Rahma with Rose

Living a Life of Spiritual Thirst: A Conversation with A. Helwa

November 03, 2023 Dr. Rose Aslan / A. Helwa Season 1 Episode 15
Living a Life of Spiritual Thirst: A Conversation with A. Helwa
Rahma with Rose
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Rahma with Rose
Living a Life of Spiritual Thirst: A Conversation with A. Helwa
Nov 03, 2023 Season 1 Episode 15
Dr. Rose Aslan / A. Helwa

In this heartfelt conversation, I sit down with A. Helwa, whose writings have touched tens of thousands of people around the world, the celebrated author of Secrets of Divine Love: A Spiritual Journey into the Heart of Islam. We explore her personal journey through stages of spiritual awakening. Helwa opens up about her passionate belief that every person is profoundly loved by the Divine and shares her view that the spiritual path is a process of continuous discovery rather than a static destination. 

We hear how she started with an intense period of connection to Islam as a pre-teen to a young adult life marked by spiritual estrangement and then to a reawakening of her Islamic spirituality sparked by her travels and encounters with diverse religious communities. Helwa shares transformative life moments and unpacks how writing poetry and sitting with various spiritual teachers aided her path. Tune in to learn about the ebbs and flows of spiritual seeking and how to cultivate a lifelong thirst for the Divine. What does your spiritual journey look like, and how can Helwa’s experiences inspire your own continuous discovery?

Learn more about A. Helwa’s work and how to approach the Divine through love at Instagram: @a.helwa or her website: www.authorahelwa.com.

Support the Show.

Find out more about Rose's work here: https://lnk.bio/dr.rose.aslan
Website: https://compassionflow.com

Support Rahma with Rose so I can keep producing more episodes here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/2197727/supporters/new

Music credits: Vocals: Zeynep Dilara Aslan; Ney/drum: Elif Önal; Tanbur: Katherine Hreib; Rebap: Hatice Gülbahar Hepsev

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Show Notes Transcript

In this heartfelt conversation, I sit down with A. Helwa, whose writings have touched tens of thousands of people around the world, the celebrated author of Secrets of Divine Love: A Spiritual Journey into the Heart of Islam. We explore her personal journey through stages of spiritual awakening. Helwa opens up about her passionate belief that every person is profoundly loved by the Divine and shares her view that the spiritual path is a process of continuous discovery rather than a static destination. 

We hear how she started with an intense period of connection to Islam as a pre-teen to a young adult life marked by spiritual estrangement and then to a reawakening of her Islamic spirituality sparked by her travels and encounters with diverse religious communities. Helwa shares transformative life moments and unpacks how writing poetry and sitting with various spiritual teachers aided her path. Tune in to learn about the ebbs and flows of spiritual seeking and how to cultivate a lifelong thirst for the Divine. What does your spiritual journey look like, and how can Helwa’s experiences inspire your own continuous discovery?

Learn more about A. Helwa’s work and how to approach the Divine through love at Instagram: @a.helwa or her website: www.authorahelwa.com.

Support the Show.

Find out more about Rose's work here: https://lnk.bio/dr.rose.aslan
Website: https://compassionflow.com

Support Rahma with Rose so I can keep producing more episodes here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/2197727/supporters/new

Music credits: Vocals: Zeynep Dilara Aslan; Ney/drum: Elif Önal; Tanbur: Katherine Hreib; Rebap: Hatice Gülbahar Hepsev

Dr. Rose and A. Helwa 

Dr. Rose Aslan: salamu alaykum and welcome to Rahma with Rose. It's a delight to have you here. 

A Helwa: Walaykum as salam. Thank you so much for having me. 

Dr. Rose Aslan: Yes, it's wonderful and I think most of the listeners probably already know who you are. And I think they're going to be delighted to hear more about the spiritual journey of the person who compiled the most amazing books, The Secrets of Divine Love.

So I can't wait to hear more of your story and what went behind the scenes in terms of your journey up until you created this and you wrote this beautiful book. 

A Helwa: Thank you so much. Yeah it's interesting because, in writing this book it, wrought up. I realized that it took three years, but took a whole life because you start to pull from everything from your childhood, from things that your grandparents said.

 and then I start to really see that we never really own the things that we create because so many hands were a part of making it, so every day it makes more sense to have a pseudonym. 

