Meral Alizada, Interviewed by Julie Ngalle
Meral Alizada is an Afghan-Uzbek law student, TedX Speaker and poet. Her self-published book, ‘Rumi’s Daughter’ is a collection of poems narrating her personal journey in the experience of love and language of the soul. As an advocate for knowledge seeking and spiritual inner reformation, her author work centres around mystic philosophy, spiritual identity, internal renovation and the transformative power of the amplification of the inner voice, through the simple power of words.
Her personal ethos and philosophy centres around leading a life of sincerity with love, advocacy for cooperation, cohesion and celebration of the oneness of people and a return to the intangible and the timeless, against an ever-synthetic world. Through Rumi’s Daughter, she hopes to inspire others to be guided by the raw power of their own internal guidance to know the inner peace we seek, in all we pursue.
First and foremost, can you present this project to everyone?
The book is called Rumi’s Daughter, it is my first debut poetry book documenting my journey towards coming to faith and inner peace. It sprung from spontaneous lockdown contemplations and journaling and it is now available for purchase on Amazon.
This is your poetry debut but had you written anything, published or not, before?
I began writing creative stories and eventually poetry as an outlet from a very young age.
However, in my pre-teen years, my mental health began to deteriorate and that really discouraged me from remaining consistent and writing as much as I had previously. Interestingly, I first set out to publish a novel I had been passively working on for the past few years, that is very autobiographical and almost like the novel to this poetry book, just a little more expanded.
I wrote 300 hundred and something poems in lockdown, gathered about 10 to 15 poems from my past experiences and pieced them together and then decided, you know what, let me release this poetry book now, because if not now, then perhaps, never. I felt like even though I wanted to release my work I am a very harsh critic and I am, like I think a lot of artists are, very insecure about my work. I, like many, want it to be perfect. So I feel like I needed a certain level of life experience to be able to refine and shape my poetry in a way that best represented and spoke to people with sincerity and from a place of experience, not a romanticised guessing of what life and growth really is.
So it was more about releasing it when you were ready rather than releasing it when it would be seen as “more of an accomplishment”.
Poetry should remain untouched and preserved from our accomplishment and achievement culture. It seemed completely against the essence of poetry as an expression of rawness and inner truth, to rush the process and to sell something to people that did not come from a place of natural conceiving.
Also, social media itself makes people seem more accomplished on the digital front, than they actually are. As much as it is wonderful that we can all be artists, poets and entrepreneurs, there is a slight danger in that the quality of work has gone down with some pieces being rushed for the sake of releasing works at a certain age. For me at least, poetry requires experience, and it requires a deep understanding of life. And perhaps for others, they may have matured at that age, but for me personally, experience, and particularly experiences of the heart, is really what shapes your soul and matures you.
Sincerity and authenticity of work comes from giving writing and art time to develop. I hope this is something that comes across through ‘Rumi’s Daughter’, that it’s not for the sake of it, but for the right time. And the right time was the result of an experience of trauma in which I wrote 300 poems in two weeks and that was it, it was finished and then it was just gathering the other poems together and coming up with a front cover and then the final part was naming the book.
That slides perfectly into my next question: “Rumi’s daughter”, why that title? What does it mean to you and what do you want the readers to understand from it?
Growing up, I always felt different and misunderstood. I think realising my own unconventionality kept me isolated and on my own to discover myself and understand life as a sensitised and quiet spectator. I started writing poetry and creative stories as a child; it was always a loyal and constant companion and source of solace. At 14, I experienced something emotionally challenging and began writing poems into a refill pad. I would start writing at around 8pm and finish at about 7-8 oclock in the morning. I once fell asleep on my desk and my aunt woke me up and took the pad from me. She read the poems and said the poems were very similar to Rumi’s and that was my first acquaintance with him.
I immediately fell in love and was struck by his universality, including a description of love that I had held my entire life. For someone who had never felt, in any way, included in any part of community, culture or religion, Rumi’s world, his idealism, romanticism and my own inclination towards beauty and the divine led me to find a sense of kinship with Rumi. I did not sit down and read his work but encountered his quotes throughout my life, making it feel like it was Rumi but as the essence of what he left behind. I felt a deep connection with this being in his work who loved before anything else, and this is what made him feel like family or a friend.
I wrote the poems then and the title was the last thing to tick off. I called it Rumi’s Daughter because of the leading feminine voice that guides one through spirituality, religiosity and soul liberation. I thought that was an inherently revolutionary concept as a move away from standardised patriarchal framework of religion today. I am a very proud Muslim and I’ve seen a lack of visible female leadership and scholarship that I wanted to address.
