"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.
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SPIRITUAL GEMS of ISLAM
Insights & Practices from the Qur'an, Hadith, Rumi & Muslim Teaching Stories to Enlighten the Heart & Mind
By IMAM JAMAL RAHMAN
SKYLIGHT PATHS PUBLISHINGCopyright © 2013 Jamal Rahman
All rights reserved.
"This Is the Book" (QUR'AN 2:2) "Meditate on Its Signs" (QUR'AN 38:29)
The Qur'an's Timeless Spiritual Guidance
For nearly a quarter of the Earth's population, the primary source of spiritual wisdom is the Holy Qur'an, a wellspring of guidance, discernment, remembrance, and mercy delivered to the Prophet Muhammad in Arabia fourteen hundred years ago. According to Islamic tradition, in the early hours of a morning in the year 610 CE, as Muhammad—not yet a prophet—was meditating in a mountain cave near Mecca, a blinding light appeared, announced itself as angel Gabriel, and ordered Muhammad to "Proclaim! [or Recite!] in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher" (96:1). Gripped with fear, Muhammad bolted from the cave and ran down the mountain into the loving embrace of his wife, Khadija, who comforted him and reassured him that he wasn't losing his mind. Then, after consulting a Christian seer who recognized that something truly divine was happening, Khadija persuaded Muhammad to return to the cave. Once again, the luminous angel appeared and commanded him to recite. This time, Muhammad felt an unbearable pressure, as if he were being squeezed, and from his lips poured out words of such exquisite beauty that they were seared into his soul. Upon returning home he repeated them to his family and close companions, who faithfully wrote them down word for word. To this day, the occasion of his first encounter with the angel Gabriel has been known and celebrated in Islam as the Night of Power. The mysterious transmissions continued intermittently for twenty-three years, and the revelations eventually were codified into a book of 114 chapters known as the Qur'an, which means "recitation."
The Qur'anic recitations were delivered in a style of Arabic that linguistic scholars say is unsurpassed in literary beauty. The sounds of the words penetrate the Muslim body and soul even before they reach the mind. As a child I loved to recite from the Qur'an because I was told that God hides in its verses so that, as you recite them, God can kiss your lips. As an adolescent I learned from my parents how to study the Qur'an and search out its hidden meanings with the guidance of the thirteenth-century mystic Jelaluddin Rumi, who called himself a servant of the Qur'an. Now, with graying hair, I have come to the realization that I will never plumb the depths of the Holy Book in this lifetime.
Every verse is also called a sign, and we are called to "meditate on its signs" (38:29) so that we may grow in understanding of the Holy One who seems to hide in plain sight in the readily accessible verses but reveals Himself most sweetly in the mysterious ones. Only those "willing to take it to heart" (54:17) can understand the radiant truths and secret meaning in the signs. "None save God knows its final meaning" (3:7), the Holy Book says, but sages tell us that if we truly listen, the spiritual verses will provide specific signs to each of us about how to become fully human and conscious of God, and about how to live in community and offer our beings in service to God's creation.
In addition to being a primary source of timeless spiritual guidance, the Qur'an is also a compendium of rules and regulations. The Holy Book is said to cover "everything from the sun to the moth," but mostly it covers a vast range of legal topics, such as inheritance, money lending, marriage, divorce, ethics, and social justice. It is this legal compendium that presents a problem for many modern readers, for while the general principles of justice and ethics are as timeless as the spiritual ones, a few verses particular to that time and place—seventh- century Arabia—seem to foster religious exclusivity, violence, unequal treatment of women, and prejudice against homosexuals. I have addressed these verses in some detail in a book with my Interfaith Amigos, Rabbi Ted Falcon and Pastor Don Mackenzie, called Religion Gone Astray (SkyLight Paths). Although such verses are open to interpretation and contextual explanation, we also need to acknowledge that they are not fully consistent with the overall message of the Qur'an. If we believe that every single verse is divine and timeless, then any interpretation of the difficult verses must emanate from our higher self and not from our shadow side. Spiritual teachers say that interpretation of any scriptural verse depends on the consciousness and intention of the person. As Rumi reminds us, a bee and a wasp may drink from the same flower, but one produces nectar and the other a sting. We must choose the nectar.
In order to more fully understand some of the signs or different levels of meaning in the verses of the Qur'an, Muslims also turn to the life and collected sayings of the Prophet, teachings of spiritual masters, and the inner knowledge of their own hearts.
