By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com
If you ask Allah for guidance sincerely, believing in Him and trusting in Him, he WILL guide you. If you approach Him with humility and faith and ask Him for help, He WILL help you. “And your Lord says: “Call on Me; I will answer you.” (Quran 40:60). I personally have experienced this in my life again and again. Allah is real and miracles do happen.
I remember one time when I was deeply confused about something that mattered very much to me. I prayed to Allah late at night, and began crying. After my prayer, I laid down right there on the musalla (prayer rug), and fell asleep, and BAM, here comes one of the most powerful dreams I have ever had, with a very clear answer to my problem. Then the next night I’m outside and feeling some doubts again, and all of a sudden I see a tremendous meteor go flaming across the sky right in front of me. I was amazed and I laughed out loud because Allah could not have made it any clearer.
I’m not promising you a dream and a meteor (smile). But Allah’s promise is true. He WILL answer you, maybe in ways that you see clearly, or in ways that you don’t. The answer might be to protect you from harm, or to give you something better than what you requested. Or the answer might only be a feeling of faith and tranquility in your heart that allows you to move forward confidently. He WILL help you.
By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com
There are times when we’re alone, discouraged, and just plain weary. Times when it seems like there’s no one left who matters.
That’s when faith counts more than ever. That’s when faith is tested.
Don’t give up. Keep hope in your heart. Remember that in the darkest cave, the deepest canyon, the most barren desert, Allah is still there.
Let faith carry you at those times, and let Allah guide you, and you will come through to a better place. It’s a promise from Allah:
“And whoever is conscious of Allah, He will make for him a way out (from every difficulty). And He will provide for him from (sources) he never could imagine. And whoever puts his trust in Allah, then He will suffice him. Verily, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Indeed Allah has sent a measure for all things.” (Quran: 65/2-3)
My daughter Salma
By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com
I’m going to share something highly personal, something I would not normally share, but I see now that my writing on this blog is changing people’s lives, and that’s possible only because I am honest. The most vital lessons in life come from suffering. If we don’t share the pain then the message learned will not pass undiminished from heart to heart.
I have always been a loyal friend. I am the kind who believes in friendship as an enduring and meaningful bond. I am a trusting person, someone with a passionate love for the Ummah, a sense of outrage for the oppressed, and a deep faith in Allah and in humanity itself, even after all I have been through.
A Difficult Youth
My teen years were very difficult. I isolated myself from my own family, emotionally and geographically. For a while I slept in my car or in an ice cream truck that I owned, sometimes went hungry, even as I devoted countless hours to tutoring two disadvantaged children, teaching them to read and write. I would sometimes visit friends just so I could raid the fridge and get a bite to eat. I remember once digging some old egg salad out of the back of a friend’s fridge, then becoming badly sick. I collapsed in the street and was hospitalized for food poisoning.
My parents tried hard to reach out to me and help me during that time, but I was lost in my own confusion and determined to estrange myself.
Later I paid for a bedroom in an apartment that was shared among 11 people, mostly college students. I was often confused. I was expelled from the university three times, until something clicked in my final year when I discovered poetry and I suddenly began getting straight A’s.
Still, my life continued to be a mess until my mid to late twenties (I am now 45). I lived in difficult environments. I saw terrible things. I was attacked or robbed more than once and I was sometimes afraid. I experienced despair at times, and yet I became so strong, like a mountain, or a grizzly bear. When I was 27 I got a steady job and worked hard, trying to save money to start a business, until one day my roommate stole all my money and disappeared. After that I lived for six months in the YMCA, in a room so narrow that I could reach out with my arms and touch the opposite walls.
I say all this so that you know that I am not naive. I’m quite aware of the evil of which human beings are capable.
Those frightening years are behind me. I have been a working professional for many years now. I was married for almost ten years, and I have a lovely daughter Alhamdulillah. I own a beautiful home, thanks to Allah’s blessings and bounty.
As far as human relationships, I have made a conscious choice to trust people, to be open to other people’s hearts, because I never want my soul to become pinched and dark with suspicion and fear.
