When the Unstoppable Force Meets the Immovable Object

Rhinoceros charging

The unstoppable force

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

There’s a centuries old Chinese story about a man trying to sell a spear and a shield. When asked how good his spear was, he said that his spear could pierce any shield. Then, when asked how good his shield was, he said that it could defend from all spear attacks. One person asked him what would happen if he were to take his spear and strike his shield; the seller could not answer. This led to the idiom of “zìx?ang máodùn“, or “self-contradictory”.

Today we would call this a paradox. A modern phrasing of this particular paradox might be, “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?”

The scientist and author Isaac Asimov answered this by saying that the question was essentially meaningless, because a universe in which there exists such a thing as an irresistible force is, by definition, a universe which cannot also contain an immovable object, and vice versa.

I want to look at this paradox from a personal angle, in terms of challenges in our relationships and at work, and confronting the myriad obstacles of life.

I believe that – within this worldly plane and subject only to God’s decree – the human will triumphs over all. I can become either the unstoppable force or the immovable object.

Unstoppable Force

Try it. When faced with a challenge, become the unstoppable force. Don’t give up, no matter what. If one approach does not work, try another. Ignore those who tell you that what you’re doing is impossible. Learn from failure and try again. When the road is dark, ask Allah for guidance and feel your way forward. When the path is obscured with thorns and branches, blaze your own trail. You will find that through sheer determination, the so-called “unstoppable force” will crumble before you like a clod of dirt, Insha’Allah.

I’ve experienced this. By not taking “no” for an answer, I’ve gotten jobs when there were no jobs to be had. By being persistent and patient and never losing hope, I’ve experienced true love. By never quitting even when I was tired and discouraged, I’ve become a martial arts expert.

I first began practicing martial arts as a teenager. I used to literally walk across the desert outside Riyadh to get to karate class, carrying stones in case I needed to keep the wild dogs at bay. Later, when I lived in Oakland, I took up a different martial art called Hapkido. When I moved to Panama I found a Hapkido school and I rode the bus over an hour each way to get there. The bus had no air conditioning and was packed with tired Panamanians going home from work. It was noisy, hot and uncomfortable. People covered their mouths with cloths because of the smog. The Hapkido school also had no air conditioning. After class I would wring the sweat out of my uniform.

When I later moved up to a village in the mountains there were no martial arts schools nearby, so I bought mats, laid them in my living room, and recruited a few locals to come to my house for training. I even convinced my gardener to practice with me, on the clock. So I was paying him to learn from me, just so I could have a practice partner! When I returned to California I found no Hapkido school, so I started my own class, and three years later that class is still going strong. Meanwhile I have earned black belts in two other martial arts.

I’m not boasting, I’m simply trying to give you a real-world example. When you want something badly enough, become the unstoppable force. Keep moving toward your goal no matter what.

Immovable Object

Conversely, when you feel like you are under attack, become the immovable object. Duck your head and root yourself like a mountain, and the “unstoppable force” will break around you like a breeze. Whether you are under attack for your faith, or being criticized for making life choices that others do not understand, hold your ground and do not yield an inch, as long as you are on the right path.

When the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) began preaching in Makkah, the people were idol worshipers. The Prophet used to go to the Ka’bah, the square mosque which is the oldest house of worship on earth, and preach the idea of “Laa ilaha-il-Allah”. There is no God but Allah. In other words no idol is worthy of worship, no human being should be deified, no saint or angel should be venerated. Only Allah (God – the Creator).

Because of this preaching the Quraysh (the Arab tribe which held sway in Makkah, and to which the Prophet Muhammad himself belonged) persecuted him relentlessly. And yet he persisted, gaining followers, until the Quraysh became desperate. They met with Muhammad (sws) privately, and offered to make him king of Quraysh, and to bestow great wealth on him, on the condition that he stop preaching. He replied, “…if they should put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left, even then I shall not abandon the proclamation of the Oneness of God. I shall set up the true faith upon the earth or perish in the attempt.”

