Rahma with Rose

Finding the Divine in a Secular Society: A Conversation with Dr. Rebecca Masterton

December 01, 2023 Dr. Rose Aslan / Dr. Rebecca Masterton Season 1 Episode 17
Finding the Divine in a Secular Society: A Conversation with Dr. Rebecca Masterton
Rahma with Rose
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Rahma with Rose
Finding the Divine in a Secular Society: A Conversation with Dr. Rebecca Masterton
Dec 01, 2023 Season 1 Episode 17
Dr. Rose Aslan / Dr. Rebecca Masterton

Listen to my chat with Dr. Rebecca Masterton as we explore her journey of finding spiritual meaning in secular British society. Rebecca talks honestly about feeling out of place in a society where deep spirituality isn't often a priority. She shares her story of how finding Islam brought her peace and a sense of fitting in.

In our conversation, Rebecca also gets real about balancing intuition with rationality and the dangers of blindly following spiritual teachers. From being a normal British teenager with a thirst for knowledge, to following a Hindu guru as a college student, later joining a Sufi order, and finally finding her path within Shi'ism, Rebecca's journey reveals her curiosity about the world and deep longing for connecting to the Divine.

Influenced by her deep understanding of Shi’i theology, she highlights why it's key to balancing our inner feelings with smart thinking – this isn't just about believing; it’s about understanding ourselves and the choices we make in our lives. Tune in for a real, down-to-earth discussion about navigating faith, questioning norms, and forging your own path.

Find out more about Dr. Rebecca Masterton at her website: https://onlineshiastudies.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

Listen to my chat with Dr. Rebecca Masterton as we explore her journey of finding spiritual meaning in secular British society. Rebecca talks honestly about feeling out of place in a society where deep spirituality isn't often a priority. She shares her story of how finding Islam brought her peace and a sense of fitting in.

In our conversation, Rebecca also gets real about balancing intuition with rationality and the dangers of blindly following spiritual teachers. From being a normal British teenager with a thirst for knowledge, to following a Hindu guru as a college student, later joining a Sufi order, and finally finding her path within Shi'ism, Rebecca's journey reveals her curiosity about the world and deep longing for connecting to the Divine.

Influenced by her deep understanding of Shi’i theology, she highlights why it's key to balancing our inner feelings with smart thinking – this isn't just about believing; it’s about understanding ourselves and the choices we make in our lives. Tune in for a real, down-to-earth discussion about navigating faith, questioning norms, and forging your own path.

Find out more about Dr. Rebecca Masterton at her website: https://onlineshiastudies.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

 Assalamu alaikum, Rebecca. Nice to have you here. Wa alaikum salam wa rahmatullah, Rose. Thank you for inviting me. Thank you. It's an absolute honor to have you on Rahma with Rose, and I'm excited to learn about your spiritual journey along the way. I know you have a very interesting one, and I'm excited for others to hear your story.

Thank you. Well, I look forward to discussing a little bit about it. So, before we go any further, could you please tell me about when did you first get interested in spirituality in general in your life, however young you were? I remember I was about 10, 10 years old, maybe younger, and I was Just interested in how to connect to people's minds when I was about 10 I started to write a little booklet on how to read people's minds and even though I didn't know how to do that so This is one of the reasons I came into Islam, because I had an inherent sense of the spiritual from when I was a child.

And I, although my family was nominally Christian, Protestant Christian, we were not particularly religious. I never really learned much about Christian doctrine. So it was really just a kind of. exploration on my own, in my own mind, my own heart for many, many years. Yeah. Wonderful. Could you tell me more about that?

I actually love to probe into people's like, if you're willing to share, like you're writing a book to read people's mind, even though you didn't know how to do that. Tell me more about that. Like, what got you into this? What were you reading? Like, what, what were you looking at around you and your, I don't really know.

Why I got into that, uh, I was just, I, I had a fascination for the spiritual world. When I was a child, we used to live opposite a church. So I used to go to the cemetery and go, go alone. I went alone into the church because back in those days they used to leave the door open. So I was very curious about what does the church feel like.

when there's nobody in there. I used to like to go in there, nobody in there, you know, just feel what it felt like. And then I used to go to the cemetery. I used to like to be close to the dead. I had a fascination with the dead and Uh, my mother started to find that a little bit disturbing in me and, um, but, uh, yeah, I wasn't really reading any particular books on spirituality at that time.

It was all just a sense of it. And then, um, we kind of went to church for, it was more of a social thing up until I was around 11 or 12. And then we stopped going, my mother stopped going and I stopped going with her. So really heading into my teens, that's when we weren't going to church at all. And I was still sort of interested in spiritual traditions.

I guess I was naturally seeking something because I had this sense that there must be teachings on the soul. There must be something that trains you to Understand our existence more deeply. Mm-Hmm. , I didn't know what it was, and I was reading a few books on ancient Egypt and Celtic religion, just because that's was what was on the shelf at home.

