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Experience and Advice on Sufi Retreat or Khalwa

Shadhiliyya Sufi Center located in Pope Valley, organizes Khalwas for the beloveds (members of the community, students of our Master), specially in the blessed month of Ramadan. During 2007 December I had the grateful opportunity to join such a Khalwa under the guidance of Shaykh Sidi Muhammad al Jamal ash-Shadhili, may Allah preserve him and bless his spirit. The beloves who joined that khalwa emanated such a beautiful energy that it felt heavenly to be there. It was not a traditional 40 day long retreat, but encompassing few days of fasting followed by all night vigils with the Shaykh. The Shaykh led a zikr during one of the nights and it brought an experience unlike anything else.

I tried to capture this experience in the following poem titled:

Reminiscence from a khalwa night

The khalwa has begun.

In the most secluded part of night,
far removed from ordinary sight
from the house of worship,
permeating its dome
vibrations of zikr rise
towards the Throne.

The dimly lit outer room of our mosque
creates a quality of unknowingness.

I look outside the window facing the gardens
there to my surprise is our master's presence!

The master sits alone on the porch
in quietude of the night
leading his holy children
in recalling of Light.

Upon his heart, upon his lips,
between Lord and him, goes on
ceaseless remembrance,
the sacred communion of grace.

On this blessed night
if you listened to the sound
of the caravan of khalwa,
you'd have listened only this: Allah! Allah!

Jan 7, 2008


Khalwa Experience of Fire in the Chambers of the Heart

In the Baitun-Noor Khanqah (gathering place of the Sufis), one of the participant shared this experience of Khalwa that was available in public domain. The author remains anonymous. I am sharing it below:

This Ramadan I was very submerged in my pottery studio trying to prepare two art shows in north Georgia and Savannah as I was struggling to stay on top on my Qiraat (Holy Quran recitation) and dhikr (ritual remembrance of Allah),  I had not planned to make I’tikaaf  on the last tens days as I had last year...

Truly, the spiritual impact of last year’s Khalwa and I’tikaaf at the Baitun Noor Holy Shrine was still fresh in my heart and soul.   When I received a call from one of our seniors saying that I should be there, I covered twenty bowls and vases and headed for the Khanqah (a place where Sufis worship) in Holy Islamville South Carolina. A place where Allah’s blesses name and Holy Muhammad, Peace be upon Him had been seen in Rainbow colors by people of all backgrounds Muslims, Christians and others.

As with the year before the people at the Khalwa were in dhikr twenty hour a day.  There was no one there who did not have Tasbeeh in the hands, or reciting Holy Quran, and Dalaael ul Khairat.  We were instructed by our Pir Shah Jilani to stay absorbed in the remembrance of Allah.   We avoided long conversation and worldly discourse.  Each morning we received instructed from our Pir via video on Tafseer of Sura Baqarah.  There were talim (lessons) from the books Manners in Islam and Uswati-e-Rasul, (Peace Be Upon Him), written by the Hadrat Imam Isa Tirmidhi (Ra), which gave details on the physical beauty of The Holy Last Messenger (peace be upon him).

On the Night of Power, our Pir had instructed us to perform 100 rakat Nafl and Salatun Tasbeeh.   The moment I entered the Shrine my heart started burning as if there was a warming fire in each chamber of my heart.  When I closed my eyes I could see our Shaykh moving about from one place to the other. I saw other faces but could not see them clearly. I saw a tablet of maybe stone on it were words in a relief form written in  what appeared to be flaming red. I could not make out the words.   At one point I begin to get tired. As I sat, one of the brothers tapped me on the shoulder to tell me it was time for sahoor.  I stood to go to Abu Hakims house where the brothers go to eat. (may Allah bless him and his family his doors are always open).  But when I reach the middle of the road, my heart summons me back to the holy shrine, I made few rakats and just sat contemplating on Allah’s Holy Name. The beautiful fire that was burning in my heart was all that mattered to me. I couldn’t think about eating.   At one point, my heart felt a flutter, and vibrated like a cell phone.  I fell asleep sitting to be awaken by the sound of the Adhan.   I headed to the masjid to make Salaat in jamaat.

The burning sensation had subsided, yet the blissfulness and serenity of the night equal to 80 years of Ibadat resting on my chest.

I was again filled with a saturated feeling of gratitude to Allah for sending Our Pir Shah Jilani for unveiling the master piece of Love of Allah Ta’ala and Love of his Holy Last Messenger Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him).  I too had become so drunk/ absorbed with love for all the people in Holy Islamville the I was afraid to speak.  The presence of Allah’s love was everywhere.  Everyone clothes were stained with the wine of divine love from being in this Tavern. I felt these intoxication days after the Eid.  We sat at Abu Hakims home talking s about our Shaykh and how much Allah Ta’ala has manifested His beauty through his Nisbah. When I returned to my home in Madinah Valley Georgia, the burning sensation started again. I was trying to sleep but as I lay I kept seeing the Allah’s name on a rose petal, as on the Ism Allah card.  I rose to make tahajjud and dhikr.  These fires in chambers of my heart continued for two days.

