Towards the goal of attaining enlightenment and a deeper connection with the Divine Presence of God, one of the most powerful spiritual practices in Islam is that of khalwa, or spiritual seclusion.
Khalwa was practiced by the Prophet Muhammad (S) througout his life, both before and after receiving revelation. In fact, it was during immersions in khalwa that the Prophet received not only insight, but revelation itself.
Khalwa in Islam
The word khalwa can be translated as “seclusion”, and in Islamic Spirituality, is used to refer to withdrawing oneself from dunya, the manifest world of form, typically for a period of intense meditation and reflection.
By understanding, practicing, applying and incorporating khalwa in your life, the seeker has a powerful opportunity to not only transcend illusion and the vanity of the self, but to awaken to Truth, discovering the imminence of the Divine Presence and establishing a permanent connection with the Source of all that is.
Additionally, the following benefits are available to one who learns to effectively apply the principle of khalwa in his or her life.
- Joy. Much unhappiness and dissatisfaction in life result from a disconnect with one’s spirituality and a connection to Divine Presence, a disproportionate absorption in mind and thinking. Yet by learning how to effectively apply the principle of khalwa to your life and spiritual practice, you progressively increase your inner peace and happiness. Through such spiritual practice, a human being becomes in-dependent, meaning dependent within, solely subsistent upon the light of the Divine rather than upon external elements.
- Success. Through meditative spiritual practice enlightened by the principle of khalwa, a human being thus becomes whole, complete and ultimately fearless. By withdrawing attention, energy and dependence from the external world of form, one progressively develops in-dependence. The result is freedom from creation and ultimately total annihilation in the love and beauty of the Divine Presence. In such a state, you naturally attract barakah, blessings and success. And as the structure of the psyche continues to evolve with progressively greater levels of belief, or iman, as an individual, you actively un-limit your divine potential, moving towards the realization of the divine destiny of humanity as spiritual deputies, khulafah, of the Eternal.
- Purpose. With the attainment of enlightenment, clarity and divine vision, a human being awakens to divine purpose, discovering your true identity as a divine deputy of God, a khalifa, in this plane. With such an awesome responsibility comes a great purpose, that of conveying light, love, mercy and healing to all of creation. Due to the distracting nature of the world, dunya, it is nearly impossible to awaken to such truth and purpose without the active application of the principle of khalwa in consistent spiritual practice.
By ignoring this essential aspect of Islamic spirituality, the practice and application of khalwa, it is nearly impossible to attain to true knowledge, wisdom and light.
Regarding the importance of khalwa and meditation, the Holy Messenger (S), the Seal of the Prophets, said, “One hour of introspection is more valuable than seventy years of worship.” For without meditation and contemplation — Islamic spirituality — the religion degenerates into unenlightened superficial form, literally lacking light, and ultimately fails to serve its very purpose of evolving and awakening humanity.
“One hour of introspection is more valuable than seventy years of worship.”
— Prophet Muhammad (S)
Without its inner dimension, Islam, like anything else, loses its purpose, meaning, essence and ability to serve its intention, potentially becoming the antithesis of itself, eventually leading to corruption, arrogance, pride, misunderstanding and error. In its worst manifestation, rather than being the tool for the healing of the human condition it was intended to be, it can devolve into a counterproductive crutch used by the ego to augment its sense of self, its isolation from the Universe and all others, and thus its need to create enemies, resulting in absolutely unnecessary cycles of pointless violence. Note that this is the opposite of the Islamic goal of oneness and unity, beautifully exemplified in the principle of tawhid.
Behold, thy Lord said to the angels, “I will create a vicegerent, a khalifa, on earth.” They said, “Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood, whilst we celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holiness?” He said, “I know that which ye know not.” — Surah al-Baqarah (Quran, 2:30)
Only by going inward and connecting to one’s soul, one’s conscience, can a human being connect to the Source of inspiration and light, the Source of guidance, and it is for this reason the Prophet Muhammad (S) consistently called seekers and believers to learn to tune to and awaken to the consciousness of their hearts.
