The Lost Art of Contemplation
Published: September 20, 2017 • Updated: June 10, 2023
Author: Dr. Zohair Abdul-Rahman
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
- Al-Haajis: A fleeting thought that is quick to enter into consciousness and quick to exit;
- Al-Khaatir: A thought that enters into the mind and an individual chooses to think about;
- Hadith an-Nafs: An internal conversation, where a thought is deliberated over in depth;
- Al-Hamm: A motivation to act, where a thought process has impacted a person’s motivation or emotional state; and
- Al-’Azm: A firm resolve to execute an action. While a person may still hesitate over a hamm, once they reach the point of ‘azm it has become a firm decision with no going back.
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Section 1: Significance of Thoughts
Age of Distraction
Section 2: Fundamentals of Thought
Abu Huraira reports that the Prophet ﷺ said, “Certainly, Allah has overlooked for my ummah what arises (haddathat) in his mind (nafs) as long as he does not act it out or vocalize it.”
God does not place a burden on a person that he is not capable of fulfilling.
Components of the Unconscious
Say: I seek refuge in the Master of Humanity, the King of Humanity, the God of Humanity from the evil whispering of the one who retreats. He who whispers into the chests of Humanity from among the Jinn (hidden creatures) and Humanity.
Iblis enters into the human being according to the space that is available for him. The space is increased based on the level of heedlessness, ignorance, or lack of knowledge. Realize that the heart is like a fortress with walls. In these walls are gates. Through these gates is the potential for the fortress to be breached. The intellect dwells inside this fortress and the angels encircle it. To the side of this fortress is the place for the desires. The devils gain access to this area without any difficulty. Thus begins the war between the fortress and those outside. Shaytaan constantly searches for an opening into the fortress where a person’s guard is let down so he can breach the wall.
He puts on his army gear and takes his weapons as he enters into the battlefield. His desires and passions against his intellect (‘aql) and guidance (huda). The only way to victory is through the help of Allah.
his intellect is with shaytaan like a prisoner in the hand of the enemy…the very thing that Allah has honored and elevated his status with comes in the possession of his enemy and is used to destroy him.
And We have certainly created man and know what his nafs whispers to him…
They are the ones who Allah has placed a seal over their hearts and they follow their desires.
They only follow conjecture and what the self desires even though guidance has come to them from their Lord.
Abdullah reports that the Prophet ﷺ said, “Satan has a portion over the son of Adam and the angel has a share over him. The devil directs man to commit evil actions and deny the truth and the angel encourages man to do good actions and believe in the truth.”
And we inspired to the mother of Moses, ‘Suckle him; but when you fear for him, cast him into the river and do not fear and do not grieve. Indeed, We will return him to you and will make him one of the messengers.’
Once Junayd was delivering a public lecture and a young Christian boy disguised as a Muslim came to ask a question. He said, “O Shaykh, what is the meaning of the saying of the prophet, ‘Beware of the intuition of the believer, for he sees with the light of Allah.’”Junayd was silent and then raised his head to him and said, ‘Become Muslim, the time of your Islam has come.’ The young boy immediately became Muslim.
In the state of sleep, when the avenues of the senses are closed, this window is opened and man receives impressions from the unseen world and sometimes foreshadowings of the future. His heart is then like a mirror which reflects what is pictured in the Tablet of Fate. But, even in sleep, thoughts of worldly things dull this mirror so that the impressions it receives are not clear.
Section 3: Process of Thinking
Components of Contemplation
Thoughts to Behavior
Expanding Ibn al-Qayyim’s Model
Shaytaan encounters the land of the heart as empty and barren, so he plants seeds that will lead to satanic thoughts giving rise to passions, forbidden urges and desires. This will then lead to (forbidden and destructive) actions. But if the land of the heart is busy with good and beneficial thoughts regarding one’s purpose in life, thinking about accountability and the next life, its eternal delights and painful punishments, then there will be no room for one’s desires.
Section 4: A System of Islamic Contemplation
- Our most beloved purpose;
- The path that leads to fulfilling this purpose;
- Harm that leads to punishment; and
- The paths that lead to this harm
- Thinking about our most beloved purpose
- The path that leads to fulfilling this purpose
- Thinking about our most despised ends
- The paths that lead to our most despised ends and result in punishment
- Knowledge of Allah’s Tawheed (Divine Unity) and Attributes
- Path towards Allah
- Paths away from Allah
1 Quran, 87:14
2 Quran, 91:9
4 The degrees of motivation are typically described with reference to the following line of poetry:
مراتب القصد خمس هاجس ذكروا
فخاطر فحديث النفس فاستمعا
يليه هم فعزم كلها رفعت
سوى الأخير ففيه الأخذ قد وقعا
This line is cited by the famous Qur’anic commentator Al-Alusi (d. 1270 H) in Ruh al-Ma’ani (Beirut: Dar Ihya Turath al-Arabi 1985) vol. 3, p. 64 (explanation of 2:284). It is also cited by Siddeeq Hasan Khan (d. 1307 H), in Fath al-Bayan fi Maqasid al-Qur'an and Anwar Shah Kashmiri (d. 1353 H) in Fayd al-Bari.
5 See also Zarabozo J. Commentary on the 40 hadith of Imam Nawawi (2 vol. set). Denver: Al-Basheer; 2009. p. 1109
6 Berisha, E. (2017). The Qur’anic semio-ethics of nature. Islam and Civilisational Renewal, 8, 47-65.
7 Pang, A. (2013). The distraction addiction. New York: Brown and Company. p. 5
9 Clark, A., & Chalmers, D. (1998). The extended mind. Analysis, 58(1), 7-19.
11 Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2010). A systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations. Psychological Medicine, 40(8), 1239-1252.
