THE MANNER OF CONTEMPLATING

The most effective medicine for the diseases of the ego is to focus all thinking on things beneficial and to move away from all things that should not be of any concern. Contemplating on useless things opens the door to all kinds of evil and depravity. Those who busy their minds with useless thoughts miss out on the good, on what they really need.

The Manners of the Righteous’ in Contemplating

Abu Bakr –Allah be well-pleased with him- one day found himself in deep contemplation, thinking about the Day of Judgment, the great tribunal, Paradise and Hell, the assembling of the angels in rows, the folding of the sun, the blacking out and consequent falling of the stars and the flinging of mountains. Overcome with fear, he afterwards said:

“If only I was a grass amid that greenery over there, soon to be eaten by a passing animal to perish!” Revealed thereupon to the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- was the verse of the Quran:

“And for him who fears to stand before his Lord are two gardens.”(ar-Rahman, 46)(Suyuti, Lubab’un-Nuqul, II, 146; Alusi, XXVII, 117)

Again, Abu Bakr –Allah be well-pleased with him- had once gone outside on a clear, sunny day. Looking at the bright sky, he was gazing around at nature, created by Allah, glory unto Him, for His servants, with a beauty almost beyond description. Meanwhile, he noticed a bird perched on a branch, chirping in a beautiful voice. Suddenly saddened, he let out a sigh. Looking at the bird with envy, he remarked:

“How fortunate you are…I swear I would have loved to have been in your position. You flutter about then perch on any tree you wish, eat away at its fruits and then take flight again. Neither is there a tribunal awaiting you, nor a punishment you ought to fear! By Allah, instead of being a human waiting to be called to account in the presence of my Lord, I would have preferred to have been a sapling by the road and have a camel chew me up and swallow me!”(Ibn Abi Shaybah, Musannaf, VIII, 144)

Ali –Allah be well-pleased with him- says:

“There is no benefit in worship without insight, in insight without piety and in a read of the Quran without contemplation.” (Abu Nuaym, Hilya, I, 77)

The following words of wisdom are also from Ali –Allah be well-pleased with him-:

“No benefit is there in ritual prayer without concentration, in fasting accompanied by vain words and behavior, in a read of the Quran without contemplation, in knowledge without piety, in wealth without generosity, in brotherhood without protection, in a blessing that is not everlasting and in a prayer without sincerity.”(Ibn Hajar, Munabbihat, p. 31)

Ali –Allah be well-pleased with him- used to perceive everything with a contemplative eye, reflecting lengthily on what he saw. From the fear of the Almighty, he would at times cry like an orphan, shiver like a man bedridden with fever. Being much fond of deeds of worship, he would persevere in acts of piety. He would eat only a little, but spend lots in the way of good. Esteeming Islam above anything else, he would say:

“Good lies entirely in four things: speech, silence, look and behavior. A speech outside the remembrance of Allah is vain. A silence devoid of contemplation is an error. A look without perception is ignorance. Behavior that does not direct one to worshiping Allah is foolish. May Allah have mercy on him whose speech is of Divine remembrance and good, whose silence is contemplation and whose behavior is of righteousness! People are always safe from their words and actions.”[1]

In describing the genuine people of the Quran, Ibn Masud –Allah be well-pleased with him- says:

“When people speak to one another, a hafiz, who has memorized the Quran, should be recognized with his silence. The tears of a hafiz are of a distinct beauty. A hafiz ought to be dignified and display an excellent character through silence and contemplation…” (Abu Nuaym, Hilyah, I, 130)

When Umm Darda –Allah be well-pleased with her- was asked what deed Abu’d-Darda –Allah be well-pleased with him- regarded as most important, she replied:

“Being absorbed in self-correcting contemplation…” (Waqi bin Jarrah, Zuhd, p. 474)

Amr ibn Abdiqays, a notable of the Tabiun generation (the generation that saw the Companions without seeing the Prophet), has said:

“I heard this not from one or two Companions but many; they used to say:

‘The shining of the light of faith or its increase is through contemplation.’ (Ibn Kathir, I, 448, Suyuti, ad-Durr’ul-Mansur, II, 409, ‘Ali Imran, 190’)

Rabi ibn Haytham –Allah be well-pleased with him- was asked to describe a person of greater virtue than himself, to which he replied:

“He whose talk is dhikr, whose silence is contemplation and whose look is of perception…” (Ibn Hanbal, Zuhd, p. 334; Abu Nuaym, Hilyah, II, 106)

Abu Sulayman Darani says:

“Get your eyes used to crying and your heart to contemplation!”

