How Satan tricked a pious man

Tall tree, huge tree, beautiful tree

There was a pious man among the Banu Israel who always remained busy in the worship of Allah. A group of people came and told him that a tribe living nearby worshiped a tree. The news upset him, so with an axe on his shoulder he went to cut down that tree.

On the way, Satan met him in the form of an old man and asked him where he was going. He said he was going to cut a particular tree. Satan said, “You have nothing to be concerned with this tree, you better mind your worship and do not give it up for the sake of something that does not concern you.”

“This is also worship,” retorted the worshiper.

Then Satan tried to prevent him from cutting the tree, and there followed a fight between the two, in which the worshiper overpowered Satan. Finding himself completely helpless, Satan begged to be excused, and when the worshiper released him, he again said, “Allah has not made the cutting of this tree obligatory on you. You do not lose anything if you do not cut it. If its cutting were necessary, Allah could have got it done through one of his many Prophets.”

The worshiper insisted on cutting the tree. There was again a fight between the two and again the worshiper overpowered Satan.

“Well listen,” said Satan, “I propose a settlement that will be to your advantage.”

The worshiper agreed, and Satan said, “You are a poor man, a mere burden on this earth. If you stay away from this act, I will pay you three gold coins everyday. You will daily find them lying under your pillow. By this money you can fulfill your own needs, can assist your relatives, help the poor, and do so many other virtuous things. Cutting the tree will be only one virtue, which will ultimately be of no use because the people will grow another tree.”

This proposal appealed to the worshiper, and he accepted it. He found the money on two successive days, but on the third day there was nothing. Enraged, he picked up his axe and went to cut the tree. Satan as an old man again met him on the way and asked him where he was going.

“To cut the tree,” shouted the worshiper.

“I will not let you do it,” said Satan.

Again a fight took place between the two, but this time Satan had the upper hand and overpowered the worshiper. The latter was surprised at his own defeat, and asked the former the cause of his success. Satan replied, “At first, your anger was purely for earning the pleasure of Allah, and therefore Almighty Allah helped you to overpower me, but now it has been partly for the sake of the gold coins and therefore you lost.”

***

Dear readers, what do you feel is the lesson of this story?

10 Islamic quotations by Sarah Saghir

Big Wet Meadow in Cloud Canyon, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.

Big Wet Meadow in Cloud Canyon, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California.

Thoughts on Prayer, Faith, Gratitude and the Soul
By Sarah Saghir

1. Make wudu, not war.

2. You can’t love God, without Him letting you. He must have loved you first.

3. It’s the dua at the Iftar table that tells us what we really want. It’s the ability to suppress the nafs and hush the stomach for a few extra minutes, all to let the heart speak what it wishes.

***

4. The only mirror we should obsessively check is that which reflects the soul. You cannot purchase such a mirror, but you can find it within you. *Ponder* over the condition of your soul. Sit with yourself and reflect. But for such reflections to surface, you need blessed light from God and a pair of open eyes – nay, an open heart. Because sometimes, “It is not the eyes that are blind, but the hearts.” (Qur’an 22:46)

Ya Allah put the light of the Quran in our hearts. Make it a means for us to clearly see. Ya Wahhab

***

5. There is absolutely no need, my friend – no need for you to wipe the rain off my face after the prayer. I know your intentions are well, as it may seem like there are dark clouds hovering over my head, but I am harboring rainbows on the inside, with colors of love, fear, hope, guilt, peace, shame and calmness. And sometimes these tears mean i’m desperately looking for the rays of sincerity that bring this prism to life, under the rain.

***

6. I know you cannot measure the magnitude of your blessings; but please tell me you noticed one thing: the difference between the guided and the heedless. You — whom God addresses, while causally sitting on a bus, reading His speech, surrounded by passengers full of hunger & vacancy — must be so lucky. Tell me you recognize this debt; tell me you found in its depth, gratitude.