Dr. Rose Aslan: Yeah, beautiful. It makes a lot of sense. And, I'm happy that you're willing to share more about that. Would you be willing to share and can you remember when you first started getting interested in spirituality? 

A Helwa: Yeah, that's a great question. So I was born Muslim. So my whole life it was, prayers and Ramadan and going to the mosque. But I remember the moment where spirituality and faith began to become my own experience was interesting because it was at the age of 11. I remember it very clearly because it was the first time my eyes laid on the kava and my eyes touched this image that for an 11 year old felt without being it just felt insignificant. I didn't understand it at that age.

But when I, turned the corner and I saw this image, It's like time stopped and being someone that's, as an adult, so fascinated by the physics of space and astrophysics and this idea of the closer you get to a black hole, the more time slows until you're at this event horizon and like time almost completely stops, practically stops from the point of view of anyone else.

So this idea of. I literally felt like time fell away, like everybody slowed down, and it was such an out of body experience, and my only response to it was to cry, and it rivers. And if you asked me why you're crying, I would have no answer. And it's only until later that I realized that moment is receiving a knowledge that's beyond books. Beyond language. It's both before and beyond language. You can't capture it with 26, 29 letters. You can't contain it. But it's so real because you feel it deeply in your body, but you can't share it. It is very much from the inside. And... It wasn't again until later that I realized that moment sparked something that I forgot about for 10 years and then re went on another adventure in my 20s like seeking it again, but not knowing that like I actually felt a spark of it. So that was really like, cause up until that point, faith was words on paper. Faith was ideas. Faith was practices. Faith was. Faith sometimes was rules, but in that moment, it was like the air you breathe. The air that fills a room. Like when you walk into a room and you're like, this is beautiful. You don't necessarily say, wow, there's oxygen in this room. You're like, there's a beautiful couch and maybe there's a nice table. But that's what it felt like. It felt like being aware of the air in the room. That's like invisible and easy to forget, but like in a moment you're like, oh my god, there's air in this room. This is why we're alive. And there's a tree somewhere that's like part of its role on this earth is to transform my exhales into oxygen like it was like, wow, like you're almost like amazed. It reminds me of something that I think Shamsa Tabrizi, which is, for those of you that know, Rumi's teacher, who said, you read the words on the page and I read the spaces in between the words. I won't say that's what I can do or did. It was like a spark of feeling that, and then longing to be in this and be aware of that space as an intention. 

Dr. Rose Aslan: I love how you bring this poetic language to describe that experience as 11 year old having this encounter. So you were 11, you had this encounter. What did your 11 year old self do with this encounter or afterwards? 

A Helwa: So that's a funny question too, because for the next year, I was like, the idea of a flying carpet from Aladdin that made sense to me because I was flying in prayers. I been praying at that point?

Not many, but it was like, it feels, this is amazing. Because up until that point, And I think maybe it's true for a lot of children, it's, you very much just copy what your parents are doing if you're born in a tradition, and you're just like inheriting that idea, but it was, it felt like it became my own in that moment when I returned and most gifts and, beautiful openings from God, the human being begins to forget. As time progressed, that feeling or that opening, I began to forget and not knowing, how to keep it open or foster it, like it just began to close. And what substituted that, was obligation and an obligation that now didn't make sense to me because the opening didn't come from understanding, it came from feeling.

So when it was closed, like when I lost track of where it was, there was no language to return me. There was no ideas to take me back. There was no, nothing to point to it. Because also my parents were practicing their whole lives and their approach to faith was one of obligation and love, but it was mostly like, you just do it, you just show up.

And, so then it like, I even remember almost like being like 12 or 13 and it's an interesting age. It's like puberty starts coming, you start forgetting you're also developmentally. You're like now looking at a group for validation and you're naturally moving away from your parents sort of validation and you're going to like a group think.

And that being in California, like being in a private Christian school, being around people that didn't look like my parents. So when I was emulating them, I looked a certain type of way, and then as the group thing comes in, it's like you start to, your values start to want to fit in to a group mentality, which is really interesting because Brene Brown talks about how the opposite of belonging is fitting in.

And how when you belong you, show up exactly as you are and you're able to have the space to, investigate and discover parts of yourself, like with a level of safety. But when you feel like you have to fit in, you chip away parts of yourself to, fit into the puzzle. And so I could really see that just looking back now, how interesting it was, that turn.

