meaning solitude and living alone, privacy and seclusion (halwat and ‘uzlat)
within the context of Sufism denote both an initiate’s going into retreat to
dedicate all of his or her time to worshipping God under the guidance and
supervision of a spiritual master. He or she seeks purification from all false
beliefs, dark thoughts and feelings, and conceptions and imaginations that
separate him or her from the Truth by closing the doors of his or her heart to
all that is not God, and conversing with Him through the tongue of his or her
one dimension of privacy; austerity is another. The first step in privacy is
completed in forty days and therefore is called undergoing a forty-day period
of austerity. When the spiritual master takes the initiate into privacy, he
takes him or her to his retiring room, where he prays for the initiate’s
success, and then leaves. The initiate lives an austere life in that room
utterly alone. He or she eats and drinks little in that room of seclusion,
which is regarded as a door opening on nearness to God. Bodily needs decrease
and are disciplined, carnal desires are forgotten, and all time is dedicated to
worshipping God, meditation, reflection, prayer, and supplication.
In its aspect
of avoiding people and austerity, privacy dates back to the early days of
Sufism, even to the great Prophets. Numerous Prophets and saints, most
particularly the glory of mankind, upon him be peace and blessings, spent
portions of their lives in seclusion. However, their original system of privacy
and seclusion has undergone undesirable change over time. The seclusion of
Prophet Abraham, the forty-day periods of Prophet Moses, the austerity of
Prophet Jesus, and the privacy of the prince of the Prophets have been
practiced in different ways by many people, and have therefore undergone
This can be
regarded as natural to some extent, for inasmuch as seclusion is related to an
individual’s moods, temperament, and spiritual capacity, only perfect
spiritual masters can know and decide how long and under what conditions an
initiate must be kept in seclusion. In the early days of his initiation, Rumi
underwent many forty-day periods of austerity in seclusion. However, when he
found a true, perfect master, he left seclusion for the company of people (jalwat).
Many others before and after him have preferred being with people, rather than
of the two dimensions of privacy, means keeping a tight rein on carnal
gratification and urging the spirit to rise to human perfection, with which it
is enamored.18 Only through austerity can the carnal self be restrained, forced
to renounce evil impulses and passions and submit to the commandments of God,
and forced to adopt humility and be like earth to a flowerbed:
like earth so that roses may grow in you
nothing other than earth can be a medium for the growth of roses.
receive a certain Divine grace through austerity. Some can adorn their
knowledge with good morals and their religious acts with sincerity and pure
intention, and thereby gain mannerliness in their relations with both God and
people. Others find themselves tossed this way and that in their relationship
with their Lord, and continuously search for ways to get nearer
to Him. There are still others who, like a dragonfly just out of its
cocoon, spend their lives among spiritual beings who may be regarded as
butterflies of the celestial worlds they have just reached.
essential to privacy is that the initiate must seek nothing other than God’s
pleasure, and constantly wait in expectation of that Divine favor. The initiate
must not be idle while waiting for this favor, but rather wait with the eye of
his or her heart open, in the utmost care and excitement, so that no Divine
inspiration and gift that may flow into his or her heart will be missed, and
with the courtesy and decorum appropriate to being in the presence of God. The
following words of La Makani Husain Effendi express this meaning very aptly:
the fountain of your soul until it becomes perfectly pure.
your eyes on your heart until your heart becomes an eye.
up doubts and put the pitcher of your heart against that fountain.
that pitcher is filled with the water giving delight,
yourself and submit to its Owner His home.
you leave it, God doubtless comes to His home.
let the devil-robber enter the home of your heart,
once it has entered it, it is very difficult to throw it out.
It is true
that God is absolutely free of all time and space constraints, and that His
relationship with the believer occurs on the “slopes” of the believer’s
heart. For this reason, the heart’s “emerald hills” or “slopes” must
always be ready to receive the waves of His manifestations so that, in the
words of Ibrahim Haqqi of Erzurum, the King may descend to His palace at night.
decreed to Prophet David: Keep that home empty for Me so that I will be in
it. Some have interpreted “keeping the heart empty” as purifying the
heart of all that is not God, and as not having relations with others without
first considering God’s pleasure. The following words of Rumi express this
wise and sensible prefers the bottom of the well,
the soul finds delight in privacy (to be with God).
darkness of the well is preferable to the darkness people cause.
holding on to the legs of people has never been able to come with a head.
must seclude oneself from others, not from the Beloved.
is worn in winter, not in spring.
purpose of seclusion is to purify the heart of the love of that which is not
God and to be always with the Beloved, those who always feel the presence of
God while living among people and who continuously discern the Divine Unity
amidst multiplicity are regarded as always being with God in seclusion. In
contrast, however, the seclusion of others who, although they spend their lives
in seclusion but have not purified their hearts from attachment to whatever is
other than God, is a deception.
always feel themselves in the presence of God do not need to seclude themselves
from people. Such people, in the words of Rumi, are like those who keep one
foot in the sphere of Divine commandments and turn the other, like a compass
needle, throughout the world. They experience ascension and descent at every
moment. This is the seclusion recognized and preferred by the Prophets and
once said to Prophet David: O David, why do you seclude yourself from people
and choose to remain alone? David, upon him be peace, answered: Lord, I
renounce the company of people for Your sake. The Almighty warned him: Always
keep vigil, but do not keep aloof from your brethren. However, seclude yourself
from those whose company is of no benefit to you.