As I reflect on 2016 and God willing, prepare for 2017, I have tried to pay particular attention the what worked well for me and what served to impede my progress this year.
The most common factor of note was gratitude. A standard definition is “the act of being grateful.”
Some of you may ask, “to whom?” I will make it perfectly clear and state, to God!
Others may pose the question, “for what?” My response would simply be: for the air I breathe with the lungs He has given me, for the fact that I am alive today. It is acknowledges Him watching over me when l am not capable of doing a better job on my own.
He nurtures and sustains and I am a beneficiary. I seek to express gratitude all He has done for me. Shouldn’t we all?
People of different belief systems often thank God for the food before they eat their meals. Many Christians will say a grace or give acknowledgment of a virtue coming from God. I recall some of my Japanese and Kendo brethren saying, “itadakimasu” or “I humbly receive…,” before we would partake of a sumptuous meal together. Muslims utter Bismillah (in God’s name).
At times I question whether people are really sincere and truly thankful but then I pause and remember that it is between them and God. I can only legitimately seek to control my own intentions and actions…
Gratitude is increasingly a topic in social media these days. Its links to happiness and better health are now being examined.
I learned to consider gratitude as an emotion while attending meetings with Sultan Abdulhameed, author of The Quran and The Life of Excellence, years ago. He teaches that “prayer is a comfort”and that “all progress happens through adversity.” While contemplating these thoughts, a phrase I had heard earlier in life came to mind, “Let go, let God…”
These notions enabled me to find peace with the thoughts that I am not in control of everything in my life, but that my circumstances are intimately connected to how I think. Now, I always think positively about all matters, no matter how grim they may seem.
One of my Dominican friends and Kendo brothers has been trying to attain the rank of NanaDan or seventh degree Black Belt for longer than I can remember. Twice a year, he would make a pilgrimage to Japan to challenge for the rank. It takes a lot of determination and resoluteness to maintain this arduous discipline and stay focused in spite of circumstances. The pass rate on this examination has always been extremely low. He was finally successful last month.! Alhamdulillah (All praise is due to God)! I remember the words of the late Nishino sensei,”Never give up!” This is a timely reminder for me. I am also happy when my friends achieve success.
You may ask what does this have to do with being grateful? Studies have shown that practicing gratitude can lead to a greater sense of well-being and reduced depression.
I recently had a personal problem which was driving me to wit’s end. I felt powerless. Reluctantly, I shared my dilemma with some of my friends. Together, we came up with a solution and I was truly humbled by the positive outcome… I am forever grateful for the friends that God had provided for me! Alhamdulillah!
There is a passage in the Quran which states, “If you are grateful, I will give you more (14:7)” I am only now beginning to grasp the meaning of this powerful statement.
I thank God for watching over me.
Thou has been with me throughout my entire life.
Please forgive me for my late acknowledgment.
Please continue to watch over me, my family and my friends…
I wanted to share a picture of my recent breakfast. Much to my dismay, I may soon have to start watching my waistline!
My favorite breakfast has often consisted of a couple of blueberry waffles and a cheese omelet (my cousin Abdulsalaam can verify this…). I like to stuff my omelet with mild shredded cheddar cheese, some green peppers and tomatoes. I will often add a slice of pastrami or some turkey bacon to give it a little more heft!
Lately my wife’s personal touch has been added to this initial meal each morning. Today my meal was supplemented with noodles, cabbage and some beef. I usually add a little vinegar and soy sauce to give it flavoring more suitable to my taste.
I am grateful each morning for this wonderful breakfast. It is one of my attempts at blending cultures and fulfilling what I believe is one of God’s edicts, “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” Surah al-Hujurat (49:13)
I continue to believe that if we can sit a share a good meal together, there is the possibility that we can make a little more progress in resolving our differences. I am not naive in thinking this way. If we share the best of intentions, all things are possible…
I have been attending a discussion series put on by Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed. We met several years ago in New York City. Originally, I began following the series out of my general interest regarding aspects of Islam, but it ended up serving as something considerably more gratifying.
As many of my close friends and family are aware, I suffered a stroke during mid 2009. This was followed by a case of severe depression. It was a time in my life when I yielded to pessimistic thinking. It was truly unfortunate. One negative occurrence seemed to be followed by others. It caused me to doubt what I was capable of and almost cost me my life. Today, I can look back on those events as being “mere footnotes” in the broader scheme of things. I am sure there is a master plan, Allah-u-Alim (God knows best)!
