By Amreen Pathan
Meditation is claimed to be rooted in “Buddhist tradition” but I would argue that at least some type and quality of meditation is an art form originating from and perfected by Islam. Islamic scholars refer to it as Muraqabah (Arabic: مراقبة): ‘to watch over and ‘to take care of’.
In his book, The Revival of the Religious Sciences, Imam Ghazali refers to a Hadith (tradition) of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in which Angel Jibra’il (Gabriel), in human form, questioned the Prophet (peace be upon him) about matters pertaining to the Islamic faith. The following segment of this lengthy Hadith renders the linguistic definition of Muraqabah into practical terms.
The man [Angel Jibra’il]… asked, “O Allah’s Messenger. What is Ihsan (…spiritual excellence…)?”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you do not achieve this state of devotion, then (take it for granted that) Allah sees you.” (Bukhari)
Philosopher Abu Usman Al-Maghribi explains that this quality of worship is attained by the individual ‘keeping watch over [their self].’
What we see here is this notion of watchfulness or mindfulness in the way a Muslim perceives and maintains his relationship with God in heart, mind and body. Put simply, Islam conceptualises meditation by way of mindfulness.
Meditation in modern society is also concerned with mindfulness. Mindfulness is a quality of meditation that has been traced back to Buddhist roots and encourages its practitioners to ‘focus one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations…’ Mindfulness is metacognitive in nature then as it encompasses a journey of learning and self-awareness. Its desired outcome is that individuals reach a very conscious state of acceptance and in the process suspend judgement, develop empathy and insight and respond to ‘happenings’ in a contemplative manner rather than impulsively.
What we see here is the similarity of mindfulness in both Islamic and Buddhist traditions. Both promote awareness about one’s thoughts, actions and inner states of being. The difference however is Islam’s emphasis on being consistently mindful of Allah to guide these thoughts, actions and inner states of being. Whilst the motivator would be one’s faith and relationship with God in Islam, not all Buddhist meditational practices focus on religious spirituality or a Supreme Being as one’s impetus. Secular mindfulness should not be disregarded of course but its benefit for the Hereafter is lacking unless complemented with faith.
Could I challenge you to think of one very well famous example of meditation in Islam’s history? Hint: it involves a cave.
If your answer is the Prophet’s trips to Jabal-e-Hira (Cave of Hira), then you are not wrong.
“…He would go in seclusion in the cave of Hira where he worshipped for many nights before returning to his family.” (Bukhari & Muslim)
Note the word ‘seclusion’. Importantly, this solitude was accompanied with contemplation ‘of the moral evils and idolatry that were rampant among his people…’ The marrying of solitude with contemplation which must be understood in its ‘Divine perspective… was a preliminary stage to the period of grave responsibilities [i.e. the revelation] that… [the Prophet (peace be upon him)] was to shoulder very soon.’
Meditation was a prerequisite – as decreed by Allah – for the Divine revelation. In a similar fashion, observation and contemplation is a prerequisite for Ihsan (spiritual excellence) which is the very essence of Muraqabah. In the state of Muraqabah, a Muslim is fully conscious that Allah Almighty is watching at all times – He is Ar-Raqib (The Watchful One). This informs the individual’s own awareness of their ego, inner thoughts and subsequent actions. The relation is thereby mutual.
“Remember that Allah knows what is in your souls, so be mindful of him.” (2:235)
All of this sounds rather intimidating but much of it is a simple matter of focus. Let’s take a look at our concentration crisis with a series of questions? How long are you able to concentrate on one task before your mind drifts? How often do you find yourself repeating things to members of your family or instructions at school if you are a teacher? How focused are you on your prayers when you offer Salaah? How long can you spend in Du’a (supplication)? How soon after starting something, do you feel a creeping compulsion to browse your phone?
Alas, I don’t imagine much of our answers expressing a high concentration sum!
A recent study from Microsoft Corp found that the average attention span has decreased from 12 to 8 seconds since the year 2000. Much of this has to do with the digitisation of our worlds but the fact is our attention spans are second to none – or 8 if we’re being technical.
Achievable meditative acts in Islam
- The act of Salaah if performed with Kush’oo (humility)
- Du’a (supplication)
- Tafakkur (pondering upon the creation of Allah Almighty)
- Reflecting on verses of the Qur’an
- Engaging in Dhikr (remembrance of Allah Almighty)
- Any ‘mundane’ habit which a Muslim establishes as a reminder of Allah. Eating with the right or entering the bathroom with the left foot first are examples of this.
Imam Ghazali writes that everything the wise person “sees of water, fire, or anything else, it is a lesson and admonition, for a man looks at things according to his concerns.”
The ‘concern’ of course must be one’s faith, one’s Creator and one’s Hereafter.
I must admit, I picked up my phone at least a dozen times whilst writing this. No objective, of course, just a matter of habit.
Now be honest, how tempered was your last activity with distractions and mindlessness?
#Meditation #Dhikr #Mindfulness #Seclusion #Contemplation