Sacred Laughter of the Sufis: Awakening the Soul with the Mulla's Comic Teaching Stories and Other Islamic Wisdom

Combines the legendary stories of Islam's great comic foil, Mulla Nasruddin, with sayings from the Qur'an, the Prophet Muhammad, Rumi, Hafiz and other Islamic sages. Shows how spiritual seekers of all traditions—as individuals or in a group—can apply the Mulla's wisdom teachings to their spiritual lives with easy-to-follow spiritual practices.

Imam Jamal Rahman

6 x 9, 192 pp | 978-1-59473-547-9

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A first-of-its-kind combination of the legendary wisdom stories of Islam’s great comic foil with spiritual insights for seekers of all traditions—or none.

“We would do well to heed the Mulla’s wisdom. One day, inevitably, our personal storms will not abate before causing destruction. Something will break our hearts and cause us to ask deeper questions. At that point we will become spiritual seekers, each in our own way.... We will begin to hear deep inside the mysterious calling of our soul to fulfill the purpose for which we were created.”

—from the chapter “The Storms in Our Lives”

The mythical Mulla Nasruddin is a village simpleton and sage rolled into one. His wisdom stories, timeless and placeless, emanate from a source beyond book learning, and contain several layers of meaning.

In this unique presentation, Imam Jamal Rahman weaves together spiritual insights with the Mulla’s humorous teaching stories and connects them to the issues at the heart of the spiritual quest. Addressing such topics as human vulnerability, the rigors of inner and outer spiritual work, the hazards of the ego and more, he roots the Mulla’s stories in Islamic spirituality by pairing them with sayings from the Qur’an, the Prophet Muhammad, Rumi, Hafiz and other Islamic sages.

Together, these sources combined with spiritual practices will awaken your spirit with laughter and inspire you to transform yourself and the world around you.

“A holy gift: Jamal Rahman has mined the great jewel of Sufi wisdom and laughter, sharing its healing powers via every page of this book.”

Rev. Susan Sparks, senior pastor (and comedian), Madison Avenue Baptist Church; author, Laugh Your Way to Grace: Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor

“Lovely … help[s] us understand our human condition. What makes it particularly valuable are the tips and exercises to help us incorporate ancient wisdom into our modern lives.”

Amir Hussain, professor of theological studies, Loyola Marymount University

“A true gift for seekers of all faith traditions…. Be prepared to laugh out loud!”

Rev. Jane Vennard, author, Fully Awake and Truly Alive:
Spiritual Practices to Nurture Your Soul

“Marvelous.... Lasers into the heart of the matter with delicious humor. Truly a lovely book for people of all faith traditions.”

Kay Lindahl, co-founder, Women of Spirit and Faith; co-editor, Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power

“There are many books on Sufism, but none like this! The wisdom presented here, made all the more sharp by the liberating humor that carries it, is a scalpel cutting away everything that distracts us from Truth.”

Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author, Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent:
Sacred Teachings—Annotated and Explained

“In case you were tempted to characterize Islam as dogmatic or somber, [here is] the Mulla, and his most eloquent spokesperson, Imam Jamal Rahman. Be prepared to laugh your head off and then ... have a direct and transformational encounter with the wild wisdom of the Sufis.”

Mirabai Starr, author, God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Introduction vii

Searching for Our True Identity 3
Stuck in Patterns 6
Overlooking the Obvious 8

The Storms in Our Lives 13
Asking Deeper Questions 16
Spirituality Is an Experience 18
We Foolish Humans 21
Three Stages of Knowing Oneself 23

Seeking Approval from Others 29
Clinging to an Image 32
Slavish Dependence on Authorities and Experts 34
Swayed by Outer Forms 36
Appetite for Praise and Titles 38
Know and Laugh at Your Eccentricities 41
Excuse after Excuse 44
Truth of Convenience 48
Attached to the Familiar 51
Fear Is All You Need 54
Fear Has No Favorites 57

Deferred Spiritual Maintenance 61
How Some Religious Customs Began 64
Belief, Faith, and Borrowed Certainty 67

Honor the Present Moment 73
Strive to Be Grateful 77
Spirit of Prayer 81
Efficacy of Prayers of Supplication 84
Efficacy of Rituals and Spiritual Practices 86
Signs in Nature 88

Seeking in the Right Direction 93
Not All Tears Are Equal 96
Little by Little 99
Blessed Are the Flexible 102
A Sense of Balance 104
Web of Interconnection 107
Thank God for Diversity 109
Cultivate Hope through Patience and Faith 112
The True Teacher Kindles the Light 115

