By Kathy Keary
Part 11. The full series is here: The Contemplative Spirit of Islam.
We are exploring the Five Pillars of Islam to see what insights they offer for our contemplative journey. In our last article, “The Messenger of God: The First Pillar of Islam — Part Two,” we introduced the second part of the First Pillar of Islam: “Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” If you need some background information, you may want to review that article before reading this week’s offering.
The Night of Power is significant in Islam because this is when the Angel Gabriel transformed Muhammad into a prophet and began transmitting the Qur’an to him. In his book, The Fragrance of Faith: The Enlightened Heart of Islam, Imam Jamal Rahman highlights three aspects of this historical event that speaks to the heart of the contemplative way.
1. Seek Silence
The first key aspect is the importance of silence as we journey along the spiritual path. Throughout Muhammad’s life, he routinely sought silence and solitude. It was in this setting that the Night of Power occurred (Rahman, 91).
People often become frustrated with the practice of silent meditation not perceiving the significant impact it has on their sense of wellbeing. I concur with Rahman’s insight on this dilemma:
The reality is that with regular practice of silence, slowly something opens and deepens in you and eventually this state abides and endures. Then, when you face reality, you experience equanimity: a sense of centeredness, peaceful and present with whatever comes and goes (Rahman, 95).
2. Take It Slow and Steady
The second spiritual takeaway from Muhammad’s mystical encounter is the slow and steady pace of the spiritual journey. The Night of Power was just the beginning of Gabriel’s relaying the Qur’an to God’s messenger. The Holy Book was fully revealed over a period of 23 years. Be encouraged by Rahman’s wisdom: “We flower into the fullness of our being little by little” (Rahman, 98).
3. Keep Your Heart and Mind Open
An open mind and heart are the third characteristic of this wondrous night that speaks to the spiritual journey. The episode depended on Muhammad’s receptiveness to the appearance and messages of the angel. Following this event, the prophet daily prayed: “O Lord, make me see things as they really are” (Rahman 100).
So how can we develop an open mind? Rahman suggests four ways (Rahman, 100, 101).
Maintaining an open heart also plays a role in the progression of the spiritual life, as evidenced by Muhammad’s example. I agree with Rahman’s assertion that the human heart contains the Divine Heart. The author elaborates: “A man or woman’s innermost meaning is in the heart. To open our heart is to experience our vastness and be filled with spiritual vision. True knowing is from the heart” (Rahman, 104).
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One step in knowing the heart is to allow ourselves to feel all our emotions with compassion whether they bring smiles or tears. By experiencing these feelings, we come to know the heart. It is not encouraged to run towards pain but to welcome it when it occurs. In the words of Rumi (Rahman, 106, 107):
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes
because each has been sent
as a guide from heaven.
Emotions trigger a physical response. For example, if you are upset, you may feel a knot in your stomach or a tightness in your jaw. These reactions clue us into the emotions that need our attention. As we care for them, we grow closer to the Divine Heart (Rahman, 106).
Rahman suggests a practice that is quite similar to Focusing which honors and cares for the wisdom that is revealed to us through our physical reactions to emotions. I refer you to our series on this topic as I firmly believe in the value of this practice: “Focusing: Listening to the Wisdom of the Body for Healing.” The series includes videos that lead you through the Focusing practice.
Next week we will continue our exploration of the First Pillar by highlighting how aspects of the Night Journey, Muhammad’s other mystical experience, can positively impact our way of being in the world.
Rahman, Jamal. The Fragrance of Faith: The Enlightened Heart of Islam. Bath, England: The Book Foundation, 2004.
[Kathy Keary, a Precious Blood Companion and spiritual director, holds a master’s degree in theological studies and is a graduate of the Atchison Benedictine’s Sophia Center’s Souljourners Program, an intense study of spirituality and spiritual direction. Kathy believes that the divine is present and active in all of life and encourages others to be awakened to the God in all including the divine within. She enjoys accompanying others on their journey to wholeness discovering the person they were created to be.]
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