Muraqaba has been defined as watching, supervising, controlling, and living in the consciousness of being controlled (by God). Sufis take this further, by defining it as setting one’s heart solely on God, abandoning any attachment to that which is other than Him, denying to one’s carnal self all that is forbidden, acting in the certainty that the Divine Knowledge encompasses all things, and living in accordance with Divine commandments.
We can also interpret muraqaba as trying to observe whatever God wills, and leading a life in unwavering sincerity and in the consciousness of His constant supervision. Such an attitude is possible when the servant knows that the Almighty is aware of all that he or she does, says, knows, and thinks, as stated in the Qur’an: In whatever state you may be, and whichever part of the Qur’an you recite, and whatever deed you do, We are witnesses over you when you are deeply engrossed therein (10:61).
If muraqaba means closing one’s heart to all that displeases Him and separates one from Him, and opening the spirit to receive the radiances, gifts, and favors coming from Him, then we must close what we must and open what we must. The first steps to muraqaba are to accept as great what God has decreed as great, to accept as worthless what He has decreed as worthless, and to prefer His Will and desires over our own. Thinking of the depth of God’s Mercy increases and strengthens one’s love of God and desire to worship Him, and fear and awe of Him causes one to lose any appetite for sin and to live a careful life. Muraqaba leads men and women to discard anything that harms their worship, and to maintain the purity of their thoughts, actions, and intentions even when they are alone, in the consciousness of His continual observation.
Muraqaba is one of the most important and direct ways of reaching God without a guide. It resembles the type of sainthood attained through succession to the Prophetic mission, which is conveying the Divine Message to people, without following a spiritual order. Such travelers can turn to God at any time or place in awareness of their helplessness and destitution, and be admitted to a “private meeting” with Him based on their need. They feel God’s constant supervision while they are watching nature, and so avoid whatever is other than Him; they are deaf to all sounds and voices that are not related to Him; and they praise His Beauty and Grace, and regard it as useless to mention something that is not concerned with Him.
As a matter of fact, if one’s eyes do not remind one of His Seeing, one’s ears of His Hearing, and one’s tongue of His Speech, how can these organs be used other than as pieces of flesh? Rumi says:
God Almighty described Himself as the All-Seeing in order to warn you against evil, He described Himself as the All-Hearing to admonish you not to say anything bad, and He described Himself as the All-Knowing to inform you that He knows you and therefore to exhort you to be alert to corrupt thoughts and considerations.
Rumi regards self-supervision as a protecting screen from evil emotions, thoughts, passions, and acts, and considers it the safest way to be attentive to Divine rights.
The first step in self-supervision is voluntary submission to the Divine Will and wishes in the conviction that He is present everywhere and is aware of all our thoughts, intentions, and deeds: God is Watcher over all things (33:52). The second step is to turn to God with a heart at rest and patiently anticipate the flow of Divine gifts and blessings into one’s heart.
This does not require any physical or spiritual attachment to or relationship with a guide, or the regular recitation of God’s Names. However, if one wishes to follow a guide and regularly recite His Names in accordance with the defined principles, it will certainly be much better. To the extent that an initiate, whether on the first or second step, can act according to the meaning of the Prophetic Tradition: “Perfect goodness is that you worship as if seeing God, for even if you do not see Him, He certainly sees you,”1 and that, always seeing himself or herself as helpless, destitute, and needy before God, believes Him to be the sole point of reliance and source of help, he or she may be traveling safely on the path of self-supervision and therefore be secure against deviation. Over time, those who follow such a path will acquire a peace of heart that will allow their conscience to remain open to Divine gifts and receive radiances from the One of Unity.
One of the most important mechanisms of self-supervision is muhasaba (self-criticism). As this method of self-control allows believers to become aware of personal faults and their causes, they can find the truth in their hearts and then display it in their conduct. In this spirit, the meaning and mystery of: Glory be to Him Who sees me, knows my place and hears my speech manifests itself. Such people know that the Divine Knowledge and Will always keep them under control and, regardless of location or action, seek only God’s pleasure by trying to act in accordance with His wishes.
- Al-Bukhari, Iman, 37; Muslim, Iman, 1.