The Transformative Power of a Child’s Love

Salma smiling

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.

Salma dancing

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…

holding Salma upWith 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:

I Live

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.

Wael Abdelgawad
Fresno, California – 2009

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Article by Wael

Wael Abdelgawad is an Egyptian-American living in Fresno, California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including Zawaj.com and IslamicAnswers.com, and also of various technology and travel websites. He is a writer and poet, and has been a web developer since 1997. This project, IslamicSunrays.com, is very dear to his heart, as it has allowed him to express ideas that have growing inside him for many years. Wael is divorced and has one lovely young daughter. He practices and teaches martial arts (somewhat obsessively), and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and vanilla fudge ice cream. Wael is an advocate for human rights and blogs about these issues at AbolishTorture.com. He is also a volunteer with the MyDeen Muslim youth organization in Fresno. Wael tagged this post with: , , , , , , , , , , , Read 266 articles by
39 Comments Post a Comment
  1. SisterZ says:

    That must have been both difficult and relieving to share with everyone. I am sure many people will be able to relate to your story and find strength and inspiration through your example of rising again.

    Keep Striving my dear friend!

  2. María says:

    Salam alaikum,

    You put your Heart out here, I´m holding It in my own Heart.

    Thank you very much for sharing.

    Beautiful poem.

    You are certainly beggining from ending as you said a few days ago.

    You have all my Respect, this is inspiring, touching and something we write when we are ready to go a step forward. God Bless You .

  3. SisterZ says:

    Wael, I just read through your article again. You really do express yourself so well maashAllah, so much so that I become the character (that is you), while reading. Thats quality.

    I really do believe that Allah has something special stored away for you. He promises ease after difficulty right? So He(swt) will send something your way, that something will bring back the full twinkle in your eyes inshaAllah, aameen. Always in my prayers, my friend.

    SisterZ

    • wael says:

      Thank you. If I expressed myself well in this piece it’s because I was ruthlessly honest, even about things that I find embarrassing or sad. Insincerity ruins the best story, but sincerity improves even a poor one.

      I don’t know if Allah has something special waiting for me, but I do know that it’s a relief to be expressing the ideas on this website. This site is really the project of my life. It’s the expression of my essence. And if people find it inspiring in any way, then all I have been through serves a purpose, Insha’Allah.

  4. Sahar says:

    Salam Alaikum,
    What a cute little daughter and what an inspirational story, it brought tears to my eyes!

  5. Shireen says:

    I told myself I am not going to comment, I’m just going to read (now that my daughter is no longer sleeping on me I can move).

    …..But this post has me in tears. My upbringing wasn’t like yours, alhamdulilah,I wasnt given the opportunity to be a knuckle head(I mean that in a nice way) but that could be because I’m a woman and closely protected Alhamdulilah.

    The other part though about divorce , I made it to 5 years, and instead of being engaged I remarried again with the same mental thoughts of not being closed, to not mistrust and in great antiscipation for what “could” be. Desperate to give my two sons a “father figure” in the house, a “family” like I had. But in utter humilation (elobration not to be expressed here) I am again divorced. Alhamdulilah.Blessed with a beautiful daughter though … your words hit sooo deep subhanAllah……I’m just going to stop here before I cry me a river!

    No wrong from others, is a valid excuse to wrong others.

    All Praise belongs to Allah swt, Lord of the heavens of earth, Knower of all things!!

    JazakaAllah Khairan…you have a lot of strength to say this akhi,and nothing to be embarassed about!! Thank you….

    • wael says:

      Shireen, I’m sorry to hear about the hardship you’ve been through. Your time in the sun will come, Insha’Allah. For now, enjoy and appreciate what you have been given, and find happiness in every day things. Life is full of blessings.

