Focusing The Heart: Yasmin Mogahed (Part Two)

signing books at United for Change2

In the final part of our interview, Yasmin Mogahed describes some of the stories behind her written work, her creative process and tackling the sticky issues of love and depression. You can read part one here.

Your writings have struck a chord with many people because you unflinchingly deal with heavy issues such as depression, attachment and heartbreak. Do you think part of your rising profile is due to a present lack of Islamic spiritual writers and scholars tackling this topic?

I think when we talk about this topic and we refer to the Quran and Hadith, we don’t make the link to our own lives and we think they are not relevant. Sometimes people don’t make that connection, either scholars or people who are reading it. I think it’s important to highlight that these ayats  and these hadiths directly relate to your life today. I think what I try to do with my writing is share. I believe that you must write from the heart and a place of experience. By this way it will come out different and have a different power.

Perhaps other writers or scholars are not comfortable putting themselves out there when it comes to such sensitive topics?

That is part of it yes. I think it is important to put yourself out there, make yourself vulnerable and share ideas. One of my most personal articles I ever wrote was Why Do People Have to Leave Each Other? And what I found that, Subhan Allah, out of all articles that was the one that most people deeply related to and affected by. All this is from Allah SWT and any barakah from it is from Allah. That was an example of a time where I did share things that was personal.

Did you ever fear you were putting too much of yourself in your pieces?

I put my trust in Allah and what is very important to me is being sincere, open and transparent, to not pretend that I am something that I am not or put on a facade of being perfect. I respect people who admit their shortcomings, flaws and that they are not perfect. That is the heart of humility and what we are supposed to be as Muslims. We should realise that only Allah is perfect.

Another subject you speak about that is rarely discussed by most modern day scholars is love and the Islamic concept of love. Was that a challenge? To present a cliched topic in a sincere way?

The challenge was in the concept and not the writing. Because I had personal struggles with the concept that is why I feel that I am able to share it. That is the thing about relating. If someone is going to talk about an academic concept of love and they never felt it, or felt the disappointment of having the wrong concept of love, they are not going to express it the same way as the person who did feel it and suffered the consequences from it.

You tackled this subject in one of my favourite pieces of yours, This Is Love. How did that come about?

It came about from the personal struggles that I was dealing with. What I was describing in that article in the beginning, on how people make love the destination, I am describing myself. I am talking about the way I conceived of it and what I felt. What I was doing in that piece is talking about what I thought, what I felt and what I learnt.

In terms of your creative process, do you start with an idea or theme?

I would normally not be in front of the computer and I would have an idea and I would take mental note of it. I have so many unfinished articles in my head but I don’t want to write for the sake of writing. So when it is, inshaAllah, time to write then it will happen. The whole concept of Why Do People Have to Leave Each Other, that is something that I have been thinking about for maybe two years before I wrote that piece.

Do you have a writing routine?

Not really. I fly a lot and I find that, subhanAllah, there is some sort of different perspective that you get when you are above the clouds. I actually wrote some pieces when I am on the airplane. Another time is early in the morning, that is when my mind is more alert and there is more creativity. One of my pieces, Escaping The Worst of Prisons, the concept behind that came to me while I was running. I found that whenever I am exerting myself my mind is more aware of things that it normally wouldn’t.

How about when preparing a lecture? Do you have to be in a different mental space before stepping to the lectern?

It is different. When it comes to lectures, there are sometimes that I feel that the words are there and it is flowing. I don’t write out every word that I am going to say, sometimes you feel inspired and the words flow and sometimes not so much. So I try to make a lot of dua and ask Allah  SWT to make my words flow and beneficial for others and myself. I think that is important to ask Allah to make us a tool because ultimately that is all we are. We are not the source of anything. So if Allah chooses us to be a tool than we should be very grateful for that.

With your growing writing schedule and being part of the international speaking circuit do you fear burn out?

That questions brings to me the deeper note that if you stand up by yourself you will fall, but if Allah puts you up then you will be able to stand. I think that is the key, I think I will burn out if I try to rely on myself or depend on myself.

Are you comfortable with the fact that people look to you and your writings for advice?

You know, I think if I was depending again on myself I would be terrified or heedless of it. But I do feel like as long as I am trying to keep my focus and my intention for the sake of Allah and always go back to Allah for His Guidance, help and refuge, then Allah will take care for it.

Do you have any tips on how maintain that intention and focus on Allah SWT?

One of the metaphors I wrote about is that this life is like an ocean and we are trying to stay afloat. I think a huge part of that is following the sunnah of the Prophet PBUH. It is about coming back to the foundation and a big part of that is the remembrance of Allah through our salat, our connection with Him with the Quran and supplications. The Prophet PBUH left us with supplications for nearly everything that we do. Instituting this into our life, making remembrance of Allah a major part of our daily life, that will help us keep our hearts focused.

Do you think that is theme of your work so far?

If we were to put one word of what I want my work to be, it would be tawheed. Of making the heart focused on Allah SWT alone. Ultimate fear, ultimate love, ultimate dependence, hope and attachment to Allah SWT.

For more information on Yasmin Mogahed and her latest book Reclaim Your Heart click here

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