And I see also, just from a young reader. And the messages they sent like very clearly that distinction and the struggle of trying to find faith when they're like psychology is trying to fit in. And soI did see that happen. somewhere along the way. 

Dr. Rose Aslan: Yeah. So from 12 to 13, where you start to forget and where puberty and where peer pressure started to hit. And then you said up until your twenties, you what happened during those years? And then what happened in your twenties to reignite that spark? 

A Helwa: Yeah. So I think in, for lack of a better word, it was almost like hiatus like it just went, it almost went like. Faith went hibernating and so in that experience, like I didn't, I stopped praying and I want to always try to say this publicly because I think that, sometimes people read Secrets of Divine Love and assume they sometimes project a sense of, Oh, you have it all figured out and you always have.

And this is so different than me. But I'm not that. That's not who I am. I am the imperfect Muslim trying to figure it out. And that's what I think makes it remarkable is that this space makes space for us. Because we're all striving and the goal is that progress. And so in that period of time, like I really did, it's I just hibernated that's what it felt like, always believes in God, never would have considered myself not Muslim, but I just didn't practice.

There's so much of me that now that's I wish I would have held on to praying and Ramadan and like all the practices and going to the mosque. I really feel the sense of loss and that there's real grieving for that period. Now, looking back, I also recognize that period turned me to something deeper than what was available in my surroundings.

Being someone that mathematics and science, believe me or not, writing is my least favorite subject. Really? Wow. It is, yeah. I'm a numberist person. I love math, love science. it was... Always asking questions wanting to understand how things go from one thing to the next and my parents were like Or these beautiful, lovers of God who just surrender.

It's to them, knowing every little piece wasn't important. That's not how they approached God. They approached God because they would go into that corner with God and know that he was there for them and that he was their best friend. And whether it was like you're in a in a huge business meeting and there's these people all looking at you and you have to make big decisions, or you're at the hospital holding, a grieving friend's hand.

I saw my parents emulate Faith in every single situation. Their faith didn't make sense to me because I was so numbers oriented. I was like, oh, okay. A, after my opening of like experience closed, like the intellect kicked in and was, okay, I gotta understand why this, and why did that happen and what, why did that prophet do this thing? And what, so I was always asking my parents like, I don't know They were so overwhelmed by the why, And I at that age took their. Lack of response to mean it's not real to the extent they think and so for the next 10 years, I spent my life like just an everyday American, like traveling, working, learning, reading, and most of it was filled with travel, but in the process of traveling actually ended up in Turkey, which I talk about in my book, but in Cappadocia, I never know how to say if it's Cappadocia or Dosia, but I'll let you tell me.

Cappadocia. Cappadocia, okay. It was there when I experienced, and I mentioned it, but this feeling of witnessing someone pray so sincerely, again, so it helps to have shared the 11 year old story because it actually mirrors that moment where language drops away and experience takes over.

Yeah. Yeah. The mind drops away and the heart takes over. It's a moment where time stops and the witnessing of the person in the entirety of who they are and recognizing in this moment that all that I seek that they have, God is giving to them and they're, and what I'm witnessing is someone dissolving in their prayer to God, which I say is it's the first time not seeing someone pray, but become a prayer because the borders fall away and language loses meaning because what, is becoming a prayer? If we always think of prayers, words that we're uttering, or there is no longer the speakers, they become the thing that they give. So it's a silent prayer in a way, and it was so filled with pure light, like it was just the experience of it, and That put me on a trajectory back into faith, back into looking for, between living in a monastery, Buddhist monastery, then going, sitting with friends about Kabbalah looking at the Zen tradition, the Hindu tradition, the different traditions within Islam, and it's just put me on a, Absolute. My whole life became that when I came home.

Dr. Rose Aslan: so during your travels, you were visiting these monasteries and that was back at your home, in your home. 

A Helwa: No, so yeah, during my travels and then at home as well, it was a combination of, so going to different places from Morocco, to Palestine, to Iraq, to anywhere, like any place that had something that was holding something that it felt like it was like the next, It was just like whatever guided me, it was, I would go and, just sitting and listening to different teachers and then it became apparent to me very quickly that what we're looking for.

There's a story actually, it's a woman and she's looking for a teacher to learn from, and she's walking past this tree and, Somebody was sitting next to the tree and she asked him I'm looking for a so and do you know where I can find him? And the man says, yes, of course you're gonna go right?

