The Art of Meditation in Islam

The heart is tarnished by two matters: unmindfulness (al-ghaflah) and sin. And it is polished by two matters: seeking forgiveness and the remembrance of God. Ibn Qayyim.

Meditation or spiritual introspection is an often overlooked yet integral part of Islam. It is about letting go of our ego/self, and focusing on the present moment. It is about mindfulness, aiming on intent and our purpose in life, remembering our blessings, and pondering on the whys. Ibn Qayyim used to say that meditation is essential in preparing for the Hereafter. As per him, “reflecting (tafakkur), remembering (tadhakkur), examining (nathr), meditating (ta’amul), contemplating (i’tibar), deliberating (tadabbur), and pondering (istibsar),”represented the different forms of meditation.

Seclusion (I’tikaaf) was the form of meditation that the Prophet (SAW) used to practice. Even before receiving the revelation, Prophet (SAW) used to retreat to the cave of Hira’ and seclude himself for days. He (SAW) used to leave behind his worldly affairs, to focus on spiritual peace and inner self, and worship for a number of nights prior to returning to his family. This form of worship in the early days of the prophet (SAW)’s prophethood was called ‘tahannuth’. Linguistically tahannuth means to follow the religion of Prophet Ibrahim (AS), however today it is understood as a form of worship that the prophet (SAW) practiced prior to the revelation of the five daily prayers. While in tahannuth, the Prophet (SAW) used to carry provisions for a period of time, devote his time to worship and meditation, and return to his wife Khadijah (RA) only to gather more provisions. He continued doing this for a period of time until the truth came to him in the cave of Hira’ through Jibraeel (AS).

The Qur’an mentions the word I’tikaf, derived from the word aakifoon, in relation to the rules of I’tikaaf “…and do not have relations with them as long as you are staying for worship in the mosques” (Qur’an, 2:187), and aakifeen is mentioned under a more defined context of those who are staying at the masjid for devotion and worship, “Purify My House for those who are to circumambulate (make Tawāf) and those who stay in I‘tikāf, and those who bow down or prostrate themselves (in prayers).”(Qur’an, 2:125)

Performing I’tikaaf is not only a part of the sunnah, but also a recommend act in the Qur’an. Its purpose is to cleanse the soul of worldly desires even for a short period of time to help us focus on our sole creator. Doing so possesses a natural reward of humility and understanding of our purpose here on earth. It helps us refrain from sin and idle talk and focus on the remembrance of Allah (SWT), avoiding that which doesn’t concern us. “It is from the goodness of a person’s Islam that he leaves that which doesn’t concern him.”

Meditation not only produces feelings of gratitude in the heart but also helps us replenish our spiritual need. Umar ibn Abdul Aziz said, “Speaking in remembrance of Allah Almighty is good, and thinking about the blessings of Allah is the best act of worship.”

There is Beauty in Repentance.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all done something we are not proud of. Some maybe more than others (self). I’ve made so many mistakes in my life, some of them have been mistakes, some of them have been deliberate. But my repentance has not been for nothing. It hasn’t been for society.It hasn’t been to repel the eyes of my peers or family. It has been for me, my soul, my self. To pull me out of the dark hole I’ve often found myself stumbling into. It’s to escape the devastating feeling of darkness, hopelessness, and immense guilt.

Guilt has been my guide and sometimes the reason for my fall. Some may not understand that but many a times it has been hard for me to say “no” or to be heard saying “no”. Through my tears, through my shaken voice, through my sheepish smile, through my unemotional response. “No” has been my challenge, my nemesis. The formidable rival who often won the battles I faced. I couldn’t use the word as strongly as I wished. And often, others I went up against, used it with such a strong pronounced voice that mine would sound like a whisper, a prayer.

“No” coupled with my own guilt of not being able to explain my hesitancy would take me down. I’d keep spiraling down the rabbit hole till I’d feel so lost that I would completely give in. Feeling worthless, feeling scared, feeling the lack of dignity around me, it would often leave me feeling disgusted, depressed, diseased. When I could no longer take it; I’d reach out. I would cry out to Lord to pull me out and He would. He would often make me face the uncomfortable consequences of my deeds but I would know it’s Him. It would be His hand pulling me into the light. My sins would feel heavy but small in front of His mercy. I’d feel ashamed but also see the reverence in it.