“Take great care, for within the body there is a piece of flesh that if purified, the entire body becomes blessed, yet if it is corrupted, the entire body and what flows from it becomes tainted. Indeed, it is the heart.” — Prophet Muhammad (S)
Through lack of developing in-dependence, a human being becomes completely dependent on others to do their thinking and decision-making for them, and such are easily led into error. Yet Islam is about developing personal leadership, ultimately being directly led and inspired by the Divine Presence of God. Of course, this necessitates a great degree of sincerity to overcome the self, the ego, the nafs.[box]
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Khalwa in Islam: Two Types
There are two types of khalwa in Islam: physical khalwa and spiritual khalwa. As with all things in Islamic Spirituality, the goal of physical practices, never an end in themselves, is the realization of its spiritual state.
1. Physical Khalwa
Initially, to prepare a human being for the more advanced exercise of spiritual seclusion, khalwa necessitates the actual physical separation of oneself from all worldly distractions and attachments for a time. Periods of physical khalwa can range from as little as a few minutes, as in the five daily prayers, or longer to days, weeks, months and in some rare cases years.
Physical khalwa is often used in schools of Islamic Spirituality to train students to disconnect from the world of forms and appearances, and to dissociate from the constant stream of common human consciousness, so as to prepare the mind and body for enlightenment.
Note that Islam and its spiritual teachings do not condone physical khalwa as permanent method of living, in effect rejecting the world and its inhabitants, but rather prescribes its use as a tool and practice for a period to facilitate in the liberation of consciousness.
2. Spiritual Khalwa
The goal of physical khalwa is the development of the ability to maintain its internal state of in-dependence progressively, and ultimately, perpetually. This was the way of the Prophet (S), who although immersed in the world and in the lives of his family, friends and community, nevertheless often withdrew into the Divine Presence in the cultivation of a permanent state of liberation and spiritual enlightenment.
Ultimately, the Prophet (S) was the exemplar of being in both worlds concurrently, both in the world and yet above it, transcended, awake in the Divine Presence, in his own words, with “one face towards the Creator and one face towards creation.”
This is the goal of Islam, to awaken in the Divine Presence of God, and so to realize the spiritual state of ihsan. To be in the world, yet not of the world. To be free, and not lost or limited by dunya.
And thus, through meditation and khalwa, a human being develops an authentic and real rootedness, centeredness, connectedness, beautifully manifesting the outward practice of centering one’s life around the Divine Presence of God, continually facing the qiblah, the direction of prayer, internally.
This then is the path to a balanced, whole, complete and blessed life.
Khalwa in Islam: Seclusion in the Crowd
Shah Naqshband (Q), one of the great teachers and masters of Islamic Spirituality, in his Pillars of the Way, defined spiritual seclusion, khalwa, as its Fourth Pillar, and termed its goal as Khalwa dar-Anjuman, or “Seclusion in the Crowd.”
The following excerpt is taken from the book, Classical Islam, and goes into some detail on this topic.[box]
“Khalwat” means seclusion. It means to be outwardly with people while remaining inwardly with God. There are also two categories of seclusion. The first is external seclusion and the second is internal seclusion.
External seclusion requires the seeker to seclude himself in a private place that is empty of people. Staying there by himself, he concentrates and meditates on dhikrullah, the remembrance of God, in order to reach a state in which the Heavenly Realm becomes manifest. When you chain the external senses, your internal senses will be free to reach the Heavenly Realm. This will bring you to the second category: the internal seclusion.
The internal seclusion means seclusion among people. Therein the heart of the seeker must be present with his Lord and absent from the creations while remaining physically present among them. It is said, “The seeker will be so deeply involved in the silent dhikr in his heart that, even if he enters a crowd of people, he will not hear their voices. The state of dhikr overcomes him. The manifestation of the Divine Presence is pulling him and making him unaware of all but his Lord. This is the highest state of seclusion, and is considered the true seclusion, as mentioned in the Holy Qur’an: “Men whom neither business nor profit distract from the recollection of God” [24:37]. This is the way of the Naqshbandi Order.