A Broken Heart
My divorce and the time following it was difficult. As it turned out, however, I yet had one more painful experience to go through. A few years ago I became engaged to a Muslim woman who I thought was perfect for me. Truth be told, she was someone whose family I had known most of my life, and I had always harbored some hidden feelings for her. Like me she had been through hard times in her youth but had come through loving Allah, loving the deen, wanting to better herself in every way and change the world.
I felt she was very special and I was so excited that we would be married. We spoke about sharing our lives, raising good Muslim children, and one day sitting on a porch watching our grandchildren play. We spent time together in halal ways, getting to know each other better. It was a wonderful time.
Sure, we occasionally had arguments. I sometimes said or did the wrong thing, and there were aspects of her behavior that troubled me, but I understood that no one is perfect. I felt that Allah was giving me a great gift, a reward for all my years of hardship. I was so grateful for that.
Then something happened, I don’t know what. I could speculate, but I will not. About one month before we were to be married, she changed her mind. We tried to work through it and even went to see a counselor, but the sister’s attitude became cold, sarcastic at times, even hostile. She seemed like a completely different person. It was a tremendous shock to me. After a few final humiliations, I walked away. I felt used and betrayed as never before in my life.
A Terrible Depression
The end of that dream, that beautiful future that I had seen not only for myself but for my daughter and the sister’s children as well, was a tremendous blow. I was shaken to the core. I questioned my own judgment and perspective. How could I have been so wrong? I doubted Allah’s guidance to me. Why had Allah done this to me? I felt like a shambling wreck of a human being. I could not even believe in friendship any more. At Iftar dinners in Ramadan I didn’t try to talk to the people around me. My friendly, trusting nature had been shattered. There was some piece of me, some vital component of the organic, spiritual being that was “Wael”, that was busted. It had been smashed as surely as if she had taken a hammer to my head.
For a few months I was more deeply depressed than ever in my life. I have my daughter Salma with me from Wednesday to Saturday each week, then she goes to her mother. My depression was worst after I dropped off Salma each week. On the way back, on highway 152, I would sometimes think about accelerating to 100 mph and then veering into a tree, just so that the sense of loss and betrayal would end. Yes, I’m a Muslim, and I fear Allah. And I have a commitment to my daughter. But when you are intensely depressed your thinking changes. I remember thinking that Allah would forgive me because He would understand my suffering. And that Salma would be better off, because I was not a good father to her.
In retrospect I know that my perspective was abominably skewed, and I also know that I would never actually have harmed myself. I’m too much of a believer for that. But even the fact that the thought was there shows how horribly shaken and miserable I was at that time.
And it’s true, at that time I wasn’t the best father. I tried hard to hide my depression in front of Salma, but I did not always succeed. I remember one time I was having lunch with her in the kitchen and in spite of my internal pain I was trying to hard to smile and be cheerful for her. I never wanted to let her see how much I was hurting. And suddenly she said to me, “Are you sad, Baba? You seem sad.” Such words from a three year old girl. Her words touched me so deeply that I began to cry in front of her, and I said, “Yes baby, I am sad, but not because of you. You’re a good girl and I love you.”
That is still a terribly painful memory, and one that brings tears to my eyes.
Elements of Recovery
I got through it. I survived because of three things: Allah, my practice of martial arts, and my daughter.
The first of those – Allah – should be obvious. Without Allah none of us could survive an instant on this crazy ball spinning through endless vacuum. And for a Muslim, Allah is the source of strength. He is the refuge, the bringer of peace, the One who heals hearts. Alhamdulillah.
The second – martial arts – is a lifelong passion. I plunged myself into my practice of the arts, teaching or studying classes six times a week, and practicing for hours at home. When I’m training, everything else leaves my mind. I immerse myself in the motion, the physical exertion. It leaves no time to think, to feel sorry for myself. Curiously, lifting weights (something else I enjoy) is the opposite. During the rest break between sets I have time to think, and I find that weight lifting brings out whatever I’m feeling and intensifies it. If I’m feeling good and confident, weight lifting makes me feel like a superman. If I’m depressed it spills out like acid and cripples me. So I gave up weight lifting. Martial arts, however, is a medicinal whirlwind, a kind of therapy in motion.
