She speaks of Islam tenderly, spreading its message of love and encouraging Muslims to better themselves from the inside out. Amal Awad caught up with the author and speaker during her recent lecture tour of Sydney, Australia.
Her name makes a frequent appearance on social media. Her words are often heartfelt and inspiring. She has speaking engagements around the world and recently published her first book, Reclaim Your Heart.
Yasmin Mogahed has become a voice of a generation of Muslims who are tapping into a soft, reflective inner world of faith. And her message is clear: people will get lost when they spend their lives seeking the creations of this world, rather than building a relationship with the Creator. Her underlying message is that we must purify our hearts, because it’s through the heart that we connect to God.
She shares her thoughts on faith, belief and connection to Allah with Aquila Style readers.
Amal Awad: There seems to be synchronicity between your approach and the way new-age thinkers talk about life. Is that a pathway you envisaged for yourself?
Yasmin Mogahed: I think that, as soon as I started getting more invested in my Islamic identity, I always focused on that aspect. I always focused on the spiritual aspect – that was always the fascination. And, to me, that was the path that I wanted to take, which is, to clarify, the path of seeking Allah SWT through internal purification. That internal purification affects how you act externally.
Did it come to you as a revelation or was it something that was always in you and came to you in another form?
I think that the desire for seeking God is in all of us. That is something we call fiqra. Fiqra means the human nature. Allah SWT created all human beings with a particular nature, and one glimpse at that is from the Qur’an, where Allah SWT says that, even before the souls were put on this Earth, He gathered all the souls together, of all people, including the atheists and the agnostics, Christians and the Jews, and He said ‘Am I not your Lord?’ And all the souls took a covenant: ‘Indeed we bear witness’.
So there is a part of every human being that has taken that covenant with God and acknowledged that He is the one and only God. So it’s something I think is already in us, but a lot of us have it covered up with other things we ran after in life.
You have completed a psychology degree. Did you go in with the desire to understand how people think and what moves us?
I think I’ve always been fascinated with that. When I started to become more practising, I would say, it was around the time I was 13, and since then, I have been interested in the soul and in the heart and in the connection with God.
The reason that we need to focus on these things is because it is by the heart that we connect with our Creator. We don’t connect with our Creator through anything else. It’s through the heart and so the heart needs to be connected to the Creator in order for everything else to become rectified. In order for our actions to become rectified, our hearts need to be connected to the Creator.
Someone wants to believe but they don’t – have you ever experienced someone telling you that?
I have actually. Shortly after graduating from college, I started a class for non-Muslims about Islam, and there was actually one person in that class who, that’s precisely what his issue was. He called himself agnostic but he was seeking, and inside of him he actually wanted to believe, but he didn’t.
Isn’t that already a form of belief, though?
Well it isn’t exactly, he still had the doubts. So my advice to him was actually based on what Allah tells us in the Qur’an. I told him to actually pray. So even though he wanted guidance and he wasn’t sure, but I told him to pray for guidance. And Allah tells us in the Qur’an that whoever strives towards him, God will guide him. And eventually he actually became Muslim.
Do you ever feel a connection to other ideas, such as reiki, and seek synchronicity between them and Islamic ideas?
Yes, and I actually met a sister recently who studied reiki, and essentially it is, and I don’t know enough about it, but there’s something called ruqqiyah, and ruqqiyah is based on the sunnah.
So I would say to that question – and it’s really the answer to the broader question of what do I accept from other ideologies, what do I accept from other cultures and what do I reject – and the answer to that, across the board, is that I always measure it based on the criteria that I have, which is the Qur’an and the sunnah.
And so if anything comes, and I measure it based on that criteria, and if I find that it does not contradict, then I can accept it. But if I find that it contradicts, then I reject it. And that’s the way we interact with any ideology, with any concept, with any culture.
How much of Yasmin Mogahed the public figure is you, and do you compartmentalise aspects of your life?
That’s a really good question and I think, for me, it really is all of who I am. Even in my writing, even in my Facebook posts, even in what I talk about – when I’m sitting with my family and even if I’m talking in a lecture, it’s pretty much all the same. It isn’t like I have a certain persona at home and a different one on the stage.
But the same things that I’m concerned about when I’m talking one-on-one with a friend are the same as what I’m talking about in an audience of 10,000. Because for me there’s this holistic journey that I feel like we’re all on, and I don’t see it’s compartmentalised at all. For me, my focus on a personal level, on a public level, on a societal level, is all the same, and that is my individual, and all of our individual, relationships with God.
Do you find non-Muslims respond to you and your work?
I think that there has been a very good response to the book, even from non-Muslims. I’ve had actually some people contact me who are not Muslim. One woman contacted me and she was saying how the book really helped break a lot of the false images of Islam and Muslims that she had from the media, and it showed that inner softer side of what’s the core of our faith, which is the relationship with the Creator.
So there was a very good response in some of the reviews; there are people who are not Muslim who were still able to benefit. And I think the reason for that is it is a universal message.
At the end of the day, every prophet brought the same message, which is ‘Oh, my people, worship the one true God. You have nothing else worthy of your worship but Him’. And they all said this to their peoples. It’s very simple but at the same time profound in that it completely changes the way you live and the way you see the world, and it is something that will appeal to all people because, as I said, it’s already in each individual.
This article originally appeared in the July 2013 Ramadan issue of Aquila Style magazine. For a superior and interactive reading experience, you can get the entire issue, free of charge, on your iPad or iPhone at the Apple Newsstand, or on your Android tablet or smartphone at Google Play