We asked Ameera Aslam, author of Desiring Light, to have a chat with A. Helwa about her new book, From Darkness into Light. This is their conversation.
Ameera: One of the most striking things or messages for me reading From Darkness Into Light, and perhaps because I was going through big changes and also travelling, is this: "God is with you, no matter what". It feels like the whole book is saying this but in a hundred different ways. Was that something you set out to do, and a message you wanted to emphasise?
A. Helwa: I have this longing to remind not just Muslims, but all people that Allah created them with love. Allah says in the Qur'an that His mercy encompasses all things, meaning nothing is left out of the embrace of His eternal kindness, patience, compassion, and love.
I wanted From Darkness into Light to be short and sweet, something you could grab and open randomly and be inspired by for the day. For many of us, feeling lovable and enough is a constant struggle. The reason these voices are so strong is because we look at ourselves to determine our worth instead of looking at Allah. As Muslims, our purpose is to live to the best of our ability by the prescriptions of the Qur'an, but we must understand that our worthiness is by Allah. This changes everything. When I look at myself I see my faults, but when I look at Allah I see His Mercy and that Mercy is worth more than the heavens and the earth combined.
Worship while you wait
for everything to fall into
its perfect place.
Ameera: It seems like such a simple message. Why do we constantly doubt if God is truly with us?
A. Helwa: I think as human beings we are so aware of our faults and the countless ways our ego gets in the way that sometimes we can feel hopeless on the path to God. The Qur'an sets a high standard to aspire to and the Prophet Muhammad (peace blessings be upon him), his beloved companions, and his family showed us what living by that standard could look like. The sunnah is remarkable in its depth, its beauty, and its guidance, but sometimes Muslims can feel so far from the mark by comparison that they lose motivation to keep trying.
One of the things my teachers taught me that profoundly changed the way I approached my life was they called me not to run from my faults but to lean into my weakness and celebrate my desperate need for Allah moment to moment. I think we forget or doubt that Allah is with us because again we have bought into this idea that God's presence is determined by our holiness. The Qur'an says it so clearly: Allah is wherever you are. There is no place we can go and nothing we can do where we will be outside of God's mercy and presence. When we realize this, everything changes. Allah's mercy, care, and compassion are not diminished by our actions, but rather our actions veil us from experiencing His love.
Ameera: Your book is divided into five parts - the light of mercy, faith, insight, guidance, and love. Can you explain why you chose these five, and do you have a favourite?
A. Helwa: I love reading poetry books, but sometimes you can feel lost in the sort of endless pages of poetry. And since I have always loved a thematic grouping of words, I decided to break up the book into the light of mercy, faith, insight, guidance, and love, because these are five integral lights that have led me through the darkness of difficulties and trials.
The light of Allah’s mercy is what reminds me I am worth it not by my actions alone, but by the forgiveness and mercy of my Lord. The Light of faith is like an ember that Allah has placed in our hearts and through prayer and grace, this ember is fanned into a fire of passion and longing for the Divine. The light of insight is the light of the intellect and beyond that Allah shines inside of us to awaken us to teachings that inspire the soul. The light of guidance is the gift of returning us to our centre and reminding us that every moment is a moment that we get to witness Allah and be witnessed by Him.
And the light of love is the powerful transformative light that changes everything it touches. Love is the crucible, the cocoon, the creative force that helps us transform into who we have always been, but lost sight of in sin and forgetfulness.
Ameera: My favourite chapter was The Light of Insight. Every page, though short, truly gave a new perspective on seemingly usual things. I personally liked "When the fruit is ripe, it will fall - trust in God's timing" because impatience is my fatal flaw. Can you speak a bit about basira (insight), and how one could strengthen it?
A. Helwa: Basira in my eyes is about seeing with the heart. In my personal experience, to foster this quality it helps to begin by asking Allah to open this quality within us. Secondly, it helps to chant and do dhikr of the quality of Ya Allah Ya Basir. Thirdly, to see with the heart it helps to tune in more with our heart in general and become familiar with the voices and feelings of the heart.
My Palestinian teacher used to say in his broken English, "Your heart, what does she say?" It's such a cute way to check in with our hearts not just our minds when making a decision or feeling through something we are facing.
Ameera: Unlike Secrets of Divine Love where you meticulously and lovingly explained concepts, this book says so much in so few words! What was the difference in the process or in your state while writing these books?
A. Helwa: Secrets of Divine Love was written in libraries, office hours with professors and Imams, and coffee shops around the world. It was inspired by dozens of books and its creation process was more meticulous and research driven.
For From Darkness into Light, it was a more personal journey. It was moments in time. It was brief insights and heart-opening moments after prayers that touched my spirit and begged to be written. There was a lot more movement and flowing with language with From Darkness into Light. It also was kind of an experiment with language for me. It opened a lot up for me in terms of how to share Islamic knowledge and how to be more creative in the sharing of this beautiful faith.