Question: What are the points of consideration for attaining the desired level of deep contemplation, which is one of the essentials for volunteers?
Answer: Deep contemplation means a person’s forcing oneself to think about one’s own inner world, constantly scrutinizing things that exist and take place, and opening to more immense and deep thoughts by taking all of these into consideration time and time again. The original Arabic word tafakkur is inflected in the form of tafaul, which denotes burdening oneself. That is a person’s making serious effort to realize something and forcing oneself to achieve something, and giving the willpower its due in this respect. For this reason, we can say that with respect to its word formation, the word tafakkur expresses an act of thinking that is systematic, deep, and constant, rather than thinking in a simpler sense.
The Qur’an Brings Active Reasoning to Attention
Deep contemplation is one of the essential teachings of Islam. In many verses the Qur’an concludes with a perspective of deep contemplation after mentioning the skies, rainfall, plants, clouds, wind, stars, atmosphere, creation of living things, and people’s sustenance… In short, after mentioning various evidences, one can realize in both the outer world and within that the Qur’an always relates the issue to deep contemplation. For example, after God Almighty mentions the creation of the heavens and earth, changing of the length of days and nights, floating of ships on seas for the benefit of humanity, His reviving the dead earth by descending rain from the sky followed by various living beings’ creation there, movements of winds, and clouds suspended between the earth and the sky waiting for God’s orders, He points out that there are signs in them for God’s existence and unity “for a people who reason and understand” (al-Baqarah 2:164). There are many similar verses in the Qur’an. Some of them conclude with an emphasis on reasoning, some on reflection, and some on knowing. Although there are certain nuances among them, it will be seen that they essentially make the same point, which is a person’s thinking about the signs that God created in the outer world and within, making use of reason, and immersing in contemplation. The fact that so many verses end with the emphasis, “There are signs (in the stated points) for a people who reason…” also gives us the following message: By referring to deep contemplation with a present tense form in Arabic, the Qur’an constantly turns our attention to active reasoning. As the Qur’an does not even mention passive reasoning, it does not mention an act of thinking solely directed to the past either. On the contrary, by mentioning deep contemplation as a general and repeated act, the Qur’an demands believers to contemplate on the present and the future along with the past. For this reason, as a person makes connections with the past by reasoning and logic, it is also necessary to distill the present age and future time through deep contemplation and take every step on the grounds of reasonability. The fact that such verses bring active reasoning to attention is also important in terms of putting emphasis on the continuity of deep contemplation.
Incidentally, I would like to draw attention to another point here. When such verses of the Qur’an are translated, the commonly used word is “reasoning.” However, this word does not properly convey the meaning of “ya’qilun” in Arabic. Although “reasoning” is used in translation because there is not a better alternative, it should be noted that this is a weak word to reflect the original meaning. It is also possible to use longer expressions such as: “gaining insight into entities and happenings by reasoning,” “reaching to possible fruits to be yielded by reason through contemplation,” “scrutinizing the creation by making use of reason,” etc.
True Self-Discovery Can Only Be Realized through Contemplation
Given that God Almighty draws attention to using reason and deep contemplation in many instances, believers need to deepen both their outward and inward contemplation. In his book Man, The Unknown, Alexis Carrel states that even if you consider man solely with a physiological and anatomical perspective, he will truly appear before you as a monument to be respected. Humans are so perfect with respect to their inner and outer structure that—imagining the impossible—had it been possible to prostrate before anyone but God, it would be human. However, God did not allow prostrating before anyone but Himself. As for the angels’ prostration before Adam, it was a situation of testing for the sake of understanding the subtle point in obeying His commands. Moreover, Prophet Adam’s position as an altar at the prostration for God indicates that there is no other creature that combines qualities of being superior and special because Adam was in a way the intersection point of matter and spirit, of physical and spiritual realms. In other words, he was a comprehensive mirror of the entirety of the Divine Names. So when you begin to study such a perfect creature as man with his bodily and spiritual aspects, you cannot help immersing in deep contemplation. Be it bodily aspects as the hands, feet, ears, nose, tongue, or lips, or be it the truth of the human essence, man resembles a perfect book that leads one to deep thinking, given that a correct reading is achieved. Particularly, when man is viewed in terms of his carnal soul, heart, feelings, consciousness of having consciousness, and ability to use willpower, it will be seen that he is endowed with a magnificent mechanism with no gap to be found. As man holds the wheel of such a system, operates it, and stands closest to it in terms of having set his throne at its central point, he is the one who understands it best. If a person can set out inwardly and can deepen thoughts on human physical and spiritual aspects, then it becomes possible to turn outwardly in the same way, like people who set out to space after having made accomplishments in the world. To put it differently, on realizing that God does not create anything in vain after a systematic contemplation a person realizes in the realms inside, when such person turns his gaze to the outer realms, he will similarly draw different aspects of wisdom, just like a bee returning home with different essences of honey.