When I thought up the front cover, I saw it as a revival of a very universal – almost maternal – call to people that came from a place of acceptance. With the flowing hair, the slightly heeled shoes, it gives a very inclusive, young and very contemporary voice to classical poetic style and spirituality.
The name ‘Rumi’s Daughter’ is also an ode to that time of Rumi, the philosophy and beauty of that era, and almost calling people back to their essence as human beings. I feel like as human beings, our world has desensitised and removed our rawness.
But there are those essentialists who are led from the heart. We exist and we also want to tell those who have been synthesised by this new world that there is always a way to go back, to shed all those layers and come to be brand new. Maybe then we’ll be able to give voice to the voice concealed within.
Rumi obviously holds a huge part of this book but for those wondering, who is Rumi?
Mevlana Jellalludin Rumi was a 13th Century Poet and Spiritual Instructor. He began as a scholar of the religion and met with a man called Shams e Tabrizi; his experience of the divine and God changed and he began a life revolved around God and the experience of God through love. The themes of his work span from life philosophy, to love, inner wisdom, inner liberation and the elimination of the ego.
What would you say are the main themes of Rumi’s Daughter?
To put simply, this is a quest for love, seeking for that peace and acceptance in all the forms of love on earth and finally coming to a place of love and liberation that cannot disappoint, in the arms of spirituality and God. Now people can be very opposed to that, because they haven’t reached that point where they can consider God to be the answer, and that is of course totally fine, but I think that what it’s really about, is a narration of the truth, of the forms of love that we see in this world can fulfill us. Our generation is high on love, feeding on social media and that has given a kind of strange freeze frame conception of love, leading to a severe demise in the quality of our relationships and our emotional wellbeing. This book seeks to illuminate another way of looking at love entirely.
A key theme is, identity. It’s ultimately about love, but it is a reimagination of what love actually is. It’s about the language of the soul and what the soul really needs. It’s about inner-contemplation, inner-fragmentation, inward and outward struggle and the black sheep’s experience of life. Ultimately, it is about spiritual enlightenment and affirmation and a reconciliation with the divine and the intangible.
There are very obvious elements of a child that needs love, the immigrant experience, inherited trauma and the impact on the heart of a child. There is observation on human relationships and betrayal, abandonment, infidelity and the impact on the psyche. So it’s about reaching that summit of the soul’s fulfillment and inner wholeness that comes about after a very long period of my inner-fragmentation.
So essentially, it is about love and its many many layers:
Yes, we unpeel the essence of it in the end. We all don’t really know what love actually is, and it’s beyond that. Ultimately I think it is about selflessness and service, before being served. Perhaps that is a concept of love that we have forgotten.
I’m not religious, but a lot of my mental health journey has tackled similar issues of self-love, rejection and betrayal. I haven’t been through close to anything that you’ve been through but I’m just a sensitive person who has a lot to give and doesn’t always receive as much. So I’m really interested and excited to see how you will have portrayed that. Because I feel like a lot of, and this includes mine, people’s mental health journeys start like your book does: going back to the very beginning of our lives and working through every stage of life to find a way to keep us happy and mentally healthy.
I think you’ve said it so well. Ultimately, the goal of this book is not to convert, never. But as you said, with regards to not going through anything that comes close, it doesn’t matter. It honestly doesn’t, there is no such thing as someone who has gone through less or has gone through more. Maybe for me, I needed to learn. I was one of those children where until I have a broken leg, I won’t stop putting myself in situations where I can break my leg. Also, with regards to being a sensitive person, that in itself is a heartbreak and I’m sure many will understand that. When you love in that way, and everything else is so greyscale, that can feel, more or less, like an existential horror. I personally am in a journal where I am almost able to find something that fulfils me to the level where you may not need love from other people. So to reach that from a state of running and looking for love from my mom for example, for people like those who have such pure love to give, it’s very hard to find someone that can fit that counterpart. That love will never stop wanting, it will never stop calling out. But to find something that’s worthy and kind of complete is like the ultimate reciprocated love and lover, what will that be? For me that was God, for others it’s soul rest. To me it is all synonymous, we all have different names but the essence is still the same: it is about finding inner peace.
The journey is pretty much the same, whatever you want to call it and whatever you want to associate it to. And that’s why I think when you say “it’s not about conversion” it sounds so obvious. Because, me, who has completely different sets of beliefs, still not only relates, but is also very intrigued about this journey that eventually led you to finding God. See how our journeys relate and differentiate from each other. To me, that is the whole point, understanding that spirituality and religion are very intimate things, but that doesn’t mean that, people with different religions and beliefs can’t not only co-exist but also help each other, understand each other and learn from each other.
