Tafakkur: A series of articles on the practice of reflection


While thinking about the plight of the whale that has swum up the Thames and now, sadly, died,
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/22/international/22whale.html I was reminded that I wanted to write about tafakkur. What’s the connection? Well, the image of the whale led me to reflect on the Prophet Yunus (Jonah) and his three days in the belly of a whale, a metaphor for a time of complete withdrawal, almost death, before a transformation occurs in the soul. But it was the word ‘reflection’ that jolted my memory and led me to think of tafakkur, for that is the meaning of this word.  What is Tafakkur? It is the practice of reflecting on anything, giving something due consideration. This can range from important life decisions to the meanings inherent in all creation. The Qur’an constantly reminds us that the entire universe is full of the signs of the Real if only we stop to think and reflect! For example in this verse of the Surah entitled ‘The House of Imran’ (Al-Imran)

3: 190 Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight, 3: 191 [and] who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep, and [thus] reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth:
(Muhammad Asad translation)

In the Qur’an the word used for verse is itself ‘sign’ or ayat. We can reflect no matter what we are doing but I think it might also be a good idea to set aside time every day for reflection. It is a spiritual exercise in that we use our cognitive abilities together with an openness to be inspired and guided to an understanding of the Real within what may often seem obscure. This applies as much to the astrophysicist pondering the nature of gravity as to the mother of small children seeking the most appropriate school. There are many aspects to tafakkur, for example there is no point in reflecting in this manner if any insights gained find no application in our daily lives or the way we conduct ourselves. I plan to undertake a deeper study of tafakkur, insh’allah, and to develop this in to a series of articles. Many great Sufis have spoken of tafakkur and I’ll let you know what I find. So look out for the next instalment!  

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