The third thing that helped me survive was my daughter. Here’s the thing about being a parent, and you mothers and fathers out there already know this, but I’ll try to articulate it anyway: you can’t afford to sit around feeling sorry for yourself. You have this little person to whom you are the sun, moon and stars. This little person who, when she falls and scrapes her knee, wants only to be comforted in your arms. This person who can’t sleep at night without your voice reciting Quran, singing a nasheed or telling her a story. This person who cannot live without you because you feed her (with Allah’s bounty), clothe her, and care for her in every way.
This little person looks up to you and admires you. She loves you more than anyone else in the world. She needs you as a plant needs sunshine. With a relationship like that, there’s no time for debilitating self-pity. If you can’t be strong for yourself then you must find your backbone and courage for the sake of the child.
Beyond that, this awareness that another human being is completely dependent on you, and loves you utterly, transforms you, because you are no longer the center of the universe. Your child is. That’s the amazing thing. Every other relationship in life is one where, though we may feel love and caring for the other person, we still generally think of our own well being first. Even the best friendships have an element of competitiveness to them. With your parents, you may have the greatest respect for their accomplishments in life, but you still might hope to exceed them.
With a child it’s different. If there’s a choice between feeling pain yourself or letting your child be afflicted, every parent will choose himself. When my daughter was younger she couldn’t fall asleep unless I let her rest her head on my arm. My arm would go numb and sometimes ache, but I’d keep still as long as it took for Salma to sleep. This is how it is with a child. We will give up anything to protect our children. We worry about them far more than ourselves. We fret about their health, their upbringing as Muslims, about raising them as polite and successful human beings, about their futures…
With children, we become truly unselfish for the first time in our lives. We live outside ourselves. Someone else becomes the axis of worldly existence. We love someone else more than we love ourselves. As Muslims we are told that we have not truly believed until we love the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) more than we love ourselves. In that case, our love is expressed through obedience and following the Prophet’s example.
With a child, the act of loving someone more than ourselves is constant, suffusing us from skin to soul. There is no other experience in life that allows us – or compels us – to transcend the limitations of self in this way. And in the process, the love of a child rescues us. People give up addictions, leave abusive relationships, change professions, move from one city or country to another, rediscover God, learn and study, all for the sake of a child.
Once again I find myself reaching out to form friendships, smiling, choosing to trust, to have faith in people, to see what is good in the world. I find myself living joyfully, laughing with my daughter, teaching her (among other things) about the brotherhood and sisterhood of Islam. I do this not out of naiveté but because I know that she is watching and learning. From me she takes her cue and learns how to approach the world.
What do I want her to learn? To be suspicious and cynical, not to trust or believe in people? Heaven forbid. I want her to be a person of Imaan (faith). The Prophet (pbuh) said that Imaan has over 70 parts, and among those are love for Allah, sincerity, gratitude for His favors, being merciful to all creatures, fulfilling promises, having no envy or malice toward anyone, being just, making peace, and caring for neighbors. This is how I want Salma to approach the world, so this is how I must be, no matter how I may have been hurt in the past. It’s a choice I must make.
By our love for the child, and the child’s love for us, we are utterly transformed.
Here’s a poem I wrote last year, after I got through the hardest part of that ordeal:
Like a summer storm,
like a caught breath
tasting of spice,
like the sudden blast of a train’s horn
when you’re daydreaming on the tracks,
love came. My diamond,
my redwood queen, my lioness,
came into her own and loved me
for a time… And then
My forest queen
cast down my sylvan dream,
and sneered at my passion…
So I lived without passion.
My heart’s wings shriveled
so I lived without flying.
My promises were met with lies,
so I lived without joy.
I was run through the back
with a tin spear
so I lived without loyalty.
Darkness fell on my eyes
so I lived without light.