  6. Shireen says:

    I don’t intend to post this on my blog, but maybe it may mean something to you, as your words meant to me…. wa Allahu Alim

    ————
    My soul breathes a breath it has never quite taken before
    So crisp, so clean, so pure
    And a giddy little grin will peak upon my lips
    For no particular reason, just a peace within sings so deep
    And though the meaning of life’s lesson is upon me now
    I can’t help but feel that I know nothing of anything, but to God I remain, to God I bow
    Time and time again we search, we befriend but in the end there are things that remain questionable
    Should a friend really be so textable?
    Really, is there nothing else to do other then keep us entertained
    Twitter,or Facebook, Blackberry or Iphone, Google and Amazon E books
    It’s all the same really, friends too many
    One or two may know me
    But never have they given me this feeling I feel
    This ease, this lightness upon my chest, this gushing goodness of “man, God is Indeed The Best!”
    Why? some may ask. Wasn’t that a test?
    Yes, but a test is only a question mark away from a reward
    Will you submit to that which you cannot control? Or will your choice be hard, and dramatic turmoil?
    I resolve with, I need not fight if I have the angels fighting for me
    I will not wander blindly when I have light making a way clearly
    I will not speak ill of what’s meant to be, when I have the All Knowing watching over me
    I will not be among the ungrateful, before I become alone just me and me
    My life is a breath of fresh air for which I pray lasts until I return home
    Though fears I have, it’s not something any human can console
    For words don’t come when I try to speak it, just thoughts and only God Knows the Meanings
    So I stop here, Praising the All Knowing, The All Wise
    Hoping for the best, fearing my weaknesses and begging for success!

  7. Shireen says:

    Plz let me clarify when I say ‘knuckle head’ I’m speaking about your college days…not your pain and suffering. Forgive me for that, I’m not trying to be disrespectful.

    You know what bro , my time in the sun has always been, Alhamdulilah …because I know, they may be a thing that you percieve is good for you whilst it is not and vice versa. I’m cool with it, Alhamdulilah. Movingggggggg on… 🙂 it’s the part about children that make me cry, I cannot express myself, just simply appreciate your words for me.

  8. Shireen says:

    Glad you liked it 🙂

    sure but how about you leave the source anonymous? (sp ?)…mucho gracias!

    • wael says:

      With just the name Shireen, is that alright? Or completely anonymous?

      P.S. “Gracias” is feminine and plural, so it’s correct to say “muchas gracias”. I know, I ‘m an annoying know-it-all. I lived in Panama for three years and heard this mistake so many times from American tourists and even from ex-pats, it drove me batty.

  9. Shireen says:

    haha… and to think you’d appreciate the use of Spanish. I blame’ Dora- The Explorer’, thanks for the correction , though I’m not likely to remember.

    Shireen is fine InshaAllah…….JazakaAllah Khairan.

  10. Shireen says:

    umm… how about Enlightened?

    • wael says:

      Nah… tell you what, I’ll give it a name, and if you don’t like it you can tell me. How about one of these:

      Angels fighting for me
      A peace that sings
      Breath of life
      Praising the All Knowing

  11. Shireen says:

    lol…perfect! thank you

  12. Bitterness says:

    Assalam aleikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu,

    Beautiful story, it brought tears to my eyes. However, what if you don’t have a daughter or a son to prevent you from feeling pity for yourself etc.? I wished you gave more advice on how eventually you still believe in the goodness of people, and do not hold grudges. Wow, people can really hurt eachother, even muslims. It makes me sad, and unfortunately; very very bitter.

    • SisterZ says:

      If you feel the loss of something, You count the rest of your blessings. And there many, more than you know of. Just to mention a few apparent ones: your health, wealth, family, food, job, life, Islam.

      Of course it can be damn hard at times. But we must keep reminding ourselves of two things: Firstly, that there is always someone worse off than ‘I’, and secondly, that there is a much bigger picture that we cannot see, that is the one in which Allah has a Greater Plan for us.

      Children, money, health, time, power, jobs, beauty, spouses: all these things are blessings for us. But theyre also a test and even maybe a trial.

      So we can get ourselves out of ‘pity mode’, by thinking something positive. If you lose something dear, think Allah was saving us from something adverse. If we don’t get what we want, think well Allah knows best, then seek patience in Him.

      Keep trying. Not holding grudges takes alot of sabr. But do with the hope of recieving reward from Allah and it’ll become easier inshaAllah! Then your bitterness will turn to sweetness of Eemaan.

      SisterZ

      • friend says:

        what is this seeking patience in Him? i just dont get it.what does sabr means?

        does that mean when you dont have desired outcome you helplessly bow in front of Allah.

  13. friend says:

    dear brother wael,
    asalamalaikum,
    i had read this post before as well but its touches my heart everytime i read it.apparently its sad but there is something positive about it as well. forme it just tells me that there are others going through a rough time and they understand the reality of life. i agree if you havent been brutely honest it wouldnt have touched the hearts.

    may Allah make it easy for all of us in this life and the life after. ameen.

    • Wael says:

      Thank you so much. Maybe I should write a follow up to let people know that as time has passed, my heart has returned to it’s happy, healthy state. Sure I have moments of loneliness or sadness but on the whole I am a positive, active, happy person. I love the time I spend with Salma, I enjoy my work, I like practicing martial arts, I’m active in the Muslim community, and on the whole life is good, Alhamdulillah. Time is the great healer. Time, faith and hope.

      • friend says:

        i totally agree. time, faith and hope. i find your life inspirational because it does not involve ‘ a prince charming rescueing a princess and vice versa’. your story is definitely something to relate to for most of the people. it surely gives a fighting spirit. good to know that alhamdullillah your life is moving on and happiness is finding its way in.

        i likes the piece where youhave written the elements of recovery. ofcourse Allah has comforted me through my troubles and there are issues which are beyond my ability to correct them, i mean i cant actually physically do something about it, this makes my duas more sincere and desperate and inshallah Allah will answer them.

        i have no kid to concentrate my focus on but that gives me plenty of time to work on other projects. and iam planning to join gym or karate classes!

        may Allah help us all to identify our will with HIS will and and bring peace in our lives.ameen

        • friend says:

          dear brother wael,
          asalamalaikum,

          i keep coming back to this post again and again. reading it somehow gives me strength .

          you wrote ‘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’.

          does that not leave one vulnerable to abuse,pain and hurt.when we know through experience we dont get what we give!

          • Amy says:

            Yes, friend, trust is a more vulnerable state that mistrust. And yes, vulnerable states can be scary, painful, and even dissappointing. Being vulnerable and trusting doesn’t mean being breakable, though. It’s kind of like nearing a flame with your bare palm. As you near the flame, you can feel when it becomes too hot to keep going toward it, when it’s time to back off.

            However, when you put your palm toward another type of warmth, like a hot blanket fresh out of the dryer, you sense that you can grasp it and wrap it around you and feel its comfort. When someone is trusting and vulnerable and you find those people you can connect with on a deeper level, the experience and satisfaction of it exceeds the occassional burns we might get when we run into people that are hurtful. It gives us a reason to keep opening our hearts. Imagine going through life not being able to experience anything wonderful and beautiful, because you had so much protective gear on to keep you from ever being hurt? Sometimes when we do so much to cut out the “bad” from our life, we are also cutting out the potential to have something good as well.

  14. Anum says:

    It really touched my heart,even i have a daughter and i can feel the love you have for your daughter,your honesty in the words made it worth crying…i never thought a dad can also be so loving as u expressed…May Allah reward you with the best…
    Lots of love to Salma,and prayers for her good life.

  15. friend says:

    thanks Amy.

  16. Emina Habibovic Kalam (Love Child) says:

    Allah bless you. Thank you for being so honest.

  17. Nisa says:

    Assalamualaikum.
    Your story is very touching. Your article makes me strong to face the sadness and loneliness. Alhamdulillah, we as muslim have Alloh. Only He can solve our problems and give us happiness. May Alloh give us always hidayah and bless our life…

  18. Adriana says:

    painful it is.. he walked out on us when my daughter was 3 months.. Alhamdulillah… Not even for one second i regret having my daughter. My strength indeed!

  19. Taban says:

    Asalaamualaikum brother i came across this article and i also happen to follow ur series ouroborus nd have read stories before it.The life of hassan and ur life has close resemblence.And its amazing how u have used ur emotions in a story. i mean its like using everything u have and tranform into beautiful product on a paper in the form story . I know i am babbling but i am amazed ..pardon me i am speaking only 4rm literature point of view

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