IHRC held an author evening with Aliyah Umm Raiyaan to discuss her first book, Ramadan Reflections: A Guided Journal.
Purchase Ramadan Reflections from the IHRC Bookshop.
WATCH THE AUTHOR EVENING:
This event was chaired by Samira Umm Maryam. The conversation has been edited for better readability.
Umm Maryam: could you please describe the book in your own words?
Umm Raiyaan: it is so difficult for me to describe it, it’s more than a journal, there are journal elements to pen your own personal reflections. It’s a journey of the self, of one’s relationship with Allah, a journey through the past, present and future. It is a journey of dua. It is a bit of a hybrid, part memoir where I include stories from my life and the lives of others. And there are interactive elements at the end of every chapter including journal prompts. There are so many different elements to the book but the best way I can describe it is that it is a very personal and intimate journey with your Lord.
Umm Maryam: being published by Penguin Random House is a huge achievement to increase representation of Muslim women in that sphere. What was your experience with Penguin and writing the book in such a short amount of time?
Umm Raiyaan: I had been making dua for a very long time to write and publish a book. I increased in that dua during ramadan last year, it was the dua on my tongue more than any other. Two months later, I was going through my messages on Instagram, and saw a message from a woman who had a non-Muslim name. I thought she might want to ask questions about Islam knowing that I am revert. [Then when I read the message] I initially thought it was a scam. I didn’t think it was real, but I asked her to email me, which is also strange because normally when I get messages like that I ignore them completely – subhanAllah I am so glad I didn’t. She wrote in her email that she is a publisher and asked me if I would be interested in writing a book for them. In the first meeting I had so many questions, I wanted to know how they found me, why me, what did they want me to write, who is it for. She said they wanted me write a book for the Muslim audience and connected to Ramadan in some way because they wanted it to be published for the 2nd of March  and this was in July 2022.
I had a month to write the first draft. I felt under a lot of pressure to be honest because I am so busy in what I do at Solace. I thought, “how on earth am I going tow rite a book in a month?”. I just knew that this was an opportunity from Allah and this is who our Lord is. When He brings something our way, He knows we can manage it, even if we cannot perceive it ourselves. I took it to Allah through dua for strength and for everything I needed to make the book happen. I suffered from imposter syndrome really badly at the beginning.
My friends say this book is me and my life, all the experiences. I think the book was written already through my experiences, but it wasn’t the book I had intended to write. I knew that Allah would guide the process, but I almost gave up at the beginning because I was focusing so much on the fact that this was with Penguin, that I felt that I should not be doing this, I’m the wrong person, I’m not a good enough writer. That created severe writer’s block and I remember just feeling so frustrated and I couldn’t move past that. I have been writing and sharing reflections on social media for a while and it has always just flowed, but with this I felt restricted and frustrated and couldn’t understand why. I spoke to a friend about this and she gave me beautiful advice; she said to take Penguin out of the picture completely. She asked why I wanted to do this and why I have been making dua of this for so many years. I told her I wanted to do this for the sake of my Lord, and she said to focus on that. It was such simple advice but it created a shift within me and then it flowed and I wrote as me.
Umm Maryam: could you talk to us about how you chose the stories you decided to include in the book?
Umm Raiyaan: I try to draw out lessons from my experiences, so it was quite easy to do as that’s what I do naturally anyway. There was one chapter where I had really bad writer’s block and I couldn’t find an example from my life to apply to that theme. I was behind in my schedule; I had imagined [writing the book] would be so smooth, but with this particular chapter, it was a very busy time and I had a limited amount of time to write. I couldn’t write at home, I had to write outside for some reason. I couldn’t think of something to apply to the chapter and then I wrote the chapter from the point of frustration and resistance and it is one of my favourite ones. The story I used for that chapter was happening at the time and the lessons I took from that, I have taken on, and it was a lesson I needed and that’s why it is my favourite. The chapter is called acceptance.
Umm Maryam and Umm Raiyaan also discussed taking inspiration from Ibn Qayyim, what it means to Umm Raiyaan to have her book sent out to Muslim prisoners, how to come closer to Allah, how to use the book during Ramadan, and how she felt when her dues were answered.