Purpose deserted me
So I lived without direction.
But I lived! And I live. I go on,
knowing myself, lifting my head,
amazed at my power,
jealous of no one,
amazed by my ability to heal,
astounded by the way my love returns
like lava, the way my daughter
hugs me and kisses my nose,
believing in me, loving me,
sure that I am the most important person
in the world, the most capable.
For her, I will be.
I live! I awake at dawn
and go on, shaken but strong,
titanium lining my bones,
fire in my eyes, and Allah
leading me, calling me,
forgiving me, loving me,
never giving up on me,
coming to me walking as I crawl.
Fresno, California – 2009
By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com
“O you who believe! be careful of (your duty to) Allah and be with the true ones.” – Quran 9:119
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said,
“You must be truthful, for truthfulness leads to righteousness and righteousness leads to Paradise. A man will keep speaking the truth and striving to speak the truth until he will be recorded with Allah as a Siddeeq (speaker of the truth). Beware of telling lies, for lying leads to immorality and immorality leads to Hellfire. A man will keep telling lies and striving to tell lies until he is recorded with Allah as a liar.” (Muslim)
Ali Ibn Abi Talib (ra) said: “The truth teller achieves three things: trust, love, and respect.”
You know the expression, “The truth shall set you free?” It might be amended to say, “Telling the truth shall set you free.”
Being honest is liberating. It might be difficult or emotionally uncomfortable at times, but it’s so much more freeing to the spirit than lying, or living a lie. We don’t have to remember what lies we told to whom, or whether someone will uncover something from our pasts. We don’t have to feel like hypocrites for speaking words we don’t really mean.
The Body Tells the Truth
Did you know that a liar is betrayed by his own body? We all know about the obvious signs that are monitored by lie detectors, such as increased body temperature (manifested visually as sweating), and raised blood pressure. But there are many other signs that are detectable visually. If you live in the USA you may have seen the television drama “Lie to Me”, about a scientist who acts as a human lie detector by studying body language and facial “micro-expressions”. This is based on real science.
For example, when people are lying, they generally avoid eye contact. Frequently, liars will gaze downward and to the right. Another sign is that liars often fidget, moving hands or feet, drumming fingers, or adjusting clothing. Also, liars may subconsciously try to “hide” the lie by covering their mouths, or making a motion that is symbolic of covering the face, such as touching the nose or an eye. These are all attempts to cover up the lie, and are a subconscious expression of shame. Lastly, the liar may fold his arms or cross his legs, which are defensive gestures, as if he is trying to cover himself up.
SubhanAllah. Even when a person’s mind is willing to lie, the body is not. It’s as if a part of him is adhering to fitra, the pure nature of every human being, and is unwilling to go along with the sin.
After all, the body is always in a state of submission to Allah. The heart beats as Allah made it to do, the blood flows, the nerves fire, the cells generate energy, carry oxygen or process waste, white blood cells attack invaders… all these autonomous processes go on without conscious thought, obeying the imperatives given to them by Allah. This is an expression of Islam at the most basic level. So even when a person’s tongue may commit a sin by lying, on a deeper level the body is still in submission.
In fact, everything in existence submits to Allah and praises Him, and functions as a sign of His power. Allah says,
“Do you not see that Allah is exalted by whomever is within the heavens and the earth and [by] the birds with wings spread [in flight]? Each has known his [means of] prayer and exalting [Him], and Allah is Knowing of what they do.
And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and to Allah is the destination.
Do you not see that Allah drives clouds? Then He brings them together, then He makes them into a mass, and you see the rain emerge from within it. And He sends down from the sky, mountains [of clouds] within which is hail, and He strikes with it whom He wills and averts it from whom He wills. The flash of its lightening almost takes away the eyesight.
Allah alternates the night and the day. Indeed in that is a lesson for those who have vision.
