Tapestry

This imam's 3 ingredients for building meaningful connections

We live in a polarized age, but all is not lost. Jamal Rahman, a Seattle-area imam, offers practical tips to help you bridge divisions, starting with the people you love the most.
Imam Jamal Rahman says if you want to build connection, you need to practice the subtle art of listening.

Jamal Rahman, a Seattle-area imam, is worried about polarization. The kind that's causing deep rifts and conflicts around the world. And the kind that can make it difficult for you to connect with everyone from your angry neighbour to your best friend.

But Rahman, who is the author of Spiritual Gems of Islam: Insights & Practices from the Qur'an, Hadith, Rumi & Muslim Teaching Stories to Enlighten the Heart & Mind, knows a thing or two about how to build bridges, particularly in polarized political climates.

After 9/11, Rahman, who is originally from Bangladesh, worked with two conservative evangelicals to dispel myths about Islam.

Speaking to Tapestry's Melissa Gismondi at the 2018 Parliament of the World's Religions in Toronto, Rahman said at first, the two Christians were "allergic to Islam."

It took a little over a year, but Rahman said he helped them to see beyond their prejudices and stereotypes. And in the process, he was transformed, too.
Jamal Rahman has written about how you can build meaningful connections with those who might share different political or spiritual beliefs.

"I, as a Muslim, had a very stereotyped, one-dimensional view of very conservative, evangelical Christians," he said. "I realized that there's such a vast range in their belief system."

"I realized, really, that is the key — how can you really connect and become friends. And then once you do that, there's much less of a chance of demonizing the other."

"Can I share three cups of tea?"

If you're feeling disconnected from friends or family who share different political or spiritual beliefs, Rahman wants you to keep this in mind.

"There's a cliché, in central Asia. Can I share three cups of tea: listen, respect connect," Rahman said.  

Listen

Rahman said building connections starts with the subtle art of listening, which means being present when someone else is talking to you.

"For example, if you want to tell me something … I'm not debating in my mind or formulating in my mind, my answer. I'm really listening to you.," he said.

"That's a great art, to truly be fully present as you listen."  

Respect

Rahman said it's important to stay true to your beliefs and values. But you can respectfully disagree with someone by distinguishing between someone's behaviour and their being.

"I might be against the behaviour, but from a spiritual perspective, the being is sacred," he said.

Keeping that in mind can prevent your anger from transforming into revenge, he added.

(Jamal Rahman)

Connect

For Rahman, meaningful connection is the cornerstone, which he says can happen through sharing stories and finding common ground.

He admits that this can be hard, particularly if the person you're trying to engage is adversarial.

But forging friendships and connecting "on a human level" means you'll be less likely to demonize each other.

"No matter what the differences are, they no longer loom as a threat," he said.  

"I persist"

As with anything in life, there are sure to be ups and downs. Sometimes it's hard to connect with people, no matter how hard you try.

But to keep from feeling despair, Jamal Rahman often reminds himself of two simple words: "I persist."

"I just have to be present and just keep on trucking," he said.

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