I decided to ask American Muslim women and men in all their diversity to share their search for love, and the breadth and depth of human experience folded into that universal longing.
Who are you?
I’m a mama, writer, and seeker who has been blessed to have the opportunity to live in the US and Pakistan and claim both as home. (That said, I’m a Californian through and through.) My parents decided to move my sisters and me from the US, where we’d been born and raised, to Pakistan. I spent my teen years there before returning to the US for college.
I trace much of my love of storytelling and storycollecting from that great continental shift. I went from Reaganite America where communist Russia was our enemy, to Pakistan under martial law, where communist China was our best friend and India was the archenemy. It made me a little skeptical about what I was being told by politicians or teachers, family and friends, and curious about the differences between perceptions and realities.
Through asking questions, I began to hear stories all around me – stories of the children of privilege and of the slums in westernized Islamabad where I went to school; the Sufi love stories of Punjab, where my extended family lived; and the stories of Partition and the sometimes suffocating, sometimes powerful stories of women that were spoken of in the villages where my grandparents lived.
Years later, alongside my co-editor Nura Maznavi, I edited two books, Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women and Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex & Intimacy as a way of challenging the single narrative about Muslims. I was tired of stories being told about us, instead of by us. So I decided to ask American Muslim women and men in all their diversity to share their search for love, and the breadth and depth of human experience folded into that universal longing.
What is your favorite quote?
Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, idolator, worshipper of fire, come even though you have broken your vows a thousand times,
Come, and come yet again. Ours is not a caravan of despair.
– Mevlana Jalal-ud-Din Rumi
(translated by Amin Malak)
The mystical poets of Islam brought me back to practicing the faith after a decade of estrangement and loss. I love this poem’s joy, deep optimism and hope. It’s a reflection of the Divine love and mercy, and a reminder that each day is an invitation to start anew.
What Ayat of the Qur’an do you hold close to your heart? Why?
“Truly those who believe, and the Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabaeans – whoever believes in God and the Last Day and performs virtuous deeds – surely their reward is with their Sustainer, and no fear shall come upon them, neither shall they grieve. ” [Quran 2:62]
My husband is a convert to Islam – his side of the family is Christian, and mine is Muslim. No matter what our differences may be – political, religious, or otherwise – this verse reminds me that, as humans, we are called not to debate one other, but simply to fulfill the highest commands of social justice, love, mercy, compassion and beauty. We have much to learn from each other’s examples and traditions.
What Hadith do you wish more non-Muslims knew about? Why?
“God is beautiful & loves beauty.”
That brief sentence says so much about what our conduct should be, who we should be as Muslims. In general: the Prophet’s sunnah of deep, sweet lovingkindness and compassion to all, as well as his championing of the rights of women, children and other vulnerable groups in society.
1. What is your favorite book?
The books I return to repeatedly are the Jane Austen novels, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and the Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery. They are filled with humor, insights into the human condition, and wisdom to live by. Plus, I love a good love story!
2. Who inspires/inspired you?
My sister, Rabia. I don’t think I’ve ever met another person so radiant with light, courage, and love, mashAllah.
3. What is the best lesson your mother/mother figure taught you?
How to forgive.
4. What advice would you give your 13 year old self?
Stop procrastinating and work hard. (It’s the advice I still give myself daily 😉
5. What are your hopes for your son, nieces and nephews?
Health, and a life of service and ihsan (beauty & excellence).
6. What is the biggest trial you went through in your life and how has that changed you?
I was diagnosed with an auto-immune condition five months after my marriage. For years after, I was racked with devastating bouts of paralysis and blindness. I learned who I am through that state, I learned who the handful of people are that I can depend upon and turn to, and I learned that there is nothing left at the end of our lives except for the legacy we leave in other people’s hearts, the way we treated them and made them feel.
My condition is stable now, alhamdolillah, but I’ve never forgotten the lessons of those years. I am reminded of them every day.
7. Any regrets? What’s something that you wish you’d thought about more before you did it?
Mistakes are what make us human, how we learn, grow, and change for the better. That said, my regrets are always centered around wishing I had more time with loved ones. Especially my son, my nieces and nephews who are growing up so quickly.
8. How do you stay grounded in your work and/or spiritually grounded?
Long walks; silent reflection through prayer, journaling and reading; and talking with loved ones.
9. How do you bring about real change?
Through listening. And listening some more. And then, speaking or writing as needed.
10. What do you hope to be remembered for?
Someone whose intentions and love were clear, inshAllah.
Video from Ayesha:
Video credit: Women of Spirit & Faith, Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Alison Fast and documentary filmmaker Chandler Griffin.
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Connect with Ayesha on Twitter: @ayesha_mattu
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