Allah has created every [living] creature from water. And of them are those that move on their bellies, and of them are those that walk on two legs, and of them are those that walk on four. Allah creates what He wills. Indeed, Allah is over all things competent.” (Quran 24: 41-45)
All of the things described in these verses exist in submission to Allah. Only we, children of Adam (and the jinn), have been given the ability to disobey. When we rebel – and that includes lying – we come into conflict with Allah, with society, with all other living creatures, with the weather that surrounds us, and even with the night and day!
Last but not least, we come into conflict with our own bodies. How could that be anything but harmful? Isn’t it a sign to us that lying is wrong on a very deep level?
Truth Builds Trust
My daughter Salma is three years old. She goes to bed at 7:30pm, and I remain beside her until she sleeps. On certain evenings I have a martial arts class, and I hope that Salma will fall asleep quickly so I can hurry to my class before it’s over (my mother watches her until I return). Sometimes Salma asks me, “Baba, are you staying home tonight or going to your class?”
I know that if I lie and say, “I’m staying home,” that will comfort her and she’ll fall asleep quickly, allowing me to go to class. On the other hand, if I say, “I’m going to my class,” she’ll deliberately struggle to stay awake, chattering and rolling around in bed, because she does not want me to leave.
So what do I do? I say, “If you fall asleep soon I will go to my class, otherwise I will stay.” I tell her the truth, even it means that I miss my class, because I could not live with myself if I lied to her for selfish reasons, even if it’s a “harmless” lie.
Some days I get to my class, some days I don’t.
I follow this same strategy in every aspect of my relationship with her. If she says, “Baba, can we go to the zoo on Saturday?” I never say, “We’ll see,” just to placate her and change the subject. Someone did that with me in my childhood and I always hated it because I knew that it really meant “no” and was just an obfuscation. So with Salma I might say, “If it’s sunny we can go to the zoo Insha’Allah,” and when the day comes and it’s sunny I will take her to the zoo no matter what, short of an emergency. Or I might say, “Sorry baby, we need to go shopping on Saturday and we won’t have time.”
My point is that I’m always honest with her even when the answer may upset her, and the result is that she trusts me. I see in my interaction with her that she accepts my word and believes me.
I know these are small examples. There’s nothing earth shaking about telling the truth to a little child. But you know, many people do routinely lie to their children for the sake of convenience.
Wael’s daughter Salma at the Fresno Zoo
Le’ts be ourselves and be honest. Le’ts take these small examples and do a close examination of our interactions with all our family members, our friends, our work colleagues, and our business partners. Do we sometimes lie to simplify matters or to make ourselves look good?
Or do we always tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable?
If we were to adopt a policy of truth at all times, what consequences would that have? Really think about it. How would it affect our credibility, our friendships, and our work relationships?
I believe that, contrary to what our fears and insecurities may tell us, being honest in all our relationships would lay a deep and strong foundation and allow those relationships to flourish.
Tell the Truth Without Harm
There should be no exceptions to honesty, but telling the truth is not a compulsion to harm yourself, nor a justification for harming others.
For example, no Muslim should openly manifest his immoral actions or past. It was narrated that Saalim ibn ‘Abd-Allah said: I heard Abu Hurayrah say: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) say:
“All of my Ummah will be fine except for those who commit sins openly. Part of committing sins openly is when a man does something at night and Allah conceals it, but in the morning he says, ‘O So-and-so, last night I did such and such.’ His Lord had covered his sin all night, but in the morning he removed the cover of Allah.”(Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5721; Muslim, 2990)
In my capacity as an editor of IslamcAnswers.com, I have often been anonymously asked some version of this question: “I lived a sinful lifestyle at one point, including committing zinaa, but I have repented. Now I am engaged to be married and my fiancé wants to know about my past. What should I say? If I tell him/her everything, he may break off the engagement, but if I lie then I’ll be building a future on a foundation of dishonesty.”
My response is that one should give a reply along these lines: “My past is between me and Allah. For whatever sins I have committed, I have asked Allah’s forgiveness and continue to do so. I will not say more. Please judge me according to the person I am now, just as I will do with you.”
