Imam Jamal Rahman describes the spiritual life as a quest to become "a more complete human being." He hopes his new book, Spiritual Gems of Islam: Insights and Practices from the Qur'an, Hadith, Rumi, and Muslim Teaching Stories to Enlighten the Heart and Mind (SkyLight Paths, May; reviewed in this issue), will be a resource for anyone—Muslim or not, religious or not—who yearns for deeper meaning in their lives.
Rahman is a Sunni Muslim learned in the mystical tradition called Sufism. His grandfather was a "rainmaker, a scholar and mystic," he says, who lived in northern Bengal, India. Rahman's father, although trained in the Sufi traditions, was a diplomat.
Though he initially imagined following in his father's footsteps as a diplomat, Rahman found himself drawn to his lineage of Sufi teachers and healers, especially as he observed a growing number of people "hungering for spiritual resources for how to evolve fully," he says. Looking back on the life-changing moment he committed to that path, Rahman reflects, "I decided to take a chance and fulfill my dream of creating community by taking what I had learned from my parents and other teachers."
Rahman, now a U.S. citizen, first began teaching spiritual development workshops in his Seattle home in the early 1990s and soon expanded to become co-minister (with Rev. Donald Mackenzie) of the Interfaith Community Sanctuary, a congregation that now has more than 200 members.
In his book and in his interfaith work, Rahman says he finds that politics and even religion often distract from the deepest yearnings of the human heart. "In Islam, we say we are looking in the leaves and branches for what really appears in the roots."
Spiritual Gems of Islam offers insights and practices on such topics as prayer, community, death, and happiness, guiding readers to complete "the inconvenient work" of opening the heart, transforming the ego, and as Islamic tradition puts it, "sending out light from the heart to anyone you meet," Rahman says.
This wisdom is intended for a wide audience. Rahman describes nonreligious spiritual seekers as "bees collecting nectar from many different flowers." He urges readers who are rooted in one religious tradition and are unsure whether another faith's teachings will confuse or water down their spiritual commitments, to think of interfaith learning as "having a major and a minor."
"Don't be scared that it'll dilute your tradition or your attachment to your tradition," he says. "It will enhance that attachment. Interfaith is not about conversion, it's about completion."