“Being enslaved to the world is a veil between a person and the Hereafter, as well as a tremendous loss in the long run. Thinking of the Hereafter, on the other hand, gives birth to the light of wisdom in a person and revitalizes the heart.” (Imam Ghazzali, Ihya, VI, 45)

Yusuf Hamadani states:

“Once a contemplative faith sets root in a person, righteous deeds follow. It is necessary to bring these two, contemplation and deeds, together in whichever way possible.”[2]

Fudayl ibn Iyad states:

“Contemplation is like a mirror of Divine majesty and sovereignty; it manifests the good and the bad.”(Imam Ghazzali, Ihya, VI, 44)

Muhammad ibn Abdullah has said:

“There are five kinds of contemplation:

Contemplating the verses of Allah through which comes marifah. Contemplating the blessings of Allah from which comes love. Contemplating the promises and rewards of Allah from which comes desire. Contemplating the warnings and punishment of Allah from which comes fear. Contemplating the ungratefulness of humans in return for the benevolence of Allah from which come shame and repentance.”

Compliant with the above are also the following words of wisdom:

“A lengthy contemplation is what combines everything good and right. Silence is peace. Getting carried away in what is vain is sorrow and an agonizing remorse. Whosoever remains enslaved to the desires of his ego, ignorant of the Hereafter, will put his own self to shame on the Day of Judgment and avidly desire to perish away.”(Bayhaki, Shuab, VII, 417/10812; IV, 272/5070)

Flowing the River of Contemplation onto Fertile Soil

Allah, glory unto Him, has endowed every human being with the ability to grow in contemplation. In the depths of every person lies a roaring river of contemplation, ever flowing, relentless in its course. When not given direction and left on its own, it does not know where to flow as it passes through all kinds of courses, good and bad. Sometimes it perishes in arid deserts, while at other times it is dragged to an unknown fate, knowing little what the future holds in store, like driftwood caught up in a flood.

Spiritual finesse lies in directing the river of contemplation to fertile soil and growing abundant crops with it.

The Almighty sends the below warnings to those who do not utilize the gift of contemplating and sensing in line with His pleasure:

“Surely the vilest of animals, in Allah’s sight, are the deaf, the dumb, who do not understand.” (al-Anfal, 22)

“And certainly We have created for hell many of the jinn and the men; they have hearts with which they do not understand, and they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear; they are as cattle, nay, they are even more bewildered; these are the heedless ones.”(al-Araf, 179)

The heart is like a mirror blemished with ignorance and disbelief. Its garnish is to first believe in Allah, glory unto Him, and then turn to Him with love. At the most basic level, a person must think of answers to such questions like ‘why are we were, on whose property do we live, who is it that sends our food and where are we going?’ A life lost in the desires of the ego without any concern for answers to such vital questions and a heart aloof from acknowledging the Real is destined for a pitiful end.

People of this kind turn a blind eye on things that display the Truth in the clearest and most comprehensible languages and never pause to reflect, for which reason they have been compared to beasts, cases in point in ignorance and in being gone astray. All their desires consist of is eating, drinking and satisfying their gluttonous pleasures of the flesh.

Allah, glory unto Him, states:

“Have you seen him who takes his low desires for his god? Will you then be a protector over him? Or do you think that most of them do hear or understand? They are nothing but as cattle; nay, they are further astray from the path.”(al-Furqan, 43-44)

A righteous man says:

“Life is a display of Divine art for the wise and just consumption and lust for the fool.”