And you're gonna go for a while, but just ask, keep asking and he's gonna look like me but 30 years older, like he's an older man. she's okay, so she walks and then 30 years later, she ends up back in the same tree. She's it's you. And he's it's me. And she's we could have just saved me 30 years.

And he's you weren't ready then, So I think a lot tills the soil he tills the soil, he gets you ready for what he's gonna give to you and that process feels like, oh, if I could have just gotten there faster and who knows I'm like, definitely take responsibility for my choices. and also recognize that there's a plan in place. But yeah, so then after that, it's interesting because after that experience and then learning from different teachers and traveling the world and finding that Muslims are responsible for so much of, inventions with physics and astrophysics and like all the things that I love.

It's like at the helm of that. For hundreds of years, we're Muslims. And that there is this very rich philosophical, intellectual, but also spiritual, part of the tradition across every country that it's touched. It's so rich. And so to realize that. Sometimes we feel like we don't quite belong with, the way that Islam maybe is being preached where our feet on the earth are, we're like, Oh, I don't, it doesn't feel.

And what I very quickly learned was this tradition is really deep and very vast. Yeah. No matter who you are talking about it. there's a Russian poet that says I thought once uttered is a lie Like the moment you say something out loud you limit It's you limit it and a lot of ways even preaching on faith no matter what you say, like you limit this infinite knowledge of what could be said.

And if someone talks about the story of Moses and they're like, this verse means this, it literally could mean like 90 different things, depending on what perspective you're looking at it and what part of your life it's, speaking to. And so it's so vast. So sometimes people are like, that just doesn't make sense to me.

And I'm like, okay. And the only process that I always say is if something doesn't make sense, because this helped me so much. Instead of fighting it with your intellect, you turn to Allah and you say, Allah, help me understand what you've sent in this moment for me to read. And if it takes a minute or a year, help me be patient. And as I wait, help me trust you. And keep my heart open. And make me doubt my doubts before I ever doubt you or my truth. Keep my heart open.

So instead of approaching faith in a way of holding, putting God on trial, instead, being conversation with God. Because the difference is, the knowledge is always there. The difference is in our receptivity. And that's the power of prayer. When you pray, it's call and I will answer. Allah says in the Quran.

Then you wonder does my prayer influence God's answer? Does my prayer affect God? And he says very clearly, I'm independent of my creatures.

In a way, his answer has always been there. It's like he's always responding to us. He's always responding to us. He may not respond the way we want, and then we think that's not him responding, but he's always responding. 

Dr. Rose Aslan: Your view is so refreshing, compared to a lot of what's out there, and I think it's really useful, I think, for a lot of people to hear that you had a very normal American youth, like many of us, I also had a very normal American youth. And then I was actually also at the age of 11, that's when I started my spiritual path, but then, we get, into the dunya, right? And then we find spirituality again. I was also in my twenties when that happened, or actually a little bit younger.

And I find it so useful for you to just be raw and open about... Your humanness, especially after having given us this beautiful gift of a book because so many scholars give us this beautiful knowledge and ways of understanding Islam and spirituality, but they make it seem like they're up there and we'll never get there and they know everything and we have no chance of, getting to the place where they're at.

And I just love how you told us about this experience where you also We're seeking, right? You forgot for a while when you're young and then you were seeking, traveling the world. I also was traveling the world, seeking so many different paths, also hanging out in Buddhist monasteries so I can relate and when you're young and you just are so thirsty, you'll just go wherever you might be, you might find inspiration, right?

And it's, powerful to hear. Your perspective that, I'd say this all the time. There's so many different ways of interpreting of understanding the same text, right? Unfortunately, for a lot of Muslims, this isn't the case, right? There's one way there's one Islam and there's one way to interpret Islam for a lot of Muslims in many parts of the world.

And I think that's maybe why your book is so resonant with a lot of people, especially women because you open up the possibilities beyond the literal. Thank you. approach and beyond the traditional, like the strictly traditional approach that is one of many openings into the source text. So it's just very refreshing to hear that.

A Helwa: It sounds like we have mirroring experiences. Definitely. That's cool. 

Dr. Rose Aslan: Definitely. Also as a Californian. So I'm glad we're having this conversation. Would you say that if you, were to talk about a healing path, I'm going to assume you're on one as well as the spiritual path that started when you were 11, where would this fit into your life?

