Claritas Books releases two new works by scholar, writer and poet Joel Hayward

Claritas Books has released its second work this year by Professor Joel Hayward, the prolific author of fifteen books in various genres including history, strategic studies, ethics, theology, fiction and poetry.

"The last two years were intense and stressful," Professor Hayward says, "and perhaps the hardest of my life. My wife Kathy became terribly ill with a terminal cancer and I nursed her through her last painful months. Her tragic decline and death traumatised me and ushered in a period of severe melancholy and spiritual questioning."

As with other difficult periods in the scholar’s life, this time of pain and grief paradoxically gave rise to increased creativity. “Writers deal with trauma and confusion by pouring their thoughts and emotions out onto paper,” he explains. "For me, words flowed and brought release and healing the way that tears do for most other people."

The result is his new (and fourth) poetry book, Pain and Passing: Islamic Poems of Grief and Healing. Written each day as the outpouring of a heart torn open by excruciating loss, his poems shine light on something often hidden within Islamic discourse: the pain of loss and the wounded soul’s pleas to God for explanation, restoration and solace.

"This was undoubtedly the hardest book I’ve ever written," he says. "But it was a cathartic experience. After Kathy died I felt I had to write; to release what was fighting inside to get out. I wrote every day, even when tired or busy, and tried to stay responsive to the poems’ need for life."

He says he does not know why God gave his wife such a difficult challenge, why God did not respond in the obvious way to our constant prayers for healing, or why He made her death so wretched and painful. He explains: "In my poems, as in my prayers, I have asked God, and to date I’ve not received even the merest shadow of a reply. I’m not angry or offended by that silence. Who am I to demand anything of the Living God? Indeed, I have not demanded. I have merely asked questions, in the pain that accompanies grief, aware that God might or might not answer me, and that His silence is not evidence of any lack of love or compassion."

Prof. Joel makes no apology for the rawness of the poems: "I wrote exactly what I thought and felt each day. I was not angry at God, but I had questions. I pray that if I’ve ever crossed a line I might be forgiven for the rawness of my pain. For the sake of authenticity, and poetic honesty, I have not gone back through the poems to remove any pained yelps. I have retained even the mistaken complaints I felt at the time."

He hopes the book will bring comfort to others who have lost loved ones. "Suffering and death are as much the stuff of poetry as are joy and pleasure, and I hope that these poems capture how it felt to be shipwrecked and left floating on an upturned hull. I now see the shore, but for months I saw nothing but a cruel horizon in all directions."

"Pain is particular to the sufferer,” Prof. Joel adds, "so I’ve been mindful to ensure that, although I wrote these poems during my most intense period of mourning, and some of them are clearly about one person in particular, I have tried to capture those thoughts and feelings that might also be generic; that is, accessible to anyone who is suffering, watching a loved one suffer, or trying to make sense of loss. I hope that these poems, so cathartic to write, will resonate with others who are going through similar emotions."

Prof. Joel’s second book to be published by Claritas Books is entirely different in content and tone. It is a new book of Islamic fiction —his third — titled The Savage and Other Short Islamic Stories. These stories place fictional characters and narratives into the history of Islam, and include innovative and fascinating treatments of well-known figures including the Prophet Jonah, Hind bin Uthba, and Wahshi ibn Harb the "savage" warrior who killed the Prophet’s uncle Hamza ibn Abdul-Muttalib at the Battle of Uhud.

Prof. Joel, who has lived in the United Arab Emirate for almost six years, will launch this book at the Alserkal Cultural Foundation in Dubai’s Al Fahidi district. He is excited about the genre of Islamic fiction and hopes his stories will prove popular with Muslim readers. "The key," he explains, "is to see that even within the Islamic tradition there are safe creative spaces into which one can insert fiction. But one has to remember of course, never to attribute to any prophet or esteemed personage something they never said or did. That’s where my background as a historian of Islam really helps. I know the sources. I know what they say happened. I therefore know the boundaries of fictional storytelling."

His Islamic faith fires his imagination and gives rise to fascinating and vibrant stories that he hopes will engage other believers. As he says: “I have a strong desire to write stories that will inspire and uplift fellow Muslims and hopefully transport them to fascinating places and prompt them to reflect on any moral, philosophical and theological questions that I have managed to pose. Raising questions is naturally not the same as expressing or encouraging scepticism. As a man of faith, I want to support and strengthen readers’ belief, not weaken it."

Unusually for a poet and fiction writer, Prof. Joel is also a prolific and successful author of non-fiction works in his academic field of defense and security studies. Eight of his fifteen books and over twenty-five peer-reviewed articles are works of strategic analysis. A convert to Islam, which he embraced many years ago after reading the Qur’an and then deciding to study it in depth, he loves to write about both modern strategy and early Islamic history, especially the ethics and justice of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.

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