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 Takakkur: The Necessity of Reflection and Self-Criticism

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Obedient Angel

Join date : 2011-04-30
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PostSubject: Takakkur: The Necessity of Reflection and Self-Criticism   Takakkur: The Necessity of Reflection and Self-Criticism Icon_minitimeFri Mar 08, 2013 2:30 am

Takakkur: The Necessity of Reflection and Self-Criticism Amazingromanticoimage

The fault is in the blamer — Spirit sees nothing to criticize.

I cannot sleep in your presence.
In your absence, tears prevent me.
You watch me My Beloved.
On each sleepless night ..
And Only You see the difference ..

- Rumi

Tafakkur (Reflection)

By: Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks

Many years ago a book called " Penny for your thoughts" was published. It would be interesting to see whom of the modern generation read this book or heard of it. The cliched title shouldn’t fool one. The intention of the author is to explore the content and quality of everyday thought. This book is not a treatise on logical thinking or the rules of correct reasoning.

The systematic study of logic has to be looked for in other works and is usually the forte of experts and scholars. The subject of this book is more humble but extremely important. People you meet often are so deeply steeped in some thought or issue. A look of utter surprise comes into their faces when you ask them, "Penny for your thoughts?". What is of great interest to me is the fact that often people fail to recall the stream of thought that so deeply engrossed them. Yes we are aware of some of the many reasons why this happens.
But for a Muslim to be so entirely taken over by everyday worries and concerns is not good enough. The author of this book suggests interesting and useful methods to help gain control over ones propensity to sink into purposeless thinking and well worth a read.

The quality of our thought is a very serious and important subject for any Muslim to consider. Says Allah, the Most High, in the Qur'an surah ali 'Imran verses 190 – 191,
"Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the rotations of the day and night are signs for the ulul albab. Those who remember (dhikr) Allah, the Most High, standing, sitting and whilst reclining on their sides and who think (tafakkur) about the creation of the heavens and the earth, [They say] O our Lord You have not created this in vain, Glory be to Thee and protect us from the fires of hell".
In this verse Allah, the Most High, speaks highly of the ulul albab or literally the possessors of mind or the intellectuals. Qualities of this kind are mentioned in the Quran precisely because Muslims are expected to emulate them. The second important attribute of this level or quality of Muslim is remembrance (dhikr). We will discuss that in a later article. Our focus in this article is on the crucial matter of tafakkur.

Imam ‘Abdallah ‘Alawi al-Haddad says in his Book of Assistance, "Know that the reformation of both the din and the dunya depends on sound purposive thinking (tafakkur), and the individual who has mastered this ability has gained a portion of every possible good. It is said: Purposive thinking (tafakkur) for an hour is better than a years worship. It is also related that Sayyidna ‘Ali, may Allah bless him, said: There is no worship ('ibadah) like purposive thinking (tafakkur). A certain gnostic is reported to have said: Purposive thinking (tafukkur) is the lamp of the heart, if it removed the heart has no light."

The reader will notice I’m translating the word tafakkur as "purposive thinking" not simply ‘thinking" or "contemplation". Imam Ahmad al-Haddad in his excellent book "Key to the Garden" defines tafakkur as follows: "And tafakkur is the focus and movement of the heart and mind through the meaning of things in order to reach the underlying intention, and by this, the pearls of truth is reached." Tafakkur is the art, if you like, of churning a matter around in ones mind. The intention driving this process must be to discover the truth behind a saying or clarify the real nature of a principle of belief. We shouldn’t be fooled, this is a skill one has to learn. Thinking to some purpose is a skill we have to acquire.

It is also important to note that this kind of "quality thinking" formed an integral part of the texture and culture of Muslims since the time of the Prophet, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him. A saying attributed to both ibn ‘Abbas and Abu Darda, may Allah be satisfied with both of them, goes like this
"Tafakkur for an hour is better than a whole nights salah." This ability and capacity to think deeply about things is the light of a Muslim. The author compares the human heart to a house and tafakkur to the lamp that provides the light in it. The heart is steeped in darkness without the light of tafakkur. Indeed the full and even basic understanding of our din is beyond the scope of the unthinking.

