The Stages of Muraqabah

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Muraqabah is the Sufi word for meditation.  Literally it means ‘to watch over’, ‘to take care of’, or ‘to keep an eye.’  Metaphorically, it implies that with meditation, a person watches over or takes care of his spiritual heart, and acquires knowledge about it, its surroundings, and its creator.

Stages of Muraqabah

Following are the maqamat or stages in which Sufis have broadly categorised their journey of ascension.  This categorisation is an arbitrary one, and each level is generally further divided into several sub-levels.  During the process of enlightenment, some stages can merge or overlap each other.

Gnosis of Self

Ghanud (Somnolence)

This is the starting level of meditation.  When a person starts meditation, he enters into a somnolent or sleep state often.  With the passage of time, the person goes into a state between sleep and wakefulness.  So the person can remember that he saw something, but not specifically what it is.

Adrak (Experience)

With continuous practice of meditation, the sleepiness from meditation decreases.  When the conscious mind is not suppressed by sleep and is able to focus, the person can receive the spiritual knowledge from his subconscious mind.  At this stage, the person is unable to see or hear anything, but he is able to experience or perceive it.

Warud (Coming, Beginning)

When adrak becomes deep, it is exhibited as sight.  The stage of warud begins when mental concentration is sustained and somnolence is at its minimum.  As soon as the mind is focused, the spiritual eye is activated.  The conscious mind is not used to see through the spiritual eye, so concentration comes and goes.  Gradually, the mind gets used to this kind of visions and the mental focus is sustained.  With practice, the visions/experience becomes so deep that the person starts considering himself a part of the experience rather than considering himself an observer.

Gnosis of the Universe

Kashf / Ilham (Unveiling of Arcane Knowledge)

Kashf or ilham is the stage where man starts getting information that most people are unable to observe.  In the beginning, this condition occurs suddenly without personal control.  With practice, the mind gets so energized that it can get this knowledge by will.

Shahud (Evidence)

When a person can get any information about any event or person with his will, this condition is called ‘shahud’.  This stage is broadly categorized according to activation of the senses:

1.         The person can see things anywhere in the universe
2.         The person can hear things anywhere in the universe
3.         The person can smell things anywhere in the universe
4.         The person can touch things anywhere in the universe

Fatah (Opening, Victory)

The peak of shahud is called ‘fatah.’  At this stage, the person does not need to close his eyes for meditation.  Here the person is freed from both space and time.  He can see, hear, taste or touch anything that is present anywhere in time and space.

Gnosis of the Creator

Fana’ (Extinction, Annihilation)

Through a series of stages, known as ‘maqamat’ [singular: maqam] and subjective experiences, called ‘ahwal’ [singular: hal], this process of absorption develops until complete annihilation of the self, fana’, takes place and the person becomes Insan ul-Kamil, the ‘Perfected Man.’  It is the disintegration of a person's narrow self-concept, social self- and limited intellect.  It is as if the drop of water is aware of being part of the ocean).  The stage is also known as Fana’ fi at-Tawhid, Extinction with the Unity, or Fana’ fi al-Haqq, Extinction in the Reality.

Sa’ir il Allah (Journey towards the Divine)

Here the person starts his spiritual journey towards the Ultimate Reality of Creation, Allah (s.w.t.).

Fana’ fi Allah (Extinction of the Self in God)

One of the important phases of mystical experience which is attained by the Grace of Allah (s.w.t.) by a traveller on the mystical path is the state of fana’ fi Allah.  This is the state where the person becomes extinct in the Will of Allah (s.w.t.).  It is important to mention that this is not incarnation or union.  Most Sufis, while passing through this experience, have preferred to live in the greatest depth of silence which transcends all forms and sounds, and enjoy their Union with the Beloved.

The highest stage of fana’ is reached when even the consciousness of having attained fana’ disappears.  This is what the Sufis call the annihilation of the annihilation, fana’ fi al-fana’.  The mystic is now wrapped in contemplation of the Divine Essence.

Since it is a state of complete annihilation of carnal self, absorption or intoxication in Allah (s.w.t.), the pilgrim is unable to participate in worldly affairs.  He passes into fana’ fi al-fana’.  It is a sort of oblivion of unconsciousness.  Since two negatives make one positive, the pilgrim at this stage regains his individuality as he was when he started the journey.  The only difference is that in the beginning he was self-conscious, but after having reposed in the Divine Being, he regains that sort of individuality which is God-consciousness or absorption in Allah (s.w.t.).  This state is known as baqa’ bi Allah, Subsisting with Allah (s.w.t.).

Sa’ir min Allah (Journey from the Divine)

Here the person comes back to existence.

Baqa’ bi Allah (Subsisting with God)

This is the state where man comes back to his existence and Allah (s.w.t.) Appoints him to guide Mankind.  This is a state in which the individual is part of the world, but unconcerned with his rewards or position in it.  This doctrine is further explained in an authentic tradition, a hadits qudsi of the Prophet (s.a.w.) which states that Allah (s.w.t.) said:

And the most beloved things with which My slave comes nearer to Me, is what I have Enjoined upon him; and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing nawafil (praying or doing extra deeds besides what is obligatory) until I Love him, so I Become his Hearing by which he Hears, and his Sight by which he Sees, and his Hand by which he Grips, and his Feet by which he Walks.

There is another verse from Qur’an that is used to explain this concept.

We are nearer to him than (his) jugular vein. (Surah Qaf:16)

When Sufis have come out of fana’ fi Allah state and enter baqa’ bi Allah, many of them have produced works of unsurpassed glory, especially in the fields of philosophy, literature, and music.  These works have crowned the culture of the entire Islamic world and inspired Sufis and non-Sufis for generations.  As the great Persian Sufi poet, Hafizh (q.s.) of Shiraz, who is fondly remembered as the ‘Tongue of the Unseen,’ said centuries ago: “He, whose heart is alive with love, never dies.”

Allah (s.w.t.) Says about these people in the Qur'an:

Behold!  Verily on the friends of Allah there is no fear, nor shall they grieve; (Surah Yunus:62)


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