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Dr. Shabir Ally, from Let the Quran Speak, addresses this question in the video below:
Aisha Khaja: Okay this question is about meditation. The question is: we know that the Prophet meditated. How should Muslims view meditation? Is it obligatory in our religion? Does the Quran or Sunnah describe how we should meditate? And is it true that the Prophet said the one hour of meditation is better than 70 years of prayer?
Dr. Shabir Ally: Hmm. Okay, so, meditation is mentioned in the Quran a number of times using different words. Often, we are encouraged by the Quran to ponder over the Quran itself. So the word “tafakkur”, pondering, or “tadabbur”, which also means a lot of deliberation over the meaning of the Quran itself.
And the Quran also encourages us to ponder the signs of God which are evident everywhere in God’s creation.
For example, in the third chapter of the Quran, the 190th verse, tells us to… well, describes the believers as those who ponder the creation of the heavens and the earth.
The 67th chapter of the Quran, at the beginning, invites believers to look up into the heavens and see if you can find any fault therein and of course the result that is expected is that you will glorify God after seeing the wonders of his creation. The Quran encourages Muslims to travel and to see how God has initiated creation and so on, so this is one aspect of pondering.
The other might be silent meditation. It is mentioned that the Prophet–peace be upon him–prior to his receiving the revelation, used to retire to a cave and practice what is called “al-tahannuth”, which is some form of meditation that was known to the Arabs before he received the specific revelation.
But within the religious teachings of Islam itself, it is mentioned that if a person performs the ablutions at home and then goes to the mosque early before the actual prayer, then that time spent in the mosque is regarded as if the person was busy in prayer.
So what might he be doing in the mosque at that time? He may be engaged in some silent meditation, or just simply recounting one’s activities and maybe repenting before God, or just thinking about things that are good and holy, or maybe reciting the Quran, which is another way of meditation.
At the end of the day, one may want to recollect one’s events or one’s actions and sort out the good from the bad and ask God to forgive us for what we’ve done wrong.
An interesting story in this regard is mentioned about one of the Companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, who said that at the end of the day, he would just cleanse his heart of all negative thoughts that he had towards other people.
And it is noted that it was for this reason that the Prophet, peace be upon him, recommended this man as a person who would go to paradise.
Aisha Khaja: So it seems that the meditation is a very integral part of the Islamic faith.
Dr. Shabir Ally: Yes. Many Muslims, especially those who go out in what is referred to as the Jamaat tabligh—a sort of missionary endeavor that is confined mainly to uplifting the spirit of Muslims; so, it’s missionaries going to other Muslims.
They often stay in the mosque between the Fajr–the early morning prayer–until sunrise, which could have them sitting there waiting for about half an hour to an hour, and in that time they would be remembering God by reciting some of the names of God, by saying “glory be to God,” for example. And this would be a sort of meditation. They may refer to it as “muraqabah”, which is another word for meditation.
Aisha Khaja: So there’s no sense that you have to go into a private place, be solitary, spend a particular amount of time meditating. It seems like it’s entirely up to the individual.
Dr. Shabir Ally: Yes, there’s many different ways.
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