I didn't really pick up the Bible because in a way, I had the typical post 1960s modern attitude to the Bible, which was that it's just full of old stories. Mm-Hmm. about hell, fire and damnation. And it's oppressive, so I didn't really go near the Bible. And then in my, when I was around 16, I think it was, I was hanging around with a group of friends in my town because I was raised in a small town and one of them was following a guru, fake guru, from India.

And, uh, This fake guru was teaching some meditation techniques and made this whole big kind of mystery about these meditation techniques, which I later found out from ex follows of this guru. I later found out were very ordinary techniques that you can just get extremely easily. No mystery about it at all.

This was before the days of Google though. So it was harder. Yes. Yes. Yes. So he came West. Yes. And. There was no way you could, uh, find out anything about where he was getting these techniques. I mean, for him, born into a family that was, they were kind of like spiritual guides in their community and he was the renegade.

He kind of broke away and went West and got a whole load of Western followers as people from India were doing at that time. He's still going to this day. Uh, there's a lot of people that have left him. Uh, I was listening to his lectures for a while with my friends. He didn't come personally, but, uh, they used to kind of, uh, broadcast, uh, videos of his lectures at different hotels.

So you'd go to a hotel all together in one room and you listen to, yeah, one of his lectures and then you talk with each other and, you know, you talk about him and he became very much the center of everyone's world. And, uh, then I started to see. A few things that I didn't like about the way he treated people, and I left.

So when I was 21, and I had, by that time, I'd moved to London, and I stopped listening. I kind of made a definitive break because I had seen how he bullied and controlled people. That sounds like it was a very dangerous cult, actually, that you're involved with, perhaps. Yeah. Yeah. What did you take away from that experience?

Anything positive or mainly just realizing it wasn't a good environment? I started to understand about techniques of manipulation, psychological manipulation, spiritual manipulation. So, because I could see it. And Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. He came to Brighton once, so I'd moved to London by this time, and I had friends who were following him in London as well.

And he was coming to Brighton for a week or so, and he was having all day sessions. He could talk till the cows came home, you know. And then, so he was speaking in the Brighton Centre, and we all went down from London, and it was a summertime. And I remember sitting in this hall again while he's on stage and he's talking, and there's a woman in front of me.

With her two little children, they were maybe eight and nine and they've got headphones on to have his talking. I don't know where they were from, but. They had headphones on to translate what he was saying. And even then instinctively, I mean again I was 20, 21, but instinctively I thought this is wrong.

Like your children, because these all day sessions were, were long, they were tiring, they were taxing, and I just thought it was wrong to take eight and nine year olds and make them sit. all day listening to this man. And then there came a time where, um, it was one day it was like, Oh, he's going to be giving these techniques, the knowledge techniques as he called it.

And you know, you can go along to this room and you can ask him for these techniques. So I, um, I went along cause I wanted the techniques and put up my hand and, uh, put up my hand and asked him for the techniques and what he did. was he used me as an example in front of the whole room about how not to ask for the techniques and what was wrong with, I mean, now I see he was, now you'd say he was gaslighting.

He's just making something up about what is going on in my head and how I'm thinking wrong, you know? And after that experience, I was, I was very, very upset. And then we, Because it was bright and after the session, we went down on the beach with my friends just to sit and I thought to myself all this guru does is talk about happiness and how to be happy, why you can't be happy and how if you listen to him, you'll be happy.

And I thought, but I'm not feeling happy, if anything, I'm feeling the opposite. I'm feeling happier not listening to him. So I thought, so there's no point, there's no point in me listening to him, following him. If I'm feeling unhappier listening to him than listening to him, yeah, that was a deciding point.

That's a brilliant use of logic, um, that a lot of people, unfortunately, who enter into cults aren't able to use. So I'm really happy to hear that at the age of 21, you were able to leave that, um, that space and that control of that guru. Alhamdulillah. Yeah. I think it was just Alhamdulillah, like following your, your, your instinct.

And then I left and my friend's like, Oh, you're making a really big mistake because what he did as narcissists do. Is, uh, he, he persuaded everybody that, it's very, very dangerous, yeah, very, he persuaded people that if you don't have me, that's it, you're going to be lost in the world, you're going to go down some path, you're going to, you're just going to be lost in your head, you know?

You're not going to find the truth. So, right. Yes. Yeah. And my friends are like, Oh my God, if you don't have him, it's like, that's it, you're lost. You've got to fall off the precipice. You've got to fall off the cliff. Well, I'm very glad to hear you left and tell me you left him and you left this, you know, this realm of spiritual protection, so called, uh, what happened after that?

Yeah, I mean, after that, I, I was buying a handful of books, still searching. And by that time, I had had my first experience of being in a Muslim country cause I was doing my degree in Japanese language and culture. I had been in Japan for three months, which I felt was way too secular for me. And again, I didn't have the word secular in my head.

