Now in its 4th edition, “Turning the Tide: Reawakening the Woman’s Heart and Soul” has been published in an exciting new version – and TMV has had the exclusive opportunity to sit down with the author, Suma Din, to discuss her inspiration for her writing, faith, and the particular challenges and beautiful realities of Muslim women across the world.
“Turning the Tide” is an exquisite and layered read that not only delves into the deep examples of the Quran and hadith, but also brings an almost mystical and lyrical poetry to the author’s thoughts on womanhood, faith, wisdom, and the soul.
Each chapter begins with a beautiful introduction to a specific stage of life in a woman’s journey here on earth, then almost seamlessly moves into what the author calls “myriad voices” – which is a collection of “fictional voices that are placed like parts of a mosaic to create pictures of our emotions”. Each chapter then ends with a spiritually moving collection and explanation of relevant Quran and hadith excerpts – which expertly gives a wholesome end to the chapter, or the particular stage of life, that the reader takes a journey on.
Image courtesy of Suma Din, received from @letslearnmama
In each stage and journey of life, from childhood to marriage to the age of wisdom to what Suma Dina beautifully calls the “soul’s journey on”, the reader is taken on a beautiful read of Islamic heritage, womanhood, and spirituality. For example, in the final chapter titled ” The Soul’s Journey On: The Shoreline”, the author writes:
“As we ride the waves, which carry us through our lives, there comes a point where the sea meets the sand, and we arrive at the shoreline. As the water washes over the sand, the seamless shore is created. So too with the end of this worldly life, and the transition into the next. The motion of moving from one to the other happens as subtly as the waves washing onto the shore – we enter the next life. Our world, our life, our pulse, our breath will depart like a retreating tide.”
At the very end of the chapter, we are left with a poignant reminder of what Allah says in our Holy Quran:
“Verily, that which is with Allah is best for you, if you but knew: all that you have is bound to end, whereas all that is with Allah is everlasting” (Surah al-Nahl 16:95-96).
In an age where we – especially as women – are constantly battling against an onslaught of commercialism, sexualization, and rigid formalities into what it means to be a woman, Suma Din takes us on an eloquent, quiet, and powerful journey into remembering the truth to why we have been placed here on this earth.
You can find a copy of “Turning the Tide” here.
Here’s our conversation with author Suma Din below, in the hopes that she continues to inspire those who need it most:
TMV: What is your own journey that led you to write this book?
Suma Din: Looking back, there were several experiences that led to writing and compiling Turning the Tide. I started working on it around the year 2000, finding myself in the most intense period of running our home and raising three children under 6 years old (I see the eye-rolls from mums of five!). I was certainly thinking about the deeper meaning of a mother’s place in the world; a Muslim woman’s priorities; our purpose in this life in relation to the hereafter and so on. I’ve been a diary writer for as long as I can remember, so the natural way of thinking about anything is through writing – and I guess that’s one of the reasons why Turning the Tide evolved, as a way of working things out.
Personally, the other impetus was from what I read. I’d read books exploring women’s identities and their memoirs, which were helpful but only to a point. I found books that were written from a secular lens always fell short of engaging me when I wanted to apply Islamic spirituality to the question of our roles. When I looked to Islamic books for or about women, I found most, bar a few, were formulaic titles that reduced women into very narrow categories.
Remember this was a world pre-social media; so there was very limited access to meaningful discussions online. So it was books, attending talks/halaqas; listening to audio/videotapes if you had any relevant ones, and then work it out yourself!
Researching the ahadith and translated ayahs of the Qur’an were a welcome pursuit in that special time between putting the children to sleep and the first call of the night duty. The process itself was therapeutic, involving contemplation and rediscovering meanings.
Was there a particular experience or was this something that you’ve been meaning to write for a while?
There were other experiences that led directly to coming up with the idea of this book. The late ‘90’s was a time when I’d had several conversations with people who were born into a Muslim family, yet felt completely estranged from the faith and had quietly turned away from it.
I understood their baggage; a complex mix of experiencing years of damaging contradictions that were not Islam and the lack of skilled, knowledgeable educators who they could relate to in the formative years when there’s a lot of questions. Although there were excellent scholarly books around, not everyone has that level of commitment initially, especially when they’ve walked away.
