The literal meaning of khalwah is seclusion or retreat, but it has a different connotation in Sufi terminology: It is the act of total self-abondonment in desire for the Divine Presence. In complete seclusion, the Sufi continously repeats the name of God as a highest form of dthikr. In his book, Journey to the Lord of Power, Muhiyid-Did ibn Arabi (1165-1240 A.D.) discusses the stages through which the Sufi passes in his khalwah. He suggests:
“The Sufi should shut his door against the world for forty days and occupy himself with remembrance of Allah, that is to keep repeating, “Allah, Allah…” Then, “Almighty God will spread before him the degrees of the kingdom as a test. First, He will discover the secrets of the mineral world. If he occupies himself with dthikr, He (God) will unveil to the secrets of the vegetable world, then the secrets of the animal world, then the infusion of the world of life-force into lives, then the “surface sign” (the light of the Divine Names, according to Abdul-Karim al-Jeeli, the book’s translator), then the degrees of speculative sciences, then the world of formation and adornment and beauty, then the degrees of thequtb (the soul or pivot of the universe-see #16) (59) Then he will be given the divine wisdom and the power of symbols and authority over the veil and the unveiling. The degree of the Divine Presence is made clear to him, the garden (of Eden) and Hell are revealed to him, then the original forms of the son of Adam, the Throne of Mercy. If it is appropriate, he will know his destination. Then he will reveal to him the Pen, the First Intellect (as it is called by Sufi philosophers), then the Mover of the Pen, the right hand of the Truth. (The “Truth” as defined by al-Jeeli is that by which everything is created, none other than God most High.) (60)
Suffices it to say that the Prophet (PBH) , whom Allah blessed with ascendence to the seventh heaven, never spoke of such detailed stages as Ibn Arabi promises to those who undertake khalwah. Nevertheless, the practice of khalwah is regularly followed by the Sufis, with the permission and the supervision of a Sufi authority.
The assigning of forty days of khalwah period is based by the Sufis on the forty days Allah had appointed for Musa (Moses) as a fasting period before speaking to him, as mentioned in different chapters in the Qur’an. One of them is from surat al-Baqarah:
“and when We appointed (a period of) forty nights with Musa.”(2.51)
Khalwah is an obligatory practice to be undertaken by “seeker of God,” which will give him an infusion of divine knowledge, according to promises of Ibn al-Arabi and his disciples.
There are many conditions of Khalwah; they include, according to al-Tijaniyyeh Order:
- Entering the place of khalwah the way a masjid (mosque) is entered, performing ablution before entering it, seeking help from the spirits of the shaikhs of the Order, through the medium of the murid's own shaikh.
- The khalwah place should be dark, and the worshipper should surrender all worldly and exterior religious affairs, as the first step toward surrendering his own existence.(61)
- Assiduity in dthikr, or rememberance of Allah, must be maintained in order that the Remembered One may, at the final stage, make Himself manifest to the worshipper.
- The heart of the murid must be perpetually attached to his shaikh, who has been appointed by Allah to guide him, so Sufis allege. The shaikh is believed to keep each murid's company constantly, spiritually as well as physically, regardless of number of him murids or their geographical locations.
Thus, the Sufi chieftains gradually drag naive Muslims into the impious belief that their shaikhs are omnipresent. Allah says:
“There is no private talk of three, but He is their fourth; nor of five, but He is their sixth; nor of less than that nor of more, but He is with them wheresoever they may be.”(58.7)
Although it should be accepted in its literal meaning, yet the above verse should not be misconstrued to substantiate the sacreligious and pantheistic belief that Allah the Exalted essentially exists everywhere. Rather, the verse means that Allah, glory be to Him, encompasses everything with His knowledge. The Prophet did not neglect to mention and make clear to his followers any ways or means that lead to success in the Hereafter, nor did he neglect to warn them against any ways or means that lead to misery in the Hereafter. And since the practice of khalwah is not included in the ways and means of success, it must be included in the ways and means of misery.
Moreover, seeking help from anyone other than Allah is a polytheistic practice condemned by Allah in the Qur’an:
“Say, ‘Call on those whom you think (to be gods) beside Him; (then you will know that they) have no power to remove harm from you, or to avert it.’ Those whom they call on (they themselves) seek the means (of becoming near to Allah). Whichever of them is nearer (to Allah)? And they hope for His mercy, and fear His punishment. Surely, the punishment of your Lord is (a thing to be) feared.”(17.56,57)
There is also another condition of khalwah: the murid must keep silent throughout the forty days of his khalwah even if he goes out for some reason. Suffice it to know that keeping silent for a whole day is forbidden by the words of the Prophet (PBH) ,
“There shall be no keeping silence for a whole day until night.”(62)
Al-Munawee, in his commentary on this hadeeth, says that keeping silent for a whole day is forbidden because it is an imitation of a Christian custom.
Furthermore, the Prophet (PBH) never practiced khalwah after receiving the Divine appointment of the Prophethood, nor did his companions, may Allah be pleased with them all, nor did their followers. On the contrary, the Messenger of Allah (PBH) encouraged socializing among Muslims and regarded it as praiseworthy, as reported in the following hadeeth narrated by Ibn Umar:
“The believer who intermingles with people and endures patiently their mischief will have greater reward than the one who does not intermingle with people and does not endure patiently their mischief.”(63)