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.

Live the Moment – It’s All You Have

Amazing meadow, river, mountain and sunrays

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Try to appreciate the present moment and truly live it, rather than using it up by feeling guilty about the past, or fretting about the future. Regret for the past is a waste of spirit, and worrying about the future is pointless.

Hanan Bilal, a community activist and motivator from Florida, asks, “When will we stop living in the past and longing for our future? All we really have is this moment. The question is what are we going to do right now? Our time is now!”

The Past

That’s not to say that contemplation of past and future is verboten. The Quran tells stories of the past in order to educate us. The Messenger of Allah (sws) told us many stories of past Prophets and the Bani Israa’il, for the same reason. We study world history, we study the seerah of our Prophet and the lives of the Sahabah, because it inspires and informs.

I taught a martial arts class several hours ago and I’m still reviewing it in my mind, examining what I could do better next time. That’s part of the learning process for me.

I have a sweet young daughter named Salma and I often think about my time with her, something funny that she said, or the small gifts that she likes to make for me. Yesterday she made me a card that says “I love Baba.” A few days ago we had a poetry reading at our local Muslim community center, and in between readings our host told jokes. For some reason Salma positioned herself in the front row, and every time our host told a joke I heard Salma laughing loudly, even though I’m sure she did not understand the jokes (“do vegetarians eat animal crackers?”). Crazy kid, ha ha. So yeah, I think about past moments. But I’m not stuck in the past. I think about those moments because they educate me or make me smile, so they become a part of my present and future.

On the other hand, I occasionally think about my former marriage, and those are usually not good thoughts, because I tend to dwell on the mistakes I made, and I feel sadness or guilt. I’ve already contemplated deeply on that period in my life, and I’ve learned my lessons. I don’t need to keep returning there in my mind, punishing myself. If I did, then I would indeed be stuck in the past, unable to move forward. That is the kind of pointless regret that weighs people down and burdens their spirits.

The Future

We plan for the future by having goals, getting an education, working hard, saving money, always learning and improving ourselves. We plan for our aakhirah by dedicating ourselves to Allah, worshiping, giving our money to the poor and orphans, and humbling ourselves. We build our futures step by step. But it’s not productive to sit around biting our nails and thinking, “What if I fail my exam, oh, when will I get married, what’s going to happen if I lose my job, how will I pay my bills…” You make yourself sick and it doesn’t help.

Don’t worry, plan. There’s a huge difference! Then acknowledge that you don’t control the future. That’s Allah’s province.  Trust in Him, let him be your guide, find your security in Him.

The security of the dunya is false security. Suffering is the lot of all Adam’s children, in one way or another, and death comes when we’re ready or not. The security of Allah is real and transcends this world.

The Moment

This moment is all we have, my friend. The past is gone, and the future never comes, because when we get there, we’re still in the present.

If you take this moment to breathe deeply and say, “SubhanAllah wa bihamdihi” – glory to Allah and all praise to Him – and then thank Allah for the blessings in your life, or sit down and play a game with your child, go for a walk in the sunshine, maybe take a few nature photos, call an old friend, write your spouse a love note, read a verse from the Quran and contemplate it – then you have lived! You have turned that moment into a precious gem, something to smile about and feel good about.

Let’s live the moment, be conscious of it, feel it, and give Allah the credit, and in doing so let’s turn the moment into a circle of sunshine and barakah.

P.S. Isn’t that the most amazing photo above? I absolutely love it. I want to roll around in that grass, bathe in that river, call the adhaan to the sky, and build a small house among those trees. SubhanAllah.

Sleeping Peacefully When the Wind Blows

Wisconsin farm with red barn

Can You Sleep when the Wind Blows?

Years ago, a farmer owned land along the Atlantic seacoast. He constantly advertised for hired hands. Most people were reluctant to work on farms along the Atlantic. They dreaded the awful storms that raged across the Atlantic, wreaking havoc on the buildings and crops. As the farmer interviewed applicants for the job, he received A steady stream of refusals.

Finally, a short, thin man, well past middle age, approached the farmer.

“Are you a good farm hand?” the farmer asked him.

“Well, I can sleep when the wind blows,” answered the little man.

Although puzzled by this answer, the farmer, desperate for help, hired him. The little man worked well around the farm, busy from dawn to dusk, and the farmer felt satisfied with the man’s work.

Then one night the wind howled loudly in from offshore. Jumping out of bed, the farmer grabbed a lantern and rushed next door to the hired hand’s sleeping quarters. He shook the little man and yelled, “Get up! A storm is coming! Tie things down before they blow away!”

The little man rolled over in bed and said firmly, “No sir. I told you, I can sleep when the wind blows.”