Would you say it started when you were young or did this start at a later time or how do you see the healing and the spiritual path connected? 

A Helwa: I feel like they're very interconnected. I would say that, I wasn't really aware. my healing growing up. Although I did say I did not like writing or writing class, I always wrote poetry. Like ever since I was maybe like eight, a back of receipts, napkins, my parents would save things. I couldn't stop. If something came, I had to put it down and it was always just. A few sentences of some random idea, something, it would always, that's how I experience writing in terms of sitting and writing paragraphs or a book. it was never something in my mind. It's just like never something that I've been necessarily interested in doing. But poetry was always there and it was the first mode of healing for me.

And I say that because in sitting to find, to, surrender to the words to come as they're wanting to come. I learned about letting go. And I also learned about holding on. And I've also learned about being attached. To something that no longer fits. I learned all that on a page, with words on it that no one would read.

That I wasn't writing to share. But that struggle existed on that page, in writing that poem. And those... really raw poems I've never shared. It's a totally different writing style. but they were a healing space and they continue to be like a healing space because you have to really confront what you want to be there and what it feels like you've got to tune into your heart and you realize that actually doesn't belong, you could feel it.

It doesn't belong, but you're forcing it. So it started ever since I was around eight. It got more intense in life as more is happening. There's more to write about. Your experience has increased, the intensity has increased. And so you're facing that on the page. So before it was, before anything like therapy or, healers or body work, before any of that came into the picture, it began on the page for me.

And then later in life, especially now on the spiritual path. Like I still very much do. I get healings and what I call as healings having a space where you're talking to someone whose experience and expertise is in Islamic sciences and like the tradition of Islam. And it's almost like a therapy paid paired with prayers.

So like in a therapeutic space, you can't. For many therapists, you can't legally bring in prayer. And it's like tricky, but in this space, it's... It's welcomed and it's part of the process. And so what would it be like if you're struggling, let's say you're just inquiring about something in a workplace or in a friendship, and you're wanting to hold or it like everything we talked about with Israel and Palestine, and you have something in your heart.

So to go and be with someone who's going to redirect you. Towards connecting with Allah and using your connection with God as a way to open your heart up to then receive, maybe for you, what you feel like the next step is. So it's not always just with your intellect. It's not always just about your childhood and your past.

It can be, but the past shows up only when it comes up in the present. You don't go like exhume bodies. You like are present and then if it comes up it's what's in the present and so you walk through it, but the call always being to take it back to God to reestablish your connection with Allah and to be present to receive what he's what you perceive he's sending you because ultimately you don't know but you try your best because a lot of times people ask What do you mean when you say guide, divine guidance?

What I mean is my best approximation based on my heart of what I feel like I'm being guided to do moment to moment. God, I don't hear the audible voice of God. I'm not a prophet and none of us are on this earth right now and we can receive inspiration and we can feel this if we allow the light in us to guide us and sometimes we make mistakes.

And that's what tawbah, repentance, is for, to return the heart. And sometimes the heart isn't pure, so when the light hits it, it diffracts the light. And so we're constantly polishing the heart, constantly returning to Allah, and allowing our connection to inform our next step. To not always just let the mind determine the next step.

Dr. Rose Aslan: I'm sure people are listening are like going to be asking who are these people that you've sat with who practice both therapy and Islamic sciences. I think people are going to wonder about that. Can you tell me more? 

A Helwa: Yeah, There are so many. I feel like a lot of the teachers now, literally some of the teachers I work with are like, don't ever mention my name publicly.

Because there's also like a huge group of people who do this work who don't have online presences. Don't want to have courses, just don't want, they want to practice and be with Allah, see the people that they know and support the communities that they're in and keep it like very close knit.

Because and I know because people have asked a lot, and I've asked can I share some, can we maybe do something and share it? And it's some say they might be open to it, and others, not so much. I'm really working on trying to get a couple people who have therapeutic backgrounds and who have been doing this work for, about 10, 15 years.

Because it's such a great combo because you have the mental health background and then you have the spiritual, and, to bring that to the world, to people, because I think that if I wanted, if I felt like the guidance was to write another like book that required research and time, it would probably be about this just because I think that if you learn the skill and we haven't.

