What is Khushuu?

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What is Khushuu? What does Khushuu mean? How can I improve my Khushu prayer? Worshipping with Utmost Concentration (khushuu)

“Worship Allah as if you see Him. As even though you may not see Him, He surely sees you!” (Bukhari, Iman, 37)

Deeds of worship are the testimony of loyalty to the primordial pact made by the servant with his Lord.  Worshipping marks the times in which the servant is the closest with his Lord, as much as is allowed by the bounds of servanthood. It is a special realm. Clearing his mind of all problems worldly, the servant relaxes and strengthens his spirit in the peaceful thought of knowing that this is one thing he is doing for his Maker. The takbir made at the very beginning of salat represents just that: by lifting his hands, the servant puts everything behind him and turns to Allah, glory unto Him, only.

Worshipping provides the most effective cure and comfort for the distressing fear of death and beyond. It is a spiritual garden, through which runs the only pathway to eternal happiness; an inspiring spring that sprouts forth spiritual peace and harmony whose appreciation must never be neglected.

Offering deeds of worship with khushuu, or utmost concentration, is a prerequisite of obtaining the desired results. Khushuu is to be able to stand in Divine presence with a peaceful and serene heart, overcome with feelings of love and fear. In awe of the Almighty in whose presence one stands, it is to be able to cut all ties with everything else and be with Him alone, with the consciousness that only to worship Him was he created.

The most magnificent and comprehensive deed of worship is salat (prayer). Salat is one of the greatest gifts of the Almighty to humankind. The hadith states: “Paradise is written (wajib) for a believer who takes a thorough ablution and offers two rakat of salat with his entire heart and soul, in complete peace and concentration.” (Muslim, Taharah, 17)  Salat is second to none in terms of the spiritual qualities it imparts to a human being. A salat of this nature would require the thought of every single entity, even one’s own self, apart from the Real, to lose its value in sight and be swept aside from the heart.

Sulayman Darani -may Allah sanctify his secret- says: “If I were left to choose between two rakat of salat and the Paradise of Firdaws, I would choose the former. Entering Paradise would be something my ego would surely love. Yet if I offer salat, I will be in the company of my Lord.”

Once the salat is underway, one cannot be occupied with anything else. Salat will keep all other thoughts at bay. During a salat offered in the truest sense, the hearts is stripped off of its veils, allowing the lights of truth to shine through. It is an inexplicable moment of intimacy with the Lord. This luxury belongs to salat only and is never replicated in any other deed of worship. A person fasting, for instance, can at the same time buy or sell at the market and see to his daily chores. The same goes for a pilgrim. But a person offering salat can neither buy nor sell. All he does is offer salat. He must be in Divine presence, both in matter and form.

A proper salat inspires and spiritualizes a believer, saving him from falling into the pits of desires egoistic, injecting in him the consciousness that the Almighty is watching him at every given moment. Highlighting this are the subsequent words of the Blessed Prophet:

“Worship Allah as if you see Him; as even though you may not see Him He surely sees you!” (Bukhari, Iman, 37)

“Remember death during your salat, for if a person offers salat with death on his mind, his salat will be of beauty and perfection. Offer your salat like the person who thinks it will be his last. Avoid everything that will later cause you regret.” (Darimi, Musnad, I, 431)

A proper salat is described by the Quran below: “Recite that which has been revealed to you of the Book and keep up prayer; surely prayer keeps (one) away from indecency and evil, and certainly the remembrance of Allah is the greatest, and Allah knows what you do.” (al-Ankabut, 45)

Salat provides protection from evil only if the peace and concentration acquired during salat is maintained after the salat as well. One who does not maintain this state of mind is not offering true salat. The Divine warning leveled at persons of the kind is severe: “So woe to the praying ones, who are unmindful of their prayers, who do (good) to be seen. And withhold the necessaries of life.” (al-Maun, 4-7) Therefore, one who offers salat without doing justice to its each motion (tadilu’l-arkan), who is oblivious to the fact of being in Divine presence and whose mind is busy with his own petty affairs, should not expect his salat to produce the inspiration expected of it. A salat of the kind is just like paying off a debt, under duress, just because one has to. The following is how the Almighty defines a true and ideal salat: “Successful indeed are the believers, who are humble in their prayers…” (al-Muminun, 1-2)

Companion Abdullah ibn Shihhir -Allah be well-pleased with him- recounts the state of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- whilst offering salat: “I saw the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- in salat. A sound, much like that of a boiling pot, was coming from his chest from crying.” (Abu Dawud, Salat, 156-157; Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Musnad, IV, 25) When offering salat, Ali -Allah be well-pleased with him- would grow pale and cast aside everything, even his own flesh. For an arrow to be removed from his foot during one battle, he began to offer salat, knowing that only in this manner would he not feel the agonizing pain of its removal. Yet, how many have the ability to offer a salat that is so utterly detached from the world?