Photo via Flickr

On the website EShaykh, various questions by people are answered from the authorized scholars of Shaykh Nazim's community. In this website someone asked an interesting question regarding intending to make khalwa. The answer covers few useful areas which makes it worthy sharing here. 

The Question:

InshAllah with your blessings i have made intention for the 10 day khalwa to discipline and control myself, i was wondering if any member of the Eshaykh staff could advise us on how we should eat and drink during these 10 days, for example can we fast the 10 days, and if we can what food is suitable and how much can we eat. Also is it permissable to leave the room to attend Jumma Salaah.


Wa `alaykum salam,

Advice concerning the difference between wanting to be in khalwa and being told to go into khalwa

In the Burdah, it says:

The ego is like an infant, if you neglect it
It will grow up attached to the love of being nursed
And be fearful of the schemes of hunger and satiation
For truly eating food will only strengthen the desire for consumption

There is a big difference between asking to enter seclusion and being ordered into it. Indeed, in all such things, there is a difference between asking to do something and being told to do it. When you ask for something, even something difficult, it is as if you are asking for dessert, for your enjoyment. This is because the ego has a share in that which you asked for. If you ask to enter seclusion and are granted permission to do so, it will be easy to endure because the ego is getting what it wanted. On the other hand, if the ego is suddenly confronted with an order from the shaykh to enter seclusion, it will be extremely difficult to endure because this requires subordinating the ego to the will of the shaykh. The ego will never submit to this willingly. It will attack you with all its armies and satanic methods. It will try to make the reality of the shaykh’s order impossible to implement or accept.

This is the reality of the seclusion which I did not seek out. I was ordered to enter this seclusion without notice by Mawlana Shaykh Muhammad Nazim Adil al-Haqqani. His name means “one who is just and true.” I hope that with the Justice and Truthfulness of my Lord, Allah will grant me success in completing this seclusion, for my Lord has full and absolute control over my evil-commanding ego and the ability to purify it from its desires, cut its attachment to the material world, protect it from the tricks of the devil and to cure it from all its ailments.

The ego is a coward, because it comes to defeat you with its countless wild battalions of vile, worldly thoughts and devils marching under its banner. In this way, it is able to defeat you—unless the perfect master is educating, directing and training you. He will be like a roaring lion protecting his cubs from any harm. We hope that, with the blessings of our master Shaykh Mu─žammad Nazim Adil al-Haqqani, we will enjoy peace and calm from the attacks of the ego, which is scheming against us incessantly .

[excerpts from book, Fifty Days: the Divine Disclosures During a Holy Sufi Seclusion by Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani]

Advice Concerning Food in Khalwa

…Soup is the food of awliyaullah. In Sayyidina Muhyiddeen ibn Arabi’s mosque in Sham every day there are 100s of poor people. Everyday they bring 1, 2 or 3 huge pots of soup, mainly daal and zuchinni mixed and give it to people with bread. Anyone who says, “O I want chicken, O I want meat,  O I want this…” they kick them out. If they are coming for Allah, eat what is there. They are coming for ego, so they must make all kinds of food. People who go to restaurants, every day they are egoistic (not those who open the restaurant, that is only rizq for them), but those who come there are not satisfied with bread or rice, where in all countries (mostly if you want to call it third world countries), where the baraka is….

Alhamdulillah Allah blessing all of us with His baraka and blessing but the baraka you find those countries you don’t find here. There you see people eating rice in the mountains they live to 100, 110 years old and their only food is rice in a leaf of banana and they are very happy with only eating this handful. They get more  energy than the one eating every different kinds. So when it comes to food, that is only something when you host someone you need to be generous with your food. If you were not generous and that is ok, as your income is not so much, then you only made soup, then the guest must say alhamdulillah…

…The Prophet (s) his morning food was warm water with honey, and noontime is 7 dates and water, and evening dry bread with olive oil & vinegar. Putting the bread in the oil and vinegar. That is the food they were eating and look at the food we are eating today. And people today don’t say alhamdulillah or shukran lillah by thanking Allah Allah will continue to send blessings and rizq. we forget to say Bismillahi ‘r-Rahmani ‘r-Raheem at begin and to say alhamdulillah at the end. So at Muhyiddeen ibn Arabi they are poor people and rich people. they come to take baraka. They drink that soup and it is baraka…

…Here is baraka in soup. Awliyaullah in their seclusion don’t eat except soup. Prophets used to be shepherds as it teaches patience and their food is lentil soup, daal. and the Prophet (s) was eating less. If the Prophet (s) put stones on his stomach from hunger, what about us? We have to say day and night shukran lillah that we have all kinds of different food...

