Allah and His Messenger are the lights in the darkness of this world

The sun bursting from behind the clouds

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Matthew Arnold, the English poet, wrote:

“Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

In this poem, Arnold envisioned the world as a place of darkness, conflict and confusion, with no light to show the way out. To him the beauty of the world was just an illusion, a dream; and the reality of life was one of struggle and pain.

Indeed, the world seems to become a more dangerous and hopeless every day. The news is filled with dire stories about war and starvation, the inexorable destruction of the natural environment, pollution of the oceans, terrorism, and crime. Most recently we have been reading about the “Arab Spring”, in which the people of several nations have risen up against their dictators. As inspiring as these events are, in the midst lie acts of horrific cruelty. In Libya it is rumored that 100 officers who refused to order soldiers to fire on protesters, were burned alive. La hawla wa la quwwata il-laa billah. How horrendous.

Wouldn’t a sane person be afraid of such a world? Wouldn’t an intelligent person be consumed with anxiety, and wouldn’t a very intelligent person be plunged into despair?

The thing about fear, anxiety and despair is that they flourish in spiritual darkness, just as some species of mushrooms can only grow in the dark. They might be represented by the image of a monster hiding in the corner of a dark room.

What do you do when you’re afraid there’s a monster in the closet, or creeping quietly toward you? You turn on the light.

The Light is Allah

For us, the light is Allah, and the Quran through which He communicates with us. Our guiding light is the natural bond we have with Allah, and our instinctive yearning to know our Creator. Let’s cherish that bond and strengthen it, and it will fill us with light.

Allah’s light is our salvation from fear of the unknown; fear of failure; fear of loss and pain; fear of poverty, illness and injury; fear of enemies who want to hurt us; fear of strange things; fear of death.

“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things.” – Quran, Surat An-Nur, 24:35

An Illuminating Lamp

And what about the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him)?

Allah says in the Quran, Surat Al-Ahzab, 33:45-46,

“O Prophet, indeed We have sent you as a witness and a bringer of good tidings and a warner, And one who invites to Allah, by His permission, and an illuminating lamp.”

The Messenger too is a source of light. He is an illuminating lamp, which is what you hold up so you can see the way ahead. His Sunnah gives us a brilliant path to walk. It shows us the way past all the evils that lurk in the darkness, including the evils of racism, nationalism, anger, selfishness, dishonesty, hypocrisy, and greed.

I’m not saying that all we must do is read the Quran and pray, and those dire problems that I mentioned earlier will evaporate. Not at all.

But the solutions to those problems lie within the Quran if we look. The Quran is the light that shows us the way out out of the gloom that we have created for ourselves, and example of the Messenger (peace be upon him) is a beacon that lights the way forward.

Light in Our Hearts

The verse I quoted above, from Surat an-Nur, mentions the example or similitude of Allah’s light. The Sahabi (companion of the Prophet) Ubayy ibn Ka`b said, ‘The similitude of His light [takes place in] the Muslim’s heart.’ [Ibn Kathir, 3:464]  Faith, dhikr, love of Allah and compassion toward all creatures, cause that light to grow in our hearts, until it spreads and appears on our faces, our hands, in our eyes, on our tongues, and even in our homes. As Allah says, “Or is one who was dead, and whom We gave life and made for him a light by which to walk among people, like one who is in a darkness from which he cannot emerge?” [6:122]

Other people can sense this light, and some will be guided by it, while others reject it. Those who reject it might even be angered by it, because it represents a refutation of a lifestyle based on narrow material concerns.

Ibn `Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “When the Messenger of Allah got up to pray at night, he would say:

(O Allah, to You be praise, You are the Sustainer of heaven and earth and whoever is in them. To You be praise, You are the Light of the heavens and the earth and whoever is in them.)

When life starts to feel like a burden, and your vision contracts so that all you see is darkness, don’t give up. Don’t despair. Remember that there is a light to show you the way. The light is Allah. His light is expressed through the Quran and through His Messenger. Turn to it, and it will grow in your heart and bring you peace. It will give you strength and joy, and will transform you and all those around you.