This discussion series, where we would review various chapters of Abdulhameed’s book, The Quran and The Life of Excellence, has in many ways, been extremely therapeutic regarding my stroke after-effects as well as providing anti-depression remedies.
For example, while the results of my stroke left very little apparent physical damage, I noticed that I had developed difficulties trying to read aloud as my eyes raced across a page. Sultan remarked one day that he thought “I read at an easy to follow pace!” This later encouraged me to gain better control of my “mind-eye coordination.” Now a chore I once dreaded, no longer seems like a burden. I am actually beginning to enjoy it.
A chapter I recently read was entitled, The Words We Speak Shape Our Lives. I have never really given this much thought before. If we think of ourselves as having a “divine spirit” within each of us, the challenge we face is to channel that essence to make our lives better.
When I stop to think about my development from “cradle to present,” the impact of words is obvious. At first, as an infant, I could only utter sounds. As I grew, I learned words from parents, relatives and other sources. In time these words helped form my personality. Please think about this whenever you encounter an adult interacting with a child…
It can be said that these words compose the dictionary of our lives. “Everything that you believe is possible, or not possible, is contained in the words you have heard.”
I have had interactions with “downers” or “negative speaking” people in the past. These are people who habitually find only bad things to say. In some cases, I actually think it is a symptom of an illness. They tend to stress unhappy events, disease and the envy of others. The world appears to be a disappointing place to them. Those relationships were detrimental to my well-being. It has taken me years to recover and the process continues.
Today, I try to associate with people who are supportive of my efforts. They usually project positivity in their language and their actions. Their conversation conveys optimism, encouragement, confidence, happiness and gratitude. They give the impression that life is good and becoming better.
“God does not change a person’s condition until they make changes in themselves.”
When I think about all I have been through, I still feel the best is yet to come. The positive, reinforcing statements I heard as a child still resonate within me!
My family continues to grow. I am a grandfather. My circle of close friends continues to expand. There is so much to be grateful for.
“God is truly nurturing and most compassionate!”
Every morning at the crack of dawn, I look forward to the time in which I pray. It is a time when I contemplate my life, review what I have done and seek guidance on how I should proceed further.
Prayer, salat, supplication or whatever you might call it is your personal conversation with God. There are many characterizations of this gesture. Some may dress a certain way. Others may stress that it be performed in a language not understood by all, simply a repetition of verses. It may argued that its structure is tantamount to its conveyance. I would humbly submit regarding the issue of form over substance, the latter of the two takes priority.
It is, I repeat, your conversation with God! I only hope that your sentiments are from the heart, most sincere and occur on a fairly regular basis.
The contents of a good prayer should include gratitude and a request. It should express gratitude acknowledging the excellence and favors of the One to Whom we address our prayer. We may not realize just how much we have to be thankful for, from the air we breathe to life itself…
Life is better when one shows gratitude. It sets you in the right attitude and may protect you from temptations. It has been said that “God turns to man when man turns to God.”
The other crucial element is the request. The vicissitudes of life can be overwhelming. We must acknowledge that we do not control all things and that a little help may be warranted. Only through the remembrance of God and His role in all our lives can matters truly be placed in their proper perspective. One’s request may be to seek guidance on how to make someone’s life better.
On a personal note, as I get older, I feel the need to express gratitude for all that has happened to me, both good and bad. I have come to believe that all experiences are just trials and challenges instituted by God to help me better myself, to make me stronger. He is the Guardian, Sustainer, Provider and Nurturer of all things!
There have been times in my life when I have achieved much success. There were other times when my will to see future days waned. I was happy for God’s intervention when it was most needed. Now I view each setback as an opportunity to regroup and continue to press forward. Now I begin to understand the importance of having faith. I accept all challenges and take them all in stride…
Today, after I pray for me, my family and my friends, I find myself praying for a better world. I pray for world peace and harmony (http://wp.me/p2hekR-v). I believe we each have the sense of a divine presence within us. If we concentrate collectively, if we each make an extra effort, anything is possible!
Won’t you join me in this prayer? It costs you nothing and the potential for rewards are immeasurable…
A willow by the stream,
Firmly planted yet bending in the wind.
Constant remembrance of thee,
Creator, Sustainer, Nurturer of all…
Subhan allah (Glory to God)
Al-hamidu lillah (Praise to God)
La illaha illhah (There is no God but God)
Allahu akbar… (God is Greater)