That is the exact purpose and vision I had for the book. It’s a thing where I could not find a way of loving everyone and I couldn’t find a way because, I think in my own home, everyone was sort of fragmented and separate from each other, yet I always wanted to gather people together. And the way that you put it, if that’s what ultimately the book is able to do, I will have accomplished something.
I’ve had particular support from non-Muslims and those who don’t identify with religion at all, but they identify with peace. This is what is so beautiful about existence when we see the oneness of our hearts, we all move for the same things.
You’ve done your job, and you’ve done a good job at accomplishing what you wanted.
I think honestly goodness, goodness sees goodness, understanding sees understanding, so it is all yourselves. But I am glad I was able to frame it in a way that was not “Muslims only”. I would have hated that, which is why I always say I’m not here to convert, so I’m so glad that you don’t even feel I need to flag that. Because I felt at the beginning, I had to.
The themes are universal and you are talking about very human things. Obviously, religion is going to come into play as it is a narration through your lens and of your story but that doesn’t mean that only Muslims can understand or be interested in reading your book. I believe that is the whole point of art. It is open to interpretation. One person shares their version or their expression of a thought or feeling, they usually take from their own experience or at least vision and how people relate to, interpret or welcome this interpretation is completely subjective. We get different messages from different creations but that’s also what brings us together. That initial common theme which is hugely humanity or sensitivity.
I’m so glad because the whole thing of inclusiveness is so important right now. Because I wrote this during the lockdown period and thought should I wait, should I not? But I thought, people are going kind of crazy, they’re staying at home, facing themselves for the first time. They’re having to face the truth of their families, I get triggered by my family all the time, and I have to kind of work with that and really sit with that. But these things, getting to know myself and finding some solace and acceptance of myself, that really helped me. But that doesn’t mean that it all came from Islam. A lot of it came from myself, from life in general. And I think it’s amazing that we don’t have to compartementalise ourselves: I’m not just a Muslim personality, Islam is not my personality. We have a sense of kinship by cutting through those borders. I think that is really revolutionary in a time like this.
What did you learn from writing this book?
I learnt that everything can be taken from someone, everything but their vitality and the colour of their soul. I feel as if, in that time where I was the most fragmented, I was able to design that front cover, write those poems and face those things head on. I realise that the human capacity, not only for survival, but genuine resilience, made me absolutely love and believe in human beings again. And I also learnt the sheer power of the human soul and its capacity to move upwards from rock bottom, and that something so beautiful could have come from the personal devastation I went through.
I also came into a state of forgiveness and a state of inner child, reforming and loving that inner child is what then led to me making personal investments in myself like going to therapy for example, being kinder to myself and opening my heart to people. Since then I’ve had so many beautiful people come into my life and I am so grateful for it.
I also realised that if you love something enough, your mind and limbs will work for you to make that thing happen. I remember I would not even be able to get out of bed some days but for some reason my hands were still so energetic typing my poems up and reaching for opportunities. I did not feel this way for anything else.
So I began to experience things that I was told. Things like “when you do what you love it’s not work” which you never believe until they actually happen.
What do you want people to learn and get from this book?
I want people to know that there exists something in them that exists in every human being. This gives people a sense of community, a sense of oneness and togetherness. We’ve become very sectioned and I think, and this is something I say in the author’s note, I say that in everything that we seek, we seek peace and soul rest. Everything that we do, is for the soul, we are always trying to fulfill something at our core. We just need to be honest about that.
So I want people to know that first, you are human, and your heart is attached to that essential element. And secondly, your heart and love is attainable and you in yourself can find that. It’s free, without cost. And I say to people, read that book in silence, and in a state of contemplation. People think we have to go outside of ourselves to search for what we want, that’s why people circle the world and then realise what they wanted was at home. So I guess a sense of, and I know everyone says this but, you are not alone. Something binds us together regardless of the barrier of anything. There is a core essence to all of us, it might be religion, it might not be, you just need to find it.
I also want to inspire self empowerment to strive for soul enlightenment. Any good I’ve received from this process of healing, I want every person to receive and experience and more. It comes from a deep love for people and seeking to send this out to people as a ship set for the seas, to console and comfort and re-energise them through words of hope, especially in times like this.
Meral Alizada is a final year law student at the University of Surrey. Julie Ngalle if a final year Politics and Economics student at the University of Surrey.