It was all just experience. So it was all. Everything for me was experience, not particularly book based or I didn't have concepts in my mind about, you know, secular society or anything. It's all just going by how you feel about something. And I had, uh, I left Japan and I went to, because I'm very curious about traveling, I went to Malaysia just for one week and I felt so different in Malaysia.

I know today it's like just going by feelings is dangerous, but it's, it's kind of how you feel and then processing how you feel. So it's analyzing how you feel like, why do I feel like this? What's going on? You know, so I went to Malaysia and I just found it. I just felt like I could breathe. Step by step over time I realized that in a secular society where, in a secular society where there's no acknowledgement of the spiritual, there's no acknowledgement of the spiritual realms or the afterlife, that's when I feel suffocated.

Because psychologically for me, it's like we've all got to play this game and pretend for me because the spiritual world is real to me Then being in a society where it's not real. It's like asking someone to pretend that it's not real But let's all play a game where we're pretending that the spiritual realm doesn't exist So I always felt in a secular society that I'm acting, let's all just act as if, you know, modern society is real, you know, the, the whole, the whole culture of modern society is, is where it's at and it's real and it's the truth and it's definitive.

And uh, and, and, and that includes that there isn't any spirituality and let's all, let's all just act in this, on this stage set and pretend it's real. That's how it was for me. So when I moved to, that was my first experience with a Muslim country, but I hadn't in my mind. Thought about converting because I didn't even know that was something you could do in a way.

Yeah. So after that, I was reading a handful of books, but not really. Again, it's like, there's got to be a path. There's got to be a way. There's got to be some teachings. And, uh, um, and then I, I, I moved in with a young Moroccan woman who was a year older than me. So obviously Muslim from a Muslim background, we became very, very close.

And again, instinctively, she was kind of, uh, and then she wanted to study Arabic. I told her that SOAS, they teach Arabic. So she started to study Arabic at SOAS. And then she made friends with people from, from the Arab world who I became acquainted with. It wasn't that close, but I became acquainted with.

And I, at this was the age of 21, at the age of 21, we'll say maximum 22, again, I made a definitive decision, which was that I'm going to cut ties. with people that I know in Western society that I have been socializing with. I am going to stop this way of socializing that you do in the West. Because again, it's all utterly superficial to me.

And I think to myself, what would happen if I was in trouble? What would happen if I was dying on the street? Would anybody come and ask how I am or help me? And for me, the answer was no. So then it's like, what's the point of hanging around with a bunch of people? We're all pretending to have a good time.

And back then, it's the early 90s, so it's kind of like, and I was in a fashionable part of London, like West London, where all the models are and the musicians and the actor, people aspiring to be actors and so on. So you've got that extra layer of superficiality, like, um, we're all, we're all fashionable.

We're all, again, we're all where it's at, you know. Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss were hanging around in the area. So like, you know, we're all, and, but then, then again, my, in my mind is that, but how are we connecting on a human level? And I just found it lacking. So I cut that at the age of 21, 22. And I gradually, I kind of gradually moved over to just associating with people from the Arab world, even though they weren't fully practicing Muslims.

Uh, but, but that kind of, um, that started the journey towards Islam. What difference did you find socializing with, um, versus the, in the other crowds that you were circulating in?

It's kind of difficult to, to, to, to exactly encapsulate it, but I felt more of a closeness and obviously. I might have had a very different experience if I'd been with a whole bunch of different people from the Middle East. So I'm not saying it's like this sums up the whole of the Middle East, you know, but it was in comparison to British social culture, I found that the way that people socialized from, from, at least that was my experience, there was, there was more of a sense of family still.

I don't know, there was kind of like this natural closeness and Slightly less superficiality, maybe, and I felt that was informed by the culture. I felt that, you know, Arab culture is still informed by Islam, it still, it carries values from Islam, even if not everybody may be practicing, fully practicing, so.

That was, that kind of started the move again. I wasn't thinking of converting, but it's just like, yeah, I just, I just feel I can breathe around people from, from the Middle East. I don't have to, you know, so, and then she had her year out in Egypt as part of her degree. And I, I went out there as well to, again, think I was thinking about, um, you know, I need to think, have a really good long think about what's important.

And what I'm going to do with my life and who I am, I guess it's again, privileged Western thing to be able to do, take it, take a year out and just reflect. But again, you know, in Egypt, again, I'm not saying it's perfect. And I'm sure if I was raised as a woman there, I would have a very different experience.

So I do recognize that I was in a position to be able to do that. But at the same time, I just felt I could breathe again in a way. I can't in the West. And this was the, this was the whole paradox. And when I came into Islam, it's like, that's the paradox. You come into Islam, people from the West, you go back West and people from the West are, Oh, but what about, it's so oppressive and what about the, it's like, well, my phenomenological experience is that I feel I can't breathe in my own free society.