With that said those who cannot offer their salat with such perfection should not despair and abandon it altogether. Every person who persists in offering even a formal salat, with which he will have at least redeemed an obligatory debt, will more or less attain a kind of perfection.

The five daily salats, offered at specific times of the day, subjects one’s daily schedule to a program, by which it grants one disciplined way of life with a feeling of responsibility. There can be no talk of inner balance, peace and stability for a person whose life lacks harmony and consistency. In addition, salat provides strong protection for faith, gives depth to contemplation, comfort in times of fear and zest in times of joy. It is an inspiring and fruitful form of worship that reinforces the spirit, gives the heart joy and lightness and increases intimacy with the Divine.

Another form of worship that perfects moral conduct by reinforcing patience, willpower and resistance to the desires of the ego, characteristics that are imperative in the course of life, is fasting (sawm).

In terms of its essential purpose, to fast is to combat the obstacle that is the ego with the awareness of being in a state of worship and to bridle it, reducing its influence to a bare minimum. By imparting moral virtues like patience, endurance, contentedness with the circumstances and endurance against hardships, fasting, at the same time, through deprivation and hunger, reminds one of the seldom remembered value of the Divine blessing that is food. Giving a taste of hunger to both the rich and the poor, it puts them all on level par.  It helps develop feelings of compassion in the rich, by reminding them of the plight of the poor and underprivileged. It reinforces feelings of mutual gratitude.

Fasting revives feelings of piety (taqwa), increasing the purity of the heart. The ayah declares: “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil.” (al-Baqara, 183)

In training the will, there is no method more effective than fasting. The will is one of the primary means, in man, of warding off the extremities and transgressions that come from the nature of his ego. With regard to eating little to attain to the eternal treats of the eternal life, Mawlana Rumi -may Allah sanctify his secret- says: “Man’s real food is love and wisdom. That is why it is not proper to feed his flesh with more food than required.”

Man is in distress because he is forgotten his spiritual food and worries over food for his flesh. He is insatiable. He has grown pale from greed, his feet shake and his hearts beats with anxiety. Yet what is the food of earth compared to the food of eternity? About martyrs, Allah has said, ‘They are being fed next to their Lord’.[1] Neither is there a mouth for that spiritual food, nor a body.”

To attain to the truth of fasting and fully benefit from it spiritually, it is necessary that one desists from neglectful behavior detrimental to it. It is stated in the hadith: “Fasting is not just about abandoning eating or drinking. A perfect and rewarding fast is only through abandoning vain talk and action, and foul words. Should someone swear at or act crudely towards you, then say to him, ‘I am fasting.’” (Hakim, Mustadrak, I, 595)

Also declared obligatory in addition to fasting, which trains the willpower by curbing the desires of the ego, is almsgiving (zakat). The underlying purpose of almsgiving is to stem likely transgressions that come with the obsession of hoarding wealth, to purge feelings of envy and jealousy the poor may nurture towards the rich and thereby sustain social life through bonding its members with love. In the Islamic social order, almsgiving and charity (infaq) are therefore crucial means of engendering love between the rich and the poor and eliminating malicious feelings between the two. The rich will be summoned by the Almighty, interrogated as to through which means they made their money and to where they spent it and whether or not they provided its alms and charity. Responsible with sparing a certain amount of their wealth for the poor, the rich therefore stand under a grueling financial test. Yet, passing this test, along with fulfilling the other responsibilities of servanthood yields the blessings of the Lord and entrance into Paradise.

The importance of almsgiving, mentioned numerous times throughout the Quran, is underlined by the fact that on 27 occasions it is mentioned alongside salat, the pillar of religion. Alms is the debt owed by the rich to the underprivileged. The Quran states: “And in their wealth and possessions (was remembered) the right of the (needy,) him who asked, and him who (for some reason) was prevented (from asking).” (ad-Dhariyat, 19) Thus almsgiving is the practice of setting aside a certain portion of wealth that passes the minimum threshold (nisab), as Divine tax, rendering the remainder of the wealth halal. The portion that is set aside is thereby transferred to the underprivileged members of society. In this way, not only is the wealth of the rich cleansed from impurity, a social balance, justice and harmony are also established. Glancing at the following ayah suffices to come to terms with this matter of fact: “He indeed shall be successful who purifies (tazakkaa) himself…” (al-Ala, 14) Literally, zakat does after all mean tazkiya, in other words, to purify.