Contemplation, from another vantage, is like a two edged sword; it can serve the good, as well as the bad. It can become a tool for the despicable ambitions of the ego, as well as the sublime purposes of the spirit. The Almighty cautions those who use their ability to contemplate for bad ends:

“And it is not for a soul to believe except by Allah’s permission; and He casts uncleanness on those who will not understand.”(Yunus, 100)

The disease of disbelief is the ugliest dirt that could smear a human being. One who does not busy his heart and mind with reflecting on the verses of the Quran, can never be purified of this dirt.

Minds nourished with the light of faith and led by the guidance of revelation find the way to come to know the Almighty, while those deprived of this are stranded on the way the to the Truth. This is the greatest delusion of those philosophers who somehow believe they can find the Truth without taking Divine revelation as basis. Minds remote from faith, in their books, can find a way to the Truth just the same.

Maximizing the ability to contemplate, on the other hand, requires keeping the mind and the heart distant from ineffectual activities that amount to nothing but wasting time. Thus declares the Holy Quran:

“And who keep aloof from what is vain.” (al-Muminun, 3)

“And they who do not bear witness to what is false and when they pass by what is vain, they pass by nobly.”(al-Furqan, 72)

The Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- says:

Abandoning useless activities is the mark of a good Muslim.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 11; Ibn Majah, Fitan, 12)

The most effective medicine for the diseases of the ego is to focus all thinking on things beneficial and to move away from all things that should not be of any concern. Contemplating on useless things opens the door to all kinds of evil and depravity. Those who busy their minds with useless thoughts miss out on the good, on what they really need.

Ibn’ul-Jawzi says:

“If constantly thinking over things that are licit (mubah) leaves the heart in the dark, you go and imagine the damage done by thinking over the illicit (haram)! If even musk can change the makeup of water and take away its cleansing character, imagine water licked by a dog! Hence, says an elder, ‘He who makes a habit of doing things that are licit misses out on the taste of uniting with the Lord.’” (Bursawi, Ruh’ul-Bayan, ‘al-Muminun, 51’)

If one does not direct his powers to contemplate, represent and imagine to the good, Shaytan will direct it to the evil; and the person will consequently become unable to contemplate in a manner worthy of the Divine. Instead of benefiting from the gifts of the heart and reason endowed by the Almighty, he will only incur damage.

A Believer therefore must always have his thoughts occupied with the good, in the direction shown by the Quran and Sunnah.

Accompanying Contemplation with Dhikr

Yusuf Hamadani describes:

“The heart and dhikr are like a tree and water. The heart and contemplation, in contrast, are like a tree and its fruits. It would be a mistake to wait for the tree to flourish before watering it and expect it to yield fruits before its leaves grow and flowers blossom. It will never yield any fruits, no matter how much one desired. For the time is not to expect fruits from the tree, but to feed it and tidy up around it. One needs to water it, rid it of ivies and alien weeds and then wait for sunshine. Only when all these come together does the tree come alive and become adorned with luscious green leaves; and only then does it become right to expect its branches to yield fruits, for this means that the time has truly arrived.”(Rutbat’ul-Hayat, p. 71)

Hasan Basri says:

“The intelligent continue getting themselves used to contemplating through dhikr, and dhikr through contemplating. In the end, they get their hearts to talk; and when the heart does begin to talk, it only utters words of wisdom.”(Imam Ghazzali, Ihya, VI, 46)

Dhikr and contemplation must never be separated. The most important thing about dhikr is to do it contemplatively and accompany it with a sense of awareness. According to Muhammad Parsa –Allah have mercy on him-, a prominent saint, “When saying ‘La ilaha’ (There is no god…), one should think of the mortality of all creation and consider them as nothing; and distancing everything but Allah, glory unto Him, from the mind, clear all thoughts. The heart should be filled with the consciousness of being a slave only of Allah and no-one else. When saying ‘ill-Allah’ (…except for Allah) one should think that the primordial existence of Allah, glory unto Him, is also eternal and that He is the only One to whom one can turn to with love. The Almighty’s attributes of beauty (jamali) thereby begin to manifest in the heart.”

