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Yahya Ibrahim: Shaykhs Need Advice, Too

Shaykh Yahya Ibrahim



I found myself standing before an audience numbering in the tens of thousands; maybe even hundreds of thousands. Mumbai in November is mildly humid with an acceptable temperature that allows you to perspire but not sweat. The sweat came from the lights, cameras and action.

Shaykh, Shaykh please look into the camera.


Shaykh can we ask you a question, you have so much knowledge?


One of the problems with internet scholarship, convention groupies and seminar murids is the negative effect they inflict upon the heart of the “Shaykh.”  This is not my unique observation. Rather, it is from years of observing, discussing and questioning various lecturers, callers and organisers of Islamic educational conventions, seminars and classes.

People at times forget that the “Shaykh” is an individual who struggles each and every day of their life to worship Allah competently and in fulfillment of the Divine Grace of sacred knowledge that they have been afforded by Ar-Rahman.

Ibn al-Jawzi rahimahullah sat to teach and found more than 10,000 heads looking up at him. So he wept and supplicated to Allah:

“O Allah! If You punish me on the Day of Judgment for my sins, do not let these students of mine witness it. I pray this not to save face, but so that they do not say, ‘The One he called us to is the One who punishes him.”

While in Mumbai as a lecturer for Dr. Zakir Naik’s 2009 Peace Conference, I was blessed to meet Sh. Salah al-Budair, the Imam of the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah al-Munawarrah. The Shaykh, may Allah grant him protection and shelter him, would lead us in the fajr prayer at the hotel and then have breakfast with us.  He was always joyful, humble, content with whatever was offered to him and a great listener with refined adaab. I have heard him speak before and listened to his awe-inspiring recitation of the Quran during Taraweeh and Qiyaam.  He is known for his soft heart and ease of weeping.

I took council with other honoured lecturers about how to ask him a sensitive question that I feared may be misunderstood. Abu Ammaar (Yasir Qadhi) said, “Just ask.”

“Ya Shaykh, Allah has honoured you and has bestowed an enormous Grace upon you by granting you the duty and privilege of standing on the very Pulpit of the Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam), in his masjid, within sight of his home and burial site, sala Allahu alayhi wa salaam.  You lead the prayers and advise others on his (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) behalf.  Ya Shaykh, how do you prepare yourself for this? How do you prepare your Ikhlas to find the courage to stand where you stand and lead where you lead?”

I can’t fathom the pressure, critical self-assessment, and self-doubt and fear that must be experienced by the Shaykh.

I know from personal experience and through my interaction with numerous students of knowledge and scholars that:

Shaykhs need advice.

Shaykhs need help.

Shaykhs make mistakes.

So-called “Shaykhs” can also be rotten to the core.

Sacred Knowledge and following through with sincere action has always been an eternal, internal struggle of the learned.

Al-Ghazali, al-Ash’ari, Ibn Taymiyyah…those before them and superior to them in knowledge and those after them have ALL commented on Ikhlas, self-reformation, muhaasabah and Taqwa. In fact the first chapter of any hadeeth manual will begin with the chapter of Ikhlas.

At times we forget the Ikhlas that Allah enjoins upon us and that was exemplified by our humble Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam).

Knowledge, its acquisition and dissemination was never the aim of the student or the instructor.  Amal, sincere action, that was the objective.

Imam Muslim narrates that Abu Hurairah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) reports that the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

The first amongst mankind to be used as kindle for hell-fire will be an individual who studied [religious] knowledge and taught it and who used to recite (memorize) the Qur’an. He will be brought and Allah will make known to him His favours and he will recognize them. It will be said: And what did you do about them? He will say: I studied [religious] knowledge and I taught it and I recited the Qur’an for Your sake. It will be said, “You have lied. You did but study [religious] knowledge that it might be said [of you]: He is learned. And you recited the Qur’an that it might be said [of you]: He is a reciter. And so it was said.” Then it will be ordered that he be dragged along on his face until he is cast into Hell-fire.

Shaykh Salah smiled. Bowed his head down and politely said, “Every level has its Divine assistance. To abstain from that would be Riyaah (showing off).”

Subhan Allah.

Allah provides the Ikhlas that we seek to attain and pray for.  It is Allah who grants us success and only Allah who can turn us away from it.

True Ikhlas is actually intending success and seeking Allah in all that we do.  True Ikhlas is a willingness to challenge ourselves and demonstrate conviction of faith to ourselves and others. True Ikhlas compels us to repent and rise up after our stumbling.

True Ikhlas is not a change in mood or a whimsical period of time. It is consistent, constant.  It is a compass that when abandoned one cannot arrive to salvation.

Later in the day, Shaykh Salah pulled me to the side and said privately, “Every day I pray that Allah take my life rather than allow me to stand in the place of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) with an overwhelming hypocrisy in my heart.  I pray every night that I not wake if I do not discharge the trust placed upon me.”

We both wept.

Ustadh Yahya Ibrahim is Canadian by birth & education, Egyptian through a rich ancestry, Turkish via the blessing of marriage to Songul and Australian by Choice of residence and migration.Since his early teens, in the 90's, Ustadh Yahya has been talking about Islam to Muslims and non-Muslims. He was blessed with numerous opportunities to meet, translate, study and teach alongside some of the Islamic worlds top scholars.Ustadh Yahya is blessed now to be living in Perth, Western Australia with his wife and three wonderful children – Shireen, Omar and Adam. He is a regular lecturer to Muslim and non-Muslim audiences their and around the world. Recently, Ustadh Yahya was awarded by the West Australian State Government the "Individual Excellence in Community Service Award."Ustadh Yahya is a passionate educator with a decades experience in school leadership as an Asst. Principal & registered Teacher.He, also, serves the Muslim community at Curtin University and the University of Western Australia as the Islamic Chaplain and teaches Islamic Ethics & Theology,internationally, with al-Kauthar Institute .



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    March 15, 2010 at 4:19 AM


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    March 15, 2010 at 4:23 AM

    SubhanAllah this is so beautiful! Jazakallahukhair!