Allahu Akbar! That is the immovable object! I will not detail the extreme suffering that was imposed upon the Prophet Muhammad (sws) and his family after that; the economic boycott, the assassination attempts and attempted wars of extermination against the Muslims; suffice it to say that Islam persisted and grew until it became one of the two dominant religions of the world. All because one man was unstoppable and immovable.

The Power of Persistence

Machu Picchu and clouds

Machu Picchu, Peru

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Here’s a true story about the power of persistence:

Once, many years ago, I arrived in San Francisco on a warm July day with no friends, no contacts and only a little money in my pocket. I needed work. What I did have was confidence. I had been through some very hard times, and had learned to fight for what I wanted, and not to accept “no” for an answer.

I met a fellow who was a courier and he suggested that I try it. He gave me the names of some courier companies. I visited several and filled out applications, but there was one company in particular that I liked. It seemed well outfitted and professionally run. I spoke to the human resources manager and he told me that they did not need anyone but that I should check back in several months. “Summertime is slow here,” he said. “Try us in fall.”

I came back early the next morning. I couldn’t wait until autumn, and I wasn’t interested in sitting around and hoping for someone to look at my application and call me. I knew they had stacks of applications in filing drawers. I had decided where I wanted to work, and all that remained was for them to accept my reality.

The HR manager said, “Weren’t you here yesterday and I told you we don’t need anyone?” I said yes, but I thought maybe someone might call in sick and they could use me just for the day. The HR manager gave me an appraising look and said, “No, nothing like that. Why don’t you come back in a month?”

I came back the next day. This time the HR man smiled and said, “I’ll tell you what, come back in one week.”

I came back the next day. It was a Thursday. The HR man rolled his eyes in exasperation and said, “Listen. Come back on Monday and I’ll see what I can do.”

I came back the next day, Friday. He gave me a job starting that day. I worked for that company for five years and got promoted twice.

That’s a true story.

I know it’s harder nowadays with the economy in shambles. I’m not guaranteeing that you can get a job by following these tips. But it will certainly help your chances, Insha’Allah. And if you take that same persistence and apply it to every endeavor in your life, I believe you will find that even mountains will crumble before you.

And Allah knows best.

I’m really not a fan of Madison Avenue’s ubiquitous ad messages, but there was a Nike ad that I saw once that really resonated for me. In fact I tore it out of the magazine and pasted it up on the wall, right beside my bed. It said:

All your life you are told the things you cannot do. All your life they will say you’re not good enough or strong enough or talented enough; they will say you’re the wrong height or the wrong weight or the wrong type to play this or be this or achieve this. THEY WILL TELL YOU NO, a thousand times no, until all the no’s become meaningless. All your life they will tell you no, quite firmly and very quickly.


May Allah help all of you and provide for you and your families.

(O Allah), Guide us to the straight path; The path of those whom you have favored; Not those with whom you are angry; Nor those who go astray.

Diligence is the Mother of Good Luck

Hanalei River Valley in Kauai, Hawaii

Hanalei River Valley in Kauai, Hawaii... God created the earth and everything in it, and laid it at your feet

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

“Diligence is the mother of good luck.” – Arabic proverb

If you want something, work for it and do not stop. That’s how you create your own luck. Whether you were born into a rich family or a poor one, whether you are innately talented or not, whether you have charisma and charm or you are a tongue-tied nerd, it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice to be rich, talented, and charismatic, but you can succeed without them, and you’ll appreciate it all the more. All you have to do is hang on even after others have let go.

Don’t bemoan your fate. No one is born into a perfect family. Don’t complain about lack of resources. Allah created this world and everything in it, and laid it at your feet. If you’re facing the right direction, you can reach anywhere in the world if you keep on walking.

Find a Way

In 1997 I started a small web development consulting service. I really wanted to work with Muslims and help to create Islamic websites. As a small adjunct to my service, I started a Muslim matrimonial service. I thought of it as a hobby. That was the first incarnation of Zawaj.com Muslim Matrimonials. It was one of the first three such services on the internet. The problem was that I was not really a programmer (I was more of a graphic designer), and in the beginning I was hand-creating every page for every ad. The traffic climbed, until I was getting many new ads every day. It quickly became impossible.