Bahauddin Naqshband -Allah have mercy on him- says:

“The aim of dhikr is not just to repeat ‘Allah’ and ‘La ilaha ill-Allah’. It is to go from causes to the Cause and realize that all blessings come from Him.”

The truth of dhikr, in other words, is to enable one to rise from the swamp of ignorance to the horizons of witnessing the truth.

Mawlana Rumi –Allah have mercy on him- says:

Allah, the One and Unique has given us permission to remember (dhikr) Him, saying اُذْكُرُوااللّٰهَ: Remember Allah!’. Seeing us ablaze in fire, He gave us light. A dhikr done only with the tongue and lips without feeling and contemplation is a deficient dream. A dhikr that comes from the bottom of an admiring heart is distilled of sentences and words.”(Mathnawi, v. 2, couplet: 1709, 1712)

In time, Divine love grows in a person who continues to remember the names and attributes of Allah, glory unto Him, contemplatively. The point is not to just repeat verbally the word ‘Allah’ but to place the love of ‘the Word’ in the heart, the center of comprehension.

Through dhikr and contemplation, one first reaches muhabbatullah, Divine love, and through muhabbatullah one proceeds to attain knowledge of Allah, that is a better understanding and knowledge of Divine names and attributes. As a result, Allah, glory unto Him, loves the person, too, and befriends him. Stated in a hadith al-qudsi is the following:

The righteous from among my servants and the ones I love from among creation are those who remember me; and I mention them in return for their remembrance of Me.” (Ahmed, III, 430)

Dhikr is considered threefold: with the tongue, the body and the heart. The dhikr of the tongue is to recall Allah, glory unto Him, with His names and attributes, glorify Him, read His word and pray to Him. The dhikr of the body is to busy each and every limb with what has been commanded and to keep it away from committing the wrong. As for the dhikr of the heart, exegete Elmalılı Hamdi Yazır comments:

“The dhikr of the heart is to remember Allah in a most sincere, heartfelt way, and that comes in three forms:

1) Thinking of the proofs that attest to the essence and attributes of Allah, glory unto Him, and searching for answers to doubts that may come to the heart about His sovereignty.

2) Contemplating on the rights Allah, glory unto Him, has over us and our duties of servanthood; thinking of His commands and prohibitions, their proofs and underlying wisdoms. Gaining insight into the commands and prohibitions and the consequences of adhering to them only increases tendency towards righteous deeds.

3) Contemplating on creation, both inner and outer, and the wisdoms underlying their existence in a way that allows one to realize that each particle acts as a mirror for the Divine realm. To eyes that properly gaze at that mirror, the lights of that realm shine forth and just a glimmer of that zest consciously acquired in a split second is worth the entire world.

There is no end to dhikr carried out at this level. At this stage, one loses consciousness of himself and his surroundings; all consciousness is lost in the Real, to the point where not a speck remains from either the words of dhikr or the person doing dhikr. Only the object of the dhikr, that is the Real, is felt. Although there are plenty who talk about this level, those who are at it have no business with talking.”(Hak Dîni Kur’an Dili, [el-Bakara, 152])

All beings are thus mirrors of Divine manifestations, held out to human understanding and consciousness by the Hand of Might. Sensing the wisdoms and mysteries reflected forth from this mirror depends on the purity of the mirror of the heart.

Dawn: The Most Precious Time for Dhikr and Contemplation

A lover frequently talks about the beloved. One who frequently talks about something begins to feel a greater affection for it. Love is measured by the degree of sacrifice shown for the beloved. Abandoning a pleasant sleep and a warm bed near dawn to seek refuge in Allah, glory unto Him, is one of the most supreme indications of such love.