Muhammad's Story: Reading the Signs of Silence and Space
The story of the Prophet's life evokes exquisite tenderness in the hearts of Muslims. Orphaned at the age of six, Muhammad possessed a mystical bent of mind and, from an early age, spent time in silence in the Meccan caves, often for forty days and nights at a time. After his experience of the Night of Power, the Prophet preached the Oneness of God and advocated tirelessly for the marginalized and dispossessed. Amazingly, he was able to break with the centuries-old cultural traditions and religious practices of the seventh-century Arabian tribes who idolized wealth and power. When tribal members tried to dissuade him from his mission and belief, he said he would never relent "even if you put the Sun in my right hand and the Moon in my left hand." Harassed, persecuted, and targeted for assassination in Mecca, the Prophet received an unexpected invitation from tribal leaders in Yathrib (now known as Medina, in western Saudi Arabia) to serve as their leader. In 622 CE, he made the shift, or hijra, from Mecca to Medina. In the ensuing ten short years of his life, the Prophet was able to unite the warring tribes into one community and lay the groundwork for Islam to become a world civilization and religion. Because of his incredible accomplishments, and even more because of his vision, mercy, and courage, Muslims have the utmost admiration and heartfelt affection for him.
Just as we are told to meditate on the signs in the Qur'an, we may well meditate on the valuable signs in the story of the Prophet and the revelation of the Holy Book. First, Muhammad's experience in the Meccan cave is a sign of divine Presence and power in the mystery of silence. Sages say that silence is the language of God; everything else is a poor translation. Then, his ability to break out of the rigid molds of his tribal conditioning and even, eventually, transform the tribe into a community of believers is a sign that we too can transcend our conditioning and transform our egos so that we may, from a place of inner spaciousness, serve the God of all of humanity. Then there is the sign of the Prophet's hijra, his relocation from Mecca to Medina, which provided the safety and what we may call "space" to develop his fledgling faith and community. Like Muhammad, we may need a personal hijra—whether a spiritual shift or a physical relocation—to transform our lives. So significant was Muhammad's hijra in the birth of Islam that Muslims count the years from the time of the hijra in 622 CE, which is year 1 in the Islamic calendar.
Hadith, Teachers, and Individual Understanding
To fully grasp the meaning of the Qur'an, Muhammad's followers were naturally keen to record and share nearly everything the Prophet said and did, and eventually scholars began collecting his sayings (hadith) and stories about his life and conduct (sunnah). Some scholars were meticulous and methodical about establishing the authenticity of these reports, carefully examining both their content and the chain of narration. Unfortunately, an alarmingly large number of false and fabricated hadith have crept into Islamic traditions and culture. Muslims are cautioned to take to heart only those hadith that conform to the core teachings of the Qur'an. It is reported that the Prophet himself said, "Compare what purports to come from me with the book of God. What agrees with it, I have said; what disagrees with, I have not said." The renowned fourteenth-century historian Ibn Khaldun asks Muslims to reject any hadith "which differs from the common sense meaning of the Qur'an, no matter how trustworthy the narrators may have been." Because, in theory, Islam does not subscribe to religious hierarchy, ordained ministry, or official priesthood, teachers play a prominent role in developing and explaining spiritual guidance in the Qur'an. Islamic history abounds with spiritual teachers, especially in the millennium after the Prophet's death. Just as it is wise to consult the experts before attempting to climb a mountain, so it is important to consult spiritual teachers or guides from time to time as we climb what the Qur'an calls "the path that is steep" (90:11). The ultimate guide, however, is our own inner teacher. In the words of a traditional saying, "The teacher kindles the light; the oil is already in the lamp."
Individual reasoning, in the context of Islamic spirituality, refers to consultation with the knowledge in one's heart. The word heart is mentioned 132 times in the Qur'an and a hadith qudsi states that God resides in the purified human heart. When we work to purify ourselves and remove what the Qur'an calls the innermost dross of the heart, our human heart is graced with access to divine light and wisdom. So important and trustworthy is the heart's inner knowledge that the Prophet advised, "Even if the religious judge advises you about earthly matters, first consult your heart."
Principles and Pillars of Islam
The Prophet Muhammad took to heart some of the signs embedded in the divine revelations and from them derived the three principles and five pillars of Islam. These constitute the core of Islamic spirituality. A hadith relates that an enigmatic person dressed in white appeared out of nowhere to the Prophet and his companions. In a brief conversation he confirmed to the Prophet that the truth of his understanding about the principles and pillars was sound. The person dressed in white disappeared as mysteriously as he arrived. To his astonished companions, the Prophet confided that the visitor was the angel Gabriel.