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    Ibn Ameen

    March 15, 2010 at 4:49 AM

    Hope i can c u again Syeikh here in Malaysia Insyallah!

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    March 15, 2010 at 6:12 AM

    assalamualykum ,

    Mashaallah.Truly touching.The more ilm you have ,the more humbleness you have ..Subahanallah.

  5. Amad


    March 15, 2010 at 6:19 AM

    This is one of those stories that gives you goose-pimples… subhanAllah, great start Shaykh Yahya to your blogging career :)

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    Mirza Shahbaaz Baig

    March 15, 2010 at 7:06 AM

    Subahan Allah, ya shaykh.

    This last ever Peace Conference was full of such events.

    Ain’t this struggle to get true ikhlas (which Allaah blessed Musa AS) require working so much , whole our life , on first hadith of niyyah.

    o Allaah, help us being among mukhliseen ( those who have ikhlaas to say do things and mean it for Allaah’s sake). ameen.

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      Mirza Shahbaaz Baig

      March 15, 2010 at 7:16 AM

      it may be possible for shuyookh with their knowledge to try maintain this consistency at a much higher level than masses like us.

      hence i remember there to be such a du’a to be to Allaah made before any/every knowledge session by every student to make us focused on knowledge and not on personal lacunae of the teacher.

      subahan Allaah.

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    March 15, 2010 at 7:31 AM

    ” Every day I pray that Allah take my life rather than allow me to stand in the place of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) with an overwhelming hypocrisy in my heart. I pray every night that I not wake if I do not discharge the trust placed upon me.”


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    Shuaib Mansoori

    March 15, 2010 at 8:45 AM

    Assalamu Alaikum,

    SubhanAllah, left me speechless…

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    March 15, 2010 at 8:50 AM


  10. darthvaider


    March 15, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    SubhanAllah. Jazak Allah khayr shaykh- may Allah preserve you, Shaykh Salah, and all of the a’immah.

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    March 15, 2010 at 9:56 AM


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    March 15, 2010 at 11:26 AM

    Masha’Allah, may Allah forgive us of the sins we do knowingly and unknowingly.

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    March 15, 2010 at 11:33 AM

    May Allah Swt purify our deeds for His sake alone. Ameen!

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    Shibli Zaman

    March 15, 2010 at 12:26 PM

    Sorry to add to the many “Subhan Allah, great blog” comments, but I just had to say that this is simply one of the most moving and wonderful blog articles I have read, ma sha’ Allah. Ever. Jazakumullahu khayran, brother Yahya, for sharing with us such wisdom.

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    March 15, 2010 at 12:56 PM

    I pray every night that I not wake if I do not discharge the trust placed upon me.”

    Could someone please explain what ‘trust’ the shaykh is referring to? As I understand his only responsibility as an employee of the government is to lead the daily prayers and give the Friday khutbah. I would love to know what additional roles and responsibilties the shaykh discharges as Imam of Masjid Nabwi.

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      Razi Ahmad

      March 15, 2010 at 1:36 PM

      The responsibility of being Imaam of any Masjid, much less Masjid an-Nabawi or Masjid al-Haraam, is a great trust that the person occupying the position has in his hands. By being in the position he is in, Shaykh Salah (hafidhahullaah) has the ability to guide (with the Tawfeeq of Allaah, of course) or mislead literally millions of people around the world. Anyone who leads even one Salaah in a Masjid (even a small one) and is truly sincere should feel a heavy weight on their shoulders when they are in that position.
      I believe that this is the trust that he might have been referring to, Wallaahu A’lam.

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        March 15, 2010 at 2:15 PM

        I don’t understand. He is not giving lectures or issuing fatawa. So how does he guide or mislead others? The salah consists of dhikr and recitation. How can that ‘misguide’ others, regardless of the sincerity of the imam?

        Please clarify your comments with examples.

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          Razi Ahmad

          March 15, 2010 at 2:17 PM

          Sorry for the confusion – I was referring to the khutbah, not necessarily through the daily Salaah.

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          March 16, 2010 at 8:18 AM

          Even if he didnt give lectures or fatawa, being an Imaam of a Masjid – and Masjid an-Nabawi, to boot – is an enormous responsibility because people automatically look to him as a role model. So on the one hand, he has to make sure his entire life is ‘clean’ and legitimate – not only meeting the minimum requirements as a normal Muslim, but rather, excelling in them, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – so that people wouldnt have the excuse to look at his actions and be misguided, or even slack off.

          Even if he never opened his mouth to talk to the people directly he has the ability to inspire millions of people one way or another, every time he leads the Salaah. Because of WHERE he leads the Salaah. In this manner, he is in a position of trust.

          On top of all that, he has to keep his actions ‘clean’ and ‘exemplary’ not because of what the people might say, but fi sabil illah alone. To try and ignore what the people say.

          Being a leader, a scholar, or an imaam of a masjid – Shaytan focuses his attack heavily on these people, because they are the pillars that support the community. if they are corrupted, then society will follow.

          So lets pretend, for a second, that his dhikr and recitation do not have an impact on the people. Even if it had zero impact, there is still the matter of the niyyah of the Shaykh remaining pure in the face of Shaytan’s attacks, and his responsibility in this regard, to Allah [subhanahu wa ta’ala].

          So these scholars have to walk a very fine line… on the one hand, they need to exert their utmost against Shaytan and maintain ikhlaas, and the other, they need to be role models of excellence for us, and on the third hand, they need to realize when they’re not performing up to par, and step down if required.

          ….But if they step down, are they succumbing to yet another one of Shaytan’s plots?

          Stress upon stress.

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      Abd- Allah

      March 15, 2010 at 2:09 PM

      his only responsibility as an employee of the government is to lead the daily prayers and give the Friday khutbah.

      Isn’t this enough of a responsibility for a person to handle? To lead the daily prayers at the Masjid of the Prophet peace be upon him?

