What brings calm to our lives? What brings us comfort, especially when we are far from our roots? Saideh Jamshidi, one of our global female bloggers, talks to us about this…Steve
By Saideh Jamshidi
Jamal Rahman, a Bangeladeshi Sufi Muslim minister in Seattle, suddenly decided to leave everything behind and just start doing what he had always loved to do: teaching and practicing Islamic values in his community.
“My first reaction was, oh my goodness, how am I going to survive,” Jamal recalled.
Pushing his fear out the door, Jamal started his first class with eight students in his house in 1992. To Jamal’s surprise, people in his class “wanted more.” They wanted to learn more about Islam, to share their joys and sorrows, to pray together and to feel closer to one another. “Then I thought, this is it, this is a congregation,” Jamal said.
Jamal’s classes grew larger, and his congregation reached to 700 people. He could no longer hold classes in his house, or his friend’s houses. They needed a place.
No one in the leadership circle had the investment money, nor did they know how to reach out to different resources. They were so desperate to find a solution. Yet again, everything came together so miraculously.
In 1998, New Age Christian Church (NACC) in Ballard, WA, was looking for a group of worshipers to donate their ancient building. They wanted to find the right group to maintain and sustain the building and its spiritual attitudes. NACC chose Jamal’s group as a new inheritance to the building.
“I would say with nothing less than a fantastic miracle, this place was given to us without us paying a single penny,” he said while his voice was still shaking with joy by recalling the event. He called the new place Interfaith Community Sanctuary.
Jamal’s Journey to become a minister
Long before Jamal became a Muslim minister, and many years before he immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh, Jamal was raised under the influence of two men. His grandfather, one of the greatest Sufis in Bangladesh, thought him “the wisdom of heart.” Sufism is a mystical dimension of Islam.
Jamal’s father was the second most influential person in his life. “My father was a very positive and life-affirming man. For him, everything was possible,” he said. Due to his father’s profession as a diplomat and ambassador Jamal travelled to many places and observed different traditions and religions.
During those years, Jamal learned two important lessons from his father: “one must have faith, and one must make an effort.”
One of Jamal’s favorite childhood stories was the story his father retold him over and over again. The story was the famous conversation between an Arab Bedouin and the Prophet Muhammad.
A Bedouin was going to mosque to pray. He asked Prophet Muhammad “should I tie my camel to a post before I go for the prayer or just trust in God?” The Prophet gave him his famous answer: “First tie the camel, then trust in God.”
By trusting god and making efforts, Jamal thought he could overcome many challenges to fulfill his dream. Everything in his place of worship seemed fine until 9-11.
The 9-11 and its aftermath
In the Interfaith Community Sanctuary, Jamal deals with about four different types of congregations. He realized that his new place of worship is a reflection of what is happening in the United States in terms of how people interact with different religions.
One congregate is rooted in one religion and one religion only. “I call this group single-major graduates,” Jamal said.
The other congregate follows one religion, but they are open to learning the cultures and ways of other religions. They believe they become a better Muslim, Christian or Jew by doing so, and they can understand their own scripture better when they learn about other religions. “I call this group major-minor graduates,” Jamal said.
The other congregate are those people who call themselves “spiritual” but not necessarily religious. “These people are like bees that are collecting nectar from different flowers,” Jamal said. A metaphor for this group envisions digging a well (exploring their beliefs) by using different instruments (different religions and traditions). “I call this group the double majors,” Jamal said.
The last congregate are atheist and agnostics. “I tell them, brothers and sisters, you believe in god, but you would just call god by different name. You call god justice, truth, service, humanity,” Jamal said. “If that is not god, so what is god then?”
But after 9-11, all of the congregations were skeptical about Islamic teachings and its peaceful messages. It was then when Jamal joined Rabbi Ted Falcon and Pastor Don Mackenzie in Seattle to form a group called Interfaith Amigos.
In their sessions, they talk about the wisdom and beauty of Islamic, Judaism and Christian traditions. Then they explain how at the heart of every tradition, there are resources that allow human beings to evolve into the fullness of their beings. They have collected their thoughts and teachings in two books: Getting to the Hearts of Interfaith, published in 2009, and Religion Gone Astray: What We Found at the Heart of Interfaith, published in in 2011.
Jamal recently published his sixth book Spiritual Gems of Islam: Insights & Practices from the Qur’an, Hadith, Rumi & Muslim Teaching Stories to Enlighten the Heart & Mind. In his book, Jamal writes about timeless spiritual insights and practices from sacred texts, meditation and knowledge of the heart that has enriched one’s spiritual life. He invites readers of any religion – or none – to drink from wellspring of Islamic spirituality and use its wisdom to nourish their own spiritual path.