As a result, much of the original way of the Prophet Muhammad (S) became obscured to the masses. Yet nevertheless, Islamic spirituality was kept alive by a small yet pious portion of the Ummah, they who sincerely sought to preserve the authentic path of the Prophet (S) through honoring the spirit and purpose of his prophetic mission, namely, to experientially draw nearer to the Creator, the Lord of the heavens and the earth, Allah Almighty.
It is thus not surprising to find that relatively few from among both Muslims and non-Muslims remember or realize the vital importance of a simple yet essential spiritual practice — meditation — within the vast litany of Islamic worship, or ‘ibadah.
Yet with the advent of the Information Age and the universal access to knowledge now available to all, thankfully this is changing. Not only are non-Muslims becoming better acquainted with the truth and reality of Islam, embracing the Path in increasing numbers despite the proliferation of overwhelmingly negative media coverage, Muslims themselves are beginning to rediscover the deeper dimensions of their spiritual heritage and again recognizing Islam as a uniquely powerful path to spiritual enlightenment and human excellence.
Now, Muslims are rediscovering their religion, again awakening to the incredible spiritual legacy they have inherited, realizing that far beyond a faith of formal superficial practices and beliefs, Islam is an unparalleled spiritual system to awakening, the cultivation of consciousness and the perfection of human character.
By God’s grace, the Islamic Renaissance has begun and is under way as a new generation of young Muslims unearth the incomparable treasure of Islamic spirituality based on the Way of the Prophet Muhammad (S) and his pious and sincere inheritors.
And the subject of meditation in Islam is now one of paramount importance, for through Islamic Meditation, which can also be referred to as dhikr, or divine remembrance, a spiritual seeker can ultimately transcend the self, the ego-mind, the nafs, and so awaken to the grand and imminent presence of God.
Meditation in Islam — What is Meditation?
In seeking to understand the place of meditation in Islam, it is first necessary to define meditation.
Meditation in Islam, in terms of a spiritual practice, can be defined simply as the art and science of presence, of simply be-ing, here, now.
In other words, meditation, particularly within the Islamic context, is withdrawing attention and focus from the outer external world, from dunya, and from the ego-mind which is based in time, in past and future, and awakening to the essence and divine spirit otherwise veiled by the superficial world of forms and appearances.
Meditation in Islam is turning inward, and thus away from the world created by the human ego, seeking to discover rather the Divine Presence of God, subtle and superior to the illusion of dunya.
“God has said, ‘Neither the heavens nor the earth can contain Me, save the heart of a believer.'” — Prophet Muhammad (S), Hadith Qudsi
Given that this awakening to Truth, to Reality, to Haq, is the very goal of Islam, and that it is only possible through turning inward, the place of meditation in Islam is thus of pre-eminent importance.
Meditation in Islam — It’s Value
“One hour of meditation is more valuable than seventy years of obligatory worship.” — Prophet Muhammad (S)
A Muslim may spend an entire lifetime in formal obligatory worship yet never draw fundamentally nearer to his or her Lord and Creator. Worse, in certain cases, the time and energy spent in worship leads not to humility and reverence, but to arrogance and pride. Yet why is this?
In ignoring meditation in Islam and so failing to honor the inner dimension of Islam by exclusively focusing on the outer, in equating piety with form, we run the very real risk of utterly missing the very point and purpose of Islam — to awaken, to discover the Divine Presence of God while still alive on this plane.
And so, when meditation in Islam and Islamic Spirituality is absent, the practice and understanding of Islam degenerates into another means to augment and preserve the self, the ego-mind and its assertion of an artificial temporal illusory identity, rather than the original Way of subduing and surrendering the self so that it dissolves and diminishes, resulting in a clear and perfect awakening to true consciousness in the Divine Presence of God, truly realizing the meaning of tawheed, the Oneness of God, and that all else is vanity and illusion.
It was thus that Imam Malik (R), the great scholar of Islam, stressed the importance of carrying both the inner and the outer dimensions of Islam.
“If one engages in formal Islamic practice (fiqh) yet fails to honor inner Islamic practice (tasawwuf), he or she will become a hypocrite. And if one engages in the inner but neglects the outer, he or she will become a sinner. Only by carrying both the inner and outer dimensions of Islam can one reach the goal, Truth.” — Imam Malik (R)
By practicing meditation in Islam, we become capable of making real progress and truly benefitting from formal practice. For in a single hour of meditation in Islam, a human being may attain a realization that will forevermore augment the power and presence of his or her practices and prayers, transforming otherwise rote ritual into divine experiences of love, joy, gratitude, presence and gnosis, ma’rifah.
Because meditation in Islam diminishes the ego-self and its superficial aspirations based on the illusory world of form, dunya, the Muslim honoring this sacred practice progresses on the path to human perfection and excellence, culminating in enlightenment and divine gnosis, ma’rifah, through Maqam al-Ihsan, the Station of Human Excellence, the very goal of the Islamic path.
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Meditation in Islam — The Way of the Prophet (S)
It is well known that the Holy Prophet (S) would consistently spend several days each month in quiet contemplation, meditation and khalwa, or spiritual seclusion, in Ghar Hira, a cave on Jabal Nur, the Mountain of Light, just outside the city of Mecca.
