Right before I moved to Egypt in spring 2015, I had the pleasure to sit down with Sister Yasmin Mogahed at ICNA Relief Orlando’s Family Dinner: A Night for Women. I can hardly believe how much time has past since that night! As Sis. Yasmin knows, life in Egypt is unpredictable and so are internet and electricity. I’m sure she’s as happy as I am to finally have our interview published, especially since it was such a fun night of selfies, Islamic discussions, and Beyonce (yep, I’m getting to that).
After the great event and delicious food. Sis. Yasmin held a brief book signing, meet and greet, and selfie time. No duck-lips or silliness though, it was quiet a serious the fundraisering for the new Muslim Women’s Shelter. Both Speakers Malika McDonald, and Dunia Shuaib stayed and chatted for a bit,but Yasmin and I ended up chatting until nearly 1am! Here are some of the insights she shared with me:
After reading your book, Reclaim Your Heart, one may find it surprising that you choose to include such personal examples and opinions on the Quran, Islam, and Muslim politics in the US and Egypt; what made you choose to do this?
Wow, not starting off slow and easy! Well, for starters I did this so I could, and can continue to, relate to my readership. When I look for books and articles, I like to have a personal connections to the author, and I hope my readers feel the same way. I also wanted to express my genuine authenticity. I am not just preaching, ‘this is how you should live your life and free your heart for things that pull you away from Allah SWT’, no, I am showing you, my reader, that I have been where you are, I too am human, and have faced struggles I had to find ways to overcome.
What inspires you as a Muslimah?
Allah SWT– not because that is the automatic proper Muslim response but because the source of my being is from God and to him we shall return, so I live to love and worship God. If that’s in my life is pulling away from that than it shouldn’t be in my life. I’ve discussed before how, as a teen I suffered from fear and sadness, I only learned to reclaim my heart by submitting further to God. For me submitting was studying more about how the mind works and the nature of human spirituality. For you it maybe something else. I discovered my interests, developed my skills, and honed my that into a career that allows me to submit to God the way that is best for me. We are all on a journey of Allah SWT’s creating inshaAllah we can trust in that and take advantage of the talents he is fit to show us along the way, and these talents can help guide us to the best way of submitting or worshiping.
You are currently trying to start taking Ph.D. classes, traveling for lectures and events, and working on your writings and teachings; what’s your secret? How do you balance your busy schedule?
Well, I haven’t started the classes yet, I am still research to find the best program. Regarding some sort of secret, well the only secrets I keep are the sins I confess to the creator (laughs). Really, there is no big secret, I keep a paper planner. I also schedule my own events, deadlines, and travel arrangements, I don’t have an assistant or a staff of helpers hidden away somewhere…although I wish I did, that sounds nice! After I schedule something I immediately write it in my plan an a digital calendar that syncs to all my devices. It automatically sets reminders for me that will go after periodically prior to the scheduled time of a functions, flight, deadline and so forth.
I also try to schedule my day around prayers. I look up salat time before I travel so I can pre-arrange to make sure I have time for my worship. This doesn’t always work out, sometimes I’m literally in the sky when it is time to pray, but for the most part I am able to avoid this.
Perhaps, that is my big secret, I make Allah SWT the focus of my every day, not just when I need him or when it is convenient but everyday Allah SWT is the guiding force in my life and in my scheduling!
What is the key to your success?
Timing. Not simply being in the right place at the right time, but holding the knowledge that Allah SWT has a plan for you. No matter what your mother, father, teachers, and the like have in mind for you, his plan comes first. Once I realized that and stopped trying to a doctor and pursing avenues that were not meant for me, Allah SWT’s plan suddenly started to fall into place. Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t get a good education, study and work hard, and continue to do all I can to achieve my goals. It is all about balancing of going on a journey but allowing Allah SWT to provide the map.
How did you discover your passion? How did you know studying and expounding the lessons of Islam was your niche?
