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.”