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Murāqabah (Arabic: مراقبة, lit.: "to observe") is an Islamic methodology, whose aim is a transcendental union with God. Through murāqabah, a person watches over their heart and soul, to gain insight into one's relation with their creator and their surroundings. Murāqabah is a tradition commonly found in ṭarīqas (Sufi orders). The objective of murāqabah is to purge one's base characters and develop lofty character in its place. According to tradition, it is said to have been the practice of Muhammad during his stay in the Cave of Hira before he met Jibreel.
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Etymology and meaning
The word murāqabah is derived from the base of rā-qāf-bāʿ. The base has the meaning of guarding and watching over with the expectation of noticing any change, unique qualities or abnormalities of a given thing. The word is also on verb scale three, which gives a connotation of exaggeration, overexertion, and partnership. This then implies that the one who is doing murāqabah is diligent and hardworking with the expectation that someone else is also doing a similar task.
In ancient Arabic, the word murāqabah referred to one who would watch the night sky. They would scan the sky in hopes to see the first signs of early stars to begin their journey. Due to the intense heat and difficult terrain of the Arabian Peninsula, the ability to recognize the constellations and their seasonal divergences was a critical skill. In the classic poem, "the observer of the night is as vigilant as a fish in search of water".
This etymology can be connected to the modern linguistical and technical meaning of what murāqabah is understood to be today. Murāqabah is seen to be of twin perspectives, both with a connotation of persistence and exertion. According to al-Qushayrī (d. 465 AH/1072 CE) and al-Jurjānī (d. 816 AH/1413 CE) murāqabah is for one to be aware that their Lord is perpetually aware of His subordinates. Not only is the person continuously in a state of mindfulness but they are also cognizant that their Lord is aware as well, creating a reciprocal relation.
Decorum and etiquette
One of the most significant sentiments of the great philosopher and theologian Al-Ghāzālī (d. 505 AH/1111 CE) centers around God-consciousness; he propagates that it is the obligation of the creation to be in constant awareness of its Creator. That is to constantly obey him. The Creator's eternal knowledge encompasses the ephemeral existence of mortals, from before their conception to the ages after they have passed on. His Knowledge envelops the external, the internal and the metaphysical. He is the Lord and Creator, Glorified Be He. Once one understands this, they must follow a level of etiquette and protocol which are but not limited to:
- Having humility (ar. tawāḍuʾ) and modesty (ar. ḥayāʿ).
- Staying silent and only speaking when appropriate, as it is mentioned in the narration, “the one who believes in Allah and the Last Day should only speak good or stay quiet”.
- Resolve to do the best that one can in every action.
- Rush to do good deeds and avoiding sin.
- To be content with what one must deal with daily (ar. al-raḍāʿ bi al-qaḍāʿ).
- Continuous reflection on one's internal state and the world around them.
- Standing up for the truth.
The physical benefits of murāqabah is akin to the benefits of standard meditation. Metaphysically speaking, the intended result of murāqabah is to refrain from any actions contrary to what is obligatory, and ultimately maintain one's mindfulness in a state that one's Lord finds them (in state of mindfulness) where He is pleased with them and not one where He is displeased with them.
To continue to progress in murāqabah one must be consistent for a lengthy period of time to experience the aforementioned benefits. Although it may prove difficult in the beginning, one may always regain their state of mindfulness after recognizing a change from their initial state.
Here are the maqāmāt (Arabic: مقامات "stages") in which Sufis have broadly categorised their journey of ascension. The categorization is an arbitrary one, and each level is generally further divided into several sublevels. During the process of enlightenment, some stages can merge or overlap each other.
- Fanāʾ Fī al-Shaykh - Become one or annihilated in or with the master (sheikh) or teacher (murshid).
- Fanāʾ Fī al-Rasūl - Become one and annihilated with the Message or Messenger.
- Fanāʾ Fī al-Qurʾān - Become one and annihilated with or in Quran and its commandments.
- Fanāʾ Fī ʾilāh - Become one and annihilated in or with God.
This is the starting level of meditation. A person who starts meditation often enters a somnolent or sleep state (ghanūd غنود). With the passage of time, the person goes into a state between sleep and wakefulness. The person can remember seeing something but not specifically what it is. This topic is well known and practiced among secular scholars of dream interpretation.
During idrāk (إدراك "cognition"), with continuous practice of meditation, the sleepiness from meditation decreases. When the conscious mind is not suppressed by sleep and is able to focus, the person can receive the spiritual knowledge from his subconscious mind. At this stage, the person is unable to see or hear anything but is able to experience or perceive it.
