Islamic Meditation

Meditation and mindfulness are often associated with several eastern traditions such as Buddhism and Yoga, yet few know the essential position of meditative spiritual practice within Islam.

In Islam, meditation serves as the core element of various mystical traditions (in particular Sufism), though it is also thought to promote healing and creativity in general. The Muslim prophet Muhammad, whose deeds provide a moral example for devout Muslims, spent long periods in meditation and contemplation. Indeed, the tradition holds that it was during one such period of meditation that Muhammad began to receive revelations of the Qur’an.

Muslim, mosque Quran

Faithful Muslim reading the Quran

There are two concepts or schools of meditation in Islam:

  1. Tafakkur and Tadabbur, which literally refers to “reflection upon the universe.” Muslims feel this process, which consists of quiet contemplation and prayer, will allow the reception of divine inspiration that awakens and liberates the human mind. This is consistent with the global teachings of Islam, which view life as a test of the adherent’s submission to Allah. This type of meditation is practiced by Muslims during the second stage of the Hajj, during their six to eight hour sojourn at Mount Arafat.
  2. The second form of meditation is Sufi meditation, which is largely based on mystical exercises. These exercises consist of practices similar to Buddhist meditation, known as Muraqaba or Tamarkoz—terms that denote ‘concentration,’ referring to the “concentration of abilities.” Consequently, the term “muraqaba” suggests to close attention, and the convergence and consolidation of mental faculties through meditation. Gerhard Böwering provides a clear synopsis of the mystical goal of Sufi meditation:
A Sufi saint in Muraqaba meditation, c. 1630.

A Sufi saint in Muraqaba meditation, c. 1630.

Through a distinct meditational technique, known as dikr, recollection of God, the mystics return to their primeval origin on the Day of Covenant, when all of humanity (symbolically enshrined in their prophetical ancestors as light particles or seeds) swore an oath of allegiance and witness to Allah as the one and only Lord. Breaking through to eternity, the mystics relive their waqt, their primeval moment with God, here and now, in the instant of ecstasy, even as they anticipate their ultimate destiny. Sufi meditation captures time by drawing eternity from its edges in pre- and post-existence into the moment of mystical experience.

However, it should be noted that the meditation practices enjoined by the Sufis are controversial among Muslim scholars. Though one group of Ulama, most namely Al-Ghazzali, have accepted such practices as spiritually valid, more conservative thinkers (such as Ibn Taymiya) have rejected them as bid’ah (بدعة‎) (religious innovation).

Numerous Sufi traditions place emphasis upon a meditative procedure similar in its cognitive aspect to one of the two principal approaches to be found in the Buddhist traditions: that of the concentration technique, involving high-intensity and sharply focused introspection. In the Oveyssi-Shahmaghsoudi Sufi order, for example, this is particularly evident, where muraqaba takes the form of tamarkoz, the latter being a Persian term that means concentration.

See also: Sufism, Muraqaba, SemaTafakkur, Tadabbur, dikr, and Dhikr § Sufi view

Prophet Muhammad and meditation

The cave Hira in the mountain Jabal al-Nour where, according to Muslim belief, Muhammad received his first revelation

The cave Hira in the mountain Jabal al-Nour where, according to Muslim belief, Muhammad received his first revelation

Meditative quiescence, khushoo, muraqaba, tafakkur, tadabbur, dhikr, and fasting are the fundamentals of the Islamic meditation and mindfulness. They are rooted in the life of the prophet Muhammad. The Islamic prophet Muhammad spent sustained periods in contemplation and meditation. It was during one such period that Muhammad began to receive the revelations of the Qur’an.

The Islamic Nabī (Prophet) Muhammad is said to have spent time in this cave meditating, and it is widely believed that it was here that he received his first revelation, which consisted of the first five ayahs of Surah Al-Alaq from the angel Jibra’il (as is pronounced in certain Quran recitation schools and some Arab tribes; also known as Gabriel).

An increasing need for solitude led Mohammed to seek seclusion and meditation in the rocky hills which surrounded Mecca. There he would retreat to the cave for one month, each year, engaging in taḥannuth (تَحَنُّث). He would take provisions along with him during this retreat, and would feed the poor that would come to him. Then before returning home to his family for more provisions he would circumambulate the Kaaba seven times, or however many times Allah willed; then he would go home.

Privacy – God’s Messenger’s seclusion in the cave of Hira for the purpose of worship. They attach great importance to privacy in the name of spiritual purification. Even if it could be said that all of the events mentioned above do not provide some substantial religious ground for privacy, the importance of privacy serving the heart cannot be denied. The heart is regarded as the “House of God” and in this way can be purified of various attachments to things other than God, being refined and brightened so that it can receive Divine manifestations.

Fundamentals of Islamic mediation

Islamic meditation has following fundamentals:

Reflection

Main Articles: Reflection and Self-reflection
See also: The Necessity of Reflection and Self-Criticism

Reflection meaning thinking on a subject deeply, systematically and in detail, reflection is the lamp of the heart, the food of the spirit, the spirit of knowledge and the soul and light of believers’ way of life. Without reflection, the heart is darkened, the spirit becomes exasperated and Islam is lived at a superficial level devoid of meaning and profundity.

Reflection is such a light in the heart that good and evil, harm and benefit and beauty and ugliness can be discerned and distinguished from each other through it. Again, it is through reflection that the universe becomes a book to study and the verses of the Holy Book disclose their meaning and secrets more deeply.

Prayers and Worship

Prayer is a great mystery of servanthood to God, the very essence of it.

