By Kathy Keary
Part 4. The full series is here: The Contemplative Spirit of Islam.
In our last article, we discussed the Christian and Islamic belief that the Spirit of God resides within us. The Qur’an instructs that God is closer to us than our jugular vein. In the moving words of Kabir, a 15th-century Indian mystic: “He is the breath inside the breath.”
In his book, the Fragrance of Faith: The Enlightened Heart of Islam, Imam Jamal Rahman points out that despite this closeness, we often feel distant from God. We know through the Prophet Muhammad that God desires to be in relationship with us. Our efforts to seek God are not in vain. Allah states, “If my servant comes to Me walking, I go to him running.”
So how do we initiate the journey to God? In his book, Spiritual Gems of Islam, Rahman describes the three stages of the spiritual journey according to the Qur’an. These progress from a simple belief in God to an inner certainty (Gems, 29).
Initially, hearsay is the basis for our faith. Typically, our parent are our first spiritual guides followed by our priest, imam, or rabbi.
Traveling to the second phase on the spiritual path is the result of witnessing God manifested in our world. We are uplifted by the Divine that is evident not only in the beautiful creation that surrounds us but also in the hearts of those endeavoring to walk the contemplative way. As stated in the Qur’an: “Whichever way you turn there is the face of Allah. Allah is omnipresent and all-knowing” (2:115).
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The final stage is born from a personal experience of God as the result of inner work. In describing this experience, the Sufis proclaim, “Those who taste, know.” Rahman elaborates: “We feel graced by the glow of Presence. There is no need to say or do, but simply to be. Rumi says that we are content to simply chew quietly on our sugarcane love of God” (Gems, 29).
The Prophet Muhammed asserted that God shared with humanity: “Between Me and you there are no veils but between you and Me there are seventy thousand veils” (Gems, 29). This begs the question: how do we remove these veils to experience intimacy with our Maker? Removing the barriers that conceal the Divine is central to the inner work needed to draw close to the One Who Calls Us By Name.
In his book, Sufism: The Transformation of the Heart, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, describes the mystical experience of the Divine as a state of oneness with God. Oneness is the goal of the mystical path and the impetus for initiating the journey to God. The soul remembers that it came from God. The spiritual journey takes us back to God moving us from separation to union (Vaughan-Lee, i).
In her book, God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Mirabai Starr describes what the Sufis refer to as fana, the state of unity with God:
The soul spends all her life longing for union with the Divine. And when at last she reaches the object of her desire, she disappears into Him. … No distinction between lover and Beloved. There is only love. … The lover of God desires only to lose himself in love, leaving no trace of a separate self (Starr, 59).
Rahman explains the importance of getting to know ourselves. “Without self-knowledge, we shall never know the spark of Divinity within us.” Muhammed asserted: “Know thy self and you shall know thy Lord” (Gems, 35). This is easier said than done; however, it is crucial to ushering in the fullness of our being (Fragrance, 13).
We tend to define ourselves by superficial means focusing on such things as our education, profession, family, or financial status. We overlook the inner reality. The author elaborates: “If we have no connection to our divine essence, living only to satisfy the needs and desires of the ego-driving personality, we are indeed living what Henry David Thoreau famously called ‘lives of quiet desperation’” (Gems, 36).
Jesus famously declared: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The life that Jesus is asking us to eliminate is the ego-driven way of being in the world. This theme is also prevalent in the study of Islam. Stay tuned for our next article where we will delve into the work of surrendering our ego to grow in communion with God.
NOTE: The Renewal Center staff will be leading a book discussion on Rahman’s book Spiritual Gems of Islam on Saturdays and Tuesdays in June.
Rahman, Jamal. Spiritual Gems of Islam: Insights and Practices from the Qur’an, Hadith, Rumi and Muslin Teaching Stories to Enlighten the Heart and Mind. USA: Skylight Path Publishing, 2013.
Rahman, Jamal. The Fragrance of Faith: The Enlightened Heart of Islam. Bath, England: The Book Foundation, 2004.
Starr, Mirabai. God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Rhinebeck, NY: Monkfish Publishing Company, 2012.
Vaughan-Lee, Llewellyn. Sufism: The Transformation of the Heart. Point Reyes, California: The Golden Sufi Center, 1995.
[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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