Literally meaning calmness, silence, steadiness, solemnity, familiarity, the subsidence of the waves and tranquility, sakina (serenity) is the opposite of flightiness, restlessness, wavering or indecision. In the language of Sufism, serenity means that a heart gradually comes to rest as a result of experiencing gifts from the Unseen. Such a restful heart always expects breezes to come from the realms beyond, and thus travels around in a state of itmi’nan (peacefulness), always careful and self-possessed. This rank is also the beginning of the rank of certainty that comes from vision or observation. The resulting confusion over gifts coming through knowledge with gifts “obtained” through insight clouds the horizon when observing secret truths, giving rise to incorrect conclusions about the reality of things.
Serenity sometimes comes in the form of perceptible or imperceptible signs; at other times it appears so clearly that even ordinary people can identify it. Whether itself and its signs resemble a spiritual breath blown into the ear of conscience or a Divine breeze that can be perceived only with great care; or it appears miraculously and so clearly that anyone can see them, as in the case of the Children of Israel during the time of Prophet Moses, and in the case of Usayd ibn Khudayr, a Companion of the Prophet, to whom it came like a vapor while he was reading the Qur’an, serenity is a Divine confirmation for those believers aware of their helplessness and destitution before God, and a means of thankfulness and enthusiasm. It is God Who sends it, as declared in the verse: He it is Who sent down serenity into the hearts of the believers so that they may have more faith added to their faith (48:4).
Serenity usually comes to strengthen the believers’ willpower, to affirm their belief and hearten them. A believer gifted with serenity is not shaken by worldly fear, grief, or anxiety, and finds peace, integrity, harmony between his or her inner world and the outer world. Such a person is dignified, balanced, confident, assured and solemn, and self-possessed and careful in his or her relations with God Almighty. Egoism, vanity, and pride are abandoned; every spiritual gift received is attributed to God; humility and self- discipline are exhibited while thanking Him; and all dissatisfaction and uneasiness is ascribed to personal weakness and examined in the light of self-criticism.
As for itmi’nan (peacefulness), it is defined as full satisfaction and the state of being at complete rest without any serious lapse. It is a spiritual state beyond serenity. If serenity is the beginning of being freed from theoretical knowledge and awakened to the truth, peacefulness is the final point or station.
The ranks or stations of radiya (being pleased with God in resignation) and mardiya (being approved by God) are two dimensions of peacefulness belonging to good and virtuous believers and are the depths of resignation. The ranks of mulhama (being inspired by God) and zakiya (being purified by God) are two other difficult-to-perceive degrees of peacefulness relating to those brought near to God. The gifts coming through them are pure and abundant.
Some thoughts and inclinations displeasing to God may appear in serene souls, while only perfect calmness is found in those that are peaceful and at rest. Peaceful hearts always seek God’s good pleasure or approval, and the “compass needle” of their conscience never swerves. Peacefulness is such an elevated rank of certainty that a soul traveling through it sees in every station the truth of: I wish to set my heart at rest (2:260) and is rewarded with gifts. Wherever the believer is, the breeze of: They will have no fear nor will they grieve (2:62) is felt; the glad tidings of: Fear not, nor grieve, but rejoice in the glad tidings of Paradise that has been promised to you (41:30) is heard; the sweet, life-giving water of: Beware, in the remembrance of God do hearts find peace and tranquility (13:28) is tasted; and corporeality is defeated.
Peacefulness is realized when believers transcend material causes and means. Reason’s transnatural journey ends at this point, and spirits are freed from worldly anxieties. Here, feelings find whatever they seek and become as deep, wide, and peaceful as a calm ocean. Those who have acquired this rank find the greatest peace only in feeling the company of God. They become aware of Divine Beauty and Grace in their hearts, feel attracted toward Him in order to meet with Him, are conscious that existence subsists by God’s Existence, and that the power of speech exists only because He has Speech. Through this opened window they acquire, despite their finitude, the power to see and hear in an extremely broad capacity. In the whirl of the most complicated events, where everyone else is bewildered and falters, such people travel in safety and escape the whirl. In addition to being freed from worldly anxieties, a believer whose heart is at rest or peace welcomes with a smile both death and the obstacles following death, and hears the Divine compliments and congratulations: O soul at rest, return to your Lord, well pleased (with Him), and well-pleasing (to Him). Enter among My servants, and enter My Paradise! (89:27–30). Death is seen as the most agreeable and desired result of life. When his or her life has ended in death, he or she hears, as was heard from the grave of Ibn ‘Abbas, in every station passed through after death, the same Divine congratulations or Decree: Return to your Lord, well pleased (with Him), and well-pleasing (to Him). Enter among My servants, and enter My Paradise!
Such people spend their lives in the grave on the “shores” of Paradise, experience the Supreme Gathering in wonder and admiration, the Supreme Weighing of People’s Deeds in awe and amazement, pass over the Bridge, only because they have to pass over it, and finally reach Paradise—the last, eternal abode of those whose hearts are at rest or have found peace and tranquility. For such a person, the world is an ‘Arafat prepared on the way leading to God’s eternal forgiveness. The worldly life is the eve of the festival, and the other life is the festival day.
Our Lord! Grant us in the world what is good, and in the Hereafter what is good, and protect us from the punishment of the Fire. And bestow blessings and peace on our master Muhammad, the Prophet, the chosen one, and on his Family and Companions, good and virtuous.
1. Usayd ibn Khudayr felt surrounded by a vapor-like mass while reading the Qur’an and felt greatly exhilarated. (Tr.)
2. The plain where Muslim pilgrims stay for some time on the eve of the Religious Festival of Sacrifice as a pillar of pilgrimage. (Tr.)