The primary seclusion of the shaykhs of the Naqshbandi Order is the internal seclusion. They are with their Lord and simultaneously they are with the people. As the Prophet (S) said, “I have two sides: one faces my Creator and one faces creation.” Shah Naqshband emphasized the goodness of gatherings when he said: Tariqatuna as-suhbat wa-l-khairu fil-jam`iyyat, “Our Way is companionship, and goodness is in the gathering.”
It is said that the believer who can mingle with people and carry their difficulties is better than the believer who keeps away from people. On that delicate point Imam Rabbani said,
“It must be known that the seeker at the beginning might use the external seclusion to isolate himself from people, worshipping and concentrating on Allah, Almighty and Exalted, until he reaches a higher state. At that time he will be advised by his shaikh, in the words of Sayyid al-Kharraz, ‘Perfection is not in exhibitions of miraculous powers, but perfection is to sit among people, sell and buy, marry and have children; and yet never leave the presence of Allah even for one moment.'”
— Classical Islam and the Naqshbandi Sufi Tradition, Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani[/box]
Khalwa in Islam: How to Practice
The following instructions are guidelines to incorporate the principle of khalwa in Islam, the consistent application of which will begin to catalyze a shift in consciousness, a greater degree of focus, purpose and alignment with divine will and your personal destiny.
Dedicate a specific period of time to physical seclusion. Twenty minutes is an ideal amount of time to start with a spiritual meditative practice. As you naturally increase in enjoyment of this time to yourself, this holy time between you and your Lord, gradually allow yourself to increase the time of your daily physical seclusion, your personal khalwa, a sacred time dedicated to solitary meditative spiritual practice and dhikr to about 40 minutes per day.
Do not see this as loss of time, but rather, as the best use of your time. Remember, as human beings, we have been created for divine service, for worship. ‘Ibadah nourishes the soul, which if en-lightened, sustains all aspects of our beings.
Not only will this make you more productive as a result of greater focus, presence and internal alignment, but it will also amplify your work with barakah, divine blessings that flow to you and through you, as you progressively open yourself to the Divine Presence.
I have created jinn and men but that they may serve Me. No sustenance do I require of them nor do I require that they should feed Me. For it is Allah Who provides sustenance, the Lord of Power, the Steadfast. — Surah adh-Dhariyat (Qur’an, 51:56-58)
During this time of solitude in personal khalwa, you have the opportunity to connect with the Divine Presence and to cultivate a real relationship with the Creator, He Who is ever-present, imminent, here and now.
Islamic Meditation, or the practice of dhikr is the ideal method with which to cultivate spirituality during this sacred hour, and by doing so, you literally rewire your mind to progressively maintain this connection beyond your hour of practice, gently shifting your personal paradigm to come into alignment with the essence of Islam, the certainty of the oneness and unity, the imminence, of the Divine Presence of God.
After and beyond your practice, consciously cultivate this connection developing in khalwa by remembering, by simply taking a moment or two to center and root yourself, to bring your awareness back to the present moment, to the here and now, by becoming aware of your breath, your gateway into Divine Presence.
In Islamic Spirituality, your breath is your connection to the Divine Presence of God, and to oneness and harmony with the Universe.
