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‘Ramadan Reflections’ Book Review & Launch Event at SOAS

By Sanna Hamid , BA History and International Relations

They say 1 DM can change your life. 

For CEO of Solace and co-host of Honest Tea Talks podcast Aliyah Umm Raiyaan, that DM was from Penguin Random House, who were asking her to write a book for them. The writing she shares online resonates with many Muslim women, and it seems it resonated with someone from Penguin too. The DM came just after Ramadan 2022, where a duʿāʾ that she particularly repeated was for Allah to allow her to write a book during her lifetime. 

In Islam, duʿāʾ is a prayer of invocation, supplication or request, even asking help or assistance from God. Whether the request is materialised immediately in this world is irrelevant to the rewards in the next life that a Muslim would get for supplicating to God. In Aliyah’s case, her dua came true.

Less than a year later, I received a press email from Penguin offering the Spirit a review copy. So here we are. 

As an early reader, the first thing that immediately stuck out to me was the structure of the book. It is not a book that has long chapters on different aspects of spirituality, but it was carefully curated to take the reader on a journey, specifically for the holy month of Ramadan. It’s split into 30 chapters for the 30 days of Ramadan, and the reader is told to start reading chapter 1 on day 1 of Ramadan to make the most of the book. Aware it wasn’t the first of Ramadan, I turned the page anyway till I had read it cover to cover. The way the book is broken down into such digestible chapters makes it both realistic to be able to read every day of Ramadan and useful to be able to dip into throughout the year as well. 

Part memoir, part thought-provoking journal, and part reflection on Islamic literature, the book was a very unique read. Each of these aspects that make up the book were neatly woven into the topic for that day, such as Gratitude, Forgiving Others and Dua to name some personal favourites. 

At the end of each chapter before the journal prompts, she writes a specific personal duʿāʾ for the reader based on that chapter’s topic. It’s a useful and practical take away of an exemplary act of worship for readers. Being given access to the deep heartfelt conversation that is one people usually have privately with their creator was inspiring and is something that I found very touching. Many muslims are encouraged to read the duʿāʾs  that are found in the Quran, in Arabic, and while they are beautiful especially if you know the meanings, for many people I think also supplicating in your own language will do wonders for your connection with God. 

With the help of the lovely Muna and Naeema, I invited Aliyah to come and speak at SOAS for an evening hosted by ISOC, but for the Spirits podcast. By the time she visited SOAS ISOC on 9 March, she’s on her 8th book launch event. She said that the questions we asked for the event were the best she had received yet, so here are some highlights from the evening of reflections with Aliyah:

What was the inspiration behind the unique structure of the book?

Penguin were quite clear from the beginning that they wanted there to be a journal element to the book, so there was that. I had a month to write, so I had to structure it. And to be honest with you it was after I made duʿāʾ for Allah to guide me, to guide this process because I don’t know what this process is supposed to look like. It just started coming together as I sat there in front of Victoria park. 30 days of Ramadan, so I split it into 3 parts –  I want to talk about the past, present and future. I didn’t want it to be me telling the reader what to do and I hope that doesn’t come across. I want to share my story, the story of others, to reflect on the subject theme of that chapter and I want the reader to now go and reflect about themselves. 

Did Penguin give you editorial freedom?

That was one of the first things I asked about. I said it has to be in my voice. Especially because I share a lot of my work on social media, if after the first draft you change my style, it’s not going to be me. So I want to make sure that you are not going to change my voice. They said I have all the freedom in the world! In fact, during the editing phase, there were hardly any changes. Penguin said normally there’s red marks everywhere, but they hardly changed anything. So Alhumdulilah they really gave me the autonomy to do my thing. And I think that is important because at the end of the day, this is for the Muslim audience and you have approached a Muslim author so you’ve got to trust that. 

What advice would you give to someone who is not making as much duʿāʾ as they could be? 

I actually feel really emotional just thinking about this, Subhanallah. Duʿāʾ is absolutely everything. Where do I begin? So much of my life is as a result of duʿāʾ, and I am very passionate about dua. I would say, to anyone that may not be making dua as much as they should or could be, and I used to be one of them, it’s probably because you don’t know who you are making duʿāʾ to. I think a lack of knowledge of who Allah is, and who he can be for you and your life, results in a lack of duʿāʾ. When you know who Allah swt is; in his ability, in his love for you, in his willingness to answer, in the way he responds, in how perfect his decree is. If you knew, you would fall in love with duʿāʾ. And duʿāʾ is not just asking for something, it’s your direct line to your Lord – you can use it when you are in need, when you need to complain or just feel that he is with you as you’re going through something. It’s your dialogue with the one who knows you better than anybody else. My advice would be, get to know your Lord and you will end up loving him. And when you love someone, you always want to be by their side right? And duʿāʾ is that which will enable you to feel near him. 

How did you overcome the challenges that have come from writing this book in 30 days? 

In the beginning, I had seriously bad imposter syndrome. It’s strange because I’m not someone who’s afraid to take risks; I became Muslim at a time when there were not many reverts, I’ve been living alone from the age of 17, I set up a charity myself, I lived in the Atlas mountains in a Berber village where no one spoke English. But my gosh, on September 1 when I began to start writing this, I remember calling a friend saying I think they’ve got the wrong person. I’m not a good writer, this is Penguin! This is crazy! And she gave me the best advice. She said just take Penguin out of the equation. She said “Why are you doing this? What was the duʿāʾ you were making before Penguin came along?” I said I’m doing it for my Lord. She said, “Focus on that.” And as soon as she said that, there was a shift. And as soon as I focused on doing it for the sake of my Lord, the words just started to come. As soon as I started thinking about Penguin…you know it changed. 

Can you tell us a bit about what you offer at Solace?

Solace is a registered charity that was set up in 2011 provides support for revert sisters in difficulty, so that’s what we focus on. We recognise that, Mashallah there’s so many organisations and charities that give dawah and teach new Muslims how to pray and read the Quran and so on. But there was a gap in the community back then, and still is today somewhat apart from Solace, whereby we don’t talk about the difficulties that come with taking your Shahadah. As a revert myself, who went through some very difficult times in the first few years after I became Muslim alone and unsupported, I didn’t want another revert sister to go through the same thing. And so, we deal with all the post Shahada difficulties.Issues with family, loneliness, homelessness, harassment in the workplace are examples of some of the issues we help with. Solace services are not solely for new reverts, as we recognise that challenges after taking Shahada may surface at any time. Our mission is quite simple, we want to support holistic support for revert sisters so that the zeal and passion they embraced Islam with continues and they enjoy their faith. 

Some answers have been edited for clarity. 

You can watch the event recording via the SOAS Spirit Podcast episode 2. 

Photo Credit: Sanna Hamid.

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