The teachings of how to turn your heart back to God. If you learn no matter what you're facing, to know how to return the heart to God. If you know no matter who is in front of you, no matter what place on earth you are, to like connect with the divine light that's present in every moment. It changes your life because then suddenly that hadith about when the prophet peace be upon him says what could happen?

It's like he talks about the special affair of a Muslim and what could happen to you? That's bad. if it's difficult and it's a trial you're patient and if it's great then you're grateful and no matter what you're turning to God Yeah, like it makes that whole hadith like What is the actual practice to be that way?

So it's something that it's hard to explain in like a moment, but It's definitely something I've, if the doors open, I like want to find a way to gather these teachers and have them share more about the processes. Anyways, I'm praying for that opening because I know that it would help people.

What I will say is this though, for all those who are like how do I start right now? Is that, everything begins. All of creation, it starts in the unseen. A seed is put into the ground. You don't see it. And then a tree rises. Babies grow in wombs that are hidden. Things begin in the unseen and they always begin very small.

So the path with healing is beginning small. It's long work and it is work. Yeah. It's really rewarding, but it is very difficult. So you start slow, and it's, remember that it starts in the unseen, meaning it begins not with all the things that you know, not with even the facts or the stories that you've made of those facts.

It begins with your feelings, the unseen, the things that nobody else could see unless you shared or cried or laughed. The things that are in your heart. It's about starting to make space for you to feel exactly as you feel. Even if the feeling is, for those who really, because this is based on questions I get, even if the feeling is, I don't believe God exists.

Let, and all the feelings that come with the anger, the despair, the grieving, even if you're very angry at God, it's not a surprise. God's not surprised by your feelings. So let yourself feel because it's getting in the way of your next, of your healing, if you don't feel. But if you allow yourself to feel, it becomes like the fast track to healing and not feeling like you have to explain why you're sad.

Not convincing someone why you feel they hurt you, but allowing yourself to feel. So it's the first step, just starting there, and then to not leave you in the endless feelings, is to just invite God into that space. Ask for Allah's help. I'm feeling a lot of sadness. God, I ask for your help in this place.

Allah, I ask for you to allow me to feel your presence. Allah asks for healing in this place. Wow, Allah, like I feel a lot of pain from that thing that happened, or that thing that was said, or that thing from the past. Allah, like I, and then, this is just like super, I just want to make it very straightforward, is then, Lut, Thid and Thikr, call upon Allah's names.

If it's الله, if it's Allah call upon his names or read the Quran if you're more comfortable with that. But allow his words, his names, to wash inside. Call it in. Imagine, as you say, Allah. Feel the vibration of Allah's name. Allah. Feel the breath that leaves your, Like mouth, feel it, feel the heat, feel the sound, feel the vibration. Allow yourself to like, wash in it.

Dr. Rose Aslan: Wow. Helwa, I just feel like the way you speak in this poetic language and it's just I can feel like these waves of love within the way you speak. It just really resonates deeply within me the way you just are calling people back to presence. And it's so simple and it's. Should be easy, but of course the dunia, the material world makes it so difficult, right?

As we come to an end I do have one question for you that I would love to hear from you. If you think of your life, you talked about those 10 years or so when you were absent from your spiritual path. But then after that as well, if you think of one challenge you've been through, you don't have to go give us the details, just give us briefly something you went through and how did you get through that and, in a way that other people can learn from your past experiences.

A Helwa: That's a great question. I don't know that this was like a very big challenge, but I bring it up because of everything I've shared so far around, the intellectualizing of faith was something that I had value, right? Like when I came back, it was like, there was an element of learning.

This is so exciting. And people have all these ideas and all there's a Ghazali and then there's the poets and then there's, I was like so excited by all of these reasonings. And, of course it was spiritual experiences on the side and. And I was so excited. I remember being so excited about Faith and I think maybe this challenge people come across, but I remember I was working in Morocco at the time and we were in a Riyadh and it was like with the different people that I was working with and I remember, a lot of the people were not Muslim and, I'll never forget this, We were everybody was like maybe 20 something. So this boy, man, I don't know how you'd call him. He, looked at me and said, You seem like you really love God. But whenever I ask you, like whenever I ask a Muslim, like who God is, they're always like, He's beyond language. Like you could never encompass him in your understanding.