If that response is not satisfactory to the other person and he continues to pry, I guarantee you he is not good husband (or wife) material for you. If you don’t tell him everything, he will continue to harangue you endlessly. And if you do, he will be jealous and probably never forgive you. No one needs that kind of judgment in life.
Of course if something material has resulted from past mistakes – for example if one has a child from a past relationship, or has acquired an STD – then that must be revealed, as these are things that will affect a spouse in a continuing way.
Truth Builds Rock-Solid Friendships
As far as harming others, Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: I asked the Messenger of Allah (pbuh): “Who is the most excellent among the Muslims?” He said, “One from whose tongue and hands the other Muslims are secure.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
If you see your brother making a serious mistake, correct him in the kindest possible way. That is a form of honesty. If you have nothing good to say, stay silent. That too is is an aspect of truth telling. No matter what, do not be needlessly hurtful.
Telling the truth in this way creates strong and healthy friendships, because it builds trust. Real friends don’t just tell you what you want to hear. They don’t say, “Oh yeah, you’re great, that’s wonderful,” when inside they’re thinking, “What a crazy thing to do,” or, “What is he up to now?”
But they’re not cruel or harsh either. They tell you the truth kindly. If they think you’re doing something harmful, they tell you with compassion. When you have a friend like that, you know you can trust every word out of his/her mouth, so when your friend compliments or supports you it means something and lifts your spirit, because you know it’s from the heart.
Real friends are not saccharine-sweet liars, nor are they relentlessly negative. They see the good in you, they appreciate you and let you know it, but when you need some honest advice they are there with the right words.
And I’ll tell you something: most people respect truth-tellers, even if they don’t agree with what’s being said.
The other key component is that real friends are discreet. Many years ago I had two good friends – I’ll call them Ali and Mo (not their real names) – who were given scholarships to study at the Islamic University of Madinah. They left together. After some time I heard a rumor that Mo had gotten in some trouble in Saudi Arabia and had been arrested and jailed. I did not know the details. When Ali returned to California for summer break, I asked him, “What happened to Mo? Tell me the whole story.” To my great frustration, Ali would not reveal a single detail. All he said was, “The Saudi authorities are planning to deport Mo; when he returns you can ask him yourself.” Mo was my friend too, I was concerned about him. Plus, I admit that it was such a juicy piece of gossip that I could not resist. But Ali would not budge, even though I was several years older than him and had been like a brother to him for years.
One consequence is that I trust Ali more than most. I know that he’s as firm as a mountain. I know that if I tell him something in confidence he will not repeat it, and that he never backbites or gossips about my faults.
Real friends keep your secrets, don’t speak about you to others, don’t repeat rumors. Again, that builds a rock-solid foundation of trust.
I want to be a friend like that, don’t you?
See Also: Let’s Tell Our Children the Truth
Sometimes when it's cloudy we forget that the sun is still shining behind the clouds, waiting to burst forth
By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com
A Dedicated Da’iyy
The year was 1983. A few of my friends from the Fresno, California masjid were going to the hospital to visit a Muslim brother who was very ill. They invited me along and off we went in someone’s car. I was seventeen years old.
Along the way they told me that the brother, whose name was AbdulGhafoor*, was a tall, dreadlocked man in his mid-forties or so, originally from the Virgin Islands. He had several children. He made his living selling perfume oils at the various swap meets around California. He was a dedicated da’iyy, always talking to people about Islam, spreading the word. He was known for his ready laugh, and for always wearing Islamic clothes, typically a shalwar khamees-style shirt and loose pants.
Unfortunately he had developed an illness called Valley Fever.
Valley Fever, one brother explained to me, is a fungus that resides in the soil of California’s Central Valley. The fungus can be stirred into the air by anything that disrupts the soil, such as farming, construction and wind. The fungi can then be breathed into the lungs, causing fever, chest pain and coughing. Some people develop no symptoms, but individuals of Asian, Hispanic and African descent may develop a more serious and sometimes fatal form of infection.
