Al-Shahid - Allah, the Supreme Witness
as in “Shahada”, the bearing Witness, of the human being.
Know yourself and you will know your Lord.
Spoken on the tongue of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, this splendid sentence represents the goal of the Sufi path. All of the radiant forms of worship, all of the teachings, all of the experiences lead to this knowledge. Without knowing ourselves we cannot know our Lord, and without knowing our Lord we will miss the essence of our life.
One of the greatest support in our quest is contemplation, tafakur. Contemplation is actually the underlying state and the marrow of all of the practices, for without some degree of contemplation they are empty. Tafakur occurs when we turn the eye of our awareness inward toward the heart, knowing that this is where Allah Most High dwells. Look to ‘see’ what is there. At first, the process is more akin to feeling or sensing the ‘being’ in our heart, and then dropping deeper and deeper into this existence. We feel our ‘heart being’ enveloping, embracing and dissolving the limited sense of ‘I’. We begin to see that the ‘I’ is a formation of energy and conceptions drawn from the deeper ocean of Self, which is not ‘our self’ but pure existence beyond name. In this state, let go of all identity and self imagery, even religious identities, which are the soggy rafts on this endless ocean. Let go of all resistance, which is the sense of “I”, and allow your own attributes to melt into the attributes of Allah, allow your limited self to pass away into the reality of Allah.
Let’s take a practical example of tafakur. We are angry. We make tafakur by looking inside and seeing who the angry person is. We begin to discern that this ‘person’ is really a figment, an illusory knot of certain disappointed expectations and energies. It is not who we truly are. If we can see this we are already healing. We then drop deeper into the heart level and see how the angry self is drawing its energy from the ocean of our heart. The next step is to allow the limited self to dissolve, as our consciousness is drawn deeper and deeper into the true Self. Tafakur is like the bee who at first hovers around the flower and then finally buries himself completely in the heart of the flower, drinking blissfully the sweet nectar. If we continue this practice we will reach the state of continous tafakur, whether we are alone or with others, whether we are “standing, sitting, or lying down.” We remain centered in the heart and become the arena of open consciousness. Maintain this awareness throughout your day, whatever else you may be doing. Know that Allah is making tafakur upon you and that your tafakur is really Allah’s.
Tafakur of the highest level is the state in which the dervish is completely and consciously absorbed in Truth. The gnostic eye of the dervish is open, gazing upon Divine Reality. At this level, Allah is the One who sees, as only Allah can see Allah. Regarding this state the Prophet has said, “One hour of contemplation is better than a lifetime of worship.” Once you come to this place, the Koran will sing to you, and you will see its teachings and wisdom with your own eyes. Everything in creation will speak to you of Allah. You will see Allah’s face wherever you turn.
Shaykh Muzaffer states, “Indeed contemplation is the highest form of worship. The most venerable Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, said, ‘Before perceiving anything I see in it the Power of Allah.’” He is informing us that he sees Allah prior to seeing the created world. His constant meditation is on Allah and He sees Allah manifesting each event. Hazreti Abu Bakr sees without the support of creation. The renowned Rabia Adawiyya had also reached the level of a pure witness, which is the true meaning of shahid. It is reported that her companion, Mariam, once invited her out of her simple dwelling on a beautiful day to witness the splendor of Allah’s creation, and she replied, “Why do I need to look upon creation when I am witnessing the Creator directly?”
Shaykh Muzaffer once told Shaykh Nur “You have filled yourself with divine sweetness from your constant contemplation of the Names. Now go from the Names to the One named.”
Tasbih Dhikr Meditations
In Islam the main practice of tafakkur is through recitation of the divine Names, dhikrullah, because the Names are the qualities and ‘energies’ of Allah. It is a proof of Allah’s love to us that they are revealed and known, for one only shares oneself with one’s beloved. Each Name is a light and a power streaming from the Source of Reality. By lovingly repeating them we merge with their light and are returned and dissolved into our Source. We should learn all of the Names and feel them flowing through our hearts. The recitations of Holy Quran and the Litanies are in themselves forms of contemplation for they consist entirely of the Beautiful Names.
Among the Names most recommended to recite are La ilaha ilallah Muhammad rasulallah, Allah, Hu, Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim, Subhanallah, Alhamdulillah, and Allahu Akbar, the Names given in one’s personal tasbih, and the names and phrases in the litanies.
La ilaha ilallah is the sword of light which cuts through illusion, clearing the ‘courtyard of the heart’ from all obstruction so that the light of the heart shines forth. This clearing restores the heart to its original station of Truth, and love is released from its bondage to the world and finds its true home in Allah. Our eye is healed so that we see with the divine eye and we are naturally and spontaneously in constant divine presence.
Allah is the Name of power (Ismi Jalal). Through reciting this name we increase our longing and burning for Allah, and it is to the degree that we long that we are answered. In reality, our longing is Allah’s longing and our calling is Allah’s calling. This mutual longing is the fire that becomes the light that reveals the face of Allah as our own essential face. We call on Allah knowing that Allah is nearer to us than our own life breath. Allah is the source and matrix of our existence, the unity of our being, the embrace of all that we are, the fulfillment of all desire. In calling Allah’s name we reach our true self.