      The Prophet peace be upon him says: “They lead you in prayer; if they get it right (the reward) is for you and for them, and if they get it wrong, (the reward) is for you and (the sin) is on them.”

      And the Prophet peace be upon him said: “The imam is responsible and the mu’adhdhin is trusted, O Allah, guide the imams and forgive the mu’adhdhins.”

      Or is it just because many Imams of masaajid don’t take this responsibility of theirs seriously, that we take it for granted?

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      Wael -

      March 16, 2010 at 11:30 PM

      NurKhan, go back and read the hadith about “The first amongst mankind to be used as kindle for hell-fire…” and you will see that studying the Quran and reciting it is enough of an obligation in itself to make a mu’min afraid.

      I hesitate to teach Quran for this very reason. But then, on the other hand, withholding knowledge is also a sin. So you see how the accumulation of knowledge right away becomes a burden…

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    Abd- Allah

    March 15, 2010 at 1:32 PM

    JazakAllah khayr for sharing this humbling story.

    As a side note, be careful about which shaykh you decide to give advice to, because some don’t want it, others are too arrogant to accept it, and some might just blow up in your face! Alhamdulillah, these types of “shuyukh” are not the majority, but keep in mind that they still do exist.

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    Mariam E

    March 15, 2010 at 2:09 PM

    Asalamu Alikum

    Jazakum Allah khair. May Allah protect all of our Shuyukh and raise their status in this life and the Hereafter.

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    March 15, 2010 at 5:35 PM

    May Allah reward you for this reminder

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    March 15, 2010 at 7:43 PM

    Beautiful, masha’Allah. What an amazing reminder. :)

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    Abu 'Ubaida

    March 15, 2010 at 7:56 PM


    May Allah (swt) increase his honor

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    Imam Zia

    March 15, 2010 at 9:13 PM

    Wonderful reminder, may Allah SWT give us all Ikhlas. Brother Nur Khan, Imamat even in front of a small community is a huge burden and commitment and trust. Even if you don’t count the khutbas, the lectures, the fatwas, leading prayer and making a mistake in it results in the deficiency of the prayer of the people behind you. And he is standing in the exact position and place in which the Prophet himself stood…what greater burden and trust could that be??

  23. Pingback: Shuyookh Need Advice, Too « Scattered Pearls

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    March 15, 2010 at 9:57 PM


    Its very beautiful reminder, May Allah help us with our ikhlas.

    I have this issue with how one can implement knowledge that he gains, that is everytime he learns something new : whether from reading the Quran or beneficial books, ahadith etc.? Everything he knows?

    Because I reda this book, that spoke about the great scholars of the past and how they were very worried about putting what they learned into action, otherwise it is a sin. Some Sahabas would learn every few ayahs then act on them, THEN learn few more!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.

    Wallahi from start to end it scared me, because I thought there is so much that perhaps, small things, I learn everyday, and learnt but have not yet fully implemented, and if I did in the past am not consistent.

    I donot mean the fard/obligatory actions like salah or sawm etc.

    Subhannalh, it paralysed my thirst for learning a bit! I need to stop and acton everything I know otherwise these things are going to be a witness against me on the Day of Judgement.

    How does one do it?

    Jazakallah khair , ws

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    March 16, 2010 at 12:04 AM

    there is a lot of responsibility in leadership positions, especially when it comes to taking care of the Muslim community.

    this was a beautiful reminder, mA!

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    March 16, 2010 at 7:31 AM


    @Amad – …great start indeed :)

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    Faraz Omar

    March 16, 2010 at 9:01 AM

    Beautiful story masha Allah :) may Allah preserve the imaams of Muslims

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    March 16, 2010 at 2:15 PM

    I hardly ever comment on articles but this one, subhan Allah, left me speechless and compelled me to do so. May Allah preserve our shuyookh and bless us all with this level of ikhlaas.

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    abu Abdullah

    March 16, 2010 at 2:27 PM


    If Imam of Madinah is saying this, what is our level ( of imaan)? Allahul Musta’an. Great example for the imam to lead from front.

    How about sharing individual attempts ( if possible ) of achieving certain level of ikhlas in the things we do. Come on, give real life scenarios like what do you do when you try to check out items from walmart and music is going on where you can’t avoid it or the shelf is full of pictures you don’t want to look towards and .. most importantly having that (fake?) smile everytime during you come/go out of masjid when someone is in your way and you say alhamdulillah everything is fine ( just for the sake of it, without possibly meaning it for the sake of Allaah). Allaahu ‘alam.

    For example, Sporadically whenever i am asked to lead the prayer I try to remind myself and entire congregation that listen. (Its just a naseehah with no base in sunnah as far as i know.) Whatever you did till now its past. Now you are about to stand before Allaah, and this is your personal chance to speak to him. Your own worries, problems, thanks anything. our creator and if you are forgetful of any part of this prayer, be sure that its not going to be accepted. Stand straight and close. Allahu akbar. ( i may be wrong but i found it to be beneficial to me personally but again that riyaa thing creeps in your heart and you start battling it whether you did it for self or selfless reason.) may Allaah accept our deeds, ameen.

    PS one thing i also learn as a side note that its ok to narrate such incidents for educational purposes, even though imam himself wouldn’t really want things to be disclosed about him in this level ( got this from the way he pulled the author aside and told his personal story) so this does not count as backbiting instead sadaqa jariya inshAllaah.

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    March 16, 2010 at 7:30 PM

    For any ounce of goodness that is bestowed upon us by Allah, it is only a realization of the Mercy of Allah, and a means to further praise Him, Alhamdulillah.

    May Allah increase eveyone in ikhlaas, ameen.

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    Wael -

    March 16, 2010 at 11:27 PM

    Thank you brother for this glimpse into the doubt and stress in the hearts of individuals that we “the public” tend to think of as beyond all of that. And this reminder of the importance of purity of intention, and that in fact nothing is more important.

    Also for sharing us a very private moment and letting us learn from it, Insha’Allah.