I can't, I'd say be myself. I can't be real in my own society. Yeah. That makes sense. And I can, I can breathe in a culture or, or in a society that has, you know, ironically is supposed to be oppressive. So that was the turning point. Yeah. So you had, you said you had a year in Egypt or? Yeah. It was about, um, it was about six, seven months, I would say.

About seven months. Yeah. And what came out of that? That was my turning point. It was like, I want to be Muslim. Had my first month of Ramadan. That was. 1997. Nothing like Ramadan in Cairo. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You know, we were in Alexandria at that time, but we had, we went down to Cairo afterwards, but yeah, it was, it was like, I loved the way that, um, the spiritual world was an integral part.

Of daily life and it wasn't an issue, you know, uh, so because in Britain, I think it's different in the States, but in British post 1960s society, you don't talk about God. God is like, Oh, you're, you're, you're a bit crazy. Like you're, you know, Ooh, we don't talk about God. That's not cool. You know? So I find it incredibly refreshing to be in a society where.

People respect religion. I had not had that experience, really. And, um, you had the Alvan, and, you know, and also that Islam still, Islam still, um, I think helps to cultivate that sense of community, togetherness. Whereas in the West, it's hyper individualism, which then can lead to neurosis. So, neurosis and anxiety.

Whereas if you've got this, this just, it's just, you could say, I don't know, it's just part of people's consciousness that we are at one level, we are, we are one together. That was, you know, really, really nice. So it sounds like from your early twenties when you became Muslim in Egypt, you've been also on a long spiritual journey within Islam since then.

So how would you describe your spiritual path? And could you tell us more from that time until now in a, in a nutshell? Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I, I came back to, I came back to the UK and that was it. It was, it was definitive. I mean, it was a fundamental change. I took two years to formally convert, but in that time it was literally kind of.

Your previous self, your future self, you know, what am I, who am I? And, uh, then taking that step, it's like, it was very strange. It was like this force that's just like, no, you're coming to Islam. And you just have to surrender to it. Some people say, why did you choose Islam? I said, I didn't choose it. It, it, I, because I surrendered to it.

I surrendered to Islam. But, um, because I recognize it as. truth. So then came back to the UK and that was when it was very, very political. Ikhwan Muslimin, a very active Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood. Yeah. Yeah. And, uh, that wasn't my cup of tea. Uh, so I found a Sufi order briefly, but again, because of my experience with this guru, I was hyper skeptical about committing to any teacher and I wasn't.

Very content with they were trying to encourage us to submit to the teacher and I was like, no There's a few things I'm not happy with about so I again I left that group after about four years. I Learned some techniques. Ironically, I learned some meditation techniques with them but which which I still practice time to time and then I started to teach at Islamic College, which I didn't know was The star for Shia, so the Ithna Ashari, 12 of Shia, and, uh, it was there that I read their part.

This is in London. Yeah, this is in London, yeah. I started to teach, I was doing my doctorate, I started my doctorate and I started teaching at the same time, so doctorate part time, teaching part time, uh, and my doctorate was in, uh, Islamic spirituality. So, because again, this, this whole, uh, experience of existence that Islam opens up, which you don't have in the west.

This is what I was trying to get into, words. The Islam opens up dimensions of existence. It, o it opens up a way of experiencing your existence differently and you, you can't know what it is unless. You have experienced it or are experiencing it. And this is why I was banging my head on a brick wall trying to get this across to people.

And I recently actually met a woman. She came and studied at Islamic College last semester. I was teaching her and she is now doing her doctorate at SOAS. And she's now writing on the same thing. Amazing. Yeah, we had this whole big conversation and I said to her, I know what you are trying to get across.

Because it's something that you can't see. You can't see that someone's having a different experience of existence from someone. But it's so, it's so different. Anyhow, so yeah. And then, uh, I, so anyway, I was doing my doctorate in spirituality and spiritual dimensions that Islam opens up. And I read some of the publications that the college was publishing that contain narrations from the Imams of the Ahlulbayt, the progeny of the Holy Prophet.

And I had naturally always had a respect for the family of the Holy Prophet, even though I didn't know too much about the family of the Holy Prophet, but, uh, but that was a shift. So I, I just felt again, according to my logic, that it just made more sense to go to his family for the teachings, the spiritual teachings.

And that's when I switched. Um, schools, you could say, and, um, and then that has a whole other, that's a whole other landscape of spirituality as well, which some of which has, um, you know, according to my research that some of it kind of developed into Sufism. So that's why you've got that overlap, the whole foundation of Walaya and, um, but of course, again, I mean, My primary foundation in Islam is always how do we experience existence?

What is existence? And how do we experience it? And how do we, um, uh, be rooted in reality? So, even within the Shi'i landscape, uh, of course, then you've got all the politics as well. So, and, it's, it's, because, because of, because of what is fundamental to me, is how are you as a human being? Islam, whatever school you follow, Islam is about how are you as a human being?

What is your akhlaq? How do you treat people? What is your akhlaq? I'm just going to translate for people, etiquette or way of behavior, right? Yeah. What is your behavior towards other people? What is, so the thing that I like about the 12 Rashidi path is that it integrates rationality with spirituality.

