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A’tikaf: The Special Seclusion

If A’tikaf enhances our creative bent of mind, reduces negative emotions, helps us focus & makes us calmer, why not?
12:00 AM Apr 05, 2024 IST | ABID RASHID BABA
a’tikaf  the special seclusion
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Life is a battle between two forces: concentration and distraction. Concentration brings peace. Distraction is destruction. In this hurried, noisy and chaotic world, race and rush has only contributed to mental mess. It is important to slow down, take a pause, reflect and restart.

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Wondering what has distraction got to do with the title of this piece? I will explain and share my experience of how I learned to overcome thinking traps and manage my time well through this special seclusion. Those 10 days made me a better professional.

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A’tikaf is not mandatory but highly recommended meritorious voluntary act. We, the ambitious young men and women, want to be remembered for something impactful, positive and tangible work. But distraction, a shiny gate, takes us to a slaughterhouse among millions of other sheep and we get our dreams butchered without even realizing it.

The meaningless beeps and updates on our gadgets make us twitch. It means we have enslaved ourselves. Those who are chained can’t dream big. They are hypnotized by the authoritarian thought. So, to be more productive, we need not to be latest, but to be classiest. A’tikaf is a beautiful practice to adopt a monk mode. Linguistically, it means devotion to a thing and sticking to it.

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Spiritually, it is a highly enriching exercise, an excellent practice to control unwanted desires and impure thoughts. Gathering oneself to stay in Allah’s abode, Khanai Khuda, and engaging in special prayers (Zikr) is undoubtedly a rewarding act.

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The last messenger of Allah was very particular about it. He would regularly sit down for A’tikaf in Mecca and Medina. It is tantamount to performing Hajj, a sacred pilgrimage, one of the basic tenets of Islam, according to religious scriptures.

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Away from the material world, we renew our relationship with Almighty, the lord of the universe. We feel some supernatural force cuddling us inside the tranquil environs of Masjid as if angels are dancing in heaven. The freshness enveloping a Mu’takif is a spiritual retreat. The fragrance of heaven can be felt.

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The main purpose of A’tikaf is to shut off worldly distractions and focus on worship. This temporary world is full of temptations and it does affect our hearts. The key to A’tikaf is to turn around your heart and return to the supreme power.

The objective is to hammer your heart & plead in private. You will feel that Allah’s Noor will soothe your nerves. The aura and ambiance of the House of Allah will have a different feeling on your mind and body.

Talk to God in private in Tahajjud (pre-dawn prayers). These private conversations please benevolent God and the creator bestows us with the best of everything. Magic and miracles happen when we talk to God in the dead of the night while the world is sleeping. A’tikaf allows us to exert more to get closer to the divine power. It strengthens our shield against the malice of this “temporary bus stop” bound to be destroyed. This “me-time” helps us reflect on our eternal destination.

We change the annual routine and come out of our comfort zones for over a week (Ashra), eat less, minimize the interactions, and like a true devotee, invest ourselves in a profitable trade with Allah. We all make mistakes. Evil follows us like a shadow. A’tikaf is to supplicate honestly. We don’t fall in (true) love; we rise in love with the lord.

Before Torah was revealed to Prophet Moses, he also performed A’tikaf for 40 days (Chilla). Even Jesus Christ performed A’tikaf . Confining to the corner, as Kashmir’s revered saint, Sheikh Noor-u-Din did, in remote woods, reciting Quran and abstaining from evil deeds, becomes a great act of worship.

In many seminaries and mosques, hundreds perform A’tikaf . In my humble opinion, it is not a correct understanding. In a huge gathering, listening to high-decibel Islamic speeches is not what A’tikaf stands for. A’tikaf is an Arabic word that literally means “to isolate” or “adhere to something strictly.” The focus should be on spiritual awakening in Khalwat. To attain salvation, we have to be with Allah, honorably. Waaz-o-Tableegh can wait.

Without any distractions, we meditate in private; this is the best rehearsal of detoxification. We energize our souls during practicing this Sunnat-e-Muqadah. It is to reflect on our life. It gives us a sense of calm, peace & balance that is beneficial for our emotional well-being and overall health. It is always relevant in this worried and tense world.

To deepen our understanding of the sacred force and eliminate jumbled thoughts crowding and stressing us, A’tikaf enhances the coping mechanism. Scientifically speaking, when we are under intense stress, the cortisol hormone is released from our bodies.

One harmful effect it produces is the release of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. It can induce fatigue, disrupt sleep, increase blood pressure & contribute to cloud thinking and brain fog. A’tikaf is an antidote to it.

Through A’tikaf , individuals have the opportunity to evaluate their lives, seek forgiveness for past transgressions, and make resolutions for self-improvement. A’tikaf , a scholarly practice, has a great significance. It was during the last few days of Prophet Muhammad’s first A’tikaf , in the cave of Hira that Gabriel descended and asked Muhammad (PBUH) to utter “Iqra”. It was laylat-ul-Qadr, the night of destiny.

Let’s rewind. While 2024 is a year in cheer, 2011 turned out to be very gloomy for some reasons. I was lost and unable to figure out what was happening around. When the worldly distractions suffocated, I turned to Allah Almighty.

I quietly took a blanket and a mattress and sat down in one corner of my village mosque on the 20th day of the 9th month of the lunar calendar at sundown. For me, it was a short-term course on personality development.

This self-inquiry period explicitly aims to help us develop a stronger understanding of ourselves. Once we gain greater awareness of our thoughts, we can steer them towards more constructive patterns. If A’tikaf enhances your creative bent of mind, reduces negative emotions, helps you focus, and makes you calmer, why not?

ABID RASHID BABA, a development professional, currently associated with a US-based non-profit and serves in Telangana. He is also a fellow at Virtual Leadership Institute, Atlas Corps, United States.

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