Book Review: “Secrets of Divine Love” by A. Helwa

Secrets of Divine Love: A Spiritual Journey Into The Heart of Islam begins with an introduction in which the author, A Helwa, explains her reasons for writing this book as follows: “I pray these words awaken your heart to fall deeper in love with Allah…[the book is] written for the longing heart, for the one who is searching for something they have not been able to find.”

The author provides very brief details about herself and says that although she was born into a Muslim household, “I was never taught how to love and be loved by God.” One day, in her early twenties while travelling in Turkey, she encountered an old lady “who was drowned in her worship of God” and “the divine spark of faith reignited within me like lightning.” It is a good reminder of how each of our own actions can perhaps unwittingly impact the lives of others.

What follows are twelve chapters, including a chapter on each of the five pillars of Islam, and the spiritual dimensions of Islam. Each of the chapters is laced with quotations not only from the Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad as you would expect, but also with the welcome use of some helpful lessons from the Christian Bible, and from other religious traditions too.

Like many previous authors that have dealt with cleansing the soul, A. Helwa, explicitly singles out the need to firmly tackle the ego.

“…like a fog that distorts out vision, the ego is a veil between our consciousness and our spirit. The purification and detachment of the ego is so vital within Islam because the more we purify the illusions of the self, the more we are able to witness the light of Allah.” (p46)

“The transformation of the heart and the purification of the ego is one of the fundamental purposes of divine revelation. Every pillar and practice in Islam serves to purify the ego by turning the heart from the desires of the fleeting world towards the everlasting love of God. The two most powerful ways the Qur’an speaks of how to refine the ego and transform the heart is through the practices of repentance (tawba) and remembrance (dhikr).” (p59)

I do think that this book could have done with a better editor – or even the simple use of a thesaurus. The repetitive nature of some of the language did begin to grate with me very quickly. See the examples below:

“The following interaction between two great mystical masters beautifully articulates God’s mercy…” (p7)

“The all-encompassing peace that comes from relying entirely on God is beautifully illustrated in the following Japanese story…” (p8)

“The following quote beautifully articulates this notion…” (p18)

“The following story about the thirteenth-century spiritual master and satirist Mullah Nasruddin beautifully illustrates this point…” (p47)

“The core Islamic teaching that “verily with difficulty comes ease” (94:5) is beautifully shown through the popular teaching story of a boy and a butterfly…” (p53)

…and it goes on right throughout the book.

Still, in the balance of things, this criticism is a minor one and can easily be rectified in a future edition of the book. In the opinion of this reviewer, the author succeeds admirably in her goal to remind readers of the spiritual goals of Islam.

“No one knows when they will die or when the Day of Judgment will come, the only thing that is in our power is how we actively choose to live the one life that Allah has given us in this very moment. Instead of worrying about when we will die, it serves us better to focus on what we can do to positively affect this world. As the eleventh-century Persian scholar, Abu Sa’id Abul-Khayr said, ‘You were born crying and everyone around you was laughing. Strive to live in a way that when you die you are laughing and everyone around you is crying.’ ” (p273-4)

This book contains many memorable and accessible passages and is highly recommended for new Muslims and those who are in need of reinforcing their faith – which is probably all of us.

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