Secrets of Divine Love (Book Review)

This book speaks to our very fears and insecurities, it offers a reassuring hug and wills us to keep going, to unveil the layers shielding our eyes from Allah’s love and mercy: “We must be honest with how we feel, because we cannot receive God’s deep healing if we continuously avoid facing our pain.” 

This book speaks to our very fears and insecurities, it offers a reassuring hug and wills us to keep going, to unveil the layers shielding our eyes from Allah’s love and mercy: “We must be honest with how we feel, because we cannot receive God’s deep healing if we continuously avoid facing our pain.” 

“When the divinely aligned heart is the king of the body and the mind is its servant, we live in peace and harmony” – A. Helwa

Who doesn’t long for peace of mind and heart in this painful world? Is that not what we all seek and strive for? But is this state really possible to attain before we reach our eternal resting place of Jennah? Indeed “our longing for something that this world has not been able to fulfill is the greatest evidence for a world beyond this realm.” 

But what if a sense of peace was a possibility in the here and now? Secrets of Divine Love discusses the inner depths of the rituals of Islam, revealing their meaning and philosophy, helping to guide us to a different and profoundly empowering view of the Almighty and ultimately our own reality. “Life is not about reaching heaven after we die, it is about dwelling in the palace of God’s eternal presence while you are living.” 

With the prominence and ever-increasing popularity of inspiring and positive personalities like Sheikh Javad Shomali and Sayed Hussain Makke, we already find ourselves drawn to a different perspective of Allah that we may not have grown up with. The spotlight shifted from the Justice of Allah that sees all of creation being held accountable for their deeds to balancing this with His endless mercy and kindness. 

“The human mind will always venture to limit God’s omnipresence, transcendent, and mysterious nature into a form or formula that can be understood. Rumi remarks on this inclination through the following poem: the truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it and thought they had the truth.” 

We knew the kindness was always there, and recite Al-Rahman Al-Raheem several times a day, but this had become somewhat out of focus. Many of us would have grown up feeling the restrictions and duties placed on us by religion compromised and negated our freedoms but were necessary for us to reach our ultimate goal – Heaven and Allah’s pleasure. But what we had been missing is the certitude that in this very journey lies our own pleasure too. 

“Ramadan teaches us how discipline and boundaries don’t restrict our freedom, but actually lay the foundation for true freedom. Our addictions enslave us. Our attachments to our desires enslave us.” Helwa writes:

Our religion is not our destination, but the practices, principles, and teachings of Islam are necessary provisions on the path to Allah.”

Through our endless material pursuits in this world, it can be easy to be heedless of our need for Allah and our supreme reliance on him. But we find something is always missing, a hole of longing: “The hole we carry inside, that we so desperately long to fill, comes from the experience of once being unified with all of existence.”

The book is studded with deep, thought-provoking, and carefully chosen quotes from scholars, mystics, and poets of all faiths. For example: “Enlightenment is when a wave realises it is the ocean”, says Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist master. 

Released at the outset of the pandemic, which has unveiled the undeniable truth that nothing is in  our hands, not health, not wealth, and not well-laid plans, this book emerged at an opportune time to inspire us with the profound lesson of relinquishing control to Allah and “giving up our limitations and pictures of how reality should be, to become receptive to everything that God wants to create through us.” Since “as long as our happiness is dependent on things we cannot control, we will never experience contentment… [but] when we accept that we have no control over the future and rely entirely on God, we feel peace.” 

She not only describes the endless love and mercy of Allah towards all his creatures, but her proofs and evidence form a loving embrace that reassures and comforts the reader to aspire to reach their potential with the tender support of Allah’s presence with us at every step: “God’s mercy accepts us as we are, but He loves us too much to let us stay the same.” Maybe this is why Imam Al-Sadiq has said: Is iman anything but love?

The book explores our roles as human beings, not through our eyes but through the eyes of the Creator. Studded with beautiful gems and words of wisdom, it is hard to deny the overwhelming feeling of love and belonging. “You are an everlasting spirit held in the mortal embrace of clay. You are not a human being meant to be spiritual, you are a spiritual being living this human being miracle”, writes the poet Aru Barzak. 

The book explores the primary rituals of Islam giving us a deeper appreciation and understanding of them. “Prayer (salat) brings to light your false idols’ since the outer form can be misaligned and contradictory with the inner state…one prayer to God frees you from a thousand prostrations to your ego.” 