The Sufi tradition, some of the Sufi tradition then got reintegrated back into Shi'i, um, culture. So there's an overlap there as well. But oftentimes Sufism, uh, prioritizes direct knowledge of the divine. So it prioritizes this experience, ineffable experience over the rational. It's like you can't, you can't know what Allah is.

You can't know what God is or reality is through rationality. It has to be through direct experience. Um, but the teachings of the imams say that you, you need to dovetail them to, you know, you need to put them together. You need, you must also cultivate your rationality. What I feel is that that's what I like about it because we are thinking beings because what, what this guru did, you know, um, way back was he was very anti thinking and he demonized thinking and made it this don't think, don't think, and he said, your, your thoughts are like clouds with a big hook underneath.

You have to feel, you have to experience, but what I found is if you suspend your rationality, that's very dangerous as well. You're switching off your, your, your, your processing, uh, faculty and almost like negating, Oh no, I mustn't, I mustn't think, I mustn't rationalize, I mustn't weigh things up, analyze, I mustn't do that.

Because that's getting in the way of my experience of the divine, but the path of Ahlulbayt says, you know, the path of the family of the Holy Prophet says that you have to, you have to cultivate your intelligence and, you know, you have to, it's not enough just to practice. And I would say that people that I know that have focused upon experience over and above rationality.

They haven't, they haven't sought out clarity in terms of their thinking. What I have found is that as the years have gone by, they're still chasing that feeling of connecting to the divine. But they haven't sorted out their thinking. They're still confused. They're still lost in their thinking. Tell me more about that.

Tell me more about that. So I'm so fascinated by this because in this podcast, we talk a lot about the experience of the divine, right? Right. So tell me more about the experience versus the thinking of the divine. Like, what do you mean by the difference between these two ways of being of approaches? Yeah.

I mean, we, we, we need to have. our rationality because we're living in the material world. We're not free of the material world until we leave. So, so you, you, you need to have that rationality in order to, uh, discern, in order to discern whether what you are getting in terms of experience is legitimate or not.

And because For example, over the years, I, I have come to feel that the, the, the spiritual experience or the spiritual encounter with the divine that people are chasing and looking, they have in their mind, this beautiful, warm feeling, Oh, mashallah, and I have this. You know, I just had this great feeling of being connected to God.

It's so beautiful. But oftentimes, you know, you can't get away from tragedy, you can't get away from challenges in life. And most human beings go through very dark periods. Devastation, heartbreak, disappointment, loss, and sometimes feeling stuck and sometimes not feeling close to Allah. So if we define being connected to Allah as this Fana fil la, annihilation in Allah, where Oh, I'm just so ecstatic.

And that's kind of like the goal. We actually set ourselves up for disappointment because Even the top theologians and in different traditions have said those who can reach that experience of are a handful. It's very, very rare to really experience a real ecstatic encounter with the divine. So if you don't have that experience.

Does that mean you're lacking human being or you're failing on the path and in the meantime you've got all these stresses piling up in your life and a lot of the times you don't feel very spiritual or you don't feel what your idea of spiritual is. So what do you do for those barren years when you're in the wasteland?

Yeah, please do share because I'm sure the listeners are curious to hear um, different options and different ways of being. Um, I, I felt that So something occurred to me, particularly around the time of Muharram, when we are remembering the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. And, you know, I've reflected upon, as you do in Muharram, people delve deep into what happened to Imam Hussain and what it means.

And one thing that I came away with was that Imam Hussain confronted malevolence. So his meeting of the armies of Yazid. On the plains of Karbala was a meeting of a pure soul, uh, uh, confront, you know, coming together of a pure soul with, uh, darkness and corruption. And like I said, malevolence and he, he confronted ugliness, everything that is ugly, the ugly underside of humanity.

And so I got from that, that spirituality is. Not just this ecstatic experience with the divine, but spirituality is the confrontation with darkness and being able to face that, whether that's in ourselves or in society. And spirituality is actually enduring darkness, and it is having that inner...

Endurance suburb, you know, um, it's, it is cultivating that inner endurance going deeper and deeper within ourselves in order to, you could say, locate that place of endurance within us developing that, that, I realize this is what spirituality is. It's not enough. To go down the path of spirituality, if you are not equipped to deal with evil.

And a lot of people, even in the Shia community, who go down the path of Irfan, I mean, they call it Irfan, you know, which is very Neo Platonic, has a lot of Neo Platonic influences, and it's all about, we're seeking the light, we want to escape the darkness, we're seeking the light. So they go down this path of seeking the light.

They are, they are not taught how to confront darkness and how to deal with evil. And I would say that today, in the world we're in, you know, to be an Arif, to be someone who has that spiritual knowledge, it's not just about sitting there and like, oh my god, I'm just so spiritual, you know, I'm just so spiritual.