The first principle is Islam, which means "surrender in peace." What we are surrendering is attachment to our ego so that there is space for God in the center of our lives. Sooner or later, circumstances in life will make us realize that "Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death are [all] for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds" (6:162). The second principle is faith—primarily faith in God, angels, prophets, holy books, and the Day of Judgment. To deepen faith, explains the Qur'an, we have to move from hearsay to inner witnessing to inner certainty (102:5, 102:7, 69:51). Mere belief will not suffice. Teachers call it moving from "borrowed certainty" to "inner certainty." The third principle is beautification of oneself with the divine attributes of God. "Who has a better dye than God?" asks the Qur'an (2:138). The sign of a developed human being—a wali, or friend of God—is profound courtesy of the heart known as adab. It is said that the primary characteristics of a wali are graciousness and generosity.
Excerpted from SPIRITUAL GEMS of ISLAM by IMAM JAMAL RAHMAN. Copyright © 2013 Jamal Rahman. Excerpted by permission of SKYLIGHT PATHS PUBLISHING.
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Table of ContentsIntroduction ix
Opening Up to the LightGem 1 "This Is the Book" (Qur'an 2:2)—"Meditate on Its Signs" (Qur'an 38:29) 3Gem 2 "The Qur'an Is a Shy and Veiled Bride" (Rumi) 11Gem 3 “I Was a Secret Treasure and I Longed to Be Known” (Hadith Qudsi) 15Gem 4 “We Have Not Known You as We Should Have” (Hadith) 23
Cultivating Inner SpaciousnessGem 5 “Know Thyself and You Shall Know Thy Lord” (Hadith) 35Gem 6 “Die Before You Die” (Hadith) 41Gem 7 “The Road Is Long, the Sea Is Deep” (Fariduddin Attar) 46Gem 8 “In the Name of God, Boundlessly Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful” (Qur’anic Invocation) 51Gem 9 “We Have Made Some of You as a Trial for Others: Will You Have Patience?” (Qur’an 25:20) 59Gem 10 “Ye Shall Surely Travel from Stage to Stage” (Qur’an 84:19) 65Gem 11 “Will You Not See? Will You Not Listen? Will You Not Pay Attention?” (Qur’an 54:17, 7:204) 68
Purifying and Expanding the HeartGem 12 “O My Lord! Open for Me My Heart!” (Qur’an 20:25) 77Gem 13 “Bring to God a Sound Heart” (Qur’an 26:89) 81Gem 14 “Who Has a Better Dye Than God?” (Qur’an 2:138) 86Gem 15 “Embrace Not Only the Ten Thousand Joys of Life, But Also the Ten Thousand Sorrows” (Traditional Saying) 94Gem 16 “There Is Room Inside for Only One of Us” (Rumi) 99
Remembering Your SustainerGem 17 “Bow in Adoration and Draw Closer” (Qur’an 96:19) 107Gem 18 “Truly in the Remembrance of God Do Hearts Find Rest” (Qur’an 13:28) 115
Doing What Is BeautifulGem 19 “Persevere in Doing Good: Behold! God Loves the Doers of Good.” (Qur’an 2:195) 121Gem 20 “Ah! What a Beautiful Fellowship!” (Qur’an 4:69) 126Gem 21 “Be Just; This Is Closest to Being God-Conscious.” (Qur’an 5:8) 131Gem 22 “Confound Not Truth with Falsehood” (Qur’an 2:42) 138Gem 23 “All Things Have We Created in Proportion and Measure” (Qur’an 54:49) 141Gem 24 “Work in the Invisible World at Least as Hard as You Do in the Visible” (Rumi) 146Gem 25 “Move from Knowledge of the Tongue to Knowledge of the Heart” (Traditional Saying) 151Gem 26 “Whoever … Believes in God Has Grasped the Most Trustworthy Handhold” (Qur’an 2:256) 157
Walking on Spacious PathsGem 27 “Women Are the Twin-Halves of Men” (Hadith) 165Gem 28 “Come to Know Each Other” (Qur’an 49:13) 172Gem 29 “Be Quick in the Race for Forgiveness from Your Lord” (Qur’an 3:133) 179
Being in the MysteryGem 30 “Praise Be to Allah … Who Made the Angels Messengers with Wings” (Qur’an 35:1) 187Gem 31 “What Is This Love and Laughter?” (Hafiz) 193Gem 32 “To God We Belong and to God We Are Returning” (Qur’an 2:156) 199Gem 33 “A Lovesick Nightingale among Owls” (Rumi) 203
Acknowledgments 210Notes 212Selected Qur’anic Passages and Hadith 216The Most Beautiful Names of Allah: Asma al-Husna 225Bibliography and Suggestions for Further Reading 229
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"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."
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"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."