***

7. When you finally decide to practice your faith, know that God is 100% behind you. He’s the one to give you that initial push. And at first, it will be easy breezy; you will feel ‘the rush’ and experience that ‘spiritual high.’

But then He will test you (only because He loves you) And now you’ve got to start swinging yourself, using your core, feet, arms, your will – against the wind, gravity, the hardships, people, your sins..

You need to keep pushing to the rhythm of faith that swings high, low, beautiful. Keep pushing to get higher, closer to Him. Keep pushing.

***

8. O Allah whoever wishes khair (good) for me in the secrecy of the night or in the openness of daylight, grant them double what they’ve wished for me. And whoever wishes sharr (harm) to touch me, pardon them and stretch distance and forgiveness between us. Ya Karim,

9. I want to live a life of simplicity, not an easy life.

10. If you only pray when you’re in trouble, you’re in trouble.

Righteousness in public and in private – Imam Zaid Shakir

Pull over - time to pray.

Pull over – time to pray.

By Imam Zaid Shakir

One of the signs of true faith is that it leads its possessor to manifest piety wherever he or she may be, because of the awareness that God has the ability to see, hear and witness us at all times.

Hence, for the righteous there is no difference in their public and private behavior. One of the great tribulations befalling many people in our time is that they appear as saints in public, but in the privacy of their homes they are tyrants and oppressors.

Such behavior is totally unacceptable and one behaving thus will be taken to task by God. The Prophet, peace upon him, has admonished us to be mindful of God, both publicly and privately.

One of his prayers was the following:

“O God! I ask you to grant me reverence of You, privately and publicly.”

Imam al-Shafi’i mentioned, “The three most precious things are giving charity during times of need; being impeccably mindful of God in private; and speaking the truth in the face of one you hope to benefit from, or one you fear.”

Sincerity is the Stairway to Heaven

How many of us are stumbling in the dark, or sitting quietly in despair, not knowing where to turn? How many of us have giant boulders blocking our progress, preventing us from living happy lives? How many of us are stuck, trapped, immobilized like fish in a huge net? Sometimes we get so frustrated at our situations that we don’t see that our problems themselves are a test and opportunity given by Allah.

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

Rainbow over mountain foothills

I’ve made terrible mistakes that have had serious, life-altering consequences. Other blunders have caused me shame or embarrassment, or contributed to the loss of important relationships. I have sometimes misjudged people and been hurt, and I have sometimes hurt other people.

I’ve had the awful experience of being betrayed by a friend, a man I trusted completely. It is the most heart-wrenching feeling in the world. I’ve never betrayed anyone in that way, but I have certainly let people down.

My marriage came to an end in part because of mistakes that I made. I was never unfaithful, violent or cruel, but I did not enter the marriage with full dedication in my heart, and I failed to reciprocate the level of love and trust that I was offered. Looking back, I can see that Allah gave me opportunities to advance the marriage to a place of mutual love and faith, and I failed to embrace them.

A few years ago, a woman revealed something deeply personal to me. She spoke of a trauma in her past, and her fears for the future. I listened silently, but internally I grew increasingly agitated as I filtered her words through my own insecurities, thinking of how her thoughts impacted me. I ended up walking out on her. That shameful moment is etched in my mind in black ink. I apologized hours later, but some things cannot be undone.

I know that many of you have similar stories.

These mistakes, and others I made I when I was younger, have caused me to feel distress, regret, bitterness, doubt, and confusion. And yet, I thank Allah for my missteps. I’m not happy that I have hurt others. I have asked their forgiveness when possible, and I ask Allah’s forgiveness. But I recognize that because of my foolish actions, and their sometimes awful consequences, I have grown as a Muslim, a father, a potential husband, a martial artist, a writer and a human being, in ways that I would not have thought possible. I feel that Allah is shaping me, molding me into a man with a softer heart and a harder body; nurturing my spirit, calling my soul down the road it needs to walk.