The Reading Circles Must Be Places of Contemplation
The duty that falls to a person is effectuating well both inward and outward contemplation, complementary like the two wings of a bird, and transforming their gatherings for their reading circles into strolls on the emerald hills of the heart, as places where the signs of God in religion and in the universe are deliberated. If this is not done, the gatherings will not be saved from levity and trivialities. At places where trivialities prevail, people cannot stop themselves from criticizing this or that person like old chatterboxes, busying themselves with others’ faults, and backbiting people. Engagement in such rumors is a cause of impurity for the time, place, and atmosphere. Such an impure atmosphere does not serve as fertile grounds for germinating contemplation. What a person who is caught by the currents of his carnal soul and fancies does is no different than tying up and paralyzing the mechanism of contemplation, which is the key to viewing and interpreting existence correctly.
At this point, I would like to relate the story about an old gentleman named Medet Effendi, who was a colonel in assistance of Sultan Abdulhamid II. We spent some time together when I was around 12- to 13-years-old, and he was 75. That bearded old man with a luminous face was a devout worshipper. In addition, he was a good example of an Ottoman gentleman. When sultan Abdulhamid II was dethroned in 1908, the organizers of the coup sent him to an asylum like they did with some others. After staying a long time with people with mental problems, he partially lost his sanity as well. Actually, if a person who has to share the same place with possessed ones does not conform with them, he will become a problem and be declared by those crazy ones as “crazy.” Medet Effendi would sometimes talk about their behaviors. One of them would hold a mirror and say that the city of Erzurum was covered under a flood, while another narrated about a treasure buried in the cavity of a stove. Another person would curse at the articles that appeared in the newspapers. The point I want to make by mentioning the stories of Medet Effendi is that, if we do not illuminate our gatherings with the light of faith, we begin to talk about matters of no worldly or otherworldly use, wasting our time away with constant chattering. Just like the people in the asylum, one person talks unnecessarily, another one discusses a futile issue, and another one begins to make useless criticisms. As a result we turn our gatherings into fruitless wastelands, set sail to the sea of rebellion, and waste our time with trivial issues. Why should we turn our gatherings into graveyards by depriving them of spirit and meaning, while it is possible to render them gatherings of faith! Why should we set sail to a troubled sea unlikely to provide returns, instead of strolling through the valleys of obedience to God! Why should we not take the opportunity of our gatherings, discover unknown openings, and set out to new immensities of the Qur’an from there!
So the way to render our gatherings fruitful is to always bring the issue to a place of contemplation where we will think about God and His Messenger, blessings and peace be upon him, always making our conversations and discussions into contemplative dialogue on God, the Real Beloved. If anyone wishes to engage in idle talk, it is necessary to intervene in a mannerly fashion and give the following message: “Dear brother (or sister), if you have anything to say in the Name of God and His Messenger, please say it and we will listen. Otherwise, bring a book (at least) so that we can have a reading.” Then turn to an issue that moves hearts, waters eyes, and reminds us of our human potential again. For example, we can have one of those present recite a portion from the Qur’an, and if there is anyone who can elucidate the meaning of the verses recited, we can ask that person to interpret them, providing some spiritual relief. If there is not anyone capable of Qur’anic exegesis, we can then bring an annotated translation and try to understand the meaning of the verses recited. The more we understand and contemplate, the more we will rid ourselves from simplemindedness and shallowness in thought, and thus set out to more immense considerations. To conclude, thanks to the dynamic of contemplation, we will have a deeper insight into our impotence, poverty, and the necessity of offering gratitude—we will embrace the creation with a more immense compassion, and continue our service with enthusiasm by God’s grace.
This text is the translation of “İnsanı Hakikate Ulaştıran Nurdan Helezon: Tefekkür.”