Suddenly many of us are isolated during this Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown. This unusual situation got me thinking about the Islamic practice of self isolation.
In my parent’s home, we have a shared family room where we all pray, except my mum. For as long as I know my mum has always prayed alone in her room. Not just in her room, but a spacious corner tucked away from everyone.
She has a tiny wooden cupboard that has her prayer burqa, her Qur’an, dua books, prayer beads and a jug of water. Every day she replenishes her jug of water.
My mum can disappear to this corner for hours. In fact, we always joke around that she makes Tarawih Prayer every time she goes upstairs.
On a recent visit, I found myself making salah in my mom’s musallah because I just couldn’t be bothered to go down downstairs. Praying in this isolated corner of the house, I finally realized why she prefers it there.
The space seems cut off from the rest of the house, you are secluded. Every time I put my head down in sujood it felt like I was enveloped in a layer of peace. It was a peace I had never felt before.
There weren’t loud noises in my head calling me to the world. I could focus better. Isolation (or seclusion) is not something new in our deen, in fact it is highly recommended by our Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
The Prophet (PBUH) said,
“Those in seclusion have raced ahead.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, who are those in seclusion?” The Prophet said, “They are men and women who remember Allah often.” (Sahih Muslim)
Practicing I’tikaaf (during Ramadan) for men and women is highly recommend in the last ten days of the fast. Blaise Pascal, the French theologian, and scientist, remarked,
“I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. A man who has enough to live on, if he knew how to stay with pleasure at home, would not leave it to go to sea or to besiege a town.”
What can we learn from the easily overlooked or avoided sunnah of practicing isolation?
Women and Seclusion
As women, we often deny the fact that our souls need a bit of solace and seclusion every single day. Also, it is often frowned upon if a woman seeks to break away from her duties and have alone “me” time.
If she is not doing her duties, who then will chauffeur the children, or clean the house, or be the tutor, the nurse, and the cook? Women readily wear all these caps and many more, all except the vital cap of nurturing herself.
We fail to realize, isolating ourselves has been prescribed by the Prophet(saw) as something beneficial for women.
Fahmida Zeidan founder of Yan Taru Learning Centre, which focuses on women’s Fiqh, has a unique take on this. She believes that especially at the time of menstruation women should seek to break away, allowing herself to isolate and rest.
She says, “The time of a woman’s period is a time of deep meditation and seclusion.” She mentions that Dr. Haifaa Yunus woman scholar and obstetrician, asks us to ponder about the Quranic ayah:
And they ask you about menstruation. Say, ‘It is harmful, so keep away from wives during menstruation. And do not approach them until they are pure. And when they have purified themselves, then come to them from where Allah has ordained for you. Indeed, Allah loves those who are constantly repentant and loves those who purify themselves.’” (Al-Baqarah:2)
Often we interpret ‘the keep away or separation’ as something sexual. Meaning a man cannot have sexual relations with his wife during this time.
While this is correct, this meaning can extend itself to beyond a sexual nature as well. It is a time when a woman wants to be by herself. And Allah is telling us in the Quran, we need to give women this time and space for seclusion.
Women, even though they are unable to perform Salah or fast, can still have that connection with Allah through seclusion and meditation.
We know that during this time women’s hormones fluctuate making her feel vulnerable, exhausted and just not herself. Can there be anything better than allowing the women time to have that one-on-one connection with her Lord to revive her spirit?
The Other Isolation
Prescribing iddah for women is a Quranic sunnah. The iddah is a waiting period that a Muslim woman observes after the death of her husband or after a divorce. The Quran says:
For those men who die amongst you and leave behind wives, they (the wives) must confine themselves (spend iddah) for four months and ten days. (Al Baqarah: 228)
Again, this type of seclusion is recommended for women, seizing it when we can is a sunnah. It allows women to gain some perspective and emerge stronger from their cocoon. Being alone is not something we should steer away from.
Being alone is how we grow, how we can learn self-discipline and how we can reconnect stronger with Allah.
The Benefits of Khalwa – Islamic Isolation
The word khalwa is the Arabic word for solitude. It refers to withdrawing from the world, and it is a mindful period of intense meditation and reflection.
The person in solitude uses this time to connect with the Divine presence and work on their ego. The benefits of solitude are numerous:
Much of the dissatisfaction we find in our lives can be a direct result of us not working on our relationship with Allah.
Our five daily prayers are constant reminders of the need to break away, but this often becomes something we do almost in an unconscious state while going through the actions of prayer.
Applying the principle of khalwa, where our ultimate focus is Allah, we progressively increase our inner joy and happiness with mindfulness. During this time of isolation, we teach our souls to become dependent on Allah alone.
One of the many lessons we learn from seclusion is silence. Silence has an important effect on our heart and character. Frivolous speech and constant chatter results in a weak heart.
During this time, learn to be comfortable in your silence and your own company. Silence is also related to muraqabah, where if you practice seclusion and silence for long periods of time, you can cultivate presence.
A sense of the here and now. To be present in the moment without worrying about what is in the past or coming in the future. This powerful skill will help not only enhance our worship but also all aspects of our life including professional and personal relationships.
Do we often think about our purpose? Seclusion is the key to the attainment of enlightenment, clarity, and the awakening of our purpose in this world. This will, in turn, help us to discover our identity as the khilafah on this earth.
Imagine for a moment how better our lives can be if we can enjoy just the presence of Allah. No fidgeting with our cell phones or having the TV on as a distraction. Just you and Allah.
Living with joy, having success and realizing our purpose can only be attained by practicing khalwa. It is nearly impossible to attain true knowledge, wisdom, and light without this important forgotten and often neglected spiritual practice in a Muslim’s life.
The opportunity to practice khalwa in these strange days, is a generous gift. Alhumdulillah, let’s use it.