Allah has given human beings the capability of thinking and reasoning. It is this ability, which makes humans different from animals and enables them with free will, compared to all other creatures. With the blessing that Allah has bestowed upon us we are able to survive and flourish in this world- without it, we are not able to progress in this world, nor are we able to attain salvation in the hereafter.
Therefore, we see that thinking, reasoning and reflecting is the essential key that leads us to Allah- and He repeatedly instructs us in the Qur’an to reflect upon and ponder the universe. That is why sheikh Ahmad Ibn `Ataa’illah As-Sakandari in his well-known book, Al-Hikam (Words of Wisdom) says:
“Bury yourself in the land of anonymity. A seed that is never buried underground will never produce. There is nothing more beneficial to the heart than an isolation that allows it to enter a state of reflection.”
From the above statement, we can discover that there is nothing more beneficial to the heart that leads someone to discovering the reality of Allah’s existence and His control over everything than reflection.
Reflection is a marvelous form of worship that pushes people in their path to Allah. It helps people achieve their spiritual goals. The Prophet (SallAllahu Alaihi Wa Sallam) said:
“Reflection for one hour is better than worship for sixty years.” (Narrated by Al-`Iraqi with a weak chain of narrators)
This is because the one, who spends his time reflecting on God, His creation, His universal laws, His religion, and His legislation, is really converting the mere rational information to sincere conditions and spiritual lights. In surah Aal-Imran Allah, the Most High says:
إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلاَفِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ لآيَاتٍ لِّأُوْلِي الألْبَابِ الَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ اللّهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىَ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَذا بَاطِلاً سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ
“Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of the night and day are signs for people of understanding, those who remember Allah while standing, sitting or reclining, and reflect in the creation of the heavens and the earth, (saying): “Our Lord! You have not created this in vain. Glory to you! Save us, then, from the chastisement of the Fire!”
(Qur’an 3: 190-191)
From this verse, we can see that for people of understanding, reflection upon the universe will specifically lead to discovering the reality of Allah’s existence. When they see the perfect order and balance in the creation, it leads to the conclusion that there must be a creator- who must have created all things, and hence, there must be an accounting.
Sheikh As-Sakandari also pointed to another concept that supports the concept of reflection that is of anonymity and isolation. This concept is one of the concepts that many people misunderstand and take them away from the true objectives of religion and the spirit of Islam.
Isolation is achieved when one isolates himself from people. This isolation is for a limited period and does not mean to isolate yourself from the world for a long time without any kind of interaction. This is against the teachings of Islam. The Prophet (SallAllahu Alaihi Wa Sallam) is reported to have said:
“There is no monasticism in Islam.”;
and he said,
“The Muslim who interacts with people and is patient when they harm him is better than a Muslim who doesn’t mingle and is not patient when people harm him.”
[Authenticated by Al-Albani]
Isolation can be most beneficial, if applied with a correct understanding and teaching of Islam. Ibn Taymiyah said:
“At times, it is necessary for the worshipper to be isolated from others in order to pray, remember Allah, recite the Qur’an, and evaluate himself and his deeds. Also, isolation allows one to supplicate, seek forgiveness, stay away from evil, and so on.”
Ibn al-Jawzi said in one of his well-known books,
“I have not seen or heard of anything that brings repose, honor, and dignity as much as seclusion does. It helps one to stay away from evil, it protects one’s honor, and it saves time. It keeps one away from the jealous minded and those who take pleasure in your affliction. It promotes the remembrance of the Hereafter, and it allows one to reflect on the meeting with Allah. In times of seclusion, one’s thoughts may roam in that which is beneficial, in that which contains wisdom…”
Al-Qadi ‘Ali ibn ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-Jurjani said:
“I never tasted the sweetness of life until I became a companion of home and book. There is nothing more honorable than knowledge, so I seek in no other an associate. Truly, the only degradation is in mixing with people, therefore leave them and live nobly and stately.”
Only Allah knows the full benefits of seclusion, for in seclusion, one’s mind develops, views are ripened, the heart finds repose, and one finds himself to be in an ideal atmosphere for worship. By remaining isolated at times, one distances himself from trials, from flattering the person who deserves no praise, and from the eyes of jealous and envious persons. One is saved from the haughtiness of the proud and the follies of the idiot. In isolation, one’s faults, deeds, and sayings are all secluded behind a veil.
When alone, one does nothing for show or ostentation, since none but Allah sees him, and since none but Allah hears him. Though showing off may find its way to one’s heart even if he is alone when one occupies himself with how people think about him. Therefore, Sheikh As-Sakandari says elsewhere:
“Perhaps showing off in good works has entered upon you from where people do not see you.”
At any rate, isolation involves a kind of training on how to make the intention purely for Allah and how to forget the people around you and how they think about it positively or negatively.
If the servant looks for what benefits his heart, he will make progress in his spiritual journey to Allah. Sometimes we forget the work of the heart and focus on the work of the organs. This hardens the heart and leads to forgetfulness, and puts some obstacles and difficulties in the course of one’s journey to Allah. However, temporary isolation from the people and reflection on Allah help one reach his destination quickly. There is nothing more beneficial to the heart than an isolation that allows it to enter a state of reflection