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How Meditation Feeds My Muslim Faith

Written by Kaighla Um Dayo

There is a rather common misunderstanding among the Muslim community that meditation is haraam (a sin). The word itself is taboo.

One thinks of gongs, Tibetan prayer flags, maybe a smiling Buddha statue, and Sanskrit chants. But these things are a commercialized picture of a very healthy, very widespread practice that millions of people from all walks of faith—and lack thereof—have enjoyed from the beginning of humankind.

How Meditation Feeds My Muslim Faith

 

In this day and age when we are almost never alone, truly alone, without a device to keep us company and distract us from our innermost thoughts, it’s almost impossible to shut our brains down, creating an epidemic of sleep deprivation, stress, and anxiety.

I have always had a very busy, very distracted mind, and my emotions take hold of me easily. But one day in 2015, shortly after my divorce and iddah (waiting period) had begun, I suddenly saw the ways in which my new meditation practice was helping me.

In the midst of an emotional meltdown after yet another argument, I felt the same inner drive to do something about the pain and rage I felt. Suddenly, and totally unexpectedly, I felt a calm come over me and I felt myself tell myself, “Actually, Kaighla, you don’t have to do anything. You could sit and let this pain pass over you.”

And I was hooked.

What is Meditation?

What do I mean when I say “meditation”? For starters, it doesn’t (always) include chants, Sanskrit, or otherwise. The National Institute of Health says that meditation involves a combination of four things:

1.) a quiet location with as few distractions as possible;

2.) a specific, comfortable posture (sitting, lying down, walking, or in other positions);

3.) a focus of attention (a specially chosen word or set of words, an object, or the sensations of the breath);

4.) and an open attitude (letting distractions come and go naturally without judging them).

Meditation is a universal practice which is and can be enjoyed by people of all faiths. There is nothing about meditation that makes it fundamentally Buddhist or Hindu, as some falsely believe. And meditation is incredibly good for you.

Health Benefits of Meditation

Based on 3,000 scientific studies, researchers have determined that meditation has over 76 positive effects on the body and mind which can be recorded and measured by various technologies. This is not woo-woo, and it’s not New Age nonsense: it’s science. 

Among these positive effects: It actually changes the physical structure of your brain. Basically, says expert Sara Lazar, “brain regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing were thicker in meditation participants than matched controls, including the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula.”

Meditation eases anxiety and mental stress.

Meditation helps protect us from age-related mental decline.

Meditation is nearly equally effective at treating depression as anti-depressive medication (without the side effects!)

I could go on and on. But you get the picture. Turns out, sitting still and being quiet is incredibly good for the mind and body, and in our fast-paced, always-on, instant messaging culture, it’s as needed as ever. 

But what does all this have to do with my faith as a Muslim?

God Commands Meditation 

Allah says when referring to the Qur’an,

{This is a Blessed Book which We have revealed to you, Oh Prophet, so that they may contemplate its verses and people of reason may be mindful.} (38:29)

This phrase “so that they may contemplate” is liyaddabbaroo, coming from the root tadabbur. At-Tadabbur (التَّدَبُّرُ) linguistically derives from the Arabic word ad-dubur (الدُّبُر) which is the end of something. When one contemplates on a thing, or a choice, one is considering what the end result will lead to.

Some have said that At-tadabbur is “thinking on it, i.e. the acquirement of two pieces of information to acquire a third. Therfore at-tadabbur is thinking and understanding.” 

Throughout the Qur’an, Allah commands “the people who are mindful” or “whomever has a mindful heart” to consider his signs in the universe and in themselves. He reminds us to always be mindful of Him, to remember Him and His commands. He encourages us to engage in tadabbur and tafakkur.

He tells us to remember Him and contemplate on His signs always:

{In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are signs for men of understanding; those that remember God when standing, sitting, and lying down, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth (saying): ‘Lord, You have not created these in vain. Glory be to You! Save us from the torment of the fire, Lord.} (Quran 3:191)

The Prophets Meditated

When we first meet Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, he is sitting in a cave in a mountainside trying to escape the noise and excess of Mecca, something he was known to do by his wife and closest friends.

Muhammad, like us, craved some peace and quiet in a world that was far too loud for spiritual thought. Seeking out that quiet and an inner peace is a perfect description of meditation. He was known to sit in quiet reflection, often looking down at the ground. Reflection fuels faith. 

Jesus was constantly escaping the crowds to go pray and meditate in gardens and such. There are countless examples in the gospels of his disciples waking to find him in deep meditation. He used to pray on his face to God (much like the position of prostration in prayer) seeking nearness to Him and pleading with God for the salvation of mankind.

Isaac (or Ishaq) used to meditate: “And Isaac went out to meditate in the fields at the eventide […].” (Genesis 24:63)

God commands Joshua and his people to never stop pondering on the Law of God (The Torah/Tawrah): “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8).

How I Meditate, and How It Helps

There are so many types of meditation, from the more psychedelic-type of transcendental meditation—where one aims to transcend their reality— to the very vanilla “focused breath” meditations of today.

And yes, there are chanting-types. Many Muslim meditators choose to ponder on and even chant the many names of Allah, an experience which was revolutionary for me. There is even an  Islamic Meditation movement happening!

Me personally? I prefer sitting down in a comfy spot, or even lying down, and using an app I love called Headspace. There are many such apps on many platforms, and one need not use an app at all. There are even downloadable videos and audio sessions if one needs. And of course one can do things the old-school way: alone, in a room or outdoors, nothing but you and your mind. 

So once a day, on most days (hey, I’m not a saint here), I sit down and meditate for 10-15 minutes, mostly concentrating on the sound of my breath. I try to meditate before one of the prayers so that I accustom my mind to being in a state of mindfulness before prayer, much like one makes wudu (ablution) to cleanse one’s body before prayer. 

Am I so much happier? No. Do I ever lose my calm? ALL THE TIME. But, as ABC anchor and famed-meditation guru Dan Harris says, my meditation practice makes me “10% Happier”.

Meditation helps me to calm my crazy, wandering mind and helps give me the focus I need to do all the things I do in a day to please my Lord. Meditation prepares my heart for prayer.

Meditation enables me to clear out the clutter of my mind and helps me to focus on God and my connection with Him when I go into prayer. Prayer and meditation—or as I like to say “Talking to God and listening for a response”—are not an “either/or” situation for me, but a “both, and”.

Meditation helps me to cleanse my heart and open up to what God wants to put in it.

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3 thoughts on “How Meditation Feeds My Muslim Faith

  1. This is a wonderful post which nips the taboo right into the heart, the prevalent taboo that Muslims cannot or should not mediate as it is haram, prohibited and UnIslamic. I hear this a lot from people around me, particularly I am told I shouldn’t meditate and etc etc reasons justifying that Muslim women CANNOT meditate like so many other presumed things of NOT TO DO FOR US.
    While there is nothing wrong in those who chant in Sanskrit, each to her or his own, I have enjoyed immensely descriptive approach of this feature and I hope that many more brothers and sisters will start meditation. MashAllah great work Islamwich team for being so proactive !!!

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind and genuine thoughts. I think Muslims are not exempt from the same narrow, closed-minded worldview that my fellow American evangelical Christians suffer from. The idea that anything different than the “norm” is bad is a common problem, unfortunately. People are afraid of what they don’t understand.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with you and well, most born Muslims and Islamic communities also like to play ignorant and lazy, accepting illiterate clerics teachings as opposed to really making efforts to research our lovely faith on most issues, including meditation. I applaud this feature post as I do most your previous ones. JazakAllah Khair 🙂

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