Arabian lamp shining

If you did not commit sins

Round hay bales on a farm

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

The Messenger of Allah (sal-Allahu alayhi wa-sallam – peace be upon him) said, “If you did not commit sins, Allah would sweep you out of existence and replace you by another people who would commit sins, ask for Allah’s forgiveness and He would forgive them.” (reported by Muslim). This may sound odd at first – does Allah want us to sin? The answer is no, He does not want us to sin, but He knows that we will, and He wants us to ask forgiveness, to return to Him, and to know that He is always there ready to welcome us back.

That’s part of Allah’s plan for us. Allah created us with a certain nature, and the essence of that nature is free will, and a consequence of that is that we commit sins, and if we are believers then we repent and return to Allah. That is the part that Allah loves: the repentance, the voluntary return.

Allah did not create us to be angels. He already had uncounted angels to do His bidding. Creatures of light, they hear and obey, perfect in their compliance because they lack free will.

But Allah wanted to bring something different into the universe: a creature of free will, submitting to Allah out of choice. Worship and faith freely given are infinitely more valuable than that which is done without volition. The flip side is that a creature of free will can commit sins; he can be destructive and rebellious. The sweet and the bitter are two inseparable expressions of human nature. The hope is that righteousness and obedience will predominate.

Allah tells us in the Quran 2:30, of the time long ago when He informed the angels that He would create humanity:

“And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I will make upon the earth a khalifah (successive authority/agent/trustee).” They said, “Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?” Allah said, “Indeed, I know that which you do not know.”

The scholars have said, by the way, that the jinn had already been created on earth and had caused much mischief, and that’s why the angels thought to ask the question about corruption and bloodshed.

Notice that Allah did not answer the angels by saying, “No, the humans beings will not cause trouble.” He said, “I know that which you do not know.”

In other words, yes, this khalifah might indeed fail in his duty, he might cause corruption and shed blood, but there is something special about him that warrants his creation anyway; something that justifies his existence. There’s another aspect to him, something noble and even heroic.

When a person does a terrible thing, for example murders a child, some people say, “How could God allow this to happen?” This question expresses a misunderstanding of the relationship between Allah and humanity. Allah does not want us to sin. He gives us guidance and commands us not to do evil. But if He were to physically interfere and stop human beings from hurting each other, He would effectively abolish our free will, and we would no longer be human. We would be angels, or we’d be creatures of pure physicality like trees and stars, worshiping Allah through conformity to the natural laws of the universe. To take away our free will would be to strip us of our potential for true piety, bravery and even love. Would you really want to live in a universe without love? What a terrible loss that would be.

So here we are, creatures of choice. Earnest but obstinate. We mess up. We betray ourselves and others, we do terrible things, we feel sadness, shame and regret.

What is Allah’s attitude toward this? He condemns the sins we commit, but He waits for us to repent, and when we do He welcomes us. If we go to Him crawling, He comes to us walking, and if we go to Him walking, He comes to us running, as the Prophet (pbuh) reported in a famous Hadith Qudsi:

“Allah says, ‘I am just as My servant thinks I am, and I am with him if he remembers Me. If he remembers Me in himself, I too, remember him in Myself; and if he remembers Me in a group of people, I remember him in a group that is better than them; and if he comes one span nearer to Me, I go one cubit nearer to him; and if he comes one cubit nearer to Me, I go a distance of two outstretched arms nearer to him; and if he comes to Me walking, I go to him running.’ “ [Sahih Al-Bukhâri, 9/7405 (O.P.502)].

People write to me (personally or through IslamicAnswers.com) and they say, “I have done terrible things, Allah will never forgive me, I am doomed to Hell, I feel like committing suicide.”

This way of thinking is completely wrong. Allah will forgive you. He loves to forgive. That’s why the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) used to ask Allah’s forgiveness seventy times every day even without committing any sin (SubhanAllah!). You are not doomed. You must not take your own life, for that is the ultimate irrevocable sin.

Who do you imagine Allah is speaking to when He says,

“O my servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah. Verily, Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Quran 39:53).

He is speaking to you, and to me, and to every one of us.

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, One who sincerely repents of his sin is as if he had never committed it. When Allah loves one of His servants, his sins do not harm him. Then he (the Prophet pbuh) recited the verse: ‘Assuredly, Allah loves the oft-repentant and those who always seek to purify themselves.”“

Don’t kill yourself over your past mistakes. I mean this literally and figuratively. Never think that Allah will not forgive. Allah knows that we are creatures prone to sin. He knew it even before He created Adam and Hawaa, but He had His own plan for us, and part of that plan is forgiveness.

Agents of Hope, Agents of Despair

Rainbow over a road

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

“Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth!” – Quran 24:35

The Quran is a guidance, and the Sunnah (way) of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is a shining beacon. They are both agents of hope in the hearts of humanity. We too must be agents of hope in the lives of those around us.

We must never be agents of despair. Shaytan (Satan) is the ultimate agent of despair. That is his specialty. He strives to destroy our faith in Allah, our faith in ourselves, our faith in others.

Terrorists are agents of despair. They seek not to build, but to destroy by inducing fear, suffering and chaos.

We too can sometimes unwittingly become agents of despair.

If you ever find yourself telling someone that their dreams of achieving something great are unrealistic; if you find yourself cutting someone down verbally, pointing out their faults ruthlessly, mocking their failures, or teasing them in a hurtful way, stop! You are functioning as an agent of despair in that person’s life.

If you find yourself demeaning yourself in this way, focusing on your own failings, stop! You are acting as an agent of despair in your own soul.

When you make a mistake (and don’t we all make mistakes every day?), ask Allah for forgiveness, recover, and stand up straight. Resolve to do better next time. Never hate yourself, or if you do then don’t do it for more than a few seconds before you shake it off. Never wallow in self-pity or self-recrimination. The past is gone and you can never go back and change it, but you can learn from it, and become a stronger and wiser person.

Life is difficult. Life is painful at times. That is part of its nature. But it is also beautiful, profound and full of meaning. You too are beautiful and profound. Allah did not create humanity in vain, and that includes you. Your life has meaning and purpose. Seek that purpose. Hold on to your connection with Allah and strengthen it, follow it. Be an agent of hope in your own heart, and change your life for the better. Then act as an agent of hope to those around you, and you will affect their lives in positive and profound ways, even when you are not aware of it.

If you must criticize, do it with kindness. If you disagree, do it with sincerity. If you see good in someone, tell them. If you love someone in the cause of Allah, tell them. If you see pain, strive to be a balm, to provide relief. If you see someone hurting emotionally, give a kind word. Be a living example of truth. Be a walking agent of da’wah, showing the beauty of Islam through your actions. Stand up for what’s right.

Be an agent of hope in this world, and you will follow in the footsteps of the Prophets.

Never Despair: How a Dying Friend Inspired Me

The sun shining from behind a cloud

Sometimes when it's cloudy we forget that the sun is still shining behind the clouds, waiting to burst forth

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

A Dedicated Da’iyy

The year was 1983. A few of my friends from the Fresno, California masjid were going to the hospital to visit a Muslim brother who was very ill. They invited me along and off we went in someone’s car. I was seventeen years old.

Along the way they told me that the brother, whose name was AbdulGhafoor*, was a tall, dreadlocked man in his mid-forties or so, originally from the Virgin Islands. He had several children. He made his living selling perfume oils at the various swap meets around California. He was a dedicated da’iyy, always talking to people about Islam, spreading the word. He was known for his ready laugh, and for always wearing Islamic clothes, typically a shalwar khamees-style shirt and loose pants.

Unfortunately he had developed an illness called Valley Fever.

Valley Fever, one brother explained to me, is a fungus that resides in the soil of California’s Central Valley. The fungus can be stirred into the air by anything that disrupts the soil, such as farming, construction and wind. The fungi can then be breathed into the lungs, causing fever, chest pain and coughing. Some people develop no symptoms, but individuals of Asian, Hispanic and African descent may develop a more serious and sometimes fatal form of infection.

One of my friends described how he had worked with AbdulGhafoor in the grape orchards some time back, picking grapes. He said that AbdulGhafoor was tireless and strong, and had a vibrant spirit that engaged people around him so that the work hours flew past. Another friend mentioned playing basketball with AbdulGhafoor, and how no one could beat him one-on-one.

So when we got to to the hospital and located AbdulGhafoor’s room, I was shocked to see a man who appeared to be on the edge of death. He lay prone in the hospital bed, with IVs running into his arm, barely able to move. I could see that he was tall and had a proud, distinctive face. But he was terribly thin, and his dark skin appeared to be turning white as chalk in places and flaking off.

I think my friends were stunned at AbdulGhafoor’s condition as well, and they haltingly uttered various sympathetic statements. AbdulGhafoor put up his hand and motioned us all closer. He spoke, and I could barely hear him as his voice was a hoarse whisper. He said, “The greatest sin is to despair of the mercy of Allah. Never despair. Trust in Allah.”

He smiled as he said it, as if to reassure us, so we would not feel bad. It amazed me that in his dire situation that was all he had to say.

We didn’t want to tire him too much and we left soon after, but that moment has always stayed in my mind and has affected the way I see the world. So many times in my life, when I have felt low, or been in desperate situations, have I heard AbdulGhafoor’s voice saying, “Never despair. Trust in Allah.”

AbdulGhafoor did not die. Yes, I know I called him a “dying friend” because that’s how he seemed to me in that first meeting. But he was a man with a vast reservoir of internal strength and he pulled through and returned to his family, his work at the swap meets, and his da’wah. He had a few recurring bouts of Valley Fever over the years, but he was strong and nothing ever stopped him.

I got to know AbdulGhafoor well over the following years. He became one of my closest friends. I was young and impressionable and AbdulGhafoor played a major role in shaping my way of thinking. Looking back with the perspective of advancing age, I can see that his advice to me was not always sound. But that same acquired perspective allows me to avoid judging him, because I know now that everyone makes mistakes, and the only way to avoid losing all your friends, and destroying your relationships, is to learn to forgive.

AbdulGhafoor was powerful, but humble and generous. I don’t know how many times I saw him take in travelers and feed them; or provide a room to new Muslim converts who were down on their luck; or help poor Muslims to get started in some sort of self-employment. These were people that no one else would even look at. Poor Latino brothers working in the fields with no education and no English…  a rough-edged white brother fresh out of prison and newly converted, with a swastika tattoo still on his arm! AbdulGhafoor took them into his home, fed them, and taught them. SubhanAllah, ma-sha-Allah.

I remember a teenaged brother who lived on his own and had been a convert for a year or so. This young brother had little understanding of Islamic manners. He saw AbdulGhafoor in a leather coat and he said, “That’s a really nice coat.” AbdulGhafoor said, “Alhamdulillah.” And just like that the youngster said, “Can I have it?” AbdulGhafoor did not say a word. He took the coat off and handed it to the brother.

I have many good memories of time spent with AbdulGhafoor. I learned from him and admired him, but I could also be overconfident as some youth are, and at times I had to be brought down a notch. One time I was practicing Karate at the masjid by myself when AbdulGhafoor entered. He asked if I would like to spar a little. I was in my late teens at that point and had studied karate for some years, and AbdulGhafoor was maybe fifty years old, so I thought he would be a pushover. I thought I’d have to take it easy on him.

We both put our hands up, and before I even had a chance to feel him out – pow! – he smacked me on the nose with an open hand. It was so fast I didn’t see it coming. To my credit, I managed to keep my hands up even as my eyes watered. But I was embarrassed and I made an excuse: “I wasn’t ready for that,” I said. “You shouldn’t have been,” AbdulGhafoor said. “I shouldn’t have come at you like that.”

My teenage ego was mortified, but it makes me laugh now.

A Terrible Loss

Some years later I was in Arizona, living in a harsh environment, learning some valuable life lessons. I called one of my California friends, and I learned that AbdulGhafoor’s daughter Tahirah had died in a house fire. Their house had caught fire at night from incense or candles; Tahirah had run back into the house repeatedly to rescue her younger brothers and sisters. The last time she went in, she did not come out. She was a shaheedah, who died saving her family.