Main Articles: Prayers and Worship
See also:  Prayer, What is A Prayer?, Dua, and Supplication

Prayer

Prayer is an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with an object of worship through deliberate communication. In the narrow sense, the term refers to an act of supplication or intercession directed towards a deity (a god), or a deified ancestor. More generally, prayer can also have the purpose of thanksgiving or praise, and in comparative religion is closely associated with more abstract forms of meditation and with charms or spells.

A Muslim is obligated to pray five times a day: once before sunrise, at noon, in the afternoon, after sunset, and once at night. During prayer a Muslim focuses and meditates on God by reciting the Qur’an and engaging in dhikr to reaffirm and strengthen the bond between Creator and creation, with the purpose of guiding the soul to truth. Such meditation is intended to help maintain a feeling of spiritual peace, in the face of whatever challenges work, social or family life may present.

The five daily acts of peaceful prayer are to serve as a template and inspiration for conduct during the rest of the day, transforming it, ideally, into one single and sustained meditation: even sleep is to be regarded as but another phase of that sustained meditation.

Worship

Worship of God is not an act through which to demand a Divine reward in the future. Rather, it is the necessary result of a past Divine favor. It is truly so because we have already received our wages, and in return, are charged with serving and worshipping Him.

Worship is an act of religious devotion usually directed towards a deity. An act of worship may be performed individually, in an informal or formal group, or by a designated leader. Such acts may involve honoring. Worship means fulfilling God‘s commands in one’s daily life and fulfilling the obligations of being His servant, while servanthood is interpreted as living in the consciousness of being a servant. Worship means to prostrate oneself before God, bow down, humbly beseech, and do obeisance or reverence. When we do this, we are demonstrating that compared to God we are as nothing.

“Knowing God entails worshipping Him. Since He pro­vides every blessing to us, service is owed to Him. … We who need to worship God; not God who needs to be worshipped. He is free of all need. May He grant us the favor and honor to worship Him rightly and with sincerity.”

Bediuzzaman Said Nursi

Dua

In Islam, duā (دُعَاء‎ ), literally meaning “invocation“, is an act of supplication. The term is derived from an Arabic word meaning to ‘call out’ or to ‘summon’, and Muslims regard this as a profound act of worship. Muhammad is reported to have said,

“Dua is the very essence of worship.”

Supplication

Supplication (petitioning) is a form of prayer, wherein one party humbly or earnestly asks another party to provide something, either for the party who is doing the supplicating (e.g., “Please spare my life.”) or on behalf of someone else.

Fasting

Main Articles: What is Fasting?

Fasting has many purposes relating both to the Lordship of God and thanksgiving for His bounties, and to man’s individual and collective life, as well as to his self-training and self-discipline.

Fasting refers to the act of willingly abstaining from the consumption of food and/or fluids, for a period of time. A fast may be total or partial, and may vary in duration and frequency. Depending on the tradition involved, fasting practices may preclude sexual activity as well as food, or specify certain types of foods to be avoided, such as refraining from eating meat.

Fasting for religious and spiritual reasons has been a part of human custom since pre-history. The practice is mentioned in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testament, the Qur’an, the Mahabharata, and the Upanishads. Fasting is particularly important for Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan and for Christians during Lent. Since fasting involves exercising control of the physical body, many religions consider fasting a way to cultivate mental discipline, and use it in connection with prayer or meditation to make it a more powerful experience.

Meditation

Meditation is a reading and understanding of the Book of Life. We have many daily problems (activities) in this world. Meditation allows all this activity to settle down, and often results in the mind becoming more peaceful, calm and focused. In essence, meditation allows the awareness to become ‘rejuvenated’.

Experiences during meditation probably vary significantly from one individual to another, or at least if different techniques are involved. Relaxation, increased awareness, mental focus and clarity, and a sense of peace are the most common by-products of meditation. While much has been written about the benefits of meditation, the best attitude is not to have any expectations when practicing. Having a sense of expectation of (positive) results is likely to create unnecessary strain in the practice.

The most people can successfully practice aerobics or body building, for instance, without knowing human anatomy or without understanding at all what they are doing or why. Without knowing exactly the nature of this process it is impossible to correctly realize it and therefore there can be no true meditation. Meditation is the highest degree of concentration. In fact, very few people can really meditate, and this for two main reasons:

  • Very few know exactly what meditation is;
  • Even fewer are willing to comply with it (lack of motivation).

Keep in mind that meditation, especially in the first stages, must have an object. Without object to meditate upon, there is no meditation. The simplest object of meditation is a physical object (any object which created by God, a flower, a tree, a scenery, etc.). In more advanced stages, the objects of meditation become ever more subtle: mental images created at will, a piece of information, a problem that needs a solution, a feeling, a thought, an idea, a subtle energy, a state of consciousness, etc. In this material the word “object” will refer to any of these.

As well, since meditation involves becoming more aware and more sensitive to what is within you, facing unpleasant parts of oneself may well be part of meditation. Regardless of the experience, the mediator should try to be aware of the experience and of any attachment to it.

Failure to experience silence, peace of mind, mental clarity, bliss, or other promoted benefit of meditation is not in itself a sign of incorrect practice or that one can’t concentrate properly or concentrate enough to be good at meditation. Whether one experiences peace or bliss is not what is important. What is generally considered important in meditation is that one is regular with their meditation -every day- and that one make a reasonable effort, but not strain, to remain with the object of concentration during the practice. With regular practice one inevitably acquires an increased understanding of and proficiency with the particular meditation technique.

See also

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