Behold, thy Lord said to the angels, “I am about to create man from clay. When I have fashioned him, in due proportion, and breathed into him of My spirit, fall ye down in obeisance unto him.” — Surah Saad (Holy Qur’an, 38:71-72)
It is not surprising to find the same thread of truth regarding the preeminent importance of breath and consciousness in virtually all traditions. In fact, the English word spirit comes from the Latin spiritus, meaning “breath”, but also “spirit, soul, courage, vigor”. Thus, by learning through Islamic Meditation and dhikr how to shift consciousness from the mind and thinking to breath and presence, you begin to ascend towards the ultimate goal of Islam, the attainment of the state of ihsan, characterized and defined as spiritual excellence.[box]
Experience the Power of Dhikr
More than any other practice, the Prophet Muhammad (S) recommended the practice of dhikr, or “remembrance,” the goal being the cultivation of a state of perpetual awareness and presence, a higher state of consciousness, awakening and enlightenment in the Divine Presence.
Such awakening is the key to the realization of the divine destiny of humanity, the conscious embracing of khilafah, divine responsibility as vicegerents of goodness, grace and light in creation.
Embrace the Spiritual Path[/box]
Khalwa in Islam: Best Times
Certain periods of time during the day and throughout the year are particularly conducive to the cultivation of consciousness and for the practice of khalwa, spiritual meditative practice.
The Deep Night
The last third of the night before sunrise is the most spiritually potent time of the entire day and night, and ideal for meditative spiritual practice. It is during this sacred time that “God descends” and is nearest to creation, “answers prayers” and awakens souls.
This is not surprising, as during this time, the world, dunya, still slumbers, freeing the atmosphere of the incessant chaos of undisciplined thought and the fear that results from unconsciousness.
As a suggestion, wake up before the Fajr prayer to allow enough time for your practice of khalwa, an hour being ideal. With the spiritual energy that is cultivated during this sacred time, it is likely you will be more energized throughout the day than you would be with the additional hour of sleep.
Even better, avoid staying awake late at night, and instead sleep a bit earlier than usual, making the intention to awaken early morning for khalwa, meditation and prayer.
This was the practice of the Prophet himself (S), who spared no opportunity to strive towards awakening, and who encouraged spiritual seekers to take advantage of the blessed opportunities available for consciousness and enlightenment.
“Our Lord descends to the lowest heaven every night when the last third of the night remains, and He says, ‘Who will call upon Me, that I may answer him? Who will ask of Me, that I may give him? Who will seek My forgiveness, that I may forgive him?’”
— Prophet Muhammad (S)
Of course, the metaphor of God “descending” should not be taken entirely literally, but rather spiritually, meaning that the spiritual distance between creation and its Creator is greatly reduced during this time of quiet, stillness and solitude free from distraction and interference.
The Month of Rajab
The holy month of Rajab in Islam during which the Prophet (S) “ascended” to the Divine Presence of God in the event of al-Isra wal-Mi’raj has long been recognized as one of the most spiritually potent periods of the year, and particularly conducive to spiritual practice and meditation.
Often, schools of Islamic Spirituality will use this period to allow prepared students to undertake a khalwa, a spiritual seclusion, of forty days and nights during which they would avoid all contact with others and the world in an intense exercise of self-purification, and the cultivation of presence and consciousness.
The holy month of Rajab is an opportune time to take advantage of the spiritual practice of khalwa in Islam, and to institute a daily discipline of introspection, reflection, meditation and prayer.
Khalwa in Islam:
Khalwa in Islam: An Essential Spiritual Practice
The purpose of the practice of spiritual seclusion, or khalwa in Islam, is to learn to progressively remain rooted throughout the day, to develop the ability to stay present in everything you do. Your breath is your anchor, and is in reality a continuous gift from God which connects you to the Divine Presence.
Remember, your breath is a gift being given you by God in each moment, and by remembering that, it becomes easy to remain conscious, present, focused and grateful.
In every moment, you, and all of creation, are being actively sustained by al-Khaliq, the Creator, who is continually creating, actively and intentionally in each moment. Truly, there are no ordinary moments — each moment a divine miracle of grace and goodness from God.
An Essential Inward Journey
Although we typically consider ascension to the Divine Presence as metaphorically moving upward, and perhaps outward, the journey in reality is inward. The divine event of Isra wal-Mi’raj is not just a journey outward, but rather, its reality is inward.