[exerpts taken from the SufiLive chat log, 15 October 2011, Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani suhbat]

Advice Concerning Behaviour in Khalwa

The following is from the transcript of  the suhbat, Who is The Guide by Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani:

Grandshaykh (q) said Sayyidina Abdul Khaliq al-Ghujdawani (q) put a mureed in seclusion for forty days, and told him, “If something strange happens with you, tell me.” Everyday they sent him his food, one small bowl of lentils in twenty-four hours. That is the food; training. When you eat less you’ll be awake, cannot sleep. They don’t want you to sleep; they want you to be awake. When you eat too much, you go and sleep without feeling. You eat too much food? [Mawlana asks someone]. Somali people are very famous in eating big lambs stuffed with rice and meat. That’s why they are eating each other in Somalia! (laughter) One day, the mureed in seclusion told Shaykh Abdul Khaliq al-Ghujdawani (q), “Oh my Shaykh! Today I had something strange happening to me.” Sayyidina Abdul Khaliq al-Ghujdawani said, “What has happened to you?”

“A rat was speaking to me in perfect Arabic language”, said the mureed. It’s nice for a rat to speak Arabic. It’s good, because in khalwah (seclusion) everything is possible; don’t think it’s too much. Shaykh Abdul Khaliq al-Ghujdawani (q) said, “What happened?” “Ya Sayyidi,” said the mureed, “When you sent me the food, I started eating, but the prayer time came. This rat came from the hole in the room and went to the food and started eating. I was praying, and I was seeing. I wanted to finish quickly because this rat was eating the food. As soon as I said as-salamu `alaykum, I ran to the rat and it went away to the hole. Then I put a paper to close the hole and continued my prayer. The rat pushed the paper and came another time to eat; then ran away another time. I said as-salamu `alaykum, quickly finished my prayer, and kicked the rat out. The rat went to the hole and extended its head saying in perfect Arabic, ‘Oh idiot! Do you think if my name was not written on that food, I would be able to touch it?’ Oh my shaykh, this is the strangest thing that happened to me.”

Sayyidina Abdul Khaliq al-Ghujdawani (q) said, “Oh my son, you have failed your test, because your Trust was going to be given to you, your Amanaat, your secrets, but you blocked them.” “Oh, I didn’t do anything”, said the mureed. His shaykh said, “Oh my son, do you think the rat can speak Arabic? You must not see the rat. You must see the one behind the rat. It was me speaking to you, telling you that you did something wrong. You must let that rat eat because it is written the name of that food for that rat. You lost your Trust. I was ready to give you your Trust, but awliyaullah prohibited me. They stopped me saying, ‘No, he’s not ready yet,’ because you didn’t see me in that rat.”

That’s big. He’s showing him even to that small detail awliyaullah are (with) opened eyes on their followers, their mureeds. They know what’s happening. Every detail they know, but sometimes they don’t talk. You think Mawlana doesn’t know about this air conditioner here, and that they don’t open it? Awliyaullah keep quiet. But we have permission to not keep quiet, to criticize. If there is no permission to criticize, we keep our tongue and mouth zipped. So, to this extent awliyaullah are looking at their followers. Even in their twenty-four hours, of every moment of their lives. Grandshaykh (q) used to say, “When you move in the bed at night right or left, when you are sleeping; I can hear your movement stronger than thunder. When thunder comes, I can hear that movement of my mureed, even if he is in the East and I am in the West, I can hear it.”

So, they put in your heart this knowledge of knowing these forbiddens one by one. Mawlana Shaykh Nazim, may Allah give him long life (ameen), told me Grandshaykh (q) ordered him into seclusion for six months in Madina tul-Munawwara. He was ordered to do the five prayers in Masjid an-Nabawi (s) in the Rawdah Shareef, so, he has to go early for every prayer. That was a long time ago. Not like now, it’s crowded. And going to the Masjid he had to look at his step, where he is putting his feet. He cannot look further. Going, praying, and coming back; continue this seclusion.

May Allah forgive our shortcomings and increase our ability to follow His Will in our life and to bring justice, mercy, truth, freedom and peace in our circle of influence and in the world. Indeed Allah is Ever Responsive to His servants who Call upon His Guidance and Help.



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Technology of the Heart: Experience and Advice on Sufi Retreat or Khalwa
Experience and Advice on Sufi Retreat or Khalwa
Technology of the Heart
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