This is something that come on over time. I always thought I’d be a doctor, which inshaAllah I’ll be a doctor of sorts when I complete my Ph.D., but I sincerely though that medicine is what Allah SWT was calling me to but in reality that was something I wanted because I thought society and my family would like that. When I was in high school and my depression hit I felt the physical effects of that pain. It was writing in my journal, trying to overcome that, that helped me find my niche, sort-of-speak.
What would you say to other would-be writer and lecturers, especially the women and girls (like those here tonight) that see you as a role model?
Wow, that’s flattering. Be careful who you choose for role-models. No one is perfect and in the media so many role-models are not an ideal fit to a wholesome, Godly-lifestyle, like Beyonce, don’t get me started on Beyonce!
I think I’d like them to search for their truth. Is that really what God has planned for you? If it is, great, but if not then be open to writing and public speaking being a hobby. If it is your truth then prepared to work hard, constantly study and write, and have an erratic schedule…especially when it comes to sleep!
In-terms of role models, you mentioned that you don’t care for many popular role-models in the media, specifically Beyonce, can you explain why you find these women to not be the best role-models?
Beyonce, haha, that girl! She’s all ‘Single Ladies’ (does the hand gesture from the dance) but she was married at the time. It’s not just that; she is promoting the dunya and the sinful. All the clothes and makeup, hyper-sexualization for the sake of approval of others, and discussing her sexual life and making such overt dance moves…these are something sacred and special between her and her husband and she is making it public to make money, other thing that is just of this dunya. All of this…this is all just a bad message for girls and women alike. It’s saying live for the here and now, not the hereafter. Girls and being taught to become like this and women are shown if they aren’t like this so they aren’t good enough for this dunya. This is not a role-model. I feel for Beyonce that girl, ugh, she is seriously confused and needs to work this out for herself.
If women and girls are looking for role models look to the Quran and the family of Prophets SWS. Fatima, who gave such wonderful charity, Khadijah who was an amazing business woman, Aisha the first person to write down the Quran. These women are true role-models. Additionally we should be modeling our lives after the prophets SWS, especially and more specifically Muhammad SWS. His daily life was well documented in Hadiths and if we are following the sunnah we need to emulate that.
What is the focus of your daily life?
Writing…I write everything down my schedule, my spirituality, my feelings, my devotions, EVERYTHING. I write essays, like those I compiled into Reclaim Your Heart, to poetry and random thoughts. This grounds me. It forces me to get everything I’ve bottled up inside out of me and I can honestly reflect and move forward, or reevaluate something until I can understand it better.
The other things that drive my daily life are prayer, as I previously stated, and my work schedule. This I write done prayers, jot down my thoughts, and keep a concise schedule this other things are easier to manage. Don’t misunderstand I still have crazy busy days, just focusing the writing and how I am fulfilling what Allah SWT planned for me helps.
If you had time in your schedule to do one more thing in a day what would that be?
Do I have to choose just one, because I have thought about this before and I have two?
No, of course not, what are they?
I would spend more time with my family. My parents, and my sibilings, of course this is only permitting their schedules allowed for it and we would all be in the same place at once! oh, or at least in a place with a strong internet connection so we could facetime.
Second–or equal, is my devolution to Allah SWT. I wish I had more time to pray, write, and study the teachings of Allah SWT.
Yasmin Mogahed received her B.S. Degree in Psychology and her Masters in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After completing her graduate work, she taught Islamic Studies and served as a youth coordinator. She also worked as a writing instructor at Cardinal Stritch University and a staff columnist for the Islam section of InFocus News. Currently she’s an instructor for AlMaghrib Institute, a writer for the Huffington Post, an international speaker, and author, where she focuses most of her work on spiritual and personal development. Yasmin recently released her new book, Reclaim Your Heart, which is now available worldwide. Visit her website, yasminmogahed.com, where you can find a collection of her articles, poetry, and lectures.