Repentance often does that. It brings a sense of calm to the turmoil. It brings humility to the disgrace. It brings peace to the hell you’ve visited, to the battle you’ve fought. Repentance forces you to show yourself naked, baring all your scars, your ugliness, your heaviness to your Maker. But the minute He comforts you, you realize that your repentance was not for nothing. He hides your sins, He makes you feel light, He honors your soul by getting closer to you. SubhanAllah. For Allah (SWT) says

“Whoever draws close to Me by the length of a hand, I will draw close to him by the length of an arm. Whoever draws close to Me the by length of an arm, I will draw close to him by the length of a fathom. Whoever comes to Me walking, I will come to him running. Whoever meets Me with enough sins to fill the earth, not associating any partners with Me, I will meet him with as much forgiveness.”

When dreams die

I know it’s harder when the door has been completely shut on you. That path is not the path you can take or even attempt to. You cannot reach out or hope to find a new way because it’s no longer there. I know the feeling of hopeless demise of dreams. But you are alive, you can have new dreams. Carve new paths for yourself. If something you wanted to do didn’t work, find something better to do. Doing good is always an option so forget the bad that happened to you and go out and do good. For indeed “He is the best of planners.”

“..but Allah planned. And Allah is the best of planners.” [Qur’an, 3:54]

Why Intention Matters

Intention was the topic of our Sunday school a couple of weeks ago and it got me thinking about how to live life with intent. How do we focus on being righteous without being swayed by people’s opinions? Riyaa’, showing off or doing good deeds for the sake of compliments, is such a big trial mentioned in the Quran and hadith traditions that even the trials of Dajjaal (Anti-Christ) fall short of it. So how do we find a balance of doing good deeds with the right intention and protecting ourselves from the fitnah (trials) of riyaa’?

1. Niyah: Focus on your intention before performing the act. Niyah is such an important concept in Islam that the phrase ‘Fi Sabillilah’, meaning ‘in the way of God’ is repeated multiple times in the Qur’an. The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Verily actions are by intentions, and for every person is what he intended. I used to always wonder why Muslims say ‘I love you for the sake of Allah’ I found that shallow and selfish in a way. Until I realized it doesn’t mean there is no humanitarian cause attached to it. It just means that I do not expect a reward/compliment back from anyone but Allah (SWT). Two very distinct things, wrapped up in unconditional love and giving, in order to sustain goodness here on earth, because only when we start having expectations back from people do we get disappointed, feel unloved, unfulfilled.

2. Ikhlaas: Focus on sincerity while performing the act. Ikhlaas helps one purify their motive. Ikhlaas is directly linked to the word Ihsan, which means perfection or worshipping Allah as if you are seeing Him. “And whether you hide what is in your breast or reveal it, Allah knows it…” (Qur’an 3:29). Once we purify our motive by realizing that it doesn’t matter if no one is watching, but God is always watching, our intentions are purified. We are no longer concerned with receiving praise or reward for our act because our intention is sincerely linked to a supreme purpose rather than an ungodly objective.

3. Shukr: Focus on gratitude after performing the act. Realize that your ability to perform the good deed or generous act is a gift to you from Allah (SWT). This will bring about feelings of humility and submission. Realize that shukr and hamd go hand in hand, for all thanks belongs to God and all praise belongs to God. “We bestowed wisdom on Luqman: ‘Show gratitude to God. Anyone who is grateful does so to profit his own soul: but whoever is ungrateful verily God is free of all wants worthy of praise.’” (Qur’an, 31:12) Being grateful and showing gratitude towards God’s favors on you is so important that the often misunderstood word ‘kafir’ is labeled on those who are ungrateful. And [remember the time] when your Sustainer made [this promise] known: “If you are grateful [to Me], I shall most certainly give you more and more; but if you are ungrateful, verily, My chastisement will be severe indeed!” (Qur’an 14:7) It is important to realize that the original meaning of the word Kafir was to be ungrateful towards God. It did not mean to disbelieve in God because obviously Iblis (Satan) knew God existed and worshipped Him. He just ignored God’s commandment “When We said to the angels, “Prostrate to Adam!”, they thereupon prostrated, except for Iblees. He disdained (to comply with the command), acted arrogantly, and became of the kafir/ignorers.” (Qur’an, 2:34)

In’sha’Allah, I hope these three points help us stay on the straight path and abstain from the evils of riyaa’, self-conceit.