In exploring the depths of fasting she writes: “When we are asked to restrain the ego, our addictions reveal themselves, giving us the awareness we need to break free from them. When we can no longer dull the pain of our emptiness with outer forms, we are forces to search for the root of our longing.” The author also delightfully describes the Quran as “a lullaby for the spirit and an alarm for the ego.” This is because “it interrupts the negative patterns of our worldly conditioning by shedding light on the places where we resist divine union with God…parts of the Quran will  trigger you, because this revelation is like a pure mirror.” 

She adds that,

The Quran is not a destination or wall, it is a window, it provides us a view into the essence of Allah.”

If we are content to merely recite the Quran at speed with the aim of completing a chapter or page, we are denying ourselves the endless bounties and benefits: “The Quran is not meant to be recited, it is meant to be taken in like the fragrance of a rose deep within our essence.” The depth and psychology of this book have many a time caused me to read and re-read statements to take them in fully. The reason it is so empowering is that it is all about our own receptivity and inner state.

We do not see the world as it truly is, but through the state that our heart is in. Our sins can become a blindfold over our spiritual eyes … a drop of rain can fall into the mouth of a seashell or a snake, but in a sea shell, it turns into a pearl and in a snake it turns into poison.”

Imam  Ali 

This inner state can be enhanced and purified with tawba (repentance) which “purifies our heart so that Allah’s light can penetrate our soul, giving us divine insight.” A. Helwa discussed the significance of tawba through a dedicated chapter with practical tips. She writes: “Repentance is the act of emptying and breaking all the idols and gods we have placed in the sanctuary of our hearts before the one true God…the practice of tawba is a means of spiritual course correction, in which we align our hearts and intention towards Allah.”

She explores the relatively newly articulated concept of ‘self-talk’ as well as the age-old struggle within ourselves: “Beneath the noise of our desires and the whispers of temptation there resides an innately good essential self (fitra).” 

The author asks us to be open and to forgive others “not because someone deserves it, but because our hearts deserve peace…as lovers of God we are called to reflect the divine loving qualities upon all people without discrimination.” This includes allowing for others to make mistakes as we do in our endeavour to move towards perfection. 

Hajj is a perfect example of this acceptance of others for it nurtures a collective sense of unity as “fear and bias tend to be changed not through facts and data, but rather through relationships… [Hajj] is a spiritual journey that calls us to contemplate how attached we are to this life and how ready we are for death.” The rituals call us to shed our ego along with our comforts and recognise how needy and how dependent we are on the mercy of our Lord. 

In the beautiful exploration of death, A. Helwa reveals the fear of death as a “sign that we are holding on to something other than Allah.” Our view of death is erroneously narrow and negative: “Death is not extinguishing the light; It is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” In Western society, we have come to misunderstand death, to fear it, and avoid discussing it. But A. Helwa argues: 

It is not death that we fear, what we fear is not living the life we know we were created to live.”

This is perhaps one reason the Day of Judgment is sometimes termed Yom il-hasra (the day of longing). However, this is not to say we must not enjoy the bounties of this life, we can “love the passing fruits of this beautiful earth, but Allah reminds us to hold these gifts in our hands instead of our hearts” since “what we worship depends on where we direct our attention.” 

Imam Ali says: “Aim to live in this world without allowing the world to live inside of you, because  when a boat sits on water, it sails perfectly, but when the water enters the boat, it sinks.”

This book speaks to our very fears and insecurities, it offers a reassuring hug and wills us to keep going, to unveil the layers shielding our eyes from Allah’s love and mercy: “We must be honest with how we feel, because we cannot receive God’s deep healing if we continuously avoid facing our pain.” 

The Prophet Muhammed (SAWA) said: “Adorn yourself with divine qualities.” 

Through practicing and reflecting the attributes of Allah, “both men and women are called to be the mirrors of God on earth.” This is what it means to be a khalifah (deputy) of Allah, for “our work on earth is not to become something different but to awaken from the illusion that we are separate from what we seek.”

Interestingly, the author has chosen to remain anonymous. Perhaps in an effort to secure true sincerity or possibly to allow the book to be appreciated on its own merit without association with, and judgment of, the author’s background, faith, or sect. Either way, it adds to the mystery and enigma. 

She offers mindfulness strategies to enhance awareness of our blind spots and our veils from the mercy of the creator, for it is only in removing these veils can we fully appreciate and experience the beauty and connection with Allah (SWT). 

I really enjoyed this book which offered a much needed positive outlook at this time encompassing our human past, presence, and future. It is not one to be read at speed for ‘top tips’ but the depth means it is to be taken in slowly, ideally not in the sleepiness before sleep, but rather while alert and enjoyed in a comfy chair with a hot drink!

Find this book on Amazon here!