Issue 76 / July - August 2010
Method of Contemplation
Question: There is a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, to the effect: â€śOne hour of contemplation is better than one year of supererogatory worship.â€ť What is the method or path of contemplation?
Above all, it should be said that this saying is weak in regard to the hadith criteria. However, there is a verse in the Quran that expresses the same idea: â€śIn the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for the people of discernmentâ€ť (Al Imran 3:190). In one hadith the Messenger of God emphasizes the importance of contemplation: â€śWhoever reads this verse and does not contemplate on it, shame on him.â€ť In addition, it was reported by Umm Salama and-according to another narration-Aisha, that the Prophet cried when this verse was revealed or when he was reading it.
Contemplation has a very important place in the life of a believer. However, for this to be the case we must understand what contemplation means. First of all, contemplation is based on prior knowledge. Blind and ignorant contemplation is dry imagination and in time it will lead to frustration. Later, a person will begin to see such a practice as meaningless. For this reason, a person must first be familiar with the subject they are going to contemplate or, in other words, they must have some prior information.
Understanding the orbit of the moon and stars, their relation to humanity, the revolution of atoms which make up human beings, and their movement is a step towards contemplation, but looking at the movement of the moon and sun and becoming overwhelmed with poetic inspiration about the mind-boggling beauty of the universe is not contemplation. There are a number of lonely, strange, handicapped naturalist poets who think like this and plunge into their imagination. They are not contemplators; rather they are fanciful people who have lost their hearts to Mephistopheles.
They also can sometimes think and talk about the beauty of the universe. Worldly beauty can be made to be legendary with words, inspiring people to feel and hear the beauties of Heaven. Sometimes poets can write such epics about the splashing of water, the tapping of raindrops, the rustling of trees and the chirping of birds that a person feels as if they are in the middle of the heavens. However, this is not contemplation; moreover, it promises nothing for the life of the heart and spirit. In this way no advances are made and one has not passed behind the veils. There is no benefit from such contemplation. Regardless of how deep the dreams are, such contemplation gains nothing for a person.
As mentioned above, before contemplation it is necessary that there first be some information. In respect to the knowledge humanity has now attained, people will make new syntheses and analyses with the previous knowledge, probing deeper and arriving at different conclusions. Using these conclusions as an introductory basis for future conclusions, new results will be produced. These new results will be contemplated more deeply; one-dimensional thinking will become multi-dimensional and multiple-contemplation will be achieved. All of this is dependent on there being information. It is impossible for people to contemplate without information.
For this reason, it is necessary to do a lot of reading. Later, it is necessary to study the path and method of contemplation and finally the rules that are operative in nature and the signs of creation therein should be studied so that we can create the possibility of steady and sound thinking.
If a person contemplates soundly for one hour, the fundamental principles of faith will develop in that person. Later, that person will love God and a profound love for the divine will appear in their heart. Meanwhile, they will attain spiritual pleasure and take flight towards the beyond. Sometimes with this kind of contemplation a person can reach a horizon that another person has not reached with a thousand years of worship. If one with such an understanding and consciousness does not turn towards their Lord, then even after thinking superficially for a thousand years, the distance they will cover will not equal the distance covered by one hour of contemplation. However, this should not be understood to mean that this one thousand years of worship was in vain. For in Godâ€™s presence neither a bow or prostration or standing or a short rest between movements can be lost. In accordance with the verses, â€śwhoever does an atom's weight of good will see it, and whoever does an atomâ€™s weight of evil will see itâ€ť (Zilzal 99:7â€“9), everyone will gain something in accordance with their actions. A person who performs worship will have fulfilled their devotion to God. However, they will not have gained the depth that is derived from contemplation. In this sense, contemplation is worth a thousand years of worship.
Everyone can broaden their ability to contemplate with portions of the scripture and remembrance, and they can strengthen their relationship with God. Who knows, maybe because of the enthusiasm that this contemplation will give us we can succeed in renewing ourselves. May God reform us inside and out!
Finally, it is also asked: â€śDo verses that direct one to contemplation and silent prayer count as contemplation?â€ť If the meaning of these is not understood, then, although one will receive merit for them, they are not contemplation. For contemplation stems from reflection and means bringing together events from yesterday and today, making a synthesis, and establishing a connection between the causes and effects. Strengthening our relationship with God is the most important fruit of this. Any remembrance or verse or, in fact, even listening to the scripture from the mouth of Gabriel himself would be merit, but it is not contemplation. To be considered as contemplation there must be a concentration, focus, a serious investigation and a deepening and strengthening of our relationship with our Lord.
What is most lacking today is contemplation. In this respect, it is not an exaggeration to say that in general believers are deficient in contemplation.