It's like, I love the American accent. What do you mean? Sorry, I slipped into that. It was a California accent too. Oh my god, I'm just so spiritual. Yeah, so it was literally like an LA accent. I'm really enjoying this. Yeah, like, You know, and, um, that for me, I've, I've become because of seeing the brutality of this world.

It's like, it's like, how do you be a spiritual person in a world that is full of so much ugliness and brutality? And I feel that also, if you are not equipped to overcome evil, then there's something missing in. your spiritual path. You are of no use to anybody if you cannot be someone who knows how to combat evil.

So this is where the intellect comes in because it's about in order to combat evil, you have to be able to discern it. The thing with what this guru did in my, in my late teens was that he, which is again, very devious psychological trick was that he undermined people's trust in their own intellect.

That's what he cultivated in his teachings. Don't trust yourself. Just trust the teacher. And we have a similar thing in Sufism. The teacher knows everything you don't know. So you put your trust, but your total trust in the teacher and listen to the teacher. If you have a doubt in the teacher, that's, that's a problem with you.

That's not a problem with the teacher. And for me, that's evil because it's undermining your whole foundation of yourself. So what I did with when I left this guru was that I am going to start to trust my perceptions and my understanding. I'm going to start to trust that. And I have, and that's what I've cultivated, you know, for 25 years.

You have to develop that ability. Imam Ali talks about insight, the absolute imperative, you know, the necessity of having insight. If you don't have insight, you don't have anything. So, and that's a big part of spirituality, having insight. And so that's what I've cultivated over the years.

And it can make you sound harsh sometimes, but the more you cultivate that insight, the more you go, no, no, no, that's not true. Or no, no, no, that's not real. Or there's some deception going on here or, you know, you start to see behind what's going on. It's about not being deceived, not being fooled, not being manipulated.

Um, and so, um, you know, this is really profound. Thank you for sharing as someone who was in a Sufi cult, I would say. And unfortunately it took a long time for me to spot the deception. Um, I wish I had had enough, um, critical approach to spotting it, but at this point now I can relate to you and needing to use our mind as well as our bodies in this process of being discerning of trusting our intellect as well as our feelings and emotions.

Thank you. They go hand in hand. It's really quite profound to think about that your path is how to endure the darkness. That, that sounds heavy. Tell me more because I'm curious, this world has a lot of darkness, but there's also light. So how do you find moments of joy, of light in a world that has so much ugliness and brutality and violence right now, we're witnessing the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

How do you find the light amidst your. cultivation of this really amazing resilience. So what I have found is that I, I generally don't seek happiness, whatever that may be, but what I do value is peace. And I think that, you know, Islam gives you that, it helps you to be rooted within yourself. So if you are rooted within then you have that sense of calm and peace, which I value hugely, yeah, and where I get joy is from nature, from, yeah.

So this is what is, gives me that, you could say, relief. I think it's a gift from Allah. Human beings make this world a very painful place.

what has been given to us in the natural world, the leaves changing now, now that we're in autumn, leaves changing color, the birds. Um, yesterday I was looking at, uh, dolphins, you know, picture of two dolphins swimming ahead of a whale. And I'm like, I look at this, like, that is incredible. So reflecting upon what I do is I try to, because Islam also talks about man or the human being.

in the cosmos. So I, I reflect upon myself as a human being in space and I love stars at night. So unfortunately we don't really see them here in London, but if you have the opportunity to go to the desert or to go somewhere where you can really see the stars at night and you sit and you, that's what I mainly do.

I reflect upon myself as this little person. Little human being that was brought into existence on planet Earth. We are all Earthlings on planet Earth. We've all got our time, hundred years time we won't be here. And you know, we, we've all got our story of what's going to happen to us on planet Earth while we're here and planet Earth is in this solar system and the solar system is in, and that's what I do.

I think about myself as a being in space on this planet and that we've all got a story. Humankind has a drama that has to play out. And you just, you just go through your life playing out what's been written for you in a way and making dua, making supplication to try to alter, you know, you can alter your, what happens to you through supplication.

So you have that relationship with divine and that's, that's how I get my peace by, by just remembering that the divine has brought me into existence. I will have my story, everyone will have their story and that story will come to an end and we pray for a good. Yeah. Thank you for sharing. Moving on to the idea of the healing path, you know, and you might've seen, I speak a lot about the spiritual path and the healing path.

How do you understand that? And how do you see that going hand in hand with your spiritual journey? Healing path idea of that they're walking a path and, and for a lot of Muslims it is, you know, to jihad enough or, or yeah. The struggle with the soul. It, it, it could be interpreted however, however each human interprets it.

So how do you interpret idea of this? Um, I mean, my, so my, my father left when I was two years old and I stopped seeing him when I was five. Or he stopped seeing us, me, me and my brother when, when I was five, my brother was eight. And that for me was always a very, very painful thing. It's um, it's very, very, it's devastating to see your father and to grow up without a father.