Tafakkur in the context of din is traditionally divided into four types.

The first is the level of the ordinary people (al-‘ammah). This level involves the search and discussion proofs and arguments to arrive at some conviction. Interesting to note is that the requirement or need for proofs before you believe in Allah, for example, is placed at the most basic level.

The second type of tafakkur is that of the worshippers (al ‘abidin) whose main interest is to know the rewards of a particular ‘ibadah. They want to get on with the work. Knowledge of the rewards inspire them to greater activity.

A third type is the tafakkur of the ascetics (zuhhad). At this level the main focus is on the contingency of existence. They are deeply impressed by the truth of verses such as " everything will disappear and only the Face of Allah will remain". The results of that kind of thinking, which is often inspired by Allah, is a complete break from this world. They loose interest in wealth, fame, power and position.

The fourth type is the tafakkur of the gnostics (‘arifin). They are the great searchers of the truth behind the universe and its creation. They delve into the secrets of the Names and Attributes of Allah, the Most High. And often they speak of things that far exceed the capacity of ordinary people. They are also the great lovers of Allah, the Most High. Love flows from knowledge of the Beloved. The greater our knowledge of the Beloved the greater out love for Him.

So as Imam Ahmad al-Haddad says, "Knowledge comes from tafakkur and from knowledge adoration, and from adoration love."


The Necessity of Reflection and Self-Criticism

By: M. Fethullah Gulen

Our first and foremost duty is to discover ourselves and then turn toward God through the illuminated prism of our nature. People who remain unaware of their true nature, and who therefore cannot establish any contact with their Creator, spend their lives like coolies who are ignorant of the treasure they are carrying on their backs.
Those who want to reform the world must first reform themselves. If they want to lead others to a better world, they must purify their inner worlds of hatred, rancor, and jealousy, and adorn their outer worlds with virtue [through reflection and self-criticism, among other practices].

The Role of Reflection

Reflection literally means to think on a subject deeply, systematically, and in great detail. In a spiritual context, it signifies reflection, which is the heart’s lamp, the spirit’s food, and the spirit of knowledge. Reflection allows believers to discern what is good and evil, beneficial and harmful, beautiful and ugly, and makes the universe a book to study and reveals the Qur’an’s deeper meanings more clearly.

Reflection is a vital step in becoming aware of what is going on around us and of drawing conclusions from it. It opens the door of experience, nourishes the truth, and opens the pupil of the heart’s eye. As Prophet Muhammad stated: “No act of worship is as meritorious as reflection. So reflect on God’s bounties and the works of His Power, but do not try to reflect on His Essence, for you will never be able to do that.”

The verse: They reflect on the creation of the heavens and Earth (3:190) presents the Book of the Universe (creation itself) with its way of creation, the peculiarities of its letters and words, the harmony and coherence of its sentences, and its firmness as a whole. By calling us to reflect upon the universe, the Qur’an shows us one of the most beneficial methods of reflection: to reflect on and study the Qur’an, and to follow it in all our thoughts and actions; to discover the Divine mysteries in the Book of the Universe and, through every new discovery that deepens and unfolds the true believer, to live a life full of spiritual pleasure along a way of light extending from belief to knowledge of God and therefrom to love of God; and then to progress to the Hereafter and God’s pleasure and approval-this is the way to become a perfect, universal human being.

Reflect upon every scientific field, but remember that the rational and experimental sciences are only a first step or a means to reach reflection’s final target: knowledge of God. Studying existence as if it were a book to be reflected upon can engender the desired results and provide ceaseless information and inspiration, but only if one admits that God creates all things and their attributes.

Reflection must be based on and start with belief in God as the Originator of creation. Doing so will enable one to progress uninterruptedly and without end. Encouraging people to engage in reflection focused upon a determined aim entails urging them to learn and use the methods of sciences that study how existence is manifested. Since everything belongs to God, studying every incident, item, and quality also means studying how the Creator deals with existence. Those who study and accurately comprehend this book of existence, and then live according to it, will follow the way of guidance and righteousness all the way to the final station of Paradise.