In fact, it was during one of these extended periods of seclusion and meditation, at the age of forty, that the Prophet Muhammad (S) received the very first revelation of the Holy Qur’an from the spiritual realm of the Unseen, al-Ghayb, brought to him by none other than the Archangel Gabriel (A).
“Read! In the name of thy Lord Who created, Who created mankind from but a single drop. Read! And thy Lord is Most Gracious, He Who teaches by the Pen, teaches humanity that which they know not.” — Surah al-‘Alaq (Holy Qur’an, 96:1–5)
During many years of such quiet introspection and meditation in Islam, the Holy Prophet (S) cultivated a spiritually tuned nature, impeccable character, and awareness and consciousness of the imminent Presence of God.
He later described the goal and purpose of Islam as attaining this state of Presence known as Maqam al-Ihsan, the Station of Spiritual Excellence.
And above any other practice, for spiritual growth and evolution he recommended dhikr, quiet contemplation and meditation, remembrance, of the Presence of God.
“There is no doubt that the heart becomes covered with rust, just as metal dishes, silver, and their like, become rusty. The rust of the heart is polished with dhikr, for dhikr polishes the heart until it becomes like a clean mirror. However, when dhikr is abandoned, the rust returns, and when it commences the heart again becomes cleansed. The heart becoming rusty is due to two matters: sins and neglecting remembrance of God, dhikr. Likewise, it is cleansed and polished by two things: seeking forgiveness and dhikr.” — Prophet Muhammad (S)
In another statement, the Holy Prophet (S) emphasized the importance of God-consciousness as the difference between those who are truly living and they who are not.
“The difference between one who engages in dhikr, remembrance and awareness of the Divine Presence, and one who does not, is as the difference between the living and the dead.” — Prophet Muhammad (S)
Meditation in Islam — Dhikr
The Arabic word dhikr means “to remember” or “to mention.” Also, in Arabic, the root word for human being, insan, is derived from the same root word which means “forgetful”, nasiyaan, implying that the human being is easily distracted by dunya, the world of forms and appearances, because he is largely limited by the tendency of his mind, which gravitates towards the external material world.
Thus, through meditation in Islam, to turn away from the external world of form that is a covering, a veil, upon the Divine Presence of God, and to turn inward towards the Divine Presence is of paramount importance.
It is for this reason that through dhikr, through meditation in Islam and remembering God by turning inward and away from dunya, one strengthens faith and progresses upon the spiritual path, cultivating one’s connection to Truth and Reality.
“God guideth unto Himself all who turn unto Him, they who believe and whose hearts seek rest in the remembrance of God. Verily, in the remembrance of God do hearts find rest! For those who believe and do good, joy is for them and bliss their journey’s end.” — Surah ar-Rad (Holy Qur’an Quotes, 13:27–29)
Rest. Relax. Surrender. Awaken.
Islam literally means “surrender”, and attaining a state of internal surrender and submission to Divine Will as it manifests now is the goal of Islam and they key to the state of ihsan.
Lack of such internal surrender results in chronic tension, and the body accumulates toxins from persistent stress and anxiety, ultimately leading to degeneration and disease.
Yet this can be averted through the holy practice of meditation in Islam, the mindful, conscious and intentional practice of dhikr, leading to presence, clarity, awareness and focus.
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Meditation in Islam — Spiritual Purification
Through dhikr and meditation in Islam, the constant cultivation of a state of presence and awareness, also known as taqwa, God-consciousness, a human being attains the state of Islam known as Maqam al-Ihsan. This represents the perfection of human character and such an individual is characterized by a deep, profound and constant connection to the Creator, to Source, a state of perpetual presence, in which resistance is relinquished and surrender is truly realized.
Meditation in Islam thus facilitates in ultimately leading to wilayah, reception of the Divine Trust and destiny, al-amanah, which God willed for humanity. Such an individual becomes a living doorway to the Divine Presence of God, for he or she has one foot in the Divine Presence and one foot in dunya.
Such pious and spiritually purified individuals truly exemplify peace, the goal of Islam, and because they are by nature friendly and in harmony with Divine Will, with what-is, they are free and liberated from fear and insecurity. They are known as awliyaullah, the Friends of God.
“Behold! Verily upon the friends of God there is no fear, nor shall they grieve.” — Surah Yunus (Holy Qur’an Quotes, 10:62)
Meditation in Islam — The Spiritual Path
The very goal of Islam is attainment of Divine proximity, nearness to God. This is only possible through transcendence of self, ego, referred to by the Holy Prophet (S) as Jihad an-Nafs, the “Struggle Within.”
Meditation in Islam, also known as dhikr, originally practiced by the Prophet (S) and recommended as essential to spiritual purification, Tazkiyyat an-Nafs, provides the most effective means and method of attaining the state of surrender, true Islam, and the station of spiritual excellence known as Maqam al-Ihsan.
“O you who believe! Remember God perpetually, and glorify Him morning and evening. He it is Who blesses you, as do His angels, that He may bring you forth from darkness into light, for His mercy flows to they who believe. Their greeting on the Day when they shall meet Him shall be “Peace!”, and for them is prepared a most gracious reward.” — Surah al-Ahzab (Holy Qur’an Quotes, 33:41–44)