  32. Pingback: Yahya Ibrahim: Shaykhs Need Advice, Too « A World of Dreams

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    Umm Ismael

    March 19, 2010 at 12:05 PM

    Asslam u alaikum wr wb
    JazakALLAH! That is beautiful! To stand where the Prophet (saw) stood and not start considering it an ordinary mundane duty that some of us do when working in the way of ALLAH comes easily to us, is another aspect highlighted to us, Sometimes ALLAH Chooses us for His work but we start considering it a daily routine, until it is snatched away. May ALLAH Help us!

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    Sadaf Farooqi

    March 20, 2010 at 5:02 AM

    This post made me realize how blessed we are to have people with such ikhlaas among us. May Allah protect and preserve our shuyookh.
    O Allah, grant us ikhlaas. Ameen!

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    March 21, 2010 at 9:52 AM

    Great post, as a young Imam myself this hits very hard; I was just thinking about this when I read it.
    May Allah forgive us all.


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    Abu Ibrahim

    March 25, 2010 at 3:12 AM

    By far the one of the BEST post on MM. May Allah azza wa jal reward you and the Shaykh over and over again.

  37. Pingback: Imaams of the Haramain - Part IX - Page 70 - IB Islamic Forum

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    Nur Taher

    September 21, 2010 at 12:19 AM

    can you guys give me yahya Ibrahim’s contacts please, I have this question that is private, and i urgently need an answer to it. and yahya is the only one I can trust……

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    December 5, 2010 at 6:22 AM

    “Trust”… Subhan’allah… Another amazing read. I have a question … If a “Shaykh” takes advantage of this trust, portrays himself very differently behind closed doors, is a compulsive liar, impinges upon the rights of others, does not seek the forgiveness of those he has wronged should others be warned about him?

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    September 18, 2012 at 7:47 AM

    Very touchy

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    September 18, 2012 at 4:42 PM


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    September 20, 2012 at 11:10 PM

    Subhanallah. I’m speechless. These type of discussions are so needed. Whether one is khateeb or Islamic university graduate, don’t we all suffer from these ‘common’ issues ? Who here that has been involved in dawah or gave or gives lectures to the masses has not fallen or called to something that he is guilty of ? We all love Allah even tho we sin against Him everyday. We all love the gathering of the pious even tho we are not one of them. We all hate sinners yet even tho we are one of them. I know myself that I have been giving khutbahs for some time , many many years and I always feel so ashamed of my sins that when I stand n preach, I actually consciously ask myself. that I’m probably the worst sinner here. And no this is not trying to be humble, this is how I feel. If I were to make the duaa that shaykh saleh made, I might not be around. Maybe others feel the same. Also reading that hadith makes me almost wish I was not involved in dawah out of fear of opening myself to be judged in that category and then being dragged on my face. May Allah protect us.

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The Day I Die | Imam Omar Suleiman

Imam Omar Suleiman



Janazah, funeral, legacy, Omar Suleiman, Edhi

Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (may Allah be pleased with him) in the midst of the torture he endured at the hands of his oppressors used to say: baynana wa baynahum aljanaa’iz, which means, “the difference between us and them will show in our funerals.” The man who instigated the ideological deviation that led to his torture was an appointed judge named Ahmad Ibn Abi Du’ad. At the moment of Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal making those remarks, it appeared Imam Ahmad would die disgraced in a dungeon but Ahmad Ibn Abi Du’ad would have a state funeral with thousands of mourners. Instead, Imam Ahmad persevered through his struggle, was embraced by the people, and honored by Allah with the biggest Janazah ever known to the Arabs with millions of people pouring in from all over. Ahmad Ibn Abu Du’ad was cast aside and buried without anyone attending his janazah out of revulsion.

Now sometimes righteous people do die in isolation, and wicked people are given grand exits. There are people like Uthman Ibn Affan (may Allah be pleased with him) who was murdered by the people of fitnah, then buried at night far away from the people out of fear of the large numbers that would’ve poured out to his janazah and potentially mobilized against his oppressors. But it may be that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) inspired Imam Ahmad with the vision to see his victory in this life before the next. To elaborate a bit on his statement though, allow me to reflect:

A wise man once said to me,

“Always put your funeral in front of you, and work backwards in constructing your life accordingly.” 

With the deaths of righteous people, that advice always advances to the front of my thoughts. When a person passes away, typically only good things will be said of them. But it’s important to pay attention to 2 aspects about those good things being said:

1. Is there congruence in the particular good quality being attested to about the deceased.

2. Are those good qualities being attested to actually truly of the deceased. 

The first one deals with consistency of character, the second one with sincerity of intention which is only known by the Creator and His servant. In regards to the first one, take our sister Hodan Nalayeh (may Allah have mercy on her) who was murdered tragically last week in a terrorist attack in Somalia. Everyone that spoke of her said practically the same thing about how she interacted with them and/or benefitted them. There is complete harmony with all of the testimonies about her. And in that case we all become the witnesses of our sister on the day of judgment, testifying to her good character.

For many that pass away, neither the deceased nor the community fully appreciates the way they benefitted others until that day. It was narrated that when Zainul Abideen Ali Ibn Al Husayn (may Allah be pleased with them), the great grandson of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) passed away, he had marks on his shoulders from the bags he used to carry to the doorsteps of the poor at night when no one else was watching. The narrations state that the people of Madinah used to live off his charity not knowing the source of it until his death.

How many people will miss you when you die because of the joy you brought to their lives? How many of those that you comforted when they were abandoned by others? That you spent on when they were deprived by others? That you advocated for when they were oppressed by others? 

Will your family miss you because of an empty bed in the home or a deep void in their hearts? Will it be the loss of your spending only that grieves them, or the loss of your smile? Will it be the loss of the stability you provided them only, or the loss of your service and sacrifices for them?

But Zainul Abideen didn’t care for the recipients of his charity to know that he was the source of it, because He was fully in tune with it’s true Divine source. He didn’t want to be thanked in this world, but in the next. He didn’t want the eulogy, he wanted Eternity. 

