We have Allah, and Allah is everything

Man surrounded by sun rays

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Even when we think we have nothing, we have Allah, and Allah is everything. We can be materially poor and still be wealthy beyond belief.

I’m not advocating poverty. Money has its uses. Most importantly, it can be used to help people and relieve suffering. But it is still just a tool created by men and women. An object, a thing. It can never define us, nor can it elevate us, or take us where we need to go in this life and the next.

There are things that matter more than our wallets. Allah is everything, and our relationship with Him defines us more certainly and clearly than our bank balances ever could.

If we are close to Allah, if we have a bond with Him, if we trust Him, then we have everything. We have greater security than any alarm system could provide. We have a brighter light than any chandelier. We have a clearer path than any highway. We have a truer happiness than any entertainment system, house or car could offer. We have everything.

Spiritual Muscles

Kulsoom Abdallah, a Muslim weightlifter who wears hijab

Kulsoom Abdullah, 35, is an a electrical engineer and also a female weightlifter.

By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

Every part of you must be exercised in order to grow stronger. Those who memorize Quran, study for advanced degrees, or perform other difficult mental tasks know that it becomes easier with time. The brain responds by building neural connections that, essentially, make you smarter.

With the body it’s obvious, right? A weightlifter lifts 100 pounds one week, his muscles get stronger, and the next week he can lift 105. As long as he keeps challenging himself, his muscles continue growing, to the limits of his genetic capacity. If he quits working out, his muscles shrink.

As for the soul, it is exercised through hardship. There’s no getting around this. Our spiritual muscles are developed by confronting pain and loss.

Allah says,

“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits…” – Quran, Al-Baqarah, 2:155-157

My friend Bilal Mustapha comments on this verse,

“God has to test us with lost of life, property, love ones, health, money, beauty, power, influence, prestige, ego, relationships, knowledge…etc. to prove that we are who we say we are or claim to be, and there’s no shortcut or easy way around it. True Believers have to be separated from the Fake Ones. With that said, LET’S GET READY TO RUMMMMMBLLLLLE!!! (in my Michael Buffer voice)”

(Yes, Bilal is much more interesting than I am).

This is why the Prophet Muhammad (sws) said, “When Allah desires good for someone, He tries him with hardships.” (Al-Bukhari)

A bodybuilder must lift huge weights in order to challenge himself. A believer is tested more severely than the average person because he’s already powerful.  A lesser test would be no test at all. It’s got to hit hard, it’s got to be heavy.

Then why bother? Wouldn’t it be easier to be a weak, apathetic non-believer and not be afflicted with tests?

Let’s read the rest of the ayah quoted above:

“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return. Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided.” – Quran 2:155-157

Those tests bring blessings and mercy from Allah, in ways we see and don’t see. They help us lead lives of meaning, and if we are patient then the results accrue for us in Jannah. From the moment we die, we see the results of all the tests we suffered. We see light, and ease, and comfort. I know this because I have been told so in the Quran and by the Messenger of Allah (sws), and I believe it. It makes sense to me, and it’s confirmed by countless anecdotal near-death experiences from cultures all over the world.

Don’t be jealous when you see that those who commit evil on earth are living in luxury. The tyrants of the world who steal billions, or the capitalists who build wealth on the suffering of others, or any who gain coin through haram means; and even those whose work is halal but who hold their money back from the needy :- that wealth is an anvil around their necks. It is their test, and most of them are failing miserably.

Don’t fear hardship. When the time comes to exercise your spiritual muscles, stay firm in faith. This is how we grow into our potential, how we prove ourselves. In the words of Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf from childhood and yet became an author and women’s rights advocate, “We could never learn to be brave & patient, if there were only joys in the world.”

This is Allah’s manhaj, His way, His methodology of life. It makes perfect sense because it’s rooted in the way things really work. So let’s welcome the opportunity to use our spiritual muscles.

This is not all theoretical for me. The day I wrote this article, I was treated badly by someone close to me, I was stressed about the future, and I was berating myself for not being as good a father as I would like. Strangely enough it was also the day of the Eid picnic, and amid the crowd of Muslim families I found myself feeling very alone.

So I wrote this piece for all of you and as a reminder to myself, because I do know the solution:  Pray, meditate, contemplate Allah’s love and care for you. Enjoy what you have. Appreciate the small things in life. Be brave. Dare to dream, and then make those dreams happen. Lift that weight, move that rock, and forge ahead with a straight back and clear sight.

What does it mean to be bankrupt?


Desert sand dune

What does it mean to be bankrupt?


By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) asked one group of his companions, “Do you know who the bankrupt person is?”

They said, “A bankrupt person amongst us is the one who has neither money nor property.”