Almsgiving is a minimum debt the Almighty has obliged on the wealthy. In contrast, there is not a limit imposed on charity, and like fasting, the rewards awaiting those who provide voluntary charity has been kept hidden to encourage the wealthy in this regard. Different to previous nations, the Lord awards the ummah of Muhammad -upon him blessings and peace- one penalty for each sin committed, while ten rewards in return for each righteous deed. Additionally, there are deeds rewarded seven hundred times, even more. But the rewards of fasting and charity are concealed. About this, Allah, glory unto Him, states: “Take alms out of their property, you would cleanse them and purify them thereby, and pray for them; surely your prayer is a relief to them; and Allah is Hearing, Knowing,” (at-Tawbah, 103)

It is clear from the ayah that almsgiving and charity purify both the wealth and the heart. The Almighty also levels a warning at those who abstain from charitable deeds, despite having the means to do so:

“O you who believe! Surely, many of the rabbis and monks devour the wealth of mankind wantonly and debar men from the way of Allah. They who hoard up gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah, unto them give tidings of a painful doom. On the day when it will (all) be heated in the fire of hell, and their foreheads and their flanks and their backs will be branded therewith (and it will be said unto them): Here is that which ye hoarded for yourselves. Now taste of what ye used to hoard.” (at-Tawba, 34-35)

With the love of wealth setting foot deep in the heart, the wealth is held back from charity and in so doing the rights of the poor are usurped. And this incurs a pitiful end as made definite by the above ayah.

Only two kinds of blessings, children and wealth, have been labeled as fitnah, or means of tribulation. Their excessive love may permeate the heart and dominate it, a danger reminded by the Almighty as: “Your possessions and your children are only a trial, and Allah it is with Whom is a great reward.” (at-Taghabun, 15)

By stopping the growth of their excessive love and keeping them outside the heart may one prevent the love of children and wealth from becoming fitnah. Fulfilling the Divine requirements of almsgiving and charity can only take place by depriving the love of wealth of the opportunity of setting foot inside the heart, with the awareness that wealth is simply something entrusted until a predestined time. One must therefore thoroughly reflect on the Divine warnings partly given above and seek to offer supplementary charity that will allow him to pass beyond the minimum threshold of alms. Allah, glory unto Him, declares:

“And they ask you as to what they should spend. Say: What you can spare…” (al-Baqara, 219)

The rich who are generous and thanksgiving, and the poor who are patient and dignified, partake in both human honor and Divine pleasure. In contrast, the rich who are conceited and parsimonious and the poor who are impatient and consequently always rebelling have been reproved.

Almsgiving is an expression of gratitude by those in possession of wealth. And it is a Divine promise that gratitude only increases blessings. So states the Almighty:

“If you are grateful, I would certainly give to you more…” (Ibrahim, 7)

Giving charity was in fact something dearly loved and strongly encouraged by the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. He says: “Son of man…Give charity so that you are treated charitably…” (Bukhari, Nafaqat, 1)

The Beloved Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- desired for generosity to become part of the essential nature of a Muslim. “Only two persons are to be envied”, he says. “One is he who has been given wealth by Allah and the power over it to spend it in His way; and the other is he who has been given knowledge that he practices and teaches it to others (he who provides charity from his knowledge).” (Bukhari, Ilm, 15)

In short, man is naturally disposed towards the world. The ego finds the wealth of the world dazzling. Those deceived by it can never get enough of it. The more wealth there is the greater the ambition and greed becomes. Compassion and mercy vanish when mesmerized by a hunger for wealth. Giving charity then becomes the most painstaking of tasks. Such a person is constantly vulnerable to the deceiving whispers of his ego, urging him to “make more money, become richer. You will give charity in the future!” However much he may be enjoying the comfort of the flesh, a person of the kind is spiritually ill. “Those who adjourn have perished”, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- has said. Zakat is thus a definite cure for greed for the world, a malicious disease of the heart.

It is described in the Quran that at the moment of death, a person will come to his senses, as if awoken from a dream, and plead, with an eternal remorse:

“My Lord! Why did You not respite me to a near term, so that I should have given alms and been of the doers of good deeds?” (al-Munafiqun, 10)

Furthermore, etiquette (adab) is central when giving alms or charity. The provider, especially, must be overcome with feelings of gratitude towards the receiver, for giving him the opportunity to reimburse a compulsory debt. At the same time, a charity given is protection for the provider against illnesses and misfortunes. In emphasis of providing for the poor with a sensitive heart, the ayat state:

“Do they not know that Allah accepts repentance from His servants and takes the alms, and that Allah is the Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful?” (at-Tawba, 104)

