It breaks down barriers to accessing this ancient tradition for modern seekers by dispelling myths about the Muslim faith concerning gender bias, inclusivity and appreciation for diversity.
Imam Jamal Rahman
6 x 9, 256 pp | 978-1-59473-430-4
Refine your heart and mind with the wisdom of Islamic spirituality
“To live a meaningful life—one that brings us joy, contentment and fulfillment—we have to do the inner spiritual work of becoming a more complete human being.”
—from the Introduction
Over the centuries, Islamic sages have gleaned timeless spiritual insights and practices from sacred texts, meditation and knowledge of the heart—gems that have been passed down from generation to generation. This book invites you—no matter what your practice may be—to access the treasure chest of Islamic spirituality, particularly Sufism, and use its wealth to strengthen your own journey.
The riches include guidance drawn from the Qur’an, sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and Sufi poets such as the thirteenth-century Rumi on cultivating awareness, intentionality and compassion for self and others. This book also features entertaining wisdom teaching stories, especially those of Mulla Nasruddin, Islam’s great comic foil, to expand the mind and heart. It breaks down barriers to accessing this ancient tradition for modern seekers by dispelling myths about the Muslim faith concerning gender bias, inclusivity and appreciation for diversity.
Regardless of where you are on your spiritual journey, you will find these gems worthy additions to your own treasure chest within.
“Beautiful, helpful and timely.... All those interested in the spiritual life, God, interfaith dialogue, peace and our shared human journey through life will find this to be a treasure trove of wisdom and spiritual insight.”
—Rev. John Dear, author, Transfiguration: A Meditation on Transforming Ourselves and Our World
“Whether you have read these classic Islamic teachings before or they are new to you, you will find wisdom, deepen your compassion and enrich your spiritual life.”
—Amir Hussain, editor, Journal of the American Academy of Religion
“Invokes the power of the Qur’an to open the doors of the heart and invite us into a direct encounter with the source of Mercy and Compassion.... As a lifelong seeker of the world’s wisdom in every tradition, this is the book I have been waiting for.”
—Mirabai Starr, author, God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity & Islam
“A gem all its own ... a wonderful guidebook to spiritual living.... Allows the Qur’an to speak beyond the boundaries of Islam.”
—Rami Shapiro, author, The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness: Preparing to Practice
“Teases out the meaning and application of [each] verse.... [Rahman] is skilled at weaving anecdotes from his everyday experience into his discussion of Islamic teachings.”
“Beautiful ... reaches deep into the heart and soul, reminding us of our divine nature. Allow its deep Qur’anic wisdom to guide you on your journey Home.”
—Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, PhD, Sufi teacher; author, Prayer of the Heart in Christian and Sufi Mysticism
“A modern-day jewel of some of the richest offerings of Islam.... Goes to the very depth of the rich oceans of Islamic spirituality to bring us pearls of wisdom and beauty.”
—Omid Safi, professor of Islamic studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; author, Memories of Muhammad
Who is the target audience for your book?
Spiritual Gems of Islam is designed to provide insights and practices from Islamic spirituality to seekers from any path.
It will appeal to those who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Sages have described these practitioners as bees who collect nectar from a variety of flowers, or as seekers who use several different instruments to dig a well in hope of reaching water. According to several national polls, a quarter of people in the United States fall into this category.
Additionally, there are at least an equal number of people who are rooted in one tradition but are open to the beauty and wisdom of another religion. By having a “major” and a related “minor, the understanding of one’s own tradition expands and deepens. Religious studies scholar Huston Smith explains this path as follows: we might view an object from one angle, but if we also look at it from another angle, our perception of the object is more complete.
Atheists and agnostics will find resources in this book to become more centered and more fully human.
Muslims will also find this book helpful, as many of us are unaware of the spiritual riches available in our own tradition.
How does one become a seeker?
In Islamic spirituality it is said that two veils come in the way of us turning into a seeker: health and wealth. When our health or those of our loved ones is sound or we are blessed by financial or emotional security, all this talk about becoming a spiritual seeker is not only irrelevant but also inconvenient. However, should one of the veils shatter because of illness or a personal tragedy, suddenly we begin to ask deeper questions. Something shifts in us. We move from knowledge of tongue to knowledge of heart. We plead for help from a source greater than human personality or any human institution. We become a seeker.
The fourteenth-century Islamic poet Hafiz describes this moment or moments of “turning” in our lives as follows:
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft
My voice so tender
My need for God absolutely clear.
Given the political controversies around Islam today, would non-Muslims be interested in Islamic spirituality?
Surprisingly, interest in Islamic spirituality or Sufism is extensive in the West. Sufism is not a denomination in Islam, as it is commonly misunderstood to be, but the spirituality inherent in the seventh-century Islamic tradition.
For example, the thirteenth-century sage Rumi has been the most widely read poet in America for a couple of decades. What is not widely known is that he was a renowned Islamic theologian and his inspirations derived from his inner work rooted in the Qur’an and spiritual practices of the Prophet Muhammad. Rumi often uttered “I am a slave of the Qur’an; I am dust on the path of Muhammad.”
What was your essential purpose in writing this book?
The essential purpose was to provide resources from the treasure chest of Islamic spirituality to help a seeker on any path to transform the ego, open the heart, and be of authentic service to God’s creation.
- From “Selected Qur’anic Passages and Hadith” (page 216), choose at least one Qur’anic verse that could serve as a guide or inspiration for the next few days. Why does the verse appeal to you?
- From the life of the Prophet Muhammad (or any other prophet with whom you are familiar), choose a spiritual practice that you would like to try for at least a month. For example, like the Prophet, you might meditate regularly in a quiet, secluded place, or fast one day a week, or pray at least once a day. How does your sustained adoption of this practice enhance your understanding of your tradition’s sacred text?
- The rigors of the spiritual journey can bring periods of sadness and depression. There is sacredness in these times of burden and confusion. Where do you find spiritual support? How can you offer it to others? How can you be gentle with yourself?
- What experiences in your life have brought you closer to God? What events have separated you from God?
- What sustains your faith in God?
- Can you identify at least one “cheese sandwich” pattern of behavior you are stuck in?
- What are two negative traits in yourself that you would like to diminish?
- What are two beautiful qualities that reflect your authentic self and that you want to expand?
- The Prophet Muhammad’s challenge to “die before you die” means that we have to do the inner work of dying to all that is false in us so that we can give birth to our divine essence. This is the way to fully experience joy, peace, intimacy, and fulfillment. Rumi reminds us of the existential importance of this task. He tells us that we might know the value of every item of merchandise, “but if you don’t know the value of your own soul, it’s all foolishness.” What are the personal qualities that you most value in yourself? in others?
- What excuses do you make to avoid the spiritual journey? What are some things you can do to make a conscious commitment to begin the journey, one wing-flap at a time?
- When thinking about a sacred name, the key is to find one that brings up feelings of mercy and gentleness, something like “Sweetheart,” “Dear One,” “Brother / Sister _______” (for example, “Brother Jamal”), or whatever feels genuine and evokes compassion for yourself. What would you choose to be your sacred name?
- Consider the spiritual need to distinguish between behavior and being in dealing with someone difficult in your life. How does this impact your speech or actions?
- Amazingly, the “little by little” application leads eventually to a quantum leap, and then the cycle starts again. There is incremental progress and then yet another quantum leap. It truly pays to persist little by little. Can you think of a time in your own life when persistent practice led to a major shift in your awareness?
- Try a contemplative group practice: Close your eyes and bring your attention to rest on your heart. Go deeper into that space, and begin to connect with your heart. Listen to your heartbeat and repeat a life-affirming word or verse with gratitude for the present moment. Stay with this for a few minutes. When each person feels ready, discuss your experience. What felt right? What was frustrating?
- Have you ever felt an unexplained sadness, loneliness, or yearning inside you? How do you embrace the feeling with compassion and mercy for yourself?
- What ritual of purification and release have you created to diminish the ego qualities that you saw yourself manifesting?
- When moved to “speak your truth,” do you find that it is kind and necessary, and are you speaking from the little self of ego or the higher self of compassion and justice?
- During a typical day, how do you deal with difficult feelings? Do you tend to avoid or deny them?
- Recall the primordial covenant between God and humanity (Alastu bi Rabbikum) described in Gem 3 and contemplate the Islamic belief that our work in this lifetime is to bring that cosmic state of surrender into consciousness and live it day by day here on earth. What prevents you from surrendering your ego to God?
- What is one simple step you can take right now to move you forward on the path of surrender?
- In a hadith reported by Ayesha, during good times the Prophet used to say, “Praise be to God, whose grace brings all goodness to perfection,” and in difficult times he said, “Praise be to God under all conditions.” Can you create a personal prayer of gratitude to use regularly?
Keep your tongue forever moistened with the name of Allah. (Hadith)
Call upon your Sustainer humbly and in the secrecy of your hearts. (Qur’an 7:55)
- Can you think of a sacred word or sentence that, when repeated in the heart, evokes for you a unique connection with Mystery?
- What actions do you perform regularly that qualify in your mind as good deeds?
- From your pool of family members, relatives, friends, and acquaintances, who would you choose to be members of your outer Circle of Love?
- Can you think of times in your life when, despite personal inconvenience and opposition from others, you chose to be just and equitable? How did it feel? If you suffered difficult consequences, how did that affect you?
- Examine your attitude about little lies and truths of convenience. What is on your list of small prevarications you concoct in the course of the day?
- Describe an incident where you overreacted to a comment about religion. How did you overreact and why?
- Are there areas of your faith tradition that you feel particularly sensitive about when challenged? If so, what are they?
- Ask the group for help resolving conflict in your life. Sit together in silence for a few moments. When you are ready, have your Circle of Love summon the soul of the person with whom you are having a difficult issue that you would like to resolve. The person’s soul arrives and asks you to experience whatever feelings his or her presence evokes. What is it you want or need in relation to this person?
- Which of your beliefs come from personal reflection, explorations, and experiences, rather than hearsay and tradition? Are these ever in conflict with one another?
- What do you do when you experience a conflict between conventional interpretation and your personal understanding of some aspect of a sacred text?
- In your life, what events and circumstances deepened your faith in God?
- When have you mistrusted your faith? What happened to restore your faith?
- What are some gender biases you notice in yourself?
- What are some gender biases you notice in others, especially family members?
- Do you have personal and social relationships with people who differ from you in religion, color, culture, political affiliation, and / or economic status? If so, when feelings of discomfort arise in you, what do you do about these feelings?
- When you intend to forgive someone who has wronged you, or seek forgiveness from someone whom you have wronged, what difficult feelings surface?
- How can you remember to embrace these difficult feelings with mercy for yourself?
- Have you ever had an experience with an angel, a jinn, or the energies of Satan? If so, in what ways did the encounter impact you and your life?
- What are some dramatic situations in your life that you can laugh about now?
- What are your personal beliefs about Heaven and Hell? How do they guide your actions?
- What epitaph would you like to be inscribed on your grave?