Sufi Meditation: A Forgotten Practice
Friends, families and strangers enter a dimly lit room and sit beside each other to form a circle. The faint smell of incense lingers over oriental carpets as silence befalls. A voice quietly speaks and says, “Keep your hearts in connection” before God is called upon. The All-Knowing, the All-Forgiving, the All-Loving. Praises in His name grow and nurture a low hum filling the room and harbouring a tangible vibration. Behind closed eyes, every corner of this circle finds solitude from the world around them and within themselves, seeking refuge from their struggles with God – the merciful, the compassionate.
Dhikr, literally translated as ‘remembrance’ (of God) is the meditation of the Muslim mystics or Sufis, and is considered a ritual prayer or litany recited with the purpose of establishing awareness of a divine presence . For the Sufi, dhikr is a means of finding solitude from their worldly commitments and is a medium for connecting with their divine origin. This practice which serves the purpose of silencing the noise and clearing the clutter that comes with modern life is deeply valued and is seen as a gateway for them to strengthen their relationship with God. The way a dhikr ceremony may look and sound varies among different Sufi orders. For example, some practice the silent dhikr, intended to be recited in the heart (Khafi) whereas others emphasise a communal recitation, reciting out loud and in unison with others (Jalli) . Specific postures, breathing patterns and movements are also associated certain orders are implemented by different orders. For example, in a Naqshabandi dhikr a triplet breathing pattern is expressed in the names and attributes of God. Hū, (Him) is expressed at a deep, low, vibrating breath originating from the base of the stomach. Haqq (the Truth) is repeated rapidly with a continuous and abrupt glottal stop hinging the breath, and finally Hay (the Ever-Living) is expressed continuously as a light exhale.
With the ever-growing demands and constant sensory bombardment that come with modern day life, it comes as no surprise that ancient Eastern practices such as meditation, yoga and mindfulness have seen a boom in popularity as more people look for an accessible way to slow down, switch off and become more connected with their inner self. Young people’s search for peace is no better illustrated than in media trends, for example, the meditation app ‘Headspace’ has gained over 11 million downloads and millions of TikTok users are turning to cyber spirituality and astrology as a source of spiritual guidance . With the rise of people looking for peace, one may ask where young Muslims are finding theirs? Growing up in rapidly changing world, more so than the previous generation, who and what are young Muslims turning to for spiritual advisory?
Dhikr is intended to be done throughout the day and though meditative circles are a wonderful way of finding solitude whilst feeling part of a community, remembering God is not limited to them. It is important to remember that dhikr is accessible and incorporated into the vernacular of Muslims worldwide. Phrases such as InshaAllah (if God wills it), MashaAllah (God has willed it) and Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God) remind those who use them that they are always in the care of an entity greater than them, who knows them and is closer to them than they know.
“So remember Me, and I will remember you”. (Quran 2:152)
By Halima Anwar
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