By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com
Allah guides those who struggle. “And those who strive in Our cause, We will surely guide them to Our paths.” – Al-Ankaboot, 29:69. Struggle may seem like something to be avoided, but the alternative is to walk in dim light, seeing nothing clearly. If our lives consist of sitting on the sofa watching TV, doing jobs without passion, shrugging our shoulders at the suffering of others, and accepting the unreality that is pushed at us by advertising and the media, then we are living in shadow, even when the sun shines.
Yes, we all have bills to pay, and sometimes we work jobs that we are not passionate about, in order to support our families. I have a website about money transfer services, and another about paying bills online. They are boring, but I spend time on them because they earn money. In my free time I struggle to do work that is important to me – this website being a notable example. Even a short article might take me two or three days to write, because of the limited time I have to work on it. Longer articles can take weeks. And yet people sometimes tell me that my writing has changed their lives.
We can all find a little time every day to pursue what we love, and to make a difference in people’s lives, even in a small way. Beyond that, we must strive to represent truth in everything we do: in our family lives, our work, our entertainment – everything.
Imam Jamil Al-Amin wrote in 2006:
“In the heart there is an emptiness and a need which nothing can satisfy except for the remembrance of Allah (swt). The only proof of faith is in struggle, struggling in word and deed, in body and soul. The lack of faith will crush you far more than defeat ever could. ‘And what will explain to you the path that is steep?’ (90:12). Conscious struggle is the path that is steep. Struggle where bitter hardship and misfortune and difficulty becomes sweet tasting to the soul.”
There is no road to success except through the struggle for truth and righteousness. This is actually good news, because if you’re a seeker, if you’ve got a nose for truth, if you care about justice, then you’re already struggling, walking a hard road. It’s inevitable. Those who pursue truth and speak it out loud are seen as strangers and subversives. You might wonder sometimes if it’s worth it, or if you’re moving in the right direction.
Don’t worry. The fact that you’re struggling means that Allah is guiding you, and you’re on the right road.
By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com
Survival is important. But when our basic needs are met – food, water, clothing, shelter, safety – then it’s time to look further and ask what Allah intends for us. What is our mission in life? What is our dream? What is our talent, our gift, our destiny? What does it mean to be truly alive?
Sometimes surviving is difficult enough, but as Muslims we’re asked to go beyond that minimum level of existence. We are asked to strive for excellence, to perform acts and create institutions that perpetuate goodness even when we’re gone, and to live lives of courage.
Survival alone can be a tremendous challenge. Some non-Muslims love to criticize Muslims as backward or violent, but they do not often speak of the suffering of the Muslims, and our struggle to simply survive. They don’t speak of Muslim suffering in East Turkestan, Palestine, Chechnya, Bosnia, Mindanao and so many other places.
And yet, with all our occupied nations, repressive governments, poverty and struggle, ours are not the nations with the highest suicide rates. That tragic honor belongs to Eastern European nations like Belarus and Lithuania, and East Asian countries like Korea and Japan.
We Muslims do not cut our wrists or overdose on sleeping pills. We survive. When things get tough, our religion teaches us to struggle and overcome. Islam teaches us to work, provide for our families as best we can, pursue education in order to improve our situations, emigrate, stay patient, and trust in Allah. Survive.
When the entire world cuts Palestine off and tries to starve them in their camps, the Palestinians build miles-long tunnels under the border and smuggle in everything from live goats to cooking oil, to entire cars, piece by piece. They don’t lay down and die. They struggle. They survive because they know where to turn for strength.
Who you are, and where you turn
My struggle is nothing beside that of the suffering people of Gaza, and I imagine yours is not either. Yet we all have our own personal pains and tragedies. The most painful moments of our lives prove who we are. Where do we turn in those moments?
Bilal Mustafa, an acquaintance of mine and founder of the Ummah1.com forum says, “Asking the question “Why?” is life changing only if you turn to God for the answer. An answer from anywhere else is catastrophic…”
People of corruption turn to physical pleasure. People of addiction turn to drink and drugs. People of despair turn to suicide. People of hopelessness take no action but simply wait and suffer, doing nothing to bring about change because they have given up on the possibility of something better.
The believers turn to Allah. In those moments of confusion and pain, Allah is our refuge. In Allah there is comfort and strength.
It’s been said that man can live about forty days without food, three days without water, eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope. I would add that without Allah we would not survive for a millionth of a second. “Say, ‘Have you considered: if your water was to become sunken [into the earth], then who could bring you flowing water?'” – Quran, Al-Mulk, 67:30
Striving is a step up from survival, and is defined as reaching for something beyond the basic necessities. As we reach for more, let’s remember why we are here. There’s a song by a famous rapper that says, “Get rich or die tryin’. ” That’s not our philosophy. We are supposed to know better.
And I have not created the jinn and the men except that they should serve Me.
I do not desire from them any sustenance and I do not desire that they should feed Me.
Surely Allah is the Bestower of sustenance, the Lord of Power, the Strong. - (Quran 51:56-58)
We’re here to worship Allah in every aspect of our lives. That includes treating our families with compassion – and notice I didn’t say love, because we all love our families but we’re not always compassionate toward them – being honest in trade, speaking the truth, and standing up for justice.
I do not diminish the significance of survival for those who have been through trauma. When, like the twenty to fifty thousand Bosnian Muslim women who were systematically raped by Serb soldiers during the Bosnian war, you can say, “I survived this. I was raped, my men were killed, my village demolished and burned, but I am still here, I survived, and I still believe in Allah…” – when you can say such a thing, then the power of survival becomes manifest. When you can say, like the Palestinians, “Our masjids and homes have been demolished, our leaders assassinated, our culture brutalized, our people killed and tortured, but we are still here, we survived, and we have not surrendered our freedom or our dignity…” When you can say that, then survival becomes a tremendous victory.
But you know what? Even in those places, people don’t “merely” survive. They rebuild, marry, have children, and sometimes they come out of it stronger in faith than before, with their history burning in their hearts and their faith rekindled like torches. We see that in Bosnia today.
If they can do that, then what should we expect of ourselves? Should we be satisfied with, commuting, paying the bills, watching the idiot box and raising children who care more about the latest video games than about Allah, the Messenger, the Quran, the Sahabah, striving to excel in life, creating something meaningful, and changing the world?
Allah says in a Hadith Qudsi: “He who is hostile to a friend of Mine I declare war against. My servant approaches Me with nothing more beloved to Me than what I have made obligatory upon him, and My servant keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I love him. And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he seizes, and his foot with which he walks. If he asks me, I will surely give to him, and if he seeks refuge in Me, I will surely protect him. I do not hesitate to do anything that I am going to do more than My hesitation at taking the soul of a believer who does not want to die, for I dislike displeasing him.” (Bukhari, 8.131: 6502. S).
That’s what it is to thrive. You become so close to Allah that you are filled with love, awe and fear of Him, and you glorify Him with everything you do. You’re no longer attached to your whims and desires, but to Allah. You eat to live, you treat your body like a temple, you pursue your dreams like a soaring hawk, you laugh and relax with friends, you are a walking daa’iy, you embody the principle of jihad as spiritual and social struggle.
I am nowhere near that state of existence, but that’s what I dream of for myself, my daughter, and my future family. I want to grow joyously and ferociously, to constantly challenge myself, and overcome new obstacles. I don’t want to waste a single day. I want to think of Allah first every morning.
If you want this as well, then it’s a choice that we must make. It doesn’t happen naturally. Chaos and problems happen naturally, wind and sun happen naturally, but to thrive as a human being is a mindset. It’s a choice worth making, because it feels good and right.