The Divine Presence is beyond time and space, and the only way to transcend both is to go inward, to withdraw consciousness and attention for a time from the outer world of forms, the world of effects, the world of distraction and heedlessness, dunya, and to cultivate awakening, becoming empowered at Cause.
Truth transcends and is beyond the physical world. Hence, God has communicated that He can only be found “in the heart of a believer.”
God has said, “Neither My heaven nor My earth can contain Me, save the heart of a believer.”
— Prophet Muhammad (S)
Ultimately, khalwa, seclusion, is meditation. It is going inward, secluding oneself from everything — from every thing — transcending the world of things, forms, ultimately becoming liberated from even concepts, ideas, and mental structures of all types.
This then is the Divine Presence, in which there is nothing — no thing — like unto.
Meditation and Dhikr
Meditation — awareness and consciousness — the practice of, is the path, the Way. In Islam, this is often known as dhikr, and is the only way to develop inner awareness.
By definition, meditation is the development of awareness, presence and consciousness from within, and is absolutely essential for the Muslim, for otherwise, the religion degenerates into empty and rigid form.
Only through Islamic Meditation can one attain this state of ‘remembrance’, which is otherwise lost and veiled by the manifest world of form.
Healing and Life Energy
By withdrawing your attention and focus from the external world through the practice of khalwa, you minimize the continual expenditure of life energy, known as qudra, thereby limiting leakage, and the consequent loss of focus and vital life energy.
Dunya normally results in dispersion, the scattering, fragmenting and waste of vital life energy, commonly leaving a human being drained, lost, confused and without purpose. This is known as ghaflah, or heedlessness, unawareness, unconsciousness.
In his groundbreaking work quantifying the spiritual path, Steve Taylor, author of Waking From Sleep, advances that enlightenment is achieved through the intensification and stilling of life energy, and that this is most effectively achieved through meditation.
The Way of the Prophet (S) is the way of balance, the “Middle Way.” Because our attention and focus are naturally pulled outward by dunya, it is only through the intentional practice of khalwa and meditation that we can achieve and maintain balance.
It is important to remember that Islam does not condone absolute rejection of the world, but to the contrary calls for balance within it. This is the fastest path to personal growth and spiritual development, and affords human beings the opportunity to re-aquire innocence, their original nature, fitra. It affords you the greatest gift: To again become an authentic human being, your true self, free from the incessant fear and thus need of living to please others, but rather, one so rooted and centered in the axis of his or her being with such a strong spiritual connection to the Divine Presence that your consciousness if based in confidence, literally being “with faith.”
By becoming in-dependent, a human beings moves towards the attainment of khilafah, divine deputyship. And as such, you are led by light and vision from within. This is only possible through the diminishing of self, personal ego, and so coming into alignment with one’s own heart and soul through freedom and liberation from mind.
Ultimately, spirituality is an inward experience, and its results can be measured in the level of service one offers creation. For God is not in need, yet creation and human beings are. Thus, the divine deputy of God, a khalifa, is one who lives to serve, and does so through conducting the light, goodness and grace of God into the world.
Again, khalwa, is essential for the attainment of such consciousness. But 20 or 40 minutes per day dedicated to meditative spiritual practice and introspection is sufficient. One never need consider this as time lost, for “what is with God is never lost.”
As human beings, we have been honored and made for worship, divine service and presence. This invites and attracts barakah, and constitutes a fundamentally different approach to life, a paradigm based in divine providence.
Currently, despite being blessed with the greatest technological capability in the history of world, human beings have yet never before been so enslaved to time, so incessantly busy and so challenged. We as a whole have lost barakah, the Way.
Yet you can change this in your life. You can shift into a new paradigm, a new way. The way of Islamic excellence. The way of the Prophet (S). The way of spirituality and self-lessness. The way of honor and nobility. The way of light.
To your divine success!