The Role of Self-Criticism

Self-criticism literally means reckoning, settling accounts, and self-interrogation. In a spiritual context, however, it describes believers who constantly analyze their deeds and thoughts in the hope that correcting them will result in increased closeness to God. They thank God for what they have done, and seek His forgiveness through repentance and remorse. Self-criticism is the very important and serious attempt of asserting personal loyalty to God.

It also may be described as seeking and discovering their inner and spiritual depth, and exerting the necessary spiritual and intellectual effort to acquire true human values and to develop the sentiments that encourage and nourish them. This is how they distinguish between what is good and bad, as well as what is beneficial and harmful, and maintain upright hearts. Furthermore, it enables believers to evaluate the present and prepare for the future. Engaging in self-criticism also enables believers to achieve a steady relationship with God, for this relationship depends on their ability to live a spiritual life and remain aware of what takes place in their inner world. Success preserves their celestial nature as true human beings and continually regenerates their inner senses and feelings.

Believers cannot be indifferent to self-criticism. On the one hand, they try to revive their ruined pasts with the breezes of hope and mercy blown by such Divine calls as: Repent to God (24:31) and: Turn to Your Lord repentant (39:54) that echo in their consciences. On the other hand, warnings as frightening as thunderbolts and as exhilarating as mercy are contained in such verses as: O you who believe! Be conscious of God and observe your duty to Him. And let every soul consider what it has prepared for the morrow (59:18) bring believers to their senses and make them once again strive to avoid sin.

Taking each moment of life to be a time of germination, they seek ever-greater depth in their spirits and hearts with insight and consciousness arising from belief. Even if sometimes pulled down by their carnal dimension, they remain alert: Those who fear God and observe His commandments, when a passing stroke from Satan troubles them, they immediately remember (God), and lo! they are all aware (7:201).

Self-criticism attracts Divine Mercy and Favor, which enables believers to deepen their belief and servanthood, to practice Islam successfully, and to attain nearness to God and eternal happiness. It also prevents despair, which ultimately leads to reliance on personal acts of worship to be saved from Divine punishment in the Hereafter.1

As self-criticism opens the door to spiritual peace and tranquillity, it also causes a greater consciousness of God and His punishment. Those who criticize themselves always hear the echo of the Prophetic warning: “If you knew what I know, you would laugh little but weep a lot.” Self-criticism continuously inspires anxiety in the hearts of those who are fully aware of the heavy responsibility they feel-the anxiety voiced as in: “If only I had been a tree cut into pieces.” While such a degree of self-criticism is hard to attain, it is also difficult for those who do not do so [to be sure that they will be able] to live today better than yesterday, and tomorrow better than today.

Constant self-criticism and self-reprimand show the perfection of a believer’s belief. Those who strive to reach human perfection are conscious of this life and spend every moment of it struggling with their carnal natures. They do not allow everything that occurs to their hearts and minds to enter, for they understand the necessity of self-control. Self-criticism and evening reviews of the day’s activities are constant, even for those acts that seem most sensible and acceptable, and new resolutions are made. Believers knits the “lace of his or her life” with the “threads” of self-criticism and self-accusation.

So long as believers show such loyalty and faithfulness to the Lord and live in such humility, the doors of heaven will be thrown open and an invitation will be extended: “Come, O faithful one. You have intimacy with Us. This is the station of intimacy. We have found you a faithful one.” Every day they are honored with a new, heavenly journey in the spirit. It is God Himself Who swears by such a purified soul in: Nay, I swear by the self-accusing soul! (75:2).

These new people will conquer their selves, thoughts, and hearts, and those of others, and will discover the unknown. They will regard any time spent not taking a new step into the depths of the self and the universe as wasted. As they remove, through faith and knowledge, the veils covering the face of reality, they will become even more eager to advance further. With the messages of answers received from the heavens, Earth, and the seas, they will continue to journey until they return to their Creator


1 If believers despair (of Divine mercy) concerning their eternal life because of their sins, relief from Divine punishment is sought. They then remember and so rely on past good deeds. However, this way is utterly inadequate, for only through Divine mercy can one be saved from God’s punishment and enter Paradise.

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