One of my friends described how he had worked with AbdulGhafoor in the grape orchards some time back, picking grapes. He said that AbdulGhafoor was tireless and strong, and had a vibrant spirit that engaged people around him so that the work hours flew past. Another friend mentioned playing basketball with AbdulGhafoor, and how no one could beat him one-on-one.
So when we got to to the hospital and located AbdulGhafoor’s room, I was shocked to see a man who appeared to be on the edge of death. He lay prone in the hospital bed, with IVs running into his arm, barely able to move. I could see that he was tall and had a proud, distinctive face. But he was terribly thin, and his dark skin appeared to be turning white as chalk in places and flaking off.
I think my friends were stunned at AbdulGhafoor’s condition as well, and they haltingly uttered various sympathetic statements. AbdulGhafoor put up his hand and motioned us all closer. He spoke, and I could barely hear him as his voice was a hoarse whisper. He said, “The greatest sin is to despair of the mercy of Allah. Never despair. Trust in Allah.”
He smiled as he said it, as if to reassure us, so we would not feel bad. It amazed me that in his dire situation that was all he had to say.
We didn’t want to tire him too much and we left soon after, but that moment has always stayed in my mind and has affected the way I see the world. So many times in my life, when I have felt low, or been in desperate situations, have I heard AbdulGhafoor’s voice saying, “Never despair. Trust in Allah.”
AbdulGhafoor did not die. Yes, I know I called him a “dying friend” because that’s how he seemed to me in that first meeting. But he was a man with a vast reservoir of internal strength and he pulled through and returned to his family, his work at the swap meets, and his da’wah. He had a few recurring bouts of Valley Fever over the years, but he was strong and nothing ever stopped him.
I got to know AbdulGhafoor well over the following years. He became one of my closest friends. I was young and impressionable and AbdulGhafoor played a major role in shaping my way of thinking. Looking back with the perspective of advancing age, I can see that his advice to me was not always sound. But that same acquired perspective allows me to avoid judging him, because I know now that everyone makes mistakes, and the only way to avoid losing all your friends, and destroying your relationships, is to learn to forgive.
AbdulGhafoor was powerful, but humble and generous. I don’t know how many times I saw him take in travelers and feed them; or provide a room to new Muslim converts who were down on their luck; or help poor Muslims to get started in some sort of self-employment. These were people that no one else would even look at. Poor Latino brothers working in the fields with no education and no English… a rough-edged white brother fresh out of prison and newly converted, with a swastika tattoo still on his arm! AbdulGhafoor took them into his home, fed them, and taught them. SubhanAllah, ma-sha-Allah.
I remember a teenaged brother who lived on his own and had been a convert for a year or so. This young brother had little understanding of Islamic manners. He saw AbdulGhafoor in a leather coat and he said, “That’s a really nice coat.” AbdulGhafoor said, “Alhamdulillah.” And just like that the youngster said, “Can I have it?” AbdulGhafoor did not say a word. He took the coat off and handed it to the brother.
I have many good memories of time spent with AbdulGhafoor. I learned from him and admired him, but I could also be overconfident as some youth are, and at times I had to be brought down a notch. One time I was practicing Karate at the masjid by myself when AbdulGhafoor entered. He asked if I would like to spar a little. I was in my late teens at that point and had studied karate for some years, and AbdulGhafoor was maybe fifty years old, so I thought he would be a pushover. I thought I’d have to take it easy on him.
We both put our hands up, and before I even had a chance to feel him out – pow! – he smacked me on the nose with an open hand. It was so fast I didn’t see it coming. To my credit, I managed to keep my hands up even as my eyes watered. But I was embarrassed and I made an excuse: “I wasn’t ready for that,” I said. “You shouldn’t have been,” AbdulGhafoor said. “I shouldn’t have come at you like that.”
My teenage ego was mortified, but it makes me laugh now.
A Terrible Loss
Some years later I was in Arizona, living in a harsh environment, learning some valuable life lessons. I called one of my California friends, and I learned that AbdulGhafoor’s daughter Tahirah had died in a house fire. Their house had caught fire at night from incense or candles; Tahirah had run back into the house repeatedly to rescue her younger brothers and sisters. The last time she went in, she did not come out. She was a shaheedah, who died saving her family.
