This past March, I celebrated the 23rd anniversary of taking my shahada or testimony of faith, Alhamdullilah (praise and thanks to God alone). Back in 2000, upon embracing Islam, I began a lifelong journey of striving for self-improvement and seeking knowledge. There have been many wonderful books, lectures, social media posts, and videos that educated and inspired me to love Islam over the years.
When I was a new Muslim, the pickings were pretty slim. Two decades ago there were not many high-quality Islamic books written in English, and the internet was still in its infancy. For every Islamic topic I searched online, I found as much misinformation as actual truth. The wealth of information we have today – the high-quality websites, videos, lectures, and books that provide accurate and engaging Islamic content – did not exist when I was first learning about our deen. It has been a joy to see Islamic resources improve, develop, and flourish over the years. Though I cannot possibly enumerate the many resources that inspired me to love Islam, five works immediately come to mind.
1. A Revolutionary Picture Book
One of the books that made an impact on me as a new Muslim is called My Mum is a Wonder. It is a children’s picture book about a little boy who admires all the meaningful, loving things his mother does for her family. When I was pregnant with my first child in 2001, I started scouring local Islamic bookstores for children’s literature. There were not many options back then. My Mum is a Wonder was a pioneer in its field. It had simple but charming rhymes that captivated my toddlers, a beautiful message about honoring our mothers, and illustrations of Muslim characters living everyday lives: eating breakfast, doing chores around the house, praying together in the living room, and coming home from school. I wanted my children to be able to see typical Muslim families represented in their storybooks, and, back in 2001, My Mum is a Wonder was the first – and only – book that I could find that fit that criteria.
Of course, nowadays we are blessed with a wide variety of quality Islamic children’s books with excellent writing and beautiful illustrations. Some of them are so sophisticated that they make My Mum is a Wonder look quaint. But back then, that book was a novelty, and I’m very grateful I was able to share it with my children.
2. An Inspiring Lecture Series
When my oldest children started elementary school, a friend introduced me to the lecture series Children Around the Prophet: How Muhammad Raised the Young Companions
by Hesham Al-Awadi. Originally, as far as I know, the series was available only in audio format, but nowadays there is a book, as well. This series is a wonderful resource for Muslim parents. It details how our beloved Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, interacted with children and served as a role model, mentor, father, and friend. We can see how his patience, playfulness, compassion, and wisdom inspired children to love and trust him and to connect with the Quran. Dr. Al-Awadi is an excellent storyteller who brings the stories to life with emotion and depth of knowledge. It has been years since I listened to this lecture, but I would definitely enjoy it – and learn from it – again.
3. A Meaningful Memoir
A Temporary Gift by Asmaa Hussein made a huge emotional impact on me. Both heartbreaking and inspiring, Hussein’s memoir discusses the aftermath of losing her beloved husband to a sniper’s bullet. Grief-stricken and shocked, the young widow was left to support herself and their infant daughter alone. She got through very dark times thanks to her unwavering faith in Allah.
A Temporary Gift inspired me as a writer to strive to be brave enough to use my own struggles and vulnerability to help other Muslims who are going through difficult circumstances. The book also inspired me as a Muslim to hold tight to my faith, even when profoundly challenged. Hussein’s honesty and openness are real and raw. She does not gloss over her pain or hide her insecurities and fears. It is an excellent book for any Muslim who is grieving, struggling, overwhelmed, or lonely, as it comforts and strengthens us simultaneously.
4. Food for the Soul
Reflecting on the Names of Allah by Dr. Jinan Yousef is a book I’ve read and savored over and over. There is such great benefit to learning about Allah’s marvelous names and attributes, and Dr. Yousef explains each name in-depth, providing examples of how we can connect with Allah through each of His unique characteristics. Most of us read the names of Allah with brief explanations, for example, “Al Kareem. The Most Generous.” This book dedicates several pages to exploring each name, all the nuances of the meaning, and how we can apply it to our lives.
While her explanations are scholarly and well-informed, they are also reader-friendly. Yousef uses modern-day scenarios as well as stories from the life of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and the Quran as examples. In the past, I knew Allah had 99 names and I knew most of their most basic meanings. After reading Reflecting on the Names of Allah, I have a much deeper comprehension of His attributes and even more importantly, a greater love in my heart for my Creator. For further reading about this resource, see Book Review: Reflecting on the Names of Allah.
5. A Comforting Reminder
The Sublimely Subtle: Allah’s Name Al-Latif by Sh. Mohamad Elshinawy is a lengthy but fascinating article on the Yaqeen Institute website. I’ve returned to this article time and again to remind myself of one of Allah’s most amazing names, Al-Latif.
If life is feeling overwhelming because you can’t see why certain things are (or aren’t) happening, this is an article that will give you comfort. Elshinawy delves into the many nuances of the name Al-Latif, explaining how Allah The Almighty is weaving the tapestry of our lives in subtle, all-knowing, merciful, and generous ways. He simultaneously knows our every thought and protects us with His omniscience and mercy. Elshinawy points to the example of Prophet Yusuf, peace be upon him, and how a series of difficult trials and tests led him to ultimate victory. When Allah wanted to release Yusuf from prison, He did not smash the prison walls with His unparalleled power, but rather, inspired the king to have a dream. Only Al-Latif can use such subtle, effective, perfect methods to accomplish whatever He wants. Nothing is impossible for Him, though many times we humans, in our impotence and impatience, forget or doubt His ability.
I have re-read this article many times, and each time I am left amazed by Allah’s magnificence and reassured that His plan is the best for me. I call on Al-Latif in times of anxiety, knowing He hears me before I utter a single word, and He alone has the subtle, gentle, yet extremely powerful ability to help me out of any situation.
Laura El Alam is a freelance writer and editor and the author of the book Made From the Same Dough, as well as over 100 published articles. A wife and mother of five, Laura lives with her family in Massachusetts. You can visit her online at www.seaglasswritingandediting.com