> Louis Dallara wrote:
> Hi Isa;
> Could you please explain zikr, which is Islamic meditation.
there are many kind of zikr, just as there are many kinds of meditation.
the word means "to remember."
the most common form of zikr is the repetition of one or more of God's names
it is done privately, publicly, silently, out loud, with movement,
sitting, standing, with words, and without words
the Sema, which is the turning called whirling, is not whirling at all
it is a carefully performed turning in a very specific formal position
while repeating the name of God, often done together in a group
the Sema ceremony is far too involved to describe in detail
each of its parts is prescribed and formulated
there are various editions of the Sema
The sema is best known from the Mevlevi Order founded by Mevlana
Jellaludin Rumi, the famous persian poet who lived in Konya. His father
was a famous "mystic" and when Rumi was a child he met Ibn Arabi in
Baghdad when the sheikh was visited by Mevlana's father. Sheikh Ibn
Arabi said that Rumi (the son) was like an ocean following a puddle (the
When you turn, you maintain visual sight of your left thumb which is
held out straight without bending from your shoulders. Your right hand
is held straight out palm up. Left hand palm down. With each turn, the
name of God repeats itself in your heart. If you try make it happen it
doesn't. Turning is accomplished with the foot of your left leg flat on
the floor, while your right hip rotates on your left leg like a column.
With each turn your right foot returns to its place alongside the left
foot. While turning, everything finds its place. There is an one
director who patrols and guides all the turners so no one loses
consciousness and drifts away. The sheikh sits and does what he does,
and the musicians play, and the chanters chant.
It takes about two to five years of practice and training before one can
actually join the sema ceremony since it requires a great deal of
physical strength and stamina and perfected technique. During training,
one generally meets with the trainers about two or three times a week.
the ceremony itself is about two hours long.
That is one form of zikr. Some forms are far more strenuous and only a
few are allowed even to attempt to train for it, and others are done by
virtually all Muslims virtually every day.
There are 99 names of God in the Quran, and there are any number of praises.
The five times a day prayer is also a form of zikr, if one chooses to do
it as practice.
It requires standing, bowing, prostration and sitting, and repetition of
God's name. One can do it in one's head, but people who study zikr do it
as a zikr. I have seen it done by zen monks during sesshin in the
morning and in Orthodox monasteries by Orthodox monks, but not exactly
the same of course.
I asked my teacher about zazen specifically once and he said it was
zikr, one form of it, and he had been taught it by his teacher. He was
aware of the different forms of zazen as I knew them, which of course is
very limited knowledge.
Another form of zikr is exactly the form that "prayer of the heart" in
the Orthodox Monastic tradition and Hasidic communal prayer is very
much like certain forms of Central Asian and Turkish and Bosnian zikr.
The most "Hasidic" zikr though is probably the Burhaniyye of Sudan. In
Pakistan, singing is the best known form that zikr takes. Famous from
Nushret Ali Khan. My sheikh wrote many (about a 500 page book of) songs
to sing during zikr. I used to be part of the singers before I moved to
Turkey and started to study sema. My son is a semazen (someone who does
sema) and he toured all of Europe as a member of a troop lead by our
All Muslims do some form of zikr.
This does not explain zikr. It cannot be explained.
A friend once asked my sheikh what he should be doing while doing zikr,
like how should he repeat the name and such, and the sheikh told him if
he were doing it, it wouldn't be zikr. However when you see a whole
bunch of men holding each other running around the room as fast in a
circle as they can all yelling together with their whole hearts hooray
for God and no one is bumping into each other and everyone smells sweet
no matter how much they sweat, then you get an idea of what it looks like.
One of the great experiences of my life was one night I sat on my knees
in front of a sheikh in a small room with about 200 other people from 7
PM to 7 AM chanting the name of God and the sheikh would not let me
drift away for a second the whole time. It was on December 19, the day
of the death of Hz. Mevlana Rumi in Konya, in a hotel room. The sheikh
was a tailor with a small shop in the corner of an old house is
Istanbul. He made women's clothes by hand.
He was Rufai, and his father was one of the most famous Rufai sheikhs.