A cursory glance at the traditional Islamic prayer known as Salat along with the practice of Dhikr, or remembrance of God, suggests an affinity with traditional meditative practices. Though Muslims consider these primarily acts of worship they are also contemplative in nature, requiring focus on God.
Salat, the proper term for the Islamic ritual prayer, begins in the standing position, followed by an intermediate bow, finally ending in full prostration. One complete movement, from standing to prostration, is considered a rakat. Muslims recite specific Quranic passages throughout each rakat, concentrating on the words of the Quran. Performed five times a day, salat can take as little as five minutes to as long as a Muslim wishes to pray. Salat provides Muslims the opportunity to focus on God and the afterlife rather than the typical pursuits and anxieties that beleaguer one's conscience.
The constant repetition of God’s names or attributes is known as Dhikr in Islam. Muslims also repeat short Quranic passages. Dhikr is often done immediately after one has performed the ritual prayer in a kneeling position while remaining on the prayer mat or space. Some Muslims use prayer beads though they are not required. Dhikr can be done anywhere provided one can find a clean, quiet place. Like salat, the chief aim of Dhikr is the remembrance of God above all else.
Muhammad and Contemplation
Before Muhammad received his first revelation in 610 CE, he would spend much of his time in contemplative meditation. Stories abound of his trips to Mount Hira where he spent nights focusing on God. According to Islam, Muhammad received the first Quranic revelation in this contemplative state. Much of the contemplative practices in Islam, including the ritual prayer and Dhikr, are taken directly from Muhammad’s example.
Meditation and Islam
Though Muslims do not consider them to be explicitly meditative practices, Dhikr and Salat are meant to symbolically purify one's soul. As with traditional meditation, these methods of worship in Islam serve both a practical and spiritual end. Practically speaking, it does much to alleviate the daily anxieties that seem legion in many Muslim’s lives. Spiritually, it reminds Muslims of their proper place before God and the world.
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