The Prophet (pbuh) said, “The bankrupt person of my nation is he who would come on the Day of Resurrection with prayer and fast and giving great amounts in charity. And at the same time, he would come having abused this one, and slandered that one, and consumed the wealth of the other unlawfully, and shed the blood of yet others and having beaten others. Then any person whom he has wronged will be given from his good deeds on that Day. And if his good deeds are exhausted until he clears the account concerning all of the people he has oppressed, the sins of those people whom he has wronged will be thrown unto his account and after that, he will be thrown into the hellfire.” (Muslim)

The entire world has been struggling through an economic recession. Millions of people are out of work. People are losing their homes as we speak.

It’s difficult in these times not to fear for our financial security. It’s hard not to be consumed with worry; to wonder what will happen if our income disappears. For business owners, the threat of losing the business looms like a specter. For individuals driven to their knees by debt, it can seem like all options have evaporated. For all these people, an ugly ten-letter word threatens to unravel everything they’ve tried to build, and to brand them with the label of a failed life: bankruptcy.

I understand the fear of poverty, and the stress of financial insecurity. I am intelligent (Alhamdulillah), educated, versatile, and creative. I’ve written books, won awards, founded important websites, traveled the world. I’m raising a lovely child ma-sha-Allah. I teach martial arts as a hobby. I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished. But for some reason, financial “security” has almost always eluded me. I can’t say why. It could be that my choices have always been unconventional. I was never willing to focus intensely on standard career paths. I was never willing to settle for what I saw – rightly or wrongly – as mediocrity and meaningless drudge work, all in the name of pursuing the sacred cow of financial security, which I think is illusory anyway.

For a while in my late teens, I slept in an ice cream truck that I owned. I had several friends who were Palestinian college students, and I would often visit them during the day, at least partly so I could raid their fridges and get something to eat.

In my late twenties I was more stable, employed and living in my own apartment in San Francisco, which was no mean feat. I worked three different jobs at the same time, one full time and two part time. But I was often broke, especially in the days before payday. I’d buy large bags of oranges on sale. I had no cooking facilities in my tiny apartment, only a microwave oven, so I’d go to the Vietnamese restaurant below my house and buy a large container of steamed rice for $1, then turn it into three meals by eating it with canned beans or corn. Once a week the company I worked for bought pizzas for the employees. I’d wait until everyone was done, then scoop the leftovers into a plastic bag and take it home. I’d live off that leftover pizza for two or three days.

Sometimes I’d scrounge through the pockets of all my clothes, hoping to find an overlooked dollar bill, or maybe – Alhamdulillah! – a twenty!

Later, when I was married and lived in Oakland, we used to juggle the bills, every month trying to decide which bills needed paying most urgently. Oh, the bill is still white? Ignore it. We’ll wait for the pink one that means services are about to be shut off.

Even now it’s sometimes a struggle. Allah has always provided for me – Alhamdulillah – and I cannot complain, but I know what it’s like to have money worries constantly buzzing in the back of your mind like a swarm of killer bees, to the point where it’s difficult to think about anything else.

At one point in 2010 I considered filing for bankruptcy. But the filing itself was costly. Debtors might have challenged the filing, and even if it went through, my credit rating would have been ruined for years to come.

Alhamdulillah, I managed to stave off the crisis, and now things have improved. My income has increased, and most of my debt has been settled. I have managed to avoid the dreaded financial spook, the mark of the wrong road taken: bankruptcy.

Or have I?

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) in the revolutionary hadith I quoted above, redefined the meaning of bankruptcy. On the Day of Judgment, every human being will be weighed by criteria that have nothing to do with finances.

If I have abused another human being with my tongue or my hands, then I’m on the road to bankruptcy. If I’ve committed gheebah (backbiting) by mocking or criticizing someone in his absence, or if I’ve lied, or broken promises without cause, then I’m dumping my good deeds down the drain.

If I have stolen someone’s wealth, then I am making myself destitute.

If I have shed someone’s blood without cause, or beaten someone, then I have made myself a penniless wretch.

If I have done all of these things, then it doesn’t matter if I pray and fast and give sadaqah, I am bankrupt, bankrupt, bankrupt. I am spiritually void. I am given all my good deeds away and replaced them with evil, and I am utterly destitute.

And yes, I have done all of these things at some point in life, so I have much to fear, and I have not avoided bankruptcy at all, even if my wallet is full of money and my bank account is flush.

Things are not always as they seem, brothers and sisters. The eyes of the world deceive us.

Fear the true bankruptcy, the kind that dooms you before Allah! If you want to avoid that bankruptcy, and come before Allah as a rich man or woman, then prayer, fasting and charity are only the start. Abuse no one, backbite no one, insult no one, hurt no one, strike no one. Steal from no one, take advantage of no one.

Instead, be kind, and speak to people gently; be fair in everything, stand up for justice, and tell the truth. Act with love. Let Allah be your guide, and the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) your example.

Do this and you will be richer than any king or queen of this world.

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Pieces of a Dream