Let’s Love Ourselves First

Water drop on the tip of a leaf

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

We can get so caught up in trying to fix other people’s problems, that we forget to fix ourselves. We can spend all our time helping family members, running around, “sacrificing”, while our own souls are weary, discouraged and approaching despair. We can champion important causes, or do vital work in our jobs, while we cover up or ignore wounds from our past, until we cannot even look at ourselves with respect or love.

I suppose we all have our coping mechanisms. For me, it’s martial arts. When I’m troubled or unhappy, I tend to immerse myself in my martial arts practice. It occupies my mind, allows me to forget my problems, and wears out my body so I can sleep.

Others may plunge themselves into their work, or distract themselves with books, music or television, or busy themselves with other people’s problems. But you can only keep this up for so long. If you don’t face what’s going on internally, the darkness will eventually spread and blot everything else out.

We have to come to terms with ourselves, or happiness will elude us forever.

How can we love and cherish others if we do not love ourselves? How can we extend ourselves to create something good in the world, if what we have inside is not sound and peaceful? How can we raise happy children if we are not happy? Children are very perceptive; if you are troubled and hurt inside, they will pick up on that, and it will affect them. If you really want to love your children properly, you need to make peace with your own soul.

Sometimes there are so many distractions in our lives, so much external noise, that we can’t hear our own hearts anymore. We need to quiet our minds and get back in touch with our fitrah, that pure nature given to us by Allah. We need to ask Allah’s forgiveness, then forgive ourselves, so that we can get rid of the baggage of shame. Only then can we then forgive others, and let go of anger or resentment.

We must listen to our intuition, and hear our hearts speaking, and open ourselves to the clear light of Allah’s huda (guidance).

The Good New Days

Beautiful path to the future

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

People often wish for a return to the good old days. First of all, when we look at them objectively, they weren’t really so good. Sure, I have funny and pleasant memories from my youth, but I also remember the confusion and loneliness.

I personally would not trade my life at this moment for my life at any time in the past. Among other things, I now have a beautiful daughter who I love more than life itself; my writing, which has evolved to allow me to express my deepest convictions; and many small blessings that add up to a pot of gold.

Secondly, the old days are called “old” for a reason. That’s the past. We can’t go back.

What we can do is focus on the journey forward.

“Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Garden whose width is that (of the whole) of the heavens and of the earth, prepared for the righteous; – Those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity, or in adversity; who restrain anger, and pardon people;- for Allah loves those who do good; – And those who, having done something to be ashamed of, or wronged their own souls, earnestly bring Allah to mind, and ask for forgiveness for their sins,- and who can forgive sins except Allah….” – Quran, Surat Aal Imran, 3:133-135

This is how we make a better future for ourselves and our families, Insha’Allah. Letting go of anger, forgiving, asking forgiveness, giving to the poor and needy, and racing to Allah. The Almighty has given us the formula. This is how, instead of yearning for the good old days, we create good new days! Our future can be as good as the past ever was; it can be better, brighter and happier.

Let’s build the good new days.

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 anger and replace it with forgiveness

Beautiful sunshine in a blue sky

Let go of anger today, and replace it with forgiveness

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

A man said to the Messenger of Allah, (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam – peace be upon him): “Advise me! “The Prophet said, “Do not become angry and furious.” The man asked (the same) again and again, and the Prophet said in each case, “Do not become angry and furious.” [Al-Bukhari; Vol. 8 No. 137]

Resolve to give up anger, even if only for today. Whatever anger you are harboring against others, let it go. Whatever anger you have against yourself for mistakes you have made, or for wrongs you have done, let it go. It’s not helping you, it is only damaging your own spirit.

Remember that we are human; we are all imperfect. From the very beginning, starting with Adam and Hawaa (Adam and Eve) we humans made mistakes.

Other people have made mistakes and harmed you in the past because they are human; forgive them. You have made mistakes because you are human; forgive yourself, and turn to Allah in tawbah (repentance).