It is worthy of note that Divine mercy and forgiveness overflows near dawn. Nightingales, inspired by this Divine abundance, tweet in the sweetest tunes and flowers that boom in multicolored tones, emit their most delicate scents. What a shame it would be for man to miss out on this feast of Divine mercy!

The most precious time of day is dawn, corresponding to the last third of night. Dawn marks a period where the mind is the most distant it can be from petty concerns, when the heart subsides to purity, a peaceful silence abounds all around and passing interests wane. This time is when Divine mercy descends and the Lord of the Universe is at His closest to His servant. Being so remote from petty concerns, the heart can then turn to the Almighty in the truest sense of the word, for which dawn is the most appropriate and fertile time to retreat to contemplation.

Allah, glory unto Him, states:

“O you wrapped up in garments! Rise to pray in the night except a little. Half of it, or lessen it a little. Or add to it, and recite the Quran in measure. Surely We will make to light upon you a weighty Word. Surely the rising by night is the firmest way to tread and the best corrective of speech. Surely you have in the day time a long occupation.” (al-Muzzammil, 1-7)

As opposed to the heavenly serenity of dawn, daytime is a period when noise reigns, and which leads to a lapse in concentration. A person who does not make the most of the effective hours of night may not be able to attain to that spiritually inspiring enjoyment of turning to and worshiping the Almighty, amid all the distracting activities of daytime, as much as he can at dawn.

Dawn is a unique time made for worship, whereas daytime is a wonderful blessing given for serving the good and earning a living. A believer should only be with the Real at dawn, while amid the public, yet still with the Real, at day.

The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- never abandoned offering ritual prayer, reciting the Quran, praying and contemplating at dawn, the richest and most inspiring time of night. Such that even when struck down with an illness that drained him of the strength to even allow him to stand up straight, he would still put his dawns to good use, even if it meant he had to be seated.[3]

The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- would especially make the most of dawn to contemplate. He would remain standing, in tears, to the point where his feet would swell, and prostrate for hours on end.

Imam Hasan ibn Rushayq says:

“There is no better key to open the locks of the ocean of contemplation and the gates of the Real than to wake up from sleep at dawn and engage in activities conducive to spiritual promotion. At that time, man is remote from external interests, worldly concerns and ambitions. The time is ripe for privacy with the Lord. The body has been rested and revived; it has come to its senses. Dawn is the time when the weather is at its most pleasant, the breeze is at its gentlest; it is the most appropriate time between day and night. Light covers darkness at dawn. It is a stark contrast at evening: darkness caves in on light.” (See, Abu Ghuddah, Zamanın Kıymeti p. 86)

The Holy Quran pronounces:

“Those who forsake their beds to cry unto their Lord in fear and hope, and spend of that We have bestowed on them…” (as-Sajdah, 16)

Repenting for sins at dawn, becoming emotional from thinking of Divine punishment, remembering death, planning what to do in the name of good in the remaining days of life and contemplating on the Quran are among the righteous deeds treasured by Allah, glory unto Him.

To those who revive their dawns in the said manner and spend a life of charity, the Almighty promises the exceptional glad tidings below:

“No soul knows what is kept hid for them of joy, as a reward for what they used to do.” (as-Sajdah, 17)

The Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- has interpreted this verse as follows:

Allah the Almighty has said ‘For My righteous servants, I have prepared treats no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has ever and can ever imagine!’” (Bukhari, Bad’ul-Khalq, 8; Tafsir. 32/1; Tawhid, 35; Muslim, Jannah, 2-5)

Understood from here is that the awaiting treats of Paradise that have not yet been revealed are far greater than those that have. According some reports, not even angels and prophets have full insight into what they are.

[1]     Abû Nasr Sarrâj Tûsî, al-Luma’ / İslâm Tasavvufu, trns. H. Kâmil Yılmaz, Istanbul 1996, p. 137-140.

[2]     Yusuf Hamadanî, Rutbat’l-Hayât, trns. Necdet Tosun, Istanbul, 2002, p. 60.

[3]     See, Abû Dawud, Tatavvu’, 18.