So these fleeting conversations left me with the feeling that we need amongst our ‘Muslim bookshelf’ something easily accessible, at entry-level, and inviting for women in particular. Turning the Tide was my way of addressing some of their attitudes and saying ‘hold on, take another look, our deen is full of mercy, beauty, forgiveness, guidance, clarity, balance…’ I knew it wasn’t going to solve their big issues, but we all have a responsibility to do what we can, don’t we?
What is it about a woman’s particular journey on earth that makes it different from a man’s journey?
In terms of our heart and soul, a man and woman’s journey are the same… Iman is Iman no matter what gender a person is. So internally, at a spiritual level, there is no difference; our spiritual journey is the story of our human endeavour to live in a way that pleases Our Creator and Sustainer. Spiritually, I’ve not come across any difference in the sources I’ve read over time. The things that affect a man spiritually are the same as those that affect a woman; the diseases of the heart – envy, jealousy, ingratitude, pride and so on, are universal struggles.
When it comes to our daily living though, yes, of course our journeys differ depending on our context. Some societies are more patriarchal, some more matriarchal, some have very fixed cultural roles for men and women, other societies due to lots of reasons assimilate a number of cultures and have more variety in the roles of men and women. All this affects the experience we have as women.
Are there particular hardships or trials that you think are specific to the experience of women?
Taking a global view, women have had more challenges in both public and private life, especially in communities that see the female as inferior due to cultural influences. Female infanticide and foeticide, for example, with figures running into the hundreds of thousands of cases in certain countries demonstrate problems for female existence before she’s even set foot on the earth. I touch on this tragedy through one of the Myriad voices in the chapter on ‘Childhood’.
Other challenges are things like access to education and basic healthcare, resources for maternal health and the threat of gender-based violence. Add to that the less obvious aberrations, like how a woman’s body is commodified to sell everything from coffee to cars, stacks up to a lot of injustices and lack of dignity for women. The spiritual death that results from these can break women who are struggling just to survive.
I’ve met women who, due to their tragic experiences in the name of our faith, feel as though there is no space for them in Islam – even though the injustices are clearly forbidden. That’s not to say men don’t have challenges too, they have plenty as well, but they’re different. So there is still much work to be done.
If we pick up on the experience of becoming a mother, the biology of this alone and how it affects the woman on every level; emotionally, psychologically, physically, spiritually calls for paying special attention to her needs and well being as a society. The job of raising children is huge but often treated as ‘doing nothing’ by society at large. These challenges and contradictions are just one example of what women battle with and journey through.
Islamophobia data shows women are more vulnerable and on the receiving end of violence and verbal abuse. All this affects our heart and soul, it affects our minds and we can’t just ignore this. Our sisters are coping with a huge amount inside and outside the home, doing their best to keep it all together; we need to acknowledge and support their challenges.
What do you hope this book will do for the women (or men) who read it?
I hope they’ll find it replenishing, uplifting, and a positive experience. If it makes someone’s day better, if it reminds them of a hadith, or a dua that is relevant to them, then that’s great. If the short introductions to noble women makes them feel motivated, or better still interested enough to go and find out more – then that would be the best outcome in sha Allah.
What do you hope will change after reading this?
Change depends on a person’s starting point! If they weren’t paying much attention to nature as the miraculous sign of creation for example, then I hope that’s something that might change: that they stop and look at the ‘ayahs’ of Allah’s SWT’s creation wherever their eyes fall.
If a reader was previously misinformed or disinterested in Islamic literature generally and they gain a constructive perspective after reading it, then that change is the main intention the book was written for. It’s a very short read, so I’m realistic about the effect it can have!
Messages have come to me over the years about women finding it a helpful reference point when they were going through tough times and struggling. The other common response I’ve had is from newly married women who received it as a gift, which they found reassuring during the ups and downs of newly married life, similar to the feedback from new mums reshaping their lives around a new soul they’re responsible for. They’d often comment it was like a ‘gentle friend’.
I hope this expanded 4th edition will encourage contemplation and critical thinking about our priorities. Ultimately, Turning the Tide is a dew drop in the vast landscape of contemporary, valuable new literature. So if it does touch anyone’s heart, that’s solely through the permission and mercy of Allah SWT allowing it to do so. And that’s the best outcome I could hope for!
You can find a copy of Turning the Tide here.