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has taught us some strategies for dealing with anger. For example, he said:

“I know a word, the saying of which will cause him to relax, if he does say it. If he says: ‘I seek Refuge with Allah from Satan’ then all his anger will go away.” [Al-Bukhari; Vol. 4, No. 502]

And he said,

“Anger comes from the devil, the devil was created of fire, and fire is extinguished only with water; so when one of you becomes angry, he should perform ablution.” [Abu Daud; Book 41, No. 4766]

Abu Dharr narrated: The Apostle of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, said to us: “When one of you becomes angry while standing, he should sit down. If the anger leaves him, well and good; otherwise he should lie down.” [Abu Daud; Book 41, No. 4764]

In another hadith, the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, said:

“If one of you becomes angry then he should be silent.”

Narrated ‘Abdur Rahman bin Abi Bakra: Abu Bakr wrote to his son who was in Sijistan: Do not judge between two persons when you are angry, for I heard the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, saying: “A judge should not judge between two persons while he is in an angry mood.” [Al-Bukhari; Vol. 9, No. 272]

So the Messenger of Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, has given us several strategies to deal with anger:

  1. Seek refuge with Allah from Shaytan. This reminds us that fury and rage are not good things; they are evil forces that we need to get rid of before they take us over. Seeking refuge with Allah reminds us that Allah is near, watching us; also it reminds us to turn the matter over to Allah, so that we can let go of our anger.
  2. Perform wudu’ (ritual washing for purity). SubhanAllah, what a beautiful thing. The wudu’ is a source of blessings and barakah for us. It also has a powerful symbolic value, washing away our anger and making us peaceful and pure.
  3. Sit down, or even lie down. Modern science has learned that the body influences the emotions as well as the other way around. So assuming a peaceful posture leads to peaceful emotions. Sitting down or lying down are non-threatening positions. This helps to defuse any conflict before it escalates.
  4. Stay silent. This is very important. All too often spouses or family members say things to each other in anger, and later they deeply regret their words. By then it’s too late:  the words have been uttered and the damage is done. When you are most angry is precisely the time to remain silent. Seek refuge with Allah, make wudu, pray, go for a walk, go to the masjid… allow yourself time to calm down and reflect.
  5. Do not judge between people (in other words make important decisions). Obviously making important decisions out of anger is a formula for disaster.

These are all wonderful points for dealing with anger in the moment. However, in todays “Islamic Sunray” I am also speaking about past anger. We all have old emotional wounds that we carry around like scars. We have old resentments and hurts.

If you hold on to these hurts, they will destroy your marriage, or at least make it an unhappy, chafing relationship. Holding on to resentments and grudges will destroy your friendships, leaving you isolated. These persistent negative emotions will eat into your own soul, leaving you bitter and unhappy.

Let them go. Modern medicine tells us that carrying around these old resentments and anger is bad for the health.

Steven Stosny, PhD, and author of “The Powerful Self: A Workbook of Theraputic Self Empowerment”, says,

“Consistent, prolonged levels of anger give a person a five times greater chance of dying before age 50. Anger elevates blood pressure, increases threat of stroke, heart disease, cancer, depression, anxiety disorders, and, in general, depresses the immune system (angry people have lots of little aches and pains or get a lot of colds and bouts of flu or headaches or upset stomachs). To make matters worse, angry people tend to seek relief from the ill-moods caused by anger through other health-endangering habits, such as smoking and drinking, or through compulsive behavior such as workaholism and perfectionism.

Laboratory experiments have shown that even subtle forms of anger impair problem-solving abilities and general performance competence. In addition to increasing error rates, anger narrows and makes rigid mental focus, tending to obscure alternative perspectives. The angry person has one “right way” of doing things, which, if selected in anger, is seldom the best way.”

Anger hurts our spirits. It makes us brittle and cynical. We become impatient, closed off and quick to judge.

Hurt, anger and resentment tighten your chest and narrow your vision. They make your world smaller.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, opens your lungs and lets you breathe. It releases your heart to beat freely, it removes the shackles from your mind, and lets all the weight drop off your back.

I know that this is easy to say and hard to do, but we must begin to forgive.

Start with forgiving yourself. Ask Allah for forgiveness for anything you’ve done that you regret, and then forgive yourself. Let it go. Breathe in deeply, breathe out, and let that anger escape with your breath. Do this as often as you need.

Brothers and sisters, be gentle with yourselves and with others. The world is already so full of anger, hatred, racism, divisions, and suffering. The world is torn by war and conflict. Let’s change this by starting with ourselves. Go into the world today and be gentle, and forgive.

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