So that was a big, you could say wound for myself and for my brother. And for my mother as well, so you, so you're going around carrying kind of post trauma, post traumatic, what now would be recognized as post traumatic stress symptoms. And that can include self hatred. I've now read, because having read into it, you know, a lot of the things you go through, you look back and go, Oh, that was all post traumatic stuff.

I didn't know at the time. But, uh, often self hatred, low self esteem, anger, and feeling bad for being angry, like, I'm an ugly, nasty person because I feel angry, rage, I'm an, I'm a nasty, ugly person because I feel rage, you know, and, um, hurt that, hurt that you've been, in your mind you've been rejected by your parent, I mean, he didn't reject us, but whatever, circumstances, he stopped seeing us.

And, So, so that was, I suppose you could say, one of the most painful things in my life. Uh, and in my twenties, I, I didn't know what to do with all this rage and anger. Um, and... You try to channel it into creativity, creative things, writing, painting, interestingly Islam, because the Quran says that we will remove the anger from your heart.

And I found that when I came into Islam, the, this anger and rage had subsided, you know, I had found peace because I guess you, you're connecting to the transcendent. So these other things that happen in your worldly existence no longer dominate you. Because you have a higher connection for something, to something else that is above and beyond whatever happens to you in this worldly life.

My father also has a personality disorder and so, and I hadn't really understood that in my twenties. So I met him when I was 19 and it didn't go well because of his personality disorder. So I had to kind of give up on this idea that I will ever have a relationship with my father. And, you know, just lay that to rest, like you're never going to have that and you have to accept it.

So, um, that, so I think that's been, uh, something that I've had to learn to heal. And Islam has helped me to, to heal that in a way because, obviously, as you get older, You start to see your parent more as a fallible human being. You don't expect them to deliver all of these ideal things that you're looking for.

And he did message me a few years ago through Facebook. Uh, that was the first message in 25 years. I think it was about 25 years. And messaged me through Facebook and didn't say, didn't say hello. How are you? He just wrote. When you do your interviews, you have a habit of looking down to keep the attention of the audience.

Make sure you look at the interviewer at all times. Look at my videos on YouTube and you will see. I'm sorry, that must have been so painful. Well, the funny thing was, because I thought this is so off out in some planet, you know, like he's, he's really off on some planet, like it didn't hurt. I, I felt sorry for him because I thought this is coming from someone who's detached from reality.

You've got to be detached from reality. If, if that's what you're saying after 25 years to your daughter, yeah, yeah, yeah. And uh, and I thought to myself, what am I going to reply? So I thought about it for about three days in my money. He was says, well, he doesn't, he says in one narration, he says. Yeah. That it is good to reflect, if you want to reply to somebody about something, reflect on it for about three days before you reply.

I reflected on it, so I thought, I wrote back and I said, thank you for the tip. That's all. Yeah. And did he respond? And he did one of those blue thumbs up, you know. Oh dear. And that was it. That was, that is. Our total communication in 25 years, and I think I heard from my grandmother because I'm in touch with my grandmother now, his mother, she said, Oh, he was so happy when you replied to him and he's, he's hoping I'm going to go back and reconnect.

But I know I can't because of his personality disorder. So, and part of that disorder means that he's in this fantasy world, and he makes things up. So when you have a conversation with him. You're not talking, you're not talking to him. You're talking to a personality that he has invented and you're, and, and he's telling you things that he's made up, that he's expecting you to believe.

So it's like, I can't have a, I can't have a relationship with someone who's, who's, who's, who's in a fantasy world. And I see him as, yeah, and, but I, but I noticed then that it's like, what I think Islam does, and I said this to people in a couple of talks. Sometimes you don't feel the benefits of Islam all the time, but what I've noticed is you notice the benefits at crisis times or at crunch times, and all of that training, reflection, zikr, salah, discussion on Allah, discussion on ourselves, um, That kicks in when it has to, and then, oh wow, you know, all of this training, all of this self analysis, and practice, and fasting, and whatever, um, now I'm seeing the benefits, because it hasn't shaken me.

If I'd been in my 20s prior to Islam and he's written to me like that, I would have been devastated, and I would have been really thrown off kilter for months. And I would have been angry, and upset, and not known how to react. But this time it's like, it is what it is. Yeah. That's perfect. Thank you. You just answered the question I was going to ask, which was, you keep on saying Islam does this, it's helped me, and I was like, how does it do?

And I think you just answered the question in sharing that all the years of the work, quote unquote, um, all the things you mentioned helps you come to a point when you deal with difficult people, difficult situations, you can get through it. Yeah. Yeah. And I think, I think those tools are instilled within us sometimes without you realizing.