12 Moerman, D. E., & Jonas, W. B. (2002). Deconstructing the placebo effect and finding the meaning response. Annals of Internal Medicine, 136(6), 471-476.
13 Al-Badri M. (2000). Contemplation: An Islamic psychospiritual study. Herndon, VA: International Institute of Islamic Thought, p. 22.
16 Lightsey, O.R., Gharghani, G. G., Katz, A. M., McKinney, V. A., & Rarey, E. B. (2013). Positive automatic cognitions mediate the relationship between personality and trait positive affect. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14(1), 115-134.
17 Abu Layla M. (1990). In pursuit of virtue: The moral theology and psychology of Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi. London: TaHa Publishers, p. 158.
18 al-Bukhārī, Muḥammad ibn Ismāʻīl. Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī. (Bayrūt: Dār Ṭawq al-Najjāh, 2002), v. 7 p. 46 # 5269.
19 Quran, 2:286
20 Al-Badri, M., p. 23
21 Quran, 114:1-6
22 Al-Badri M, 23 p. translation of Ibn al-Qayyim. Al-Fawa’id. Bayrūt: Dār al-Nafā’is; 1981. p. 173
23 Ibn al-Jawzi. Talbis Iblis. Bayrūt: Dār al-Qalam; 1982. p. 38
24 Ibn al-Qayyim. ‘Iddat as-Sabireen. Damām: Dār Ibn al-Jawzi; 2012. p. 48
25 Ibid, p. 51
26 Quran, 50:16
27 Ibn al-Qayyim. Rawdat ul Muhibbeen. Jeddah: Dār Alam al-Fawa’id; 2010, pp. 245-246
28Ibid, p. 233
29 Quran, 47:16
30 Quran, 53:23
31 Ibn al-Qayyim, Rawdat ul Muhibeen, p. 235
32 Quran, 12:53
33 Quran, 75:2
34 Quran, 89:27-28
35 Muslim, Ibn al-Ḥajjāj al-Qushayrī. Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim. ([Bayrūt]: Dār Iḥyāʼ al-Kutub al-ʻArabīyah, 1955), v. 4 p. 2168 #2814
36 al-Tirmidhī, Muḥammad ibn ʻĪsá. Sunan al-Tirmidhī. (Bayrūt: Dār al-Ġarb al-Islāmī, 1998), v. 5 p. 69 #2988
37 Quran, 28: 7
38 al-Tirmidhī, Sunan al-Tirmidhī, v. 5 p. 194 #3127
39 Quran, 15:75
40 Ibn al-Qayyim. Kitab ar-Ruh. 5th edition. Cairo: Al-Maktabatu at-Tawfeeqiyya; 2012.
41 Ibn al-Qayyim. Madarij as-Salikeen. Al-Mansoorah: Maktabatu Fayyadh; 2013.
42 Ibid, p. 826
44 Ibid, p. 827
45 Many scholars of hadith have pointed out weakness in this narration chain of transmission, such as at-Tabarani (Al-Mu’jam al-Awsat, vol. 8, p. 23), Al-Aqeeli (Ad-Du’afaa al-Kabeer, vol. 4, p. 129) and Ibn al-Jawzi (Mawdu’aat ibn al-Jawzi, vol. 3, p. 389).
46 Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij as-Salikeen, p. 827
47 Ibid, p. 828
49 Ibid, p. 829
50 Ibid, p. 828
53 This refers to the well-known prophetic narration regarding angels being annoyed by similar odors as human beings are annoyed by.
54 Kamali, M. H. (2006). Reading the signs: A Quranic perspective on thinking. Islam & Science, 4(2), 141-164.
55 Veenman M. V. J., van Hout-Wolters, B., & Afflerbach, P. (2006). Metacognition and learning: Conceptual and methodological considerations. Metacognition and Learning, 1, 3-14.
57 Ibn al-Qayyim. Miftaah Dar as-Sa’dah. Jeddah: Dār Alam al-Fawa’id; 2011.
59 Ibn al-Qayyim, Iddat as-Sabireen, p. 93
60 Quran, 83:14
61 Ibn al-Qayyim, Miftaah Daar as-Sa’adah, p. 525
62 Ibid, p. 525
64 Ibid, pp. 524-525
65 Ibid, p. 525
66 Ibn Qayyim. Shifaa ul-‘ileel. Cairo: Dar at-Turaat; p. 526.
67 Quran, 94:5-6
68 Ibn al-Qayyim, Miftaah Daar as-Sa’adah, p. 525
69 Quran, 24:35
70 Ibn al-Qayyim. Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya on the Invocation of God = Al- Wābil Al-Ṣayyib Min Al-Kalim Al-Ṭayyib. (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Soc, 2007), p. 64.
72 Quran, 16:60
73 Ibid, p. 47
74 Quran, 2:6-7
75 Ibid, p. 526-527
76 Ibid, p. 527
77 Ibid, p. 528
79 Ibid, p. 529
81 Ibid, p. 530
82 We have slightly modified this category from the original to produce a more coherent system. The original is “Thinking about harm and punishment” without any sub-categories.
83 Ibn al-Qayyim, Miftaah Daar Sa’aadah, p. 531.