He understood that if you become distracted by the allure of this world, you may merely become of it. Focus on bettering the future which you cannot escape, rather than the present that you cannot dictate. Focus on the interview with the One who needs no resume, rather than the judgments of those who are just as disposable as you. 

اللَّهُمَّ اجْعَلْ خَيْرَ زَمَانِيْ آخِرَهُ، وَخَيْرَ عَمَلِيْ خَوَاتِمَهُ، وَخَيْرَ أَيَّامِيْ يِوْمَ أَلقَاكَ

“O Allah, let the best of my lifetime be its ending, and my best deed be that which I seal [my life with], and the best of my days the day I meet You.”

Which brings us to the second aspect of your funeral, the sincerity of the good you’re being praised for. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “increase your remembrance of the destroyer of pleasures.” Death only destroys the temporary pleasures of this world, not the pleasure of the Most Merciful in the next. Keeping that in perspective will help you work towards that without being distracted. If it is the praise of the people you seek, that is as temporary as the world that occupies both your worldly vehicle ie. your body, and your companions in this world who shall perish soon after you.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned the one who passes away with the people lavishing praise on him that he is unworthy of. In a narration in Al Tirmidhi, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “No one dies and they stand over him crying and saying: ‘Oh what a great man he was! Oh how honored he was!’ except that two angels are appointed for him to poke him and say: Is that really you?”

But if it is Allah’s praise that you sought all along, the deeds that you put forth shall await you in your grave in the form of heavenly ornaments. Those that were known to the community, those that were known to only a select few, and those that were known by no one but Allah and you.

May Allah give us all a good ending, and an even better eternity.

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The Spirituality Of Gratitude

Shaykh Tarik Ata




The Quran tells the reader of the importance of gratitude in two ways. First, worship, which is the essence of the relationship between man and the Creator, is conditional to gratitude “and be grateful to Allah if it is [indeed] Him that you worship” (2:172). The verse suggests that in order for an individual to truly worship Allah then they must express gratitude to Allah and that an ungrateful individual cannot be a worshiper of Allah. The second verse states the following “And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me” (2:152). The Arabic word used, translated here as ‘deny,’ is kufr which linguistically means to cover up. The word was adopted by the Quran to refer to someone who rejects Allah after learning of Him. Both the linguistic and Quranic definitions are possibly meant in this verse and both arrive at the same conclusion. That is, the absence of gratitude is an indicator of one’s rejection of Allah; the question is how and why?

What Does Shukr Mean?

Understanding a Quranic concept begins with understanding the word chosen by the Quran. The word shukr is used throughout the Quran and is commonly translated as gratitude. From a purely linguistic definition, shukr is “the effect food has on the body of an animal” (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 200). What is meant here is that when an animal eats food it becomes heavier which has a clear and visible effect on the animal. Therefore, shukr is the manifestation of a blessing or blessings on the entirety of a person. From here, spiritualists understood the goal of shukr and added an extra element to the definition and that is the acknowledgment that those blessings are from Allah. Thus, the definition of shukr as an Islamic spiritual concept is “the manifestation of Allah’s blessings verbally through praise and acknowledgment; emotionally on the heart through witnessing the blessings and loving Allah; and physically through submission and servitude” (Ibid).

Based on this definition, the goal of shukr can be broken into five categories. First, gratitude that brings about the submission of the individual to his benefactor. In order for an act to be worthy of gratitude, the beneficiary must conclude that the benefactor’s action was done for the sake of the beneficiary – thus making the benefactor benevolent. In other words, the benefactor is not benefiting in the least (Emmons et al 2004 p. 62). When the individual recognizes his benefactor, Allah, as being completely independent of the individual and perfect in of himself, one concludes that the actions of the benefactor are purely in the best interest of the beneficiary resulting in the building of trust in Allah. The Quran utilizes this point multiple times explicitly stating that Allah has nothing to gain from the creations servitude nor does he lose anything from because of their disobedience (Q 2:255, 4:133, 35:15, 47:38). Through shukr, a person’s spirituality increases by recognizing Allah’s perfection and their own imperfection thus building the feeling of need for Allah and trust in him (Emmons et al 2002 p. 463).

Gratitude in Knowing That Allah Loves Us

The second category is love for the benefactor. Similar to the previous category, by identifying the motive of the benefactor one can better appreciate their favors. “Gratitude is fundamentally a moral affect with empathy at its foundation: In order to acknowledge the cost of the gift, the recipient must identity with the psychological state of the one who has provided it” (Emmons 2002 p. 461).[1] That is, by recognizing Allah’s perfection one concludes that his blessings are entirely in the best interest of the beneficiary despite not bringing any return to Him. Thus, the Quran utilizes this concept repeatedly and to list a few, the Quran reminds the human reader that he created the human species directly with his two hands (38:75), he created them in the best physical and mental form (95:4), gave him nobility (17:70), commanded the angels to prostrate to him out of reverence (38:72-3), made him unique by giving him knowledge and language (2:31), exiled Satan who refused to revere him (7:13), allowed him into Paradise (7:19), forgave his mistake (2:37), designated angels to protect each individual (13:11) and supplicate Allah to forgive the believers (40:7-9), created an entire world that caters to his needs (2:29), among plenty of other blessings which express Allah’s love, care, and compassion of the human.

The remaining three categories revolve around the individual acting upon their gratitude by acknowledging them, praising Allah for them and using them in a manner acceptable to Allah. In order for gratitude to play a role in spirituality the blessings one enjoys must be utilized in a manner that connects them with Allah. Initially, one must acknowledge that all blessings are from him thus establishing a connection between the self and Allah. This is then elevated to where the individual views these blessings as more than inanimate objects but entities that serve a purpose. By doing this one begins to see and appreciate the wisdoms behind these created entities enlightening the individual to the Creators abilities and qualities. Finally, after recognizing the general and specific wisdoms behind each creation, one feels a greater sense of purpose, responsibility, and loyalty. That is, engaging the previous five categories establishes love for the benefactor (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 203). Observing the care and compassion of the benefactor for his creation establishes the feeling of loyalty towards the one who has cared for us as well as responsibility since He created everything with purpose.

