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Halwat and Jalwat (Privacy and Company)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism-3

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Literally meaning retreating to a place that is quiet and preferring solitude, halwat is used by the Sufis to mean initiates removing themselves from people to dedicate all of their time to worshipping God, and feeling God's constant company in whatever they experience and in whatever state they find themselves in. It also denotes restricting one's powers of sight and hearing to "seeing" and "hearing" only God, confiding in only Him, and devoting oneself exclusively to Him.

What is fundamental for halwat (privacy) is that one should purify one's spirit, cleanse one's soul, and turn one's heart and conscience to God exclusively to attain His constant company. As a result of this degree of turning to God and the attainment of His company, a traveler to the Ultimate Truth is supported with certain Divine gifts and favored with breezes of inspiration. It may even occur that they converse with God beyond all terms of quality and quantity—which is called "mutual whispering" by the Sufis. These are all Divine rewards that come in return for one's sincerity and exertion; therefore, expecting and demanding these is a show of bad manners. