Getting in Touch With Gratitude

Girl with arms raised to the sky

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

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

Gratitude

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

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

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

Ask from Allah

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

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

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

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

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

The refugee later related,

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

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

Forgive

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

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

Save one soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honored and blessed to wake up

Bird inflight - a sequenced shot.

Bird in flight – a sequenced shot.

“I wake up feeling great every morning not because everything yesterday went perfectly as planned, or last night I slept on a bed of roses and had dreams of successful happy ending, or that I’m entering today with a forecast of having no cloudy problems, no rainy challenges, no thunderous setbacks or no stormy test.

“No! I wake up feeling great every morning because God allowed me to wake up, and to that I am honored, blessed and thankful. Therefore I sacrifice my own selfish self-interest and I dedicate every minute of everyday to God by entering it like every bug, every fish, every bird, every reptile, every mammal and every tree: full of life with a hungry faith relying totally on God to provide me with my daily sustenance, my daily bread…

“Did I say good morning?”

– Bilal Mustafa, aka Bilal Int’l

Grateful for the Sunshine or the Rain

Wael's daughter Salma riding a camel.

Wael’s daughter Salma riding a camel.

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

* Today, let us be grateful for everything good in our lives. *

Let us thank Allah for the sunshine or the rain, for there are blessings in both. People love to complain about the weather, but today let’s simply be grateful.

Let us thank Allah for our parents, our siblings, and our children – there’s my own child, above, riding a camel 🙂 Sometimes our relatives can drive us crazy – sometimes we wish we could divorce our own families – but at the of the day, they are a part of us, aren’t they?

Le’ts be grateful to Allah for food and drink, leaves and grass, birds and beauty.

Let us be grateful for our bodies, for taking deep breaths, and feeling our hearts beat in our chests. People love to complain about their bodies as well, don’t they? “Oh, my joints are killing me today… I have the worst headache… Oh, my aching back…” – but today let’s just be grateful that we are alive, with the opportunity to laugh and love for one more day.

Let us thank Allah for iman, hidayah and haq (faith, guidance and truth).

SubhanAllah, Alhamdulillah, Allahu Akbar.

In a season of consumerist madness, let’s be grateful, and give

Beautiful farm valley

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

At this time of year the stores are pushing their sales at us. Advertising is everywhere. There if a frenzy to buy, buy, buy. Let’s realize that this is not a spiritual way of life. It’s not an appropriate lifestyle for someone who is dedicated to God. The consumerist madness is a deception. There’s no joy or peace attached to it. It’s a shallow illusion.

Look at what society has done to itself in the name of consumerism. A day of thanks (Thanksgiving) has become the prelude to “Black Friday”, the biggest shopping day of the year. It used to be that Black Friday did not begin until Friday morning, out of respect for Thanksgiving. Then the starting gun was moved to midnight, and now it has crept into Thursday evening. Nothing is sacred.

The Prophet ‘Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus the son of Mary), peace be upon him, has been turned into a marketing strategy. His purported birthday has become a month of shopping insanity, presided over by a mythical sub-deity named Santa. People go into debt, they fight over sale goods… no mention is made of faith.

We Muslims fall prey to the same consumerist lifestyle. Sometimes the holy month of Ramadan becomes a month of shopping, sleeping and binge eating, astaghfirullah.

Let us – Christians, Muslims, Jews and all people of God – not follow this path. Let’s hew to a way of sacrifice, zakat (purification), sadaqah (charity), zuhd (giving up material luxury). We don’t have to be monks, but we must focus on the things that matter: faith and family.

There are movements that advocate a simple living, back-to-nature, low-impact lifestyle.  In Islam this is called zuhd, which could be translated as detachment or asceticism. Zuhd is a choice that a person makes to give up the hunger for material possessions and transgressive carnal experiences, and live a simple lifestyle dedicated to God.

That’s what we need.

The faith in our hearts is more important than the brand name of the clothes we wear. Where our feet carry us – to someplace good or bad – is more important than the cost of our shoes. The sincerity in our hearts is more important than any gift. May Allah help us to see what is important in life.

The Enjoyment of Delusion

There’s a powerful verse from the Bible, Proverbs 30:8-9:

Give me neither poverty nor riches,
grant me only my share of bread to eat,
for fear that surrounded by plenty, I should fall away
and say, “Yahweh – who is Yahweh?”
or else in destitution, take to stealing
and profane the name of my God.

(Yahweh is an ancient Hebrew name for God).

If you visit the shopping malls at Christmastime, and read the news stories of people lining up from the night before and huddling in sleeping bags in order to buy the latest gadgets, then trampling each other in the rush; if you turn on the TV to the usual Christmas comedies and “Frosty the Snowman” cartoons, you see that God has been forgotten, and has even become taboo. It’s not politically correct to speak of God. Just watch what we broadcast, be hypnotized by our Christmas elevator music, buy and forget…

Allah says about this:

“Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion.” – Quran, Surat Al-Hadeed, 57:20

This theme is struck repeatedly in the Quran. The amusement and adornment of the dunya is an illusion that dries up and crumbles like a corn stalk, and becomes dust. It is empty, the enjoyment of delusion. Wow. That phrase, “enjoyment of delusion”, makes me think of a madman alone in a room, tied in a straight jacket, engaged in a pleasant delusion playing only in his mind.

I know people who have a bedroom devoted to all the junk that they have bought but do not use. They never enter that room and the door is kept locked. Isn’t that a kind of mental illness?

Gratitude

How do we resist the onslaught of the season? How do we remember Allah?

The greatest tool in our toolbox is gratitude. By looking at what we’ve been blessed with, our hearts become content. Socrates commented that contentment is natural wealth, while luxury is artificial poverty. Contentment does not mean complacency or passivity; it refers to a state of awareness of our blessings, and gratitude for the smallest to the greatest provisions – the tiniest cells in our bodies, to the grand earth itself.

Let’s become aware of what we have: the food on our plates, our ability to see and hear, the love and health of our families, sanity, intelligence, knowledge… these things are huge. When we open our eyes and start to see, then we become content and happy, and we see how meaningless are things are like big-screen TVs, the latest smartphone, or another new dress.

Let’s remember Allah the Eternal, and think of our aakhirah (hereafter). While others are are hungering for more, let’s be grateful for what we have, and give.

Our local Muslim community center here in Fresno participates in feeding the poor at soup kitchens; and is currently organizing a winter blanket and coat drive for the homeless. I encourage every Muslim community to do something similar. Get Muslim adults and children involved in the process of giving, whether to needy Muslims or non-Muslims.

It’s liberating to ignore the sales and seasonal hype. When we abandon the idea of acquiring goods, and instead focus on giving, we dump the whole propaganda machine on its head. We change everything. While the frantic buying of “stuff” makes us forget Allah, gratitude brings us back to Him. That’s why Allah brings together gratitude and remembrance of Allah:

“So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me.”
– Quran, Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:152

Being grateful to Allah means that our hearts become filled with love for Him; our bodies are obedient to Him; our tongues praise Him; we receive His favors with humility; we thank Him for everything we have received; and we use what He has given us for good. We could never repay Allah. The least we can do is thank him.

By being grateful and separating ourselves from the consumerist craziness, we set an example of how to live without avarice. We free our spirits, remove a burden from our backs, and shine a light for ourselves and others.

Living Better Than Kings

Hunger in the Horn of Africa

A father holds his child in the Horn of Africa

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Be grateful for what you have.

There are people in this world in desperate situations: homeless, refugees, starving, traumatized by war, alone after losing their entire families. Help those people – donate for Somalia if you haven’t already – then take a moment to thank Allah for what you have.

We live better than the kings and queens of the past. We have amenities that would have seemed like magic to them. Food from all over the world on demand, indoor plumbing, electricity, air conditioning, radio, TV, computers, internet, medical care, education…

These modern conveniences meet our physical needs, but they don’t fill our spirits. Be grateful to Allah for what you have, live simply, and don’t overload your soul with distractions. Focus on your relationship with Allah. Be at peace with yourself.

If your life is still lacking in some way, then make a change. Create a goal, and take a step. You have all the tools you need. Your most important tools are not tablet computers and smart phones. They are courage, faith, and the ability to say, “Yes! I am someone, I matter, and I will follow my dream.”

Get Up and Do Your Thing

Africa and Europe from space

Africa and Europe from space

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Life has been challenging lately. In July I’ve faced some financial setbacks, and also some personal setbacks that have hit me hard, and drained me emotionally to the point where sometimes I just sit in my padded computer chair and don’t feel like getting up. I feel like I hardly have the energy to get up and prepare some food to eat, let alone pray, work, go to class, care for my daughter…

And yet I do get up. I go out and teach a 2.5 hour martial arts class and I do it with vigor, because my students are looking to me for guidance and inspiration. I get up and do my volunteer job at the Muslim community center. I get up and take my daughter to the lake or the masjid, and have a tea party with her, and read her the latest chapter of “Fish Face”. I laugh with her and love her with everything I’ve got, because she needs me. I don’t have time for self-pity.

I get up and do my thing, because that’s what it is to be a man (or woman), to be a father (or mother), to be a Muslim, to be a friend, to be alive! You get up and do what you have to do. You pick your foot up and take a step, then lift the other one and take another step, and before you know it you are moving ahead, and time has passed and your problems have diminished and don’t hurt quite so much, or maybe you have overcome them entirely, because you are experiencing the joy of life. Your love for Allah, and your gratitude, and your attentiveness to the beauty and blessings around you, all wash the pain away like a river.

That’s what it is to be alive. SubhanAllah.

So, to all those reading this now, I send you light and love, and I know that no matter what physical or emotional aches you are experiencing, you will rise each morning with gratitude, you will take a step and move ahead, you will love and laugh, you will push self-pity to the side and live your lives with commitment, in the short time that we all have on this beautiful ball of brown and blue.

One last note:  Eat healthy foods, drink water and – very important – get enough sleep. These are all critical to maintaining an emotional balance and moving forward in life with a positive attitude.

Accountable for Our Blessings

Vancouver from the air

Vancovuer, Canada from the air

I’m still in Vancouver for a martial arts seminar, and it’s so beautiful here. Mountains, rivers, trees, beaches, shining buildings, and perfect weather. When Allah has given a people so much, they will be accountable for what they did with their blessings.

Are we doing what we should with our blessings? Are we grateful? Do we share? Do we proclaim the truth? Are we fulfilling our potentials?

If not, then there is no better time to begin than right now, this moment. Choose one small way to be a better Muslim, and implement it in your life today. That’s how it starts. The road to Jannah begins with the first step.

Allah Prepared the Earth for Us

Yosemite Valley, California

Yosemite Valley, California

“As the pregnant mother excitedly prepares the cradle for the arrival of her new baby, Allah also prepared the earth for us before He sent Adam and Hawaa. He set all in place for us: the earth as a soft bed, the heavens as a canopy, the rain, the fruits, the stars, even companions and love. He (SWT) gave us everything we need to live and fulfill our needs. It’s truly amazing.”

– Sister Fozia

Poem: Fill it With Al-Fatihah

Beach foam

Fill it With Al-Fatihah

Wounded brother, sister in belief:
pour out your cup of hurt and grief
and fill it with lavender leaf.
Fill it with sunlight seed
and the moon’s reedy laugh.
Fill it with the history of grass,
and the joy of breath.
Fill it with hope
and the poetry of God.

Fill it with Quran
and the moment before dawn.
Fill it with Allah’s soul-saving light,
and the power of His love
expressing in your life.
Fill it with dhikr like gold,
and Prophetic stories
that were old
a thousand years ago.

Fill your cup with beach foam
and the smell of baking bread;
with the mark of prayer
impressed upon your head;
with lemon drop soup
and the comfort of your bed.
Fill it with gratitude
for His gifts from above.
Fill your cup, and laugh,
for you are loved.


Wael Abdelgawad

April 14, 2011

Poem: A Peace That Sings

Dandelions blowing in the wind

A Peace That Sings

By Shireen

My soul breathes a breath it has never quite taken before
So crisp, so clean, so pure
And a giddy little grin will peak upon my lips
For no particular reason, just a peace within sings so deep
And though the meaning of life’s lesson is upon me now
I can’t help but feel that I know nothing of anything, but to God I remain, to God I bow
Time and time again we search, we befriend but in the end there are things that remain questionable
Should a friend really be so textable?
Really, is there nothing else to do other then keep us entertained
Twitter,or Facebook, Blackberry or Iphone, Google and Amazon E books
It’s all the same really, friends too many
One or two may know me
But never have they given me this feeling I feel
This ease, this lightness upon my chest, this gushing goodness of “man, God is Indeed The Best!”
Why? some may ask. Wasn’t that a test?
Yes, but a test is only a question mark away from a reward
Will you submit to that which you cannot control? Or will your choice be hard, and dramatic turmoil?
I resolve with, I need not fight if I have the angels fighting for me
I will not wander blindly when I have light making a way clearly
I will not speak ill of what’s meant to be, when I have the All Knowing watching over me
I will not be among the ungrateful, before I become alone just me and me
My life is a breath of fresh air for which I pray lasts until I return home
Though fears I have, it’s not something any human can console
For words don’t come when I try to speak it, just thoughts and only God Knows the Meanings
So I stop here, Praising the All Knowing, The All Wise
Hoping for the best, fearing my weaknesses and begging for success!

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