah intends for us. What is our mission in life? What is our dream? What is our talent, our gift, our destiny? What does it mean to be truly alive?

Sometimes surviving is difficult enough, but as Muslims we’re asked to go beyond that minimum level of existence. We are asked to strive for excellence, to perform acts and create institutions that perpetuate goodness even when we’re gone, and to live lives of courage.

1. Survive

Survival alone can be a tremendous challenge. Some non-Muslims love to criticize Muslims as backward or violent, but they do not often speak of the suffering of the Muslims, and our struggle to simply survive. They don’t speak of Muslim suffering in East Turkestan, Palestine, Chechnya, Bosnia, Mindanao and so many other places.

And yet, with all our occupied nations, repressive governments, poverty and struggle, ours are not the nations with the highest suicide rates. That tragic honor belongs to Eastern European nations like Belarus and Lithuania, and East Asian countries like Korea and Japan.

We Muslims do not cut our wrists or overdose on sleeping pills. We survive. When things get tough, our religion teaches us to struggle and overcome. Islam teaches us to work, provide for our families as best we can, pursue education in order to improve our situations, emigrate, stay patient, and trust in Allah. Survive.

When the entire world cuts Palestine off and tries to starve them in their camps, the Palestinians build miles-long tunnels under the border and smuggle in everything from live goats to cooking oil, to entire cars, piece by piece. They don’t lay down and die. They struggle. They survive because they know where to turn for strength.

Who you are, and where you turn

My struggle is nothing beside that of the suffering people of Gaza, and I imagine yours is not either. Yet we all have our own personal pains and tragedies. The most painful moments of our lives prove who we are. Where do we turn in those moments?

Bilal Mustafa, an acquaintance of mine and founder of the forum says, “Asking the question “Why?” is life changing only if you turn to God for the answer. An answer from anywhere else is catastrophic…”

People of corruption turn to physical pleasure. People of addiction turn to drink and drugs. People of despair turn to suicide. People of hopelessness take no action but simply wait and suffer, doing nothing to bring about change because they have given up on the possibility of something better.

The believers turn to Allah. In those moments of confusion and pain, Allah is our refuge. In Allah there is comfort and strength.

It’s been said that man can live about forty days without food, three days without water, eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope. I would add that without Allah we would not survive for a millionth of a second. “Say, ‘Have you considered: if your water was to become sunken [into the earth], then who could bring you flowing water?'” – Quran, Al-Mulk, 67:30

2. Strive

Striving is a step up from survival, and is defined as reaching for something beyond the basic necessities. As we reach for more, let’s remember why we are here. There’s a song by a famous rapper that says, “Get rich or die tryin’. ” That’s not our philosophy. We are supposed to know better.

And I have not created the jinn and the men except that they should serve Me.
I do not desire from them any sustenance and I do not desire that they should feed Me.
Surely Allah is the Bestower of sustenance, the Lord of Power, the Strong.
– (Quran 51:56-58)

We’re here to worship Allah in every aspect of our lives. That includes treating our families with compassion – and notice I didn’t say love, because we all love our families but we’re not always compassionate toward them – being honest in trade, speaking the truth, and standing up for justice.

I do not diminish the significance of survival for those who have been through trauma. When, like the twenty to fifty thousand Bosnian Muslim women who were systematically raped by Serb soldiers during the Bosnian war, you can say, “I survived this. I was raped, my men were killed, my village demolished and burned, but I am still here, I survived, and I still believe in Allah…” – when you can say such a thing, then the power of survival becomes manifest. When you can say, like the Palestinians, “Our masjids and homes have been demolished, our leaders assassinated, our culture brutalized, our people killed and tortured, but we are still here, we survived, and we have not surrendered our freedom or our dignity…” When you can say that, then survival becomes a tremendous victory.

But you know what? Even in those places, people don’t “merely” survive. They rebuild, marry, have children, and sometimes they come out of it stronger in faith than before, with their history burning in their hearts and their faith rekindled like torches. We see that in Bosnia today.

If they can do that, then what should we expect of ourselves? Should we be satisfied with, commuting, paying the bills, watching the idiot box and raising children who care more about the latest video games than about Allah, the Messenger, the Quran, the Sahabah, striving to excel in life, creating something meaningful, and changing the world?

3. Thrive

Allah says in a Hadith Qudsi: “He who is hostile to a friend of Mine I declare war against. My servant approaches Me with nothing more beloved to Me than what I have made obligatory upon him, and My servant keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I love him. And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he seizes, and his foot with which he walks. If he asks me, I will surely give to him, and if he seeks refuge in Me, I will surely protect him. I do not hesitate to do anything that I am going to do more than My hesitation at taking the soul of a believer who does not want to die, for I dislike displeasing him.” (Bukhari, 8.131: 6502. S).

That’s what it is to thrive. You become so close to Allah that you are filled with love, awe and fear of Him, and you glorify Him with everything you do. You’re no longer attached to your whims and desires, but to Allah. You eat to live, you treat your body like a temple, you pursue your dreams like a soaring hawk, you laugh and relax with friends, you are a walking daa’iy, you embody the principle of jihad as spiritual and social struggle.

I am nowhere near that state of existence, but that’s what I dream of for myself, my daughter, and my future family. I want to grow joyously and ferociously, to constantly challenge myself, and overcome new obstacles. I don’t want to waste a single day. I want to think of Allah first every morning.

If you want this as well, then it’s a choice that we must make. It doesn’t happen naturally. Chaos and problems happen naturally, wind and sun happen naturally, but to thrive as a human being is a mindset. It’s a choice worth making, because it feels good and right.

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Article by Wael

Wael Abdelgawad is an Egyptian-American living in Fresno, California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including and, and also of various technology and travel websites. He is a writer and poet, and has been a web developer since 1997. This project,, is very dear to his heart, as it has allowed him to express ideas that have growing inside him for many years. Wael is divorced and has one lovely young daughter. He practices and teaches martial arts (somewhat obsessively), and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and vanilla fudge ice cream. Wael is an advocate for human rights and blogs about these issues at He is also a volunteer with the MyDeen Muslim youth organization in Fresno. Wael tagged this post with: , , , , , , , , , Read 266 articles by
One Comments Post a Comment
  1. SisterZ says:

    Bilal Mustapha is spot on.

    Sometimes being able to find no solution is a blessing as it makes one implore at every moment. When one climbs the stairs, when laying down to sleep, when stirring in the night, when hearing adhaan. We should do this anyway, but when man feels helpless, when his every effort seems to be disintergrating, when he so feels like pulling his hair out because no one around him is listening and his tears of frustration soak his pillow case, it just reinforces that Allah is listening. In fact He(swt) is the only One who listens. So without hope, a Muslim cannot be wholly Muslim.


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