Blessings Even in Hardship

One may interject by referring to the many individuals and societies that are plagued with hardships and do not have blessings to appreciate. No doubt this is a reality and the Quran address this indirectly. Upon analysis, one finds that the blessings which the Quran references and encourages the reader to appreciate are not wealth or health; rather, it is the sun, the moon, trees, and the natural world in general. Perhaps the reason for this is what shukr seeks to drive us towards. There are two things all these objects have in common (1) they are gifts given by Allah to all humans and all individuals enjoy them and (2) humans are dependent upon them. Everyone has access to the sun, no one can take it away, and we are critically dependent upon it. When the Quran draws our attention to these blessings, the reader should begin to appreciate the natural world at a different level and Surah an Nahl does precisely that. This chapter was likely revealed during the time of hijrah (immigration); a time when the companions lost everything – their homes, wealth, and tribes. The chapter works to counsel them by teaching them that the true blessings a person enjoys is all around them and no matter how much was taken from them, no one can take away the greater blessings of Allah.

In sum, these verses bring light to the crucial role shukr plays in faith. It serves as a means to better know Allah which can be achieved through a series of phases. First, the individual must search for the blessings which then leads to a shift in perspective from focusing on the wants to focusing on what is available. This leads to greater appreciation and recognition of the positives in one’s life allowing the person more optimism. Second, the person must link those blessings to the benefactor – Allah – which reveals many elements of who He is and His concern for His creation. Once this is internalized in the person’s hearts, its benefits begin to manifest itself on the person’s heart, mind, and body; it manifests itself in the form of love for Allah and submission to him. Shukr ultimately reveals the extent of Allah’s love and concern for the individual which therein strengthens the trust and love of the individual for Allah and ultimately their submission to Him.

Allah knows best.

Emmons, Robert A., and Charles M. Shelton. “Gratitude and the science of positive psychology.” Handbook of positive psychology 18 (2002): 459-471.

Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. McCullough, eds. The psychology of gratitude. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Jawziyyah, Ibn Qayyim. madārij al-sālikīn bayn manāzil iyyāka naʿbud wa iyyāka nastaʿīn مدارج السالكين بين منازل إياك نعبد وإياك نستعين [The Levels of Spirituality between the Dynamics of “It is You Alone we Worship and it is You Alone we Seek Help From]. Cario: Hadith Publications, 2005.

[1] Islamically speaking, it is not befitting to claim that Allah has a psyche or that he can be analyzed psychologically.

Download a longer version of this article here: The Sprituality of Gratitude

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When Faith Hurts: Do Good Deeds = Good Life?

Loving Allah and trusting the Wisdom and Purpose in everything He throws your way- even if it hurts. It is a time to learn.

Zeba Khan



hurts, hardship. Allah, test, why Allah is testing me

The Messenger of Allahṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said that the faith in our hearts wears out the way our clothes wear out. Deterioration, maintenance, and renewal are part of the cycle.  That’s life with all that hurts. That’s normal.

But what happens when that’s life, but life is not your normal? What happens when it feels like life isn’t normal, hasn’t been normal, and won’t be normal for a foreseeably long time?  For some of us, refreshing faith becomes secondary to just keeping it.

It’s easier to say Alhamdulillah when you are happy. It’s harder when you’re not. That’s human nature though. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there is something wrong with what we teach about faith that can leave us unprepared for when Allah tests it. I believe that our discussions about faith tend to be overly simplistic. They revolve around a few basic concepts, and are more or less summed up with:

Faith = Happiness

Righteousness = Ease

Prayer = Problem Solved

Good Deeds Equals Good Life?

Basically, the TLDR is Good Deeds = The Good Life. None of these statements are technically untrue. The sweetness of faith is a joy that is beyond any other gratitude, for any other thing in this world. Righteousness in the sight of Allah will put you on the path to the good life in the afterlife. Making dua can be the solution to your problems. But when we say these things to people who have true faith but not happiness, or righteous behavior yet distressing hardship, we’re kind of implying that that either Islam is broken (because their prayers seem unanswered), or they are broken (because their prayers are undeserving of answers.) And neither of those is true either.

Allow me to elaborate. I think it’s safe to say that there is not a single parent who has not begged Allah to make their sick or disabled child well again. Yet, our Ummah still has sick and disabled children. Through history, people have begged Allah for a loved one’s life, and then buried them – so is prayer not equal to problem solved?

Many righteous people stand up, and are then ostracized for their faith. Many people speak truth in the face of a tyrant only to be punished for it. Many of us live with complete conviction, with unshakeable belief in the existence and wisdom and mercy of Allah, and still find ourselves unhappy and afraid of what He has willed for us.

Are We Broken?

No, but our spiritual education is. In order to fix it, we have to be upfront with each other. We have to admit that we can be happy with Allah and still find ourselves devastated by the tests He puts before us, because faith is not a protection from struggle.

Has anyone ever said this to you? Have you ever said this to anyone else?

No one ever told me. It was hard for me to learn that lesson on my own, when I pleaded with Allah to make my son’s autism go away, and it didn’t. Everyone told me –Make dua! The prayer of a mother for her child is special! Allah will never turn you down!

It was hard trying to make sense of what seemed like conflicting messages- that Allah knows best, but a mother’s prayer is always answered. It was even harder facing people who tried to reassure me of that, even when it obviously wasn’t working.

“Just make dua! Allah will respond!”

I’m sure people mean well. But it’s hard not to be offended. Either they assume I have never bothered to pray for my son, or they imply that there must be good reason why Allah’s not granting to my prayers. What they don’t consider is that allowing my test to persist – even if I don’t want it to- is also a valid response from Allah.

I have been told to think back in my life, and try to determine what sin caused my child’s disability, as if the only reason why Allah wouldn’t give me what I asked for was because I was so bad I didn’t deserve it. As if good deeds equaled the good life, and if my life wasn’t good, it’s because I hadn’t been good either.

