Before I try to embark on this mini project/ blog series here on my mostly abandoned blog, I would like to take a moment and mention that I am partly scared as to how this will come out. Well I’m not an acclaimed writer or blogger and hence do not entertain a lot many readers; only a few stumble here once in a while. So I m not really worried about making an intellectual impression on anyone but on myself. Years or lets says even months from now I want to come back to something substantial, something solid that I would look back on and see this as a valuable addition to my life.
Lets begin without further ado!
It isnt really difficult to understand the term ‘spiritual retreat’ as I have chosen to name this blog series. To begin with spiritual retreat holds an important place in many religions. The general understanding of it is how Sufis in Islam have practiced it. In Ibne Arabi’s book “Journey to the Lord of Power” he discusses different stages that one experiences during khalwa or seclusion from everything worldly. This sufi practice usually lasts 40 days from what the accounts of famous sufis tell us which is based on the forty days that Prohpet Musa spent before he was able to converse with Allah. In this seclusion period one tries to reestablish a connection with one’s Creator and usually the sufis meditate and spent their days and nights in Dhikr (in remembrance of Allah) by repeating His names.
However, I happen to be no sufi though Shams and Rumi have been an inspiration for me this year. Now that I think maybe the reason I chose to sit alone for a number of days was that in the back of my mind I was inspired by the great sufis. The interest in it was further triggered by my mother and I cannot thank her enough for guiding and motivating me.
Spiritual retreat that was practiced by Holy Prophet (pbuh) is called Aitekaaf. According to his sunnah he used to spend the last ten days of Ramadan praying to Allah with minimum contact with his family and friends, only conversing if necessary. In some of the Ahadith it is mentioned that he even sat for twenty days as well. Aitekaf is a special part of the blessed month of Ramadan when Muslims around the world have to observe the obligatory fasting for 29 to 30 days. Muslims have a choice to isolate themselves from everything worldly in the last ten days of Ramadan following the sunnah of our last Prophet (pbuh). The highlight of the practice is also that one gets to pray without distractions from the daily routine especially in the odd nights when the Muslims are to look for the Night of Decree or as it is called Laylat al Qadr; the night when Quran was sent down from Louhe Mahfooz, the Preserved Tablet ( it has a record of all the knowledge about every object/thing/person in the Universe) down to Baitul Izzah, the House of Might in the first level of heaven. Furthermore the odd nights in the last week of Ramadan hold great value for us especially because in this night matters of our provision, health, year ahead are also decided and recorded in the Louhe Mahfooz.
The ten days I spent in seclusion was a time dedicated to myself and my relation to my Creator, praying to Allah swt without having to worry about daily chores, work deadlines or even to please society at large. It gave me time to breathe, reflect and stay away from gadgets and social media ( the biggest distraction, yes more than TV I would say). It wouldn’t be wrong if I say that I was able to de-clutter my thoughts but more on this in the later posts.
Before I sign off from this unexpectedly long writing, I would like to add a little thing that happened the very first night of my Aitekaf. Since now the month of fasting falls during intense summers here in Pakistan, I decided to open a few windows for cross ventilation in my room, my abode for the next few days. Nothing strange right? Unfortunately, one of the three windows has always been broken. Once you open it, it dangles and it has to be closed with a long rod or danda (as we call it in Urdu) when someone stands in the lawn and pushes the glass of the window from outside as the room is on the second story of the house. Out of the three windows I had a difficult decision ahead of me, trying hard to remember which window was broken, I suddenly loosened the screw of one and exactly what I feared, it was indeed the broken window. I thought this is a perfectly bad start where I m supposed to avoid unnecessary contact with family or friends. Now I had to communicate with a member of my family in order to get it closed lest it falls or causes further problem. The window finally did get close with me pulling from the inside and my brother pushing it from the outside, down in the lawn. Phew.
It must be totally ridiculous an incident to most of you but for someone starting off something as special as Aitekaf I feared if I ended up doing something that would nullify my spiritual isolation. So moral in it for me was to NEVER do anything when in doubt. Instead of opening the window still in doubt I was supposed to either think clearly or leave it closed. In life in general we are confronted with small or big decisions where we are either forced by others or we find ourselves in a situation that requires us to take a particular path on our own. Doubts, however, cloud our judgement and power of decision making. Hence we end up either opening the wrong window or staying within closed ones.
As the night layered on and the moon hung outside, I sat down to pray, meditate and reflect; mostly in hopes of pleasing the one who controls the Universe.