And Like, how does that, how do you have a relationship with a god that will always escape your understanding? That's a great question. I know, it's it's funny, because it's is this like a life? Challenge? No, but it's the one that came to my mind for some reason in this moment. I'll tell you, Rose, I was, my brain felt like it had nothing in it. And so I just said, that's a great question. I just have to use the bathroom real quick.

I'll never forget because I'll just never forget the scene is I went into this bathroom and it was like a bathroom that was like under the stairs so it was like awkward shapes like you couldn't stand straight quite in it and it was in this old Riyadh in Marrakesh somewhere and I opened the door. And I closed the door.

I'll never forget this because it was like out of a movie. I literally put my hands on the sink, looked at myself in the mirror and I was like, God, you got to show up. I was like, please give me something to say. I hope. Muslims aren't shaking their heads at me doing a prayer in the bathroom, but to be honest, I did.

I was like, please God, I don't know what to say. And there was like 10 people looking at me and I, have no idea. I need help. I need help. God, I need help. And I realized... I was so desperate. I was so desperate. I was so needy. I was so like, Allah, please show up. Allah, please help me. And it's funny because I felt calm, instant calm dropped in, but I had no words.

I was like, I feel so peaceful, but I don't know what to say still. And it was just like, be calm. And I'll never forget that because when I opened that door, as I started walking towards Quote my destiny like towards whatever is written for me in the future and that of that moment as I started walking the word started coming And in that moment as I'm facing and ironically his name was Christian Which was like perfect because I had this went to Christian school and I had this like whole like thing It's what I walked up to him and he was just like And everyone's in there and it just became clear It was like it felt and I'm not saying Oh Allah spoke for me and whatever I just feel like Allah answered my prayer and opened my heart.

And in that moment, what came through for me at that stage was like really profound for me. I looked at him and I was like, you are, and he really was, I was like, you have such like subtlety about you. And and I was like, I think it's really beautiful and I don't think I've ever told you that.

And then it just felt like it was very clear everybody had these beautiful qualities. And I was like, wow. And I had a friend there who was a conference and I was like, she's like the embodiment of love. Like you guys see we're such good friends. She's the embodiment of love. And everyone's aware of that.

And I was like yeah, And I was like, Look these are the ways that Allah's qualities are reflected in his creation. When I experience her love as a friend, there's something of that I attribute back to the Creator, not because she's God, but because that light is reflected in her. And your subtlety, we call that a Latif, but that's the ultimate subtle, but something of that light is reflected in you, because you carry the names of God, and that's what we believe.

And it was interesting, because person after person... It was like so clear and everyone was like, yeah, that's really clear. That's he is like that. Or she is like that. And then we almost just sat in silence for a while. And then I remembered that I had no idea. That's not my idea, but it's if you go read Islamic books, there's everybody speaks about that from Ibn Arabi to Rumi to Ghazali to on and on you'll see that as a common notion in the tafsirs or the commentaries.

But for a girl and like at 20, whatever, who didn't know, but came desperate to God. I also learned that lesson. So it taught me that when I'm in challenges, come desperate, because the real prayer is not for water. It's for thirst, because water will find you. So you pray to be thirsty. And I say this to anyone out there too, who's like longing to have a relationship with God.

Pray for thirst. Rumi always says too, build a boat, water will find you. He says it too with the breast of the mother's milk, right? When the baby cries, the milk flows. Our calling isn't to create water. Comes from Allah. Our calling is to like, increase our longing and thirst. So that's what I would end with.

Dr. Rose Aslan: That's beautiful. And I was going to ask you to share proselytism. I think you just did that too, as we wrap up is, pray for thirst, not for the water. And I hope that other people who are listening, keep that in mind is not the water we need the water, but. To want the water is this spiritual path is, this path to the divine creator, right?

I have so much to ponder upon and I think those who are listening will also have so much to ponder upon offering us all these rich experiences from your life and from your, life experiences, spiritual journey. I'm just so appreciative of you for sharing and for what you've created and offered to the world and already have supported so many people who've never met you.

Through your book. So thank you so much, Hela, for joining me and for all that you do and that all the people who support you and doing what you're 

A Helwa: doing. Thank you so much, Rose. It was absolute pleasure to be on here with you and I'm praying for you and I, ask that Allah always protects you and that he amplifies the light that's inside of you and that your heart widens to receive.

All the love that he's constantly sending you. I pray for your family, for your friends, for everyone that you love, and for everyone that loves you. Barakallafikum. Thank you so much.