I contacted some large web development firms to get a price quote for building a proper, automated matchmaking service. Their quotes were too high for me. I contacted some firms in India, and found one that would build the website first, and let me pay in monthly installments of $500. The bill was many thousands of dollars, and that was at a time when I could barely pay the bills. I agreed to the deal, not knowing where the money would come from. Every month I had to come up with $500 somehow. I eliminated all unnecessary expenses, I borrowed from my parents and my wife, and somehow I made it, and paid it all off.

More than ten years later, Zawaj.com is still my bread and butter.  I don’t know what I would have done without it. I feel that Allah guided me to make that choice, and I was smart enough and determined enough to seize the opportunity. For once in my life, ha ha!

Make your own luck. Make something happen. Find a way.

Diligence, diligence. Focus on your goal, work hard, don’t give up… be as persistent as the sun. Sometimes the sun is hidden behind clouds, but it’s there every day. It’s okay to have days when you’re tired, when it seems hopeless, when you wish life would give you a break, but just keep showing up every day and doing the work, and your break will come.

Whoever said that opportunity knocks once must not have been paying attention, because opportunities come along all the time. It’s just that you have to listen for them, and you must lay the groundwork so that you are ready when the knock comes.

Faith and Diligence

I’ll finish with a story from the life of the Prophet Muhammad (sws):

Narrated Khabbab bin Al-Arat:
We complained to Allah’s Apostle (of the persecution inflicted on us by the disbelievers) while he was sitting in the shade of the Ka’ba, leaning over his Burd (i.e. covering sheet). We said to him, “Would you seek help for us? Would you pray to Allah for us?” He said, “Among the nations before you a (believing) man would be put in a ditch that was dug for him, and a saw would be put over his head and he would be cut into two pieces; yet that (torture) would not make him give up his religion. His body would be combed with iron combs that would remove his flesh from the bones and nerves, yet that would not make him abandon his religion. By Allah, this religion (i.e. Islam) will prevail till a traveler from Sana (in Yemen) to Hadrarmaut will fear none but Allah, or a wolf as regards his sheep, but you (people) are hasty.”

What type of persecution was Khabbab referring to? Was it simple name calling, or Muslim businesses being boycotted? No, it was torture and murder. Bilal was laid in the desert with a huge stone on his chest. Others were place in chains, burned, stabbed by spears… all because they had adopted the religion of Allah. So it was no small thing they were complaining of. And yet all the Prophet had to say to them was that they were hasty, and that a time would come when all of Arabia would be united and safe. Someone standing beside him at the moment, looking around at the weak circumstances in which the Muslims found themselves, might have found such a statement hard to believe. But the Messenger of Allah (sws) had faith, and he had diligence, and those together can achieve anything.

Everything is possible for those who believe

Iceland mountain valley

A mountain valley in Iceland

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Nourish your dreams. To achieve anything requires faith in Allah, belief in yourself, imagination, vision, persistence, hard work, and sometimes blood and tears.

The will of Allah and the power of your heart and mind make an unbeatable combination. Everything is possible for those who believe – anything you can envision, and many things you can’t.

I’m thinking of a ragtag group of desert Arabs, who, in the course of a single generation, transformed the world forever. I am speaking of course of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions. What they did was impossible – there’s no other word for it. But through the power of Allah, and the tremendous determination of one man, and the faith of those who followed him, the impossible became possible. Because of their faith and sacrifices, you and I can utter the words, “Laa ilaha-il-Allah” and put them into practice in our lives.

Your dreams don’t have to be that grand. Whether you dream of building a new masjid for your community, writing a novel, competing in sports, becoming a doctor, doing charity work overseas, memorizing the Quran, or any other good and meaningful goal – it can be achieved by the will of Allah. But you can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen. Feed your dream as you would feed a newly planted seed. Care for it, devote time to it, don’t give up, and watch it grow before your eyes.

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Pieces of a Dream