“O you who believe! Do not make your charity worthless by reproach and injury, like him who spends his property to be seen by men and does not believe in Allah and the last day. So his parable is as the parable of a smooth rock with earth upon it, then a heavy rain falls upon it, so it leaves it bare; they shall not be able to gain anything of what they have earned. And Allah does not guide the unbelieving people.” (al-Baqara, 264)

All beings live and are survived on the dominion of the Almighty. Through a continuous transformation (istihalah) of the comparably meager amount of soil on Earth, the Almighty turns it into a storehouse feeding a countless amount of creatures. Do not human beings, unique among entire creation in being endowed with reason and judgment, ever see and acknowledge the fact that the Almighty feeds all beings indiscriminately, regardless of whether they are believers or nonbelievers, strong or weak, and think just whose property they are depriving others of?

Allah, glory unto Him, has created the entire universe out of love, a love for the sake of which He has bestowed countless blessings of grace. Sacrifice is a natural outcome of love. A lover perceives his sacrifice for the beloved as a pleasant duty, willingly giving up even his own life if he must. In doing so, not even for a split second does he look upon it as a great feat of sacrifice. It could be said that for the Almighty, charitableness towards His creation is the most beautiful manifestation of what the Lover does for the beloved.

Together with these financial deeds of worship, there is also pilgrimage (hajj), a deed that is both physical and financial. It is a sublime act which, through reviving the poignant memories from the first prophet Adam (a.s) to the Prophet of the Final Hour -upon him blessings and peace-, not only ushers hearts to perfection, but by virtue of enacting the scene of the ultimate Resurrection, hands devotees the keys to the mystery that is: “Die before you die!”

Hajj is underlain with numerous wisdoms, pertaining both to Here and the Hereafter. A true pilgrimage is a magnificent act of worship, where Muslims, forgiven through the manifestation of the eternal mercy of the Lord, come together with an ecstatic enthusiasm of a profound faith and love. Hajj is to shed the clothes of existence and seek a way out from the thunderstorms of the ego, by delving into the depths of spirit. Hajj is a deed of worship that abounds in spiritual manifestations, where man retrieves the harmony and color of his spirit, his true habitat, and where he recovers his essential identity and looks on, as his heart is cleansed with the downpour of spiritual enlightenment.

The Kaaba, which is the qibla, that is the direction of worship for believers, is the focal point of salat, whose offering has been commanded by the Almighty as: “Prostrate and draw near!” (al-Alaq, 19) It is the very direction to which entire Muslims turn, where the heart of the Muslim world beats. In human beings, it is the heart where the Divine Sight manifests itself, while in the universe it is the Kaaba. Thus in a sense, the Kaaba is for the universe what the heart is for man. Pilgrimage is therefore a deed of worship that calls for a sensitive heart and precision, with an appreciation of the Kaaba’s splendor whilst performing it. Permeated with manifestations of love and compassion, the entire schedule of hajj directs the heart to sensitivity, which is exemplified by keeping away from hurting the creation of Allah, glory unto Him.

Clothed in a milky white ihram, hajj is the attempt to acquire a share of the finesse of angels, as if to emulate them. While in ihram, one must not hunt or pull out shrubs and weed, or even intentionally remove a strand of hair. No rafath there, no fisq, no jidal[2] Only compassion towards creation, mercy and courtesy, for the sake of the Creator.

It must not be forgotten that death is the inevitable end for all beings. Its time has been predetermined, up to the exact amount minutes to pass and breaths to be taken until its arrival. Incontestable is the fact that postponing death or bringing it forward is impossible; neither has there been news of certain man able to make a successful getaway from the hands of death. So those with the means to perform pilgrimage must thoroughly think this fact over and strictly refrain from a careless and sloppy attitude in regard. Otherwise, they would directly come under the stern warning of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- below:

“There is nothing preventing a person who recoils from hajj despite having the finances to cover the cost of food and travel, from dying as a Jew or a Christian.” (Tirmidhi, Hajj, 3)

This Prophetic caution stresses that those who neglect offering pilgrimage, not because a lack of financial means but from sheer carelessness, are in a grave loss and are destined for Divine punishment, unless they mend their ways. It is indeed negligence beyond description that Muslims should remain oblivious to hajj, an unrivaled opportunity to purify their hearts and erase their sins.

The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- says: “Whosoever visits the Great Kaaba with the intention of hajj and completes it without engaging in fisq or rafath, will return home pure as the day he was born.” (Muslim, Hajj, 438)

[1]        Al-i Imran, 169.

[2]        See, al-Baqara, 197. Rafath: To have intercourse, to speak about intercourse or any kind of foul words. Fisq: All kinds of sinful conduct. Jidal: To engage in vain arguments.

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, Sufism, Erkam Publications

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