I remember Tahirah as a girl who was intelligent, articulate, and strong in a quiet way. A beautiful girl. Definitely her father’s daughter. May Allah have infinite mercy on her.
I called AbdulGhafoor. I told him I had heard about what happened to Tahirah. He said, “Yes?” His tone was distant, bordering on cold; I was tongue-tied and I stumbled my way through something like, “I’m so sorry, brother. I won’t even pretend to know what you’re feeling, but I want you to know that I am thinking of you and praying for you, and I know Tahirah is in a happy place now…”
There was a silence for a moment, then AbdulGhafoor burst into tears, and through his sobs he said, “You’ve always been a good friend. I love you.” I was moved by that. He knew that I was in a difficult environment and once again he was transcending his own tremendous pain to reach out to me – SubhanAllah, even now I cannot recall it without bringing tears to my eyes.
Some years later, when I returned to Fresno for a visit, I went to visit AbdulGhafoor, and I discovered that in my absence he had named his youngest son after me. It only occurs to me now that I never asked him why. It was a strange time for me. I was very emotionally bottled up, and Fresno seemed to me a place full of ghosts. Some of my friends had passed away – one of a heart attack in his 30’s – and others had moved away. Still others were now estranged. I felt disquieted in Fresno, and for the first time, I felt uneasy in AbdulGhafoor’s house. We chatted briefly, then I excused myself and left.
Even today, so many years later, I have not reconnected with that past.
I still see AbdulGhafoor at the Eids, and once at a mall where he owns a perfume oil shop. He is divorced now and only his youngest son – my namesake – still lives with him. He played a key role in establishing the downtown masjid, and he is still active there, but he no longer has the energy for the incessant da’wah-in-motion activity of his youth. We exchange salams and hugs, and move on. There seems to be an unwritten agreement between us not to discuss the past.
Allah quotes Prophet Yaqoob (alaiyhis-salam) in the Quran:
“Indeed, no one despairs of relief from Allah except the disbelieving people.” (Surah Yusuf 12:87)
And He says,
“Say: O My servants who have transgressed against their own souls, despair not of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Surah az-Zumar 39:53)
Allah speaks of those who have committed great sins, breaking the laws of Allah and harming their own souls, and yet Allah extends to them the offer of mercy and forgiveness. How much more merciful and kind will Allah be to one who is ill, lying helpless in a hospital bed, unable to care for his family, relying only on Allah’s help? Would there be any limit to Allah’s mercy in such a case?
Allah stated in a Hadithi Qudsi, “I am with My servant as He expects of Me.” This means that Allah treats us as we expect Him to do. If we have faith in Allah, expecting His love, guidance and help at every moment of our lives, then we will indeed be loved, guided and helped. But if we imagine Allah to be an angry and unforgiving God, and if we expect harshness from Him, despairing of His mercy, then we commit a great sin and indeed we may not be forgiven.
In the case of illness and adversity, they are in fact a source of forgiveness from Allah, and an expiation for sins. In that sense, illness and adversity are blessings, because we suffer some pain in this life in exchange for forgiveness and comfort in the next. The next post will discuss in more detail this issue of how illness and hardship erase our sins, Insha’Allah.
AbdulGhafoor knew that pain is a source of mercy, and he knew that a Muslim should never despair, never lose faith in Allah, and never think badly of Allah or expect anything less from Allah than ultimate love and tenderness.
All these years later, I still see AbdulGhafoor clearly in my mind’s eye, weak as a baby bird in that hospital bed, his voice hoarse, whispering, “The greatest sin is to despair of the mercy of Allah. Never despair. Trust in Allah.” I think of that moment sometimes when I am tempted to feel sorry for myself because of financial troubles or personal difficulties. At other times, I remember that conversation with him when his daughter was martyred in the fire, and how even through his sobs I knew I was speaking to a man of faith. I never doubted that.
* Names were changed to protect the privacy of the people in the story.