Connecting to Mystery 121
If God Wills 125

Do What Is Beautiful 131
Building Community 134
Justice and Conflict Resolution 137
Revere the Wombs That Bore You 140
Advice on Marriage 143
Honor the Children 145

It's Later Than You Think 151
The End Is Coming! 154
It's Not Like You Think It Is 156

Notes 160
Suggestions for Further Reading 162


Sacred Laughter of the Sufis: Awakening the Soul with the Mulla’s
Comic Teaching Stories and Other Islamic Wisdom

Who are the Sufis?
In general, Sufis are Muslims who prefer essence over form. These Muslims focus more on the spirit than the letter of the law. Thus, if they don’t manage to perform the five obligatory prayers every day, they make up for it by performing acts of charity or some other service. After all, the holy Qu’ran almost always presents a verse on service following a verse on prayer. Sufis are accused by conservative Muslims of being overly flexible, but Sufis smilingly reply, “Blessed are the flexible for they will never be bent out of shape!”

Who is the Mulla?
The mythical Mulla is Islam’s great comic foil. Timeless and placeless, the Mulla is a village simpleton and sage rolled into one. He has no image to cling to and no reputation to uphold. He enjoys laughing at himself and invites us to join him. Although he has no formal education, he wears a turban, signaling that he is a person of learning. His wisdom appears to emanate from a source beyond book learning.

Who is the target audience for your book?
This book is meant for seekers of all traditions, including those who call themselves spiritual but not religious.

Can you give some examples of what evokes “sacred laughter”?
Here are three:

  • How astonishing that God hides from humanity, creating wild speculations and crazy strife. As Rumi exclaims, “The lover visible, the Beloved invisible—whose crazy idea was this?”
  • We are all afraid that one day we shall pass away into nonexistence. But if the truth be known, nonexistence is trembling in fear that it might be given human shape!
  • When we go over to the other side and look back at our dramas and melodramas, we shall laugh and laugh. So why don’t we laugh right now?  

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Part 1: Our Human Condition

Searching for Our True Identity

  • At this time, how do you evaluate yourself and others?
  • What benchmarks do you use for defining personal success or failure?

Stuck in Patterns

  • What is one “cheese sandwich” pattern in your life?
  • Choose a simple but effective change that you could make to alter this pattern. Try it for a week. Do you notice any positive shifts?

Overlooking the Obvious

  • How would you articulate your mission in life?

Part 2: Some Shifts in Awareness

The Storms in Our Lives

  • What changes have you made throughout your life journey as a result of your higher awareness?
  • What else needs to be done?

Asking Deeper Questions

  • What are some of the awe-inspiring questions that arise in your heart?

Spirituality Is an Experience

  • What experiences in your life have brought you closer to Presence, Mystery, Spirit or God?

We Foolish Humans

  • Do you believe that within you resides a divine essence and that you can connect with it?
  • Is there someone in your life who can listen and support you when you talk about these topics and experiences?

Three Stages of Knowing Oneself

  • How well do you know yourself?

  • What steps can you take to develop your relationship with yourself?

Part 3: Foibles and Vulnerabilities

Seeking Approval from Others

  • Who are the people and institutions whose approval you seek? Write down their names.
  • In each case, examine whether this person or institution exemplifies the values and ethics you believe in.

Clinging to an Image

  • In which areas of your life do you feel a need to hold on to an image?
  • Whose approval are you seeking?
  • Why is it important to you?
  • Does this image reflect your true identity, or an identity you or someone else has conjured up?

Slavish Dependence on Authorities and Experts

  • In what other ways can you “consult your heart”?

Swayed by Outer Forms

  • Take honest stock of the kinds of people you choose to befriend. Examine the underlying reasons for your choices, and if they are merely self-serving, take steps to adopt more worthy criteria for your relationships.

Appetite for Praise and Titles

  • Can you name a quality in yourself that has been praised by others?

Know and Laugh at Your Eccentricities

  • Whose generosity and help do you take for granted?
  • Do you feel that you have been sufficiently grateful?
  • What changes in your attitude and behavior might be more optimal?

Excuse after Excuse

  • Become aware of your excuses. Reflect on what you excuse yourself from, and how. Take note of how much time, energy and creativity you invest in making excuses for yourself.

Truth of Convenience

  • What are some truths of convenience, little or big, that you engage in?

  • What are some gentle steps you can take, little by little, to substitute unvarnished truth for these truths of convenience?

Attached to the Familiar

  • What are some attachments that you need to let go of? Write them down and give yourself permission to look at them.