Pain is a catalyst to growth

If we look back at the lives of the Sahabah, and the great scholars and leaders of Islam, and the noble Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself, the times in their lives when they made the greatest leaps forward were times of crisis. When the Prophethood came to Muhammad (pbuh), when Jibreel visited him in the cave and hugged him painfully and commanded him to “Recite!”, he was fearful. It was the greatest moment of change in his life, but also the most frightening.

An ancient illuminated manuscript of the Quran

The great Companion ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab (ra) came to Islam after a terrible fight with his sister, when he caught her and her husband Zaid reciting Quran, and he flew into a terrible rage and beat them both. Then he felt shame and regret; he demanded to see the manuscript they had been reading. Upon reading it, he was deeply shaken by its beauty, and the nobility of its call. He went straight to Al-Safa, where the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was meeting with his companions. He asked permission to enter, then declared his conversion in front of the holy Prophet (pbuh). ‘Umar went on to become one of the Prophet’s closest and companions, and then the second Khalifah of the Muslim world after the death of the Prophet (pbuh).

Many of the Sahabah went through terrible hardships in the name of Islam. Many were tortured. One, Salman Al-Farisi, left behind a life of comfort and nobility in order to search the world for the truth, finally ending up as a slave before the word came to him of the Prophet that he had sought for so long.

My point is not to say that they suffered, so be patient. This has been said voluminously. My point is that their suffering led them to astonishing places spiritually. Because they were sincere and pure of heart, their suffering purified them, and raised them to a kind of generational nobility unseen in human history. Materially, they literally became the masters of the world, but only because they first proved that they did not desire it. Even from their position as rulers they were humble as the dust, like ‘Umar, who, as commander of the second largest empire in the world, ate bread made from coarse flour, and wore patched clothes.

There is a story told by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in a saheeh hadith:

“Three persons from the tribe of Bani Israel got together and started out on a journey. On the way, clouds gathered above them and it started to pour with rain and so they sought shelter in a nearby cave.

Suddenly, a large boulder slipped and blocked the entrance to the cave, trapping the three inside and transforming the day into a dark night for them. They had no other alternative except to turn to Allahn (SWT) for help.

“Let us use our sincere deeds as a means to obtain deliverance from this predicament,” suggested one of them. All the others agreed with the suggestion.

One of them said, “O’ Lord! You are aware that I have an extremely attractive cousin and that I was infatuated and obsessed with her. One day, finding her alone, I took hold of her and wanted to satisfy my carnal desires, when she spoke out to me saying: O’ My cousin! Fear Allah (SWT) and do not harm my chastity. Hearing this, I crushed my lustful tendencies and decided against the evil act. O’ Lord! If that deed of mine had been out of absolute sincerity and only for the purpose of acquiring Your pleasure, deliver us from grief and perdition.”

Suddenly they witnessed that the huge boulder had moved away a little, faintly brightening up the interior of the cave.

The second person spoke out, “O’ Lord! You know that I had a father and a mother, so old that their bodies had bent over due to their excessive age, and that I used to tend to them regularly. One night, having brought them their food, I observed that both of them were asleep. I passed the entire night near them, the food in hand, without waking them up for fear of disturbing them. O’ Lord! If this deed of mine had been only for the sake of Your pleasure and happiness, open up a way for us and grant us salvation.”

As he completed his speech, the group noticed that the boulder had moved aside a little more.

The third person supplicated, “O’ Knower of every hidden and manifest! You know Yourself that I had a worker who used to work for me. When his term had reached its termination, I handed over to him his wages, but he was not pleased and desired more and, in a state of dissatisfaction and displeasure, he went away. I used his wage to purchase a sheep, which I looked after separately and very soon I had a flock in my possession. After a period of time, the worker again approached me for his wage and I pointed towards the flock of animals. Initially, he thought I was ridiculing him, but later, realizing my seriousness, took the entire flock and left. O’ Lord! If this act had been prompted by sincerity and had only been for Your pleasure, deliver us from this quandary.”