Bad Things Happen to Good People

You can assume whatever you like about my character, but bad things do happen to good people, even when they pray. You can try your hardest and still fall short. You can pray your whole life for something that will never come to you. And strength of faith in that circumstance doesn’t mean living in a state of unfulfilled hope, it means accepting the wisdom in the test that Allah has decreed for you.

That’s a bit uncomfortable, isn’t it.  When we talk about prayer and hope, we prefer to talk about Zakariyyah 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) – who begged Allah for a child and was gifted with one long after anyone thought it even possible. But we also need to talk about Abu Talib.

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was raised by his uncle Abu Talib, and in his mission to preach Islam he was protected by Abu Talib.  But Abu Talib died without accepting Islam, was there something wrong with the Prophet, that Allah did not give him what he asked for? Was he not good enough? Did he not pray hard enough? Astaghfirullah, no. So if Prophets of God can ask for things and still not get them, why are we assuming otherwise for ourselves?

Making a Bargain with Allah

If we can understand that faith is not a contract for which we trade prayers for services, then maybe we can cope better when fate cannot be bargained with. Maybe it won’t have to hurt so bad – on spiritual level – when Allah withholds what we ask for, even when we asked for the “right” things in the right way and at all the right times.

Life is not simple. Faith is not simple. The will of Allah is not simple, no matter how much we want it to be, and when oversimplify it, we create a Muslim version of Prosperity Gospel without meaning to.

If you’ve never heard of it, prosperity gospel is a religious belief among some Christians that health and wealth and success are the will of God, and therefore faith, good deeds and charity increase one’s wellbeing. Have faith, and God will reward you in this life and the next. That’s nice. But it’s too simple. Because the belief that Good Deeds = The Good Life doesn’t explain how Ibraheem 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)’s father tried to have him burnt alive.

Yusuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)’s brothers left him for dead in the bottom of a well. He grew up a slave and spent years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Aasiya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) – the wife of the Pharoah – one of the four best women in the history of womankind – died from her husband’s torture.

Good people are not guaranteed good lives. Islam is what we need, not a system of practices that we use to fulfill our needs.

When we limit our understanding of faith to a simplistic, almost contractual relationship with Allah, then we can’t even explain the things that Allah Tested His own prophets with.

Nor can we understand, or even begin to cope with- what He Tests the rest of us with either. We have to be real in our talk about faith, because otherwise we set each other up for unrealistic expectations and lack of preparation for when we face hardship. Faith is not protection from hardship. Faith is part of hardship. And hardship is part of faith.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) asks us in the opening of Surah ‘Ankabut,

Do people think once they say, “We believe,” that they will be left without being put to the test? We certainly tested those before them. And ˹in this way˺ Allah will clearly distinguish between those who are truthful and those who are liars.

Allah says in Surah Baqarah, ayah 155: “And most certainly shall We try you by means of danger, and hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of lives and of the fruits of your labor. But give glad tidings to those who are patient in adversity.

tests, hurts, faith , hardship

Allah Tests Everyone Differently

Allah tests each of us differently, but in every single case – every single time – a test is an invitation to success. Hardship is the process through which we prove ourselves. Experiencing it– and then drawing closer to Allah through it –is how faith is tested as well as strengthened.

If we can change how we perceive hardship, then we can also change how we perceive each other. On our cultural subconscious, we still see worldly failure as being equivalent to spiritual failure. So when we see people who are homeless, we assume fault. When we see people facing depression or divorce, we assume fault. We even look at refugees and victims and special needs children and we look for fault. Because if it’s that bad then it’s has to be someone’s fault, right?

Fault is how we place blame. Blame is how we know whose mistake it is. But the will of Allah is never a mistake, it’s a test.  Instead of faulting each other for what Allah tests us with, we could respect each other for the struggles we all endure. We could see each other with more compassion for our challenges, and less aversion when Allah tests us with dealing each other.

So when you’ve done things the right way, but the right things aren’t happening. Or you’ve been charitable to others, and they’re being evil towards you. Or you’ve earned only halal, but haram- it’s been taken away from you, remember this- your faith is being tested. Allah tests those that He loves. When He raises the difficulty level, Allah is extending a direct invitation for you to climb higher.

So How Do We Succeed When Faced With Failure?

The first thing to do is redefine failure. There is only one true failure in this life, and that is dying on the wrong side of Siraat ul Mustaqeem, because if close your eyes and wake up in Jahannam, no success in this life can compensate for that.

I find that helpful to remember, when I fail to stay fit because I can’t exercise without hurting myself, when I fail to fast in Ramadan because it’s dangerous for me to do so- when I fail to discover a cure for my family’s personal assortment of medical issues through rigorous internet “research,” none of that is my failure either. And I can feel a lot of different ways about these situations, but I do not feel guilty- because it’s not my fault. And I do not feel bitter, because my test is my honor. Even when I do feel scared.

Being scared in not a failure either. Neither is being unemployed. Being unmarried is not a failure. Being childless is not a failure. Being divorced is not a failure. Nothing unpleasant or miserable or unexpected is a failure. It’s all just a test, and seeing it as a test means you have the state of mind to look for the correct answers.

Not even sin is failure, because as long as you are alive, your sin stands as an invitation to forgiveness. The bigger the sin, the greater the blessings of repenting from it.  Everything that goes bad is the opening of the door for good. A major sin can be the first step on a journey that starts with repentance and moves you closer to Allah every day thereafter. Sin only becomes failure when it takes you farther away from Allah, rather than closer to him.

Jahannam is the Only Failure

Addiction is not a failure. Depression is not a failure. Poverty is not a failure. Jahannam is the only failure. Everything else is a gap in expectations.

You assumed you would have something, but it’s not written for you. You assumed you’d ask Allah for something and He’d give it to you, but what is that assumption based on again? That good deeds are the guarantee to the good life, and that prayer equals problem solved?

Allah has all the knowledge, Allah has the wisdom, Allah is the best of Planners – how are you assuming that your wishes supersede His will? Even when you put your wishes in the form of a prayer?