Hu is the name of Essence beyond all the Names. It exists before the Names and after them, it exists as the essence of all, and beyond all. Hu is the divine merciful breath which contains in Itself all forms and all beings of the entire creation, while Itself remains uncontainable and ungraspable. Hu also has the meaning ‘He’, and for the Sufis this is a very intimate name. This ‘He’ is not a gender indication but calls on the One Who is adored. Therefore Hu combines both intimacy and inconceivability, what cannot be reached by the intellect. Only the heart can know Hu. In reciting this name one is very quickly brought to a state of blessed bewilderment in which mind and body dissolve and one merges into the divine breath. This state is a beautiful taste of tafakur.
Following are two different forms of meditative tasbih:
Shaykh Nur recommended beginning with the recitation of La ilaha ilallah, Allah, or Hu in an audible voice, then lowering the invocation to a whisper, then bringing it into the heart so that it is outwardly inaudible but inwardly heard. In the final step, leave the name and go into the open space beyond the name. Remain there for the time you desire, or until thoughts begin stirring. It could be a moment or a prolonged time. Then return to the name, at first silent in the heart, and then audible on the tongue. Continue this cycle, going into silence and open space and then out again for a set number of repetitions. As long as you recite the name, use the tasbih to count so that you offer one of the recommended nubers: 11, 33, 100, 165, or 500.
Repeat the name at a very rapid pace, then gradually reduce the tempo until the repetition entirely ceases and one remains suspended in a state of radiance.
An immediate way to awaken your heart is to focus on the breath. Allah Who creates what He wills has joined the heart and lungs together in the breast. The path of breath leads to the heart. With each in-breath and out-breath gratitude arises naturally in the heart, and the breath reveals itself as pure praise of Allah. In the realm of the body the breath has the place of Spirit, the Ruh which brings holy inspiration to the heart. When we offer breath meditation we can do so simply by following the breath in and out, or we can join it with a divine name. Remember that the out-breath is always approximately twice as long as the in-breath.
A special way of meditatiing on La ilaha ilallah is to inhale on La ilaha and exhale on ilallah, or inversely inhale on ilallah and exhale on La ilaha.”
Another tasbih of breath is practiced with the name Allah. Inhale on the A and and exhale on the -llah. Both are silent. You may visualize a luminous Arabic letter Alif* entering your heart as you inhale. With the inbreath you draw in Allah’s love. With the outbreath you extend this love to all beings.
Another meditation is to sit in tranquility, relax the mind and drop into the depth of your heart. Allow the Names to flow into this open space. Follow the Name which enters and repeat it in the heart, or let it repeat itself, until another comes in, so that there is a flow and succession of Names each calling out itself.
The entire Quran is praise and tafakur on Allah. The following verses are among the special jewels for contemplation. To benefit from the nectar of their teachings bring them into your self and contemplate them as your self.
Meditation on Allah’s Face: “Wherever you turn, there is the radiantly beautiful Countenance of Allah (Holy Quran, 2:115).”
Meditation on Mercy and Gratitude: “Be grateful to Me, fill your life with pure gratitude, and do not even for an instant turn away from Me (Holy Qur’an, 2:152).” With a grateful heart, see everything around you as Allah’s Mercy. Extend this Mercy to all lives.
Meditation on Praise: See and hear the entire creation praising Allah. “The seven ascending heavens and the abundant earth, and all countless beings therein, declare His Glory, and there is not a thing that exists that does not celebrate His Praises (Holy Qur’an 17:44).”
Meditation on Allah’s Gaze: Feel the loving gaze of Allah upon you and within your heart at all times. “Surely Allah is pure Awareness and sees His servants as they truly are (Holy Qur’an 35:31).”
Meditation on Action: “And when you threw (the dust) it was not you that threw, but Allah threw it (Holy Qur’an, 8:17).” Be aware that you are not the doer of your action. Allah alone is the origin and doer of all action, so that we attribute all good which flows from ourselves to its true source. Know that we cannot take even one breath without Allah willing this breath. However, we are instructed by adab to take responsibility for all negative acts which might come from us. This is a simple form of vigilance which brings amazing fruits.
Meditation on the Perfection of the Human Being: Meditate on the human being as the crown of creation, the vessel of Allah’s attributes, and the agent of Allah’s actions. “Behold, thy Lord declared to the angels: I will create perfect humanity to be My mirror on earth (Holy Qur’an, 2:30).”
Meditation on the Ayat of Light “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth (Holy Qur’an, 24:35).” Contemplate Shaykh Nur’s magnificent interpretation of this ayat in his book, Sufi Meditation.
Meditation on the Power of Allah: Contemplate Allah’s Power in creation. See how the vast realms of being are simultaneously flowing from Allah, Source of Creation, subsisting in Allah, the Source of All Nourishment, and flowing back into the Allah, Source of Love—from the ant who walks in the night, and the microbe seeking its nourishment, to the greatest expanse of billions of whirling galaxies. This meditation opens the heart in love and adoration to the One in Whom we and all life forms exist, moment by moment.
The Truthful one reports that the worth of our actions in the sight of Allah is according to the intention within them. Therefore we inquire into the state of our intentions. We look first at the fundamental intention toward our life. What do we desire from this life, how do we wish to dedicate this life that is so generously given? Will our life bear the fruit of a heart of light, which is the only gift we bring to Allah? We then look at the intentions behind our actions, and even at the intentions within the intentions. This fruitful procedure helps to free us from unconscious action. It helps us to discern the true from the imagined and the noble from the unworthy. It opens the way for us to ask who is truly forming intention and performing the act. It opens the way for true tafakkur.