At this point the entire boulder moved aside from the mouth of the cave and all three emerged from it, joyous and ecstatic, and continued their journey.

We’re not Prophets or Sahabah, but the principles of human nature hold true. Think about the amazing symbolism of the story above. The three men were trapped in the dark, facing the possibility of death by thirst or starvation. Allah saved them only because of the power contained within their sincere deeds, done solely for His pleasure.

Boulder blocking the road

How many of us are stumbling in the dark, or sitting quietly in despair, not knowing where to turn? How many have giant boulders blocking our progress, preventing us from living happy lives? How many are stuck, immobilized like fish in a net? Sometimes we are so frustrated at our situations that we don’t see that our problems themselves are tests and opportunities given by Allah.

To develop as human beings, to become better people and move closer to Allah, we must experience hardship. That is a fundamental principle of our creation. Those are the rules. They are no different for us, sitting here in the year 2011/1432 Hijri, than for the Prophets and great mortals of the past.

“Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until [even their] messenger and those who believed with him said, ‘When is the help of Allah?’ Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near.” (Quran, Al-Baqarah, 2:214)

In hardship lies opportunity. Adversity is the soil in which we grow. The challenge is to recognize that, and to know that Allah is very near, guiding us all along.

Stairway to heaven

One remarkable lesson I’ve learned in the last few years is that for a mu’min (believer), and for someone who truly wants to advance spiritually, sincerity is the key. I’m talking about sincerity in its own right, even when it is not reciprocated, and not seeking anything in return,  but only as a philosophy of living and a personal discipline.

“He is the Living (One): There is no god but He: Call upon Him, giving Him sincere devotion. Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds!” (Quran, Ghafir 40:65)

I have come to recognize that the process of being sincere with Allah, with others, and with myself – and that is the most grueling of all- is tremendously difficult, but that it leads to important and amazing places that can’t be reached any other way. There is a stairway to heaven, and the only way to get a leg up on it, and then to climb, is to practice sincerity. That includes purity of intention (niyyah), and purity of worship.

I’ve even come to believe that a person, after seeing the value of sincerity as the only path to growth; and after setting out on that steep path for that reason; must then deliberately forget the reason, practicing sincerity alone, because part of being sincere is not demanding or expecting an outcome, but doing it for its own sake, fee-sabeel-illah, period.

There’s a story of a boy who came to a martial arts master and said,
“How long will it take me to become a master in your art?”
The master replied, “Ten years.”
“Ten years?” the boy said. “That’s a long time. What if I train twice as hard as your current students, how long will it take?”
“Twenty years,” said the master.
“What if,” said the boy, “I train day and night, dedicating all my energy? How long will it take?”
“Thirty years,” said the master.
“What?” exclaimed the boy? How come every time I say I will train harder, you say it will take longer?
“Because,” said the master, “With your eyes fixed on your goal, you have no eyes to see the way.”

The same is true for the deen, and the deen is life. You can’t climb a stairway to heaven if you’re looking up at the sky, or staring into the distance at some pretty thing, or wishing for recognition, or craving hedonistic pleasure. You have to keep your eyes on the path, so you don’t fall. Experience the moment. Cherish what you have and be grateful. Bring all your love, compassion and determination to bear with each passing hour. Purify your heart, and trust Allah with the destination.

A surprising change

The last few years have been difficult for me, but they’ve brought about a surprising and marvelous change. It’s been a time of monumental growth, and I don’t mean my waistband, which fortunately has shrunk a bit. I’ve grown as a Muslim. I have blossomed as a writer, expressing ideas that have percolated inside me for decades. I have improved tremendously as a martial artist, finally coming to a place (after decades of practice) where I can create combinations spontaneously, and apply martial principles effectively on the fly. I have become such a better father to my daughter Salma. I never thought I could be as comfortable, patient and loving with her as I am now. All I can say is, Alhamdulillah!

A key element in that process of change has been facing the uncomfortable fact that I have not always been sincere, and then embarking on this path of earnestness and honesty as an approach to life. It’s not easy in the least.

