11 February, 2013

Meditation and Islam

[ I received some of questions from a non-Muslim Psychology Student in US; here are my replies]

Dear XXX,

Thanks for your mail.

[1] One subject that was recently brought up in class was the idea of meditation.In Christianity this isn't a very big practice though many might ponder (or think deeply) about life it isn't the same as meditation. In Hinduism and Buddhism meditation plays a greater role in their religions and it attempts to help the individual clear their mind.  How does Islam see meditation?  Does it play any role in your faith?  What are your personal feelings on the subject?

Meditation/Contemplation plays a very important role in Islam. As you would be aware that in Islam we have routine ritual worship practices, like Salah (Five daily Prayers), Sawm (Fasting) etc. These worships serve the primary purpose of strengthening the bond between the creator (God) and the created (Humans), and do come with many secondary by-products as well, for instance, when Muslims gather for Prayer in the Mosque it strengthens the community and when they fast they understand to some extent the problems faced by the poor, enabling them to empathize with them better. Salah (Five daily prayers) are the basic pillar of Islam. Other than being a worship on its own, Salah forms parts of various other muslim events and worships; for instance the day of 'Eid (muslim celebration) begins with 'Eid Salah ('Eid prayer) in the morning. And salah, other than physical actions performed in salah (like prostration), in Salah, we recite few verses from any of the 114 chapters of the Qur'an. And while reciting those verses we ought to contemplate on them. This indicates, how important contemplation is in the Islamic religion.

Qur'an which is the primary source of Muslim stresses contemplation/meditation throughout the 114 chapters. There are two distinct types of meditation. One is deep thinking on the text of Qur'an to unravel the layers of miracles in the word of God. We muslims take Qur'an as the word of God, from beginning to end, unlike the Christians who believe Bible to be inspired by God, and not the direct word of God. The second type of contemplation, is to ponder over the things that the Qur'an drives attention towards, and that involves everything from the mighty bodies in the cosmos to the basic components of matter and life. Qur'an drives attention towards harmony in universe, towards the complex working of systems within humans beings, towards the variety of species spread accross the planet etc. Now, these two types of meditation are 'unrestricted', they need not be performed while sitting/standing in a particular. Contemplation for Muslims, ought to be a process that continues to happen along with the other activities of life. The Qur'an stresses on contemplation/meditation multiple times, but it leaves the process of meditation open to its followers. One may choose to contemplate while reciting certain hymns, while listening to music, while listening to Qur'an, or in complete silence; similarly one may choose to contemplate in a group or individually; one may choose to contemplate during any act of ritual worship or while casually lying down on bed etc.

One important topic that is coupled with contemplation/meditation in Islam is Hikmah (the ability of rational inspection). In short, although Islam gives freedom when it comes to the question of 'when and how to contemplate' , but it does give the guidelines that one ought to strengthen his/her relation with the scripture (direct knowledge from God) and other rational sciences (indirect knowledge from God) in order to contemplate in the right direction.

This is a broad topic, If you have any specific questions on that, I would love to answer, as it is a field of my interest too.

This is just an introduction, if you would like to contrast Islamic meditation/contemplation etc. with other religions, and want to learn more about psychological value of Islamic meditation, I suggest that you go through the book 'Contemplation : An Islamic Psychospiritual Study ' by Prof. Malik Badri.

[2] One more thing, when do you find that the Islam faith is the most united or that they operate as one unit?  We just learned about a spectrum of Differentiation (every thing is self contained) and Non-differentiation (not isolated, unity, wholeness) so it would be interesting to see when your faith is more united and when it is more personal.

This question can be answered from various dimensions.

If we consider the time-space that we are currently in. Qur'an states explicitly that there are various other dimensions that are closely inter-woven with our time-space dimension. However, how they have been inter-woven is a question that humans would always find hard to grapple with. For instance, the very existence of Human body contains a soul (which Islam calls as the Ruh, it is known by various other names in the field of philosophy and in other religions). This soul is inter-woven with our physical body. Now, these soul are boundless as far as our current understanding of time-space are concerned, however at the same time they are inter-woven with our physical/material selves. Now, these souls are connected with God. And souls of every human body are connected with God, and this is how Islam speaks of 'Universal brotherhood'.

Now, confining our-self to the material world only, Islam states that Adam and Eve (same as bible) were the first humans to reside this earth,and we all are descendents of Adam and Eve. Hence, instilling in us that sense of belonging-ness with all around us because if we trace back, at some point we all share the same ancestry.

Islam also speaks explicitly of the bonds of faith. Instead, Islam gives the bond of faith, even more importance, than the bonds of blood. So, Islam speaks of unity on various levels.

As for everyday life, Islamic activities contain a mix of both personal and non-personal rituals. For instance, when we gather in the mosque for prayer, in strengthens the bonds of the local community. However, we are encouraged to pray at night at our homes, alone, imagining ourselves in direct communication with God. However, in essence, when we strengthen our relation with God, we strengthen our relation with other human beings as well, as we are all connected to him through the soul. Its like a back-haul connection for us all that connects to the rest of 'all of us'.

I hope I have answered your questions.

Feel free to ask if you have any further queries
Best Regards,
Muhammad Awais Tahir

1 comment:

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