During wurūd (ورود "coming, beginning"), when idrāk (experience) becomes deep, it is exhibited as sight. The stage of wurūd starts when mental concentration is sustained and somnolence is at its minimum. As soon as the mind is focused, the spiritual eye is activated. The conscious mind is not used to see through the spiritual eye so concentration comes and goes. Gradually, the mind gets used to this kind of visions, and the mental focus is sustained. With practice, the visions/experience becomes so deep that the person starts considering himself a part of the experience rather than considering himself an observer.
Gnosis of the universe
Kashf / ʾilhām
Kashf or ʾilhām (كشف/الهام "unveiling of arcane knowledge" or "intuition") is the stage of starting to get information that most other people are unable to observe. In the beginning, this occurs suddenly, without personal control. With practice, the mind gets so energized that it can get this knowledge by will.
With shuhūd (شهود, "evidence") a person can get any information about any event/person at will. This stage is broadly categorized according to activation of the senses:
- The person can see things anywhere in the universe
- The person can hear things anywhere in the universe
- The person can smell things anywhere in the universe
- The person can touch things anywhere in the universe.
These are all spiritual senses, known as Ḥawās al-Bāṭin (senses of the innermost).
With fatḥ (فتح, "opening, victory") closing eyes is no longer necessary for meditation. The person is freed from both space and time and can see/hear/taste/touch anything present anywhere in time and space.
Gnosis of Allah
During fanā (فناء, "extinction, annihilation"), through a series of stages (maqāmāt) and subjective experiences (ahwal), this process of absorbation develops until complete annihilation of the self (fana) takes place, and the person becomes al-insanul-kamil, the "perfect man". It is the disintegration of a person's narrow self-concept, social self and limited intellect (feeling like a drop of water aware of being part of the ocean). The stage is also called fana fit tawheed ("extinction with the unity"), and fana fil Haq ("extinction in the reality").
During sair illallah (سيرٌ الى الله, "journey towards the God") the person starts his spiritual journey towards the ultimate reality of the universe, God. It is also called safr-e-urooji.
Fana fillah (فناء في الله, "extinction of the self in God") is one of the important phases of mystical experience is attained by the grace of God by a traveler on the mystical path. Now, the person becomes extinct in the will of God. It is important to mention that this is not incarnation or union. Most Sufis passing through this experience have preferred to live in the greatest depth of silence, which transcends all forms and sounds and to enjoy their union with the beloved.
- The highest stage of fana is reached when even the consciousness of having attained fana disappears. This is what the Sufis call "the passing-away of passing-away" (fana al-fana). The mystic is now wrapped in contemplation of the divine essence.
- Since it is a state of complete annihilation of carnal self, absorbation or intoxication in God, the pilgrim is unable to participate in worldly affairs, and he is made to pass into another state known as fana-al-fana (forgetfulness of annihilation). It is a sort of oblivion of unconsciousness. Since two negatives make one positive, the pilgrim at this stage regains the individuality he had when he started the journey. The only difference is that in the beginning, he was self-conscious, but after having reposed in the Divine Being, he regains that sort of individuality that is God-consciousness or absorbation in God. This state is known as baqa-bi-Allah, that is, living or subsisting with God.
Sair min Allah
During sair min Allah (سير من الله, "journey from the God") the person comes back to his existence. It is also called safr-e-nuzooli. What happens is the person's awareness of God increases so much so that he forgets his own self and is totally lost in his magnificence.
Baqaa billah (بقاء بالله, "eternal life in God The Creator") is the state in which man comes back to his existence and God appoints him to guide the humans. The individual is part of the world but unconcerned about rewards or position in the world. The doctrine is further explained in Sahih Bukhari, which states that God said:
And the most beloved things with which My slave comes nearer to Me, is what I have enjoined upon him; and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing Nawafil (praying or doing extra deeds besides what is obligatory) till I love him, so I become his sense of hearing with which he hears, and his sense of sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he grips, and his leg with which he walks.
There is another verse from Qur'an that is used to explain this concept:
"We are nearer to him than his jugular vein."— Qur'an 50:16
When Sufis have come out of the fana fillah state and enter Baqa billah, many of them have produced works of unsurpassed glory, especially in the fields of philosophy, literature and music. Such works have crowned the culture of the entire Islamic world and inspired Sufis and non-Sufis for generations. As the great Persian Sufi poet, Hafez of Shiraz, fondly remembered as the "tongue of the unseen", said centuries ago: "He whose heart is alive with love, never dies". The Qur'an says:
"Lo, indeed, the friends of God have no fear, nor are they grieved"— Qur'an 10:62
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Source: "Muraqabah", Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, (2023, February 26th), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muraqabah.
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