Most of us lie to ourselves. It’s enormously difficult to take responsibility for our failings, even the partial responsibility that, realistically, is usually ours. It’s much easier to shift blame to others, or to external factors. But then the same lapses and misjudgments get repeated over and over again, until we start to say, “Why me?”, all the while knowing in our hearts that we ultimately bear responsibility, but still being unwilling to face that truth.

When we’re ready

We have to learn to trust that Allah will bring us what we need when we are ready. That doesn’t mean that we don’t labor. Of course we do, in fact we are an Ummah of aspirations, an Ummah that reaches for excellence. But we do it fee-sabeel-illah, purely in Allah’s cause. We should never let selfishness, base desire or greed take over, because when we do we guarantee failure.

We strive, pursuing our dreams but never trying to force the outcomes, and we constantly check and re-check the purity of our intentions. We focus on serving Allah and being the best Abdullah, Fatimah, Leyla or Fuad that we can be. Then we have certitude that Allah will give us what is proper.

To take one example, I often feel acutely the absence of a woman in my life. I love to laugh, have fun, be affectionate and discuss ideas, and I miss sharing my life with that special someone. I also want more for Salma. I believe – I hope – that I am a good father to her, but she needs the guidance of a Muslim woman. I teach her about Allah and Islam, but she needs someone to teach her how to be a Muslimah.

I have placed profiles on a few matrimonial sites, and I am not shy about putting the word out, or contacting someone who seems interesting. However, nothing has come of it, and I accept that. I’m not trying to force anything artificial. My focus is on improving my ibaadah (worship). Increasing my knowledge. Strengthening my body. Becoming a better and better father. Reconciling with my past, forgiving myself, being gentle with myself and others, finding new ways to express love in my life, all with sincerity, not craving any material outcome.

When I’ve set myself on that stairway with my eyes aglow and my heart beating softly, when I have reached the level of purity that Allah expects, when He sees that I am ready – then I trust that He will bring the right woman into my life.

A way of being

Sometimes when I reach out to a friend in need or a stranger in pain, I sense their worry that I might have a hidden agenda. Not because there’s anything oily about me, but because they are not used to anyone behaving unselfishly, so they assume there must be a catch. They mistake a way of being, a conscious way of behaving in the world, for manipulation or ambition. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said,

“The Most Merciful (God) shows mercy to those who have mercy on others. Show mercy to those on earth, and the One above the heaven will show mercy to you.”

Stairway to heaven

I choose to try be the kind of person I aspire to, the person I see as the ideal “Wael”. Making that effort has nothing to do with how others behave. It doesn’t matter if others are merciful. It doesn’t matter if they are kind, or even polite.

Jesus (pbuh) says in the Bible, “If you love only those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”

I have adopted this approach as a direct result of the hardship I’ve experienced. I could easily have gone the other way, toward cynicism and bitterness. Many do. But that’s a dark road. It’s not a life I want to live, and not what I want to teach my daughter.

I look back at the mistakes I’ve made in life, and I see that every screwup carried within it the seed of a powerful lesson, and I thank Allah with every sinew of my being that He allowed me to recognize that, and to cultivate those seeds, rather than suffering in vain.

I regret the pain I have caused others; but I regret none of the pain I have suffered, because without it I would be weaker; more vain; less compassionate; less trusting of Allah; and less grateful. I would not be on even the lowest rung of the stairway to heaven.

So Alhamdulillah, Who loves us enough to test us, so that we can be purified, become strong, and become sincere.

Don’t ever settle for less than what’s right

Sun rays coming from behind a cloud, sunrays

“Prepare yourself for greatness, don’t ever settle for less than what’s good, right, sound. Believe in the power of your prayers. Move in the direction that you know you need to go, not the direction that you want to go. Don’t ever settle for less than what’s good, right, and sound – if we do, we will only be cheating ourselves. God has great things in store for you… patiently work towards making them happen!” – Hanan K. Bilal

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.

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