So one of the things that attracted me when I came into Islam was seeing the resilience of Muslims. that word because the British government's using it at the moment. Um, yeah. So everyone's got these, their resilience projects at the moment because then they get funding from the government. But anyway, so, but, but I did notice with the Muslims that I met way, way back when I was coming into Islam that they've got this resilience.

and calmness in how they deal with huge challenges. And I want that, you know, I want to be like that. And, and I think that after all of this time, not saying I'm perfect, I've still got, still got, you know, reflection to do and work to do. And I'm not saying I'm always calm when something comes up, but I would say that there have been occasions where there's been a challenge.

And without even thinking consciously about it, all that training just kicks into action and you handle the situation almost kind of spontaneously. Because you've, you've done all that training and the training kicks in. That's so interesting. So question for you, because you're also, um, I would say a scholar of Islam and in, in the Shia community and a spiritual leader.

So I'm sure that people come to you and they talk about their struggles, their difficulties praying, their difficulties doing the work. What do you tell people who talk about the difficulties doing the work? Because it sounds like this work is what gets us the place of that we're all longing for. the healing, the spiritual path.

And I also work with so many women who also struggle in the same way. So tell us, how do you respond to these people? How do you help people and guide them to do the work? I always try to be real, um, and because I feel that a lot of the difficulties that people have, that Muslims have, arise from the fact that They have been given a narrative of Islam that somehow clashes with the reality they are experiencing.

So they're saying that, well, I'm experiencing really bad things or difficult things or challenges. And it's making, it's making it difficult for me to practice Islam. Therefore, I feel like I'm a bad person and everyone's trying to encourage me to be on the path and coerce me to be on the path. But I can't because I haven't got an answer to this, these issues.

So I, I, I suppose you could say validate their issues. And sometimes they are sent to me by their parents, even though they're in their twenties. Can you fix my daughter? And. Um, often times I will say to the young woman, most of the time it's young women, I will say that what you are experiencing is true and valid and Maybe the reason why you feel you can't be a good Muslim is because of the idea of Islam that you, you know, you are being expected to fulfill.

And that idea of Islam doesn't work in our society. So it's an ideal, but it's not addressing the reality that's in front of you. So I try to. I just try to be real with them and I just try to say, yeah, it's understandable that X, Y, Z is happening to you or has happened to you because this is what this life is about.

This is what existence is about. If that's making you question Islam, what can Islam do for you? Then that's good. Let's look at that and let's start to think and analyze because that's what Islam is about It's not just about I have to live up to this ideal, but it's about let me think about this Let me analyze it.

Let me step by step work it out just because I'm questioning Doesn't mean I'm out of the fold of Islam doesn't mean I'm a bad person And so that's what I try to do. I must say your students, your community are really lucky to have someone like you who can give them a reality check. Right? Because often so many leaders will just guilt people into saying the problem isn't Islam.

The problem is you. You're not fulfilling your duties. Therefore, you're a bad Muslim. Right? And I love the fact they're saying our modern reality is difficult. And it makes sense why Muslims are struggling to carry out their ritual practices. Why they're struggling to keep within the... boundaries of Islamic behavior, right?

It makes sense. Um, so I really appreciate that you just give them a reality check and speak the truth because a lot of Muslim scholars and leaders are not doing that. And I think they're harming people more than they are helping them. Yeah, definitely. Oh, yes. The guilt tripping is awful. Yeah. 

And I say to youth, I say to young people, when I have talks with young people, I say to them. The rules of Islam are strict, they are tough, they are not easy, but have a think about where you might be if they weren't there. I have contemporaries, people that I went to school with, who are dead now because of drunk, uh, drink and drugs.

And they just got lost because they had absolutely zero guidance on anything. They grew up with nothing and they got lost in their minds. Some have been, you know, sections. They got lost in their minds, they go down certain spiritual paths, get totally lost mentally, never come out of that. So, I, I, that's what I say to them, that if you don't have those rigorous, uh, guidelines, Then you, you can, um, go down a self destructive path, but I'm not, I say to the youth, I'm not saying it's easy.

So, yeah. Thank you. Try and encourage them. And I, I try to say, well done, you know, rather than guilt trip a woman for not wearing hijab. Yeah. For those who are wearing hijab, I say, well done for wearing hijab. This is why we need more women in positions of authority and leadership to give this compassion and, and realness to people, um, and not be in the pedestal.

Like I love you to speak to them from where they are at their level. I mean, this is the, the Suna of the Prophet and of Ali and just to speak to people like that. So let's, let's deal with, let's deal with you where you are at. Exactly. Yeah. Well, as we wrap up, Rebecca, this has been such a really Deep and provocative and thought, kind of thought enriching conversation.

Do you have any pearls of wisdom you'd like to share with the listeners to leave us with? Um, I don't feel very wise, but pearls of wisdom, um, well, I would just say work on trusting your intuition and Trusting your rationality and using those together and building that trust within yourself. Um, that trust in your perception of things and your understanding of things.

That's so important. Thank you so much for being on Rahma with Rose. It's been a true pleasure to have you on today. Welcome. Thank you. Thank you. It's been a great discussion and thank you for the questions too.