Enraged by the response, the farmer was tempted to fire him on the spot. Instead, he hurried outside to prepare for the storm. To his amazement, he discovered that all of the haystacks had been covered with tarpaulins. The cows were in the barn, the chickens were in the coops, and the doors were barred. The shutters were tightly secured. Everything was tied down.

Nothing could blow away. The farmer then understood what his hired hand meant, so he returned to his bed to also sleep while the wind blew.

When you’re prepared, spiritually, mentally, and physically, you have nothing to fear. Can you sleep when the wind blows through your life? The hired hand in the story was able to sleep because he had secured the farm against the storm.

We secure ourselves against the storms of life by grounding ourselves in the Word of Allah. We don’t need to understand, we just need to hold on to His commands in order to have peace in the middle of storms.

(Note:  I am not the author. I found this online some time ago, but I don’t know who wrote it. – Wael)

Letting Go of Material Illusions

Desert Mirage

The happiness of material wealth is a mirage.


By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

As infants, our first seeming victory is being able to grasp – a finger, a toy, or anything bright. Only later do we realize that the dunya (the material world) is constantly grasping at us, trying to get us to buy, eat, feel, possess, own. Forces of greed are trying to get us to pour our souls down the drain of disposable consumerism, and poison our planet in the process.

Believers realize at that point that the real struggle is to give up our love for material things, and let go. To take what we need, and enjoy the simple pleasures, and not let ourselves be corrupted by waste.

Doesn’t Allah say that the wasters are the brothers of the devils?

“And give the relative his right, and [also] the poor and the traveler, and do not spend wastefully. Indeed, the wasteful are brothers of the devils, and ever has Satan been to his Lord ungrateful.” (Quran, Al-Israa’ 17: 26-27)

Modern society, and Western society in particular, is based on waste. Everything is disposable, everything is plastic, everything is buried in landfills where it seeps into the drinking water, or dumped into the ocean where it poisons the marine ecosystem. Knowing this, how are we to regard modern society in view of Allah’s statment that the wasters are the brothers of the devils? And what is our role in this massive assault on planet earth?

Things are not always as they seem. Consumerism is a spiritual desert, and the happiness that we think will come from buying this, or owning that, is a mirage. Buying the latest flat screen TV or data phone will not make us happy. Owning a McMansion in the suburbs will not bring us inner peace. Having a pile of money in the bank will not bring us closer to Allah, or save our souls, or extend our lives one moment beyond what has been written, regardless of our insurance plans. In fact, all those things are balls and chains that bind ours soul and create stress and worry.

The Messenger of Allah (sws), is reported to have said, “That which is little yet sufficient is better than that which is much and diverts man from his goal as a result.”

What is the goal? It is the worship of Allah, working fee-sabeel-illah, and the ultimate goal of Jannah. In the Bible, Jesus (peace be upon him) asks, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” If you own the most beautiful furniture, the most expensive clothing, and the coolest cars, yet you fail in your mission of achieving Jannah, then what have you achieved? You have ruined yourself.

Let go of these material illusions. We’re not infants anymore, trying to grab any pretty thing and put it in our mouths. We can think critically. The “reality” that is flashed in our eyes a thousand times a day by commercials, billboards, movies and TV is a lie. See things as they are. All that matters is Allah. Above all is Allah. Success lies in our relationship with Allah. Peace and happiness come from being in harmony with Allah’s teachings, which in turn brings us in harmony with all creation.

Buy less, own less, don’t use disposable products, don’t throw away things that can be repaired, re-sold or donated. Hand things down, pass them on. The best fun is free:  playing sports or word games with your children, walking in the park, swimming at the beach or the public pool, enjoying tea with friends. Don’t worry about owning the latest gadget. Forget about brand names. The only brands we need are Muslim, Mu’min, Ummah, Deen. Keep your eyes open, think for yourself, and don’t be fooled by bright illusions.

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.

Surely in Allah’s remembrance do the hearts find peace

Showers of sunshine on a green landscape

True peace comes with remembering Allah and growing closer to Him

When we remember God, we also realize that we are constantly in His presence, and thus we are liberated from the self-destructive habits that consume us.

So often in life we are wronged by others, and the temptation to respond in a demeaning and un-Islamic manner is very strong. Fortunately, we can avoid wrong responses in the case of mistreatment by relying on Allah and knowing that He is the All-Knowing. When we take part in wrong responses, we fall victim to disobediences that lead the soul away from righteousness, and into the pits of retaliation and cruelty.

“Surely in Allah’s remembrance do the hearts find peace.” (13:28)

Those who seek God and remember Him will find contentment and joy in their lives with the knowledge that they are under the protection of Allah. When we utter praise to the Almighty and thank Him for his countless bounties, our hearts are filled with inner peace and reflection. How happy and blessed are those who seek refuge in their Lord, the Most Beneficent and Most Merciful Allah.

– written by Renik

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