I remember Tahirah as a girl who was intelligent, articulate, and strong in a quiet way. A beautiful girl. Definitely her father’s daughter. May Allah have infinite mercy on her.

I called AbdulGhafoor. I told him I had heard about what happened to Tahirah. He said, “Yes?” His tone was distant, bordering on cold; I was tongue-tied and I stumbled my way through something like, “I’m so sorry, brother. I won’t even pretend to know what you’re feeling, but I want you to know that I am thinking of you and praying for you, and I know Tahirah is in a happy place now…”

There was a silence for a moment, then AbdulGhafoor burst into tears, and through his sobs he said, “You’ve always been a good friend. I love you.” I was moved by that. He knew that I was in a difficult environment and once again he was transcending his own tremendous pain to reach out to me – SubhanAllah, even now I cannot recall it without bringing tears to my eyes.

Some years later, when I returned to Fresno for a visit, I went to visit AbdulGhafoor, and I discovered that in my absence he had named his youngest son after me. It only occurs to me now that I never asked him why. It was a strange time for me. I was very emotionally bottled up, and Fresno seemed to me a place full of ghosts. Some of my friends had passed away – one of a heart attack in his 30’s – and others had moved away. Still others were now estranged. I felt disquieted in Fresno, and for the first time, I felt uneasy in AbdulGhafoor’s house. We chatted briefly, then I excused myself and left.

Even today, so many years later, I have not reconnected with that past.

I still see AbdulGhafoor at the Eids, and once at a mall where he owns a perfume oil shop. He is divorced now and only his youngest son – my namesake – still lives with him. He played a key role in establishing the downtown masjid, and he is still active there, but he no longer has the energy for the incessant da’wah-in-motion activity of his youth. We exchange salams and hugs, and move on. There seems to be an unwritten agreement between us not to discuss the past.

Never Despair

Allah quotes Prophet Yaqoob (alaiyhis-salam) in the Quran:

“Indeed, no one despairs of relief from Allah except the disbelieving people.” (Surah Yusuf 12:87)

And He says,

“Say: O My servants who have transgressed against their own souls, despair not of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Surah az-Zumar 39:53)

Allah speaks of those who have committed great sins, breaking the laws of Allah and harming their own souls, and yet Allah extends to them the offer of mercy and forgiveness. How much more merciful and kind will Allah be to one who is ill, lying helpless in a hospital bed, unable to care for his family, relying only on Allah’s help? Would there be any limit to Allah’s mercy in such a case?

Allah stated in a Hadithi Qudsi, “I am with My servant as He expects of Me.” This means that Allah treats us as we expect Him to do. If we have faith in Allah, expecting His love, guidance and help at every moment of our lives, then we will indeed be loved, guided and helped. But if we imagine Allah to be an angry and unforgiving God, and if we expect harshness from Him, despairing of His mercy, then we commit a great sin and indeed we may not be forgiven.

In the case of illness and adversity, they are in fact a source of forgiveness from Allah, and an expiation for sins. In that sense, illness and adversity are blessings, because we suffer some pain in this life in exchange for forgiveness and comfort in the next. The next post will discuss in more detail this issue of how illness and hardship erase our sins, Insha’Allah.

AbdulGhafoor knew that pain is a source of mercy, and he knew that a Muslim should never despair, never lose faith in Allah, and never think badly of Allah or expect anything less from Allah than ultimate love and tenderness.

All these years later, I still see AbdulGhafoor clearly in my mind’s eye, weak as a baby bird in that hospital bed, his voice hoarse, whispering, “The greatest sin is to despair of the mercy of Allah. Never despair. Trust in Allah.” I think of that moment sometimes when I am tempted to feel sorry for myself because of financial troubles or personal difficulties. At other times, I remember that conversation with him when his daughter was martyred in the fire, and how even through his sobs I knew I was speaking to a man of faith. I never doubted that.

***

* Names were changed to protect the privacy of the people in the story.

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