They don’t. It is absolutely true that Allah may choose to rewrite Qadr itself based on your prayers – but that’s still His choice. Allah has always, and will always be in control of this world. And that means your world too. If you still think you’re in control, you will find it really, really hard to cope the first time you realize you’re not.

When we understand that we don’t get to control what happens and what doesn’t, we can then release ourselves from the misplaced guilt of things going wrong.  Lots of special needs parents struggle with guilt. I meet them often – and every single parent has asked the question- directly or indirectly-

What did I do for my child to deserve this?

Can you hear the presumption in there? That the parents were good, so why did something bad happen? They were expecting for good deeds to equal the good life.

There’s a second presumption in there too, that their life choices were a determining factor of what happened to their child. That is a presumption of control. And as long as you try to hold on to that presumption of control, there is the constant feeling of failure when it just doesn’t work the way you think it will.

I am not proposing that we lose hope in Allah and despair of His Mercy. I am in no way insinuating that Allah doesn’t hear every prayer, hasn’t counted every tear, and isn’t intimately aware of your pain and your challenges. Allah hears your prayers, and in His wisdom, sometimes he grants us exactly what we want. In His Wisdom, sometimes he grants us exactly what we need.

Even if we don’t see it.

Even if it scares us.

Even if it hurts us – because Allah has promised that He will never, ever break us.

hurts, hardship, special needs

Allah Tests Us in His Mercy

I am proposing that we put trust in the wisdom of Allah, and understand that when He tests us, that is part of his mercy, not a deviation from it. When He grants something to us, that is part of His mercy, and when he withholds something from us, that too is part of His Mercy, even if we don’t like it. Even when we ask Him to take it away.

The third thing I would like to propose, is that we correct our understanding of – Fa Inna Ma’Al usri yusraa, Inna Ma’al usri yusra.

So verily, definitely, for sure- with hardship there is ease. Again, Inna – for sure, with hardship there is ease.

I’m sure lots of you have said this to people you loved, or to yourself when you’re struggling with something and you’re just trying to get through it. But did you mean that this hardship will end, and then things will be good again? Like as soon as things have been hard for a while, Allah will make them easy again?

Would you believe that’s not really what that means? Ma’a means with, not after. With this hardship, there is ease. And maybe you’re like aww man, but I wanted the ease! I want the hardship to go away and Allah I’m ready for my ease now!

But that hardship, will bring you ease. Allah does not tell us what the ease will be, or when it will be- but He says it’s there, so trust Him. Even if you can’t see it right away, or in this life –it will become apparent.

I can tell you some of the ease I found with mine.

Learning When It Hurts

When my son was diagnosed with autism, my husband and I had to drop everything. We dropped our plans to save, to travel, and to live the charmed life of neurotypical parents whose only fears are that their children may grow up and NOT become Muslim doctors. We spent our earnings and our savings and our time and our nights and our tears and Alhamdulillah, we learned patience. We learned perspective. We learned compassion.

We really learned what we thought we already knew – about unconditional love and acceptance. We learned to be bigger than our fears, and smaller than our own egos. We learned to give and take help. We learn to accept what wisdom our cultures could offer us, and respectfully decline what did not. We learn to set boundaries and make rules that did justice by our children and our family, regardless of whether they were popular. With hardship comes ease.

When we couldn’t afford therapy for my son, my husband and I founded a not for profit organization in the UAE that provided it for my son and dozens of other people’s sons and daughters. Three and a half years ago I left that organization to seek better educational opportunities for my son here in the US, but it’s still running. The seed that our challenges planted has grown into something beyond us. With our hardship came ease for ourselves and others as well.

When I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, my health issues were upgraded from challenging to permanent. I had to rethink how I lived, how I planned, how I dressed, and even – my relationship with Allah. But if I had never been sick, I would never have started writing. When it hurt, I wrote. When I was scared, I wrote. When I was lonely, I wrote. And by and by the grindstone of fear and sickness and frustration sharpened my skills. Where I am today both spiritually and professionally – is actually a direct result of both autism and chronic illness. With hardship comes ease.

I don’t like my hardships, but I don’t have to. You don’t have to either. Being a good Muslim doesn’t always mean being a happy Muslim. It just means being Muslim, no matter the circumstances.

That means loving Allah and trusting the Wisdom and Purpose in everything He throws your way – even if not loving everything He throws your way. You may hate your circumstances, and you may not be able to do anything about them, but as long as you trust Allah and use your hardships to come closer to him, you cannot fail, even if this life, you feel as if you never really succeeded.

hurts, depression, faith , hardship

Faith Wears Out In Our hearts, The Way Our Cothes Wear Out on Our Bodies

The hardship that damages and stains us is Allah’s invitation to repair, renew, and refresh ourselves. Our test are an invitation, an opportunity, an obstacle – but not a punishment or divine cruelty. And when we know that those tests will come, and some may even stay, then we can be better prepared for it.

Trust Allah when He says that He does not burden any soul with more than it can bear. He told us so in Surah Baqarah Ayah 286. Remember that when you are afraid, and Allah will never cause your fear to destroy you. Take your fear to Allah, and He will strengthen you, and reward you for your bravery.

Remember that when you are in pain. Allah will never cause your pain to destroy you. Take your pain to Him, and He will soothe you and reward you for your patience. Take it all to Allah – the loneliness, the anxiety, the confusion. Do not assume that the only emotions a “good Muslim” takes to Allah are gratitude and happiness and awe. Take them all to Allah, uncertainty, disappointment, anger — and He will bless you in all of those states, and guide you to what is better for you in this life, and the next, even if it’s not what you expected.

The struggles in your life are a test, and whether you pass or fail is not determined on whether you conquer them, only on whether you endure them. Expect that they will come, because having faith is not protection from struggle. Faith is protection from being broken by the struggle.

I ask Allah to protect us all from hardship, but protect us in our hardships as well. I ask Allah to grant us peace from His peace, and strength from His strength, to patiently endure and grow through our endurance.


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