Fear Is All You Need

  • When you are feeling anxious, a very effective practice is to concentrate on your nostrils and be present with your breath moment to moment. This simple meditation will lower your pulse rate and soften the sharp edge of anxiety.
  • Make a list of people in your life whom you consciously or unconsciously manipulate through use of fear. Reflect on ways you can minimize the fear tactic and replace it with something more life-affirming.

Part 4: Wariness of Religious Institutions

Deferred Spiritual Maintenance

  • When do you find yourself in the position of defending the pronouncements of your religious institution, even though you have strong doubts about it?
  • How do you deal with that?

How Some Religious Customs Began

  • What are some religious traditions or customs that you are uncomfortable with?
  • How do you deal with your objections?

Belief, Faith and Borrowed Certainty

  • Do you espouse any religious beliefs that are rooted not in your personal conviction but in hearsay and “borrowed certainty”?

Part 5: Spiritual Practices

Honor the Present Moment

  • What are some sad or angry incidents from your past that you revisit often?

Strive to Be Grateful

  • What are some hidden blessings from a difficult period of your life that have emerged from your own experience?
  • How has that discernment changed your understanding of suffering?

Spirit of Prayer

  • What practices help you remain conscious of Divinity or Spirit daily?

Efficacy of Prayers of Supplication

  • What are some of your personal supplications?

Efficacy of Rituals and Spiritual Practices

  • What are some spiritual practices you do daily?

Signs in Nature

  • What are some teachings and insights from signs in nature that are especially meaningful for you?

Part 6: Wisdom for the Inner Journey

Seeking in the Right Direction

  • Do you have a special way of dealing with your difficult feelings? What do you do?

Not All Tears Are Equal

  • As a daily practice, recall a time when you felt a life-giving feeling of happiness, joy, passion or beauty.

Little by Little

  • Name any areas of your life where you need to take more radical action.
  • What might that action be, and how can you accomplish it?

Blessed Are the Flexible

  • Make a conscious effort to become aware of areas in your life where you are rigid and unbending.
  • What makes you realize that you are stern in those places?
  • In what ways can you be more flexible without compromising your values?

A Sense of Balance

  • In what areas of your life are you feeling unbalanced or overstepping bounds?

Web of Interconnection

  • Which people have had a major impact on your life?

  • What are the watershed events in your life?

Thank God for Diversity

  • Think of a time you had to experience something unknown or unfamiliar. What feelings arose in you, and how did you deal with them?
  • How would you deal with them now?

Cultivate Hope through Patience and Faith

  • Think of a time you lost hope and felt forlorn. What helpful actions did you take during that time that eventually restored your sense of peace?

The True Teacher Kindles the Light

  • Do you believe you have within you an inner teacher?
  • In what ways has this guide manifested in your life, and what can you do to honor it?

Part 7: Knowing God

Connecting to Mystery

  • Do you find yourself wanting to connect with God only in times of difficulties?

  • What would be a simple but effective daily practice for you to bond with your Sustainer at all times?

If God Wills

  • Do you believe it is good or necessary to invoke the name of Divinity in your everyday conversations?

  • How often do you actually do it?

Part 8: Be Engaged in the World

Do What Is Beautiful

  • In what ways can you be more gracious and generous with family, friends, colleagues, strangers and people who annoy you?

Building Community

  • Who are the people in your life who qualify—through mutual love, trust and regard for truth—to be in your circle of love?

Justice and Conflict Resolution

  • What kind of conflicts are you currently experiencing in your life?
  • What are some creative ways to heal or resolve them?

Revere the Wombs That Bore You

  • What kind of gender bias do you see in yourself, in family members and in your community?

  • What kind of customs does your religion follow that are unfair to women, and what kind of changes would you like to see?

  • How can you help to make a difference in your place of worship?

Advice on Marriage

  • If marriage is a sacred union of body and soul, what steps can we take to get to know our partner beyond personality?

Honor the Children

  • Consider teaching your children two life-changing Sufi practices that will connect them to the mystery of life within and without. These two techniques, which are at the heart of Sufi practices, have been mentioned in an earlier chapter:

    • Touch your heart and tell the space of your heart, “I love you” and “I thank you.”
    • Focus on your heart and send out light and love to the essence of everything you see.

Part 9: It’s Time to Return Home

It’s Later Than You Think

  • What are your personal and spiritual goals?

The End Is Coming!

  • What are your beliefs about end times?
  • Do you take scriptural descriptions literally, or do you regard them as allegories and metaphors for the great mystery that lies ahead?
  • Either way, how do your beliefs affect the way you live your life?

It’s Not Like You Think It Is

  • Imagine that you are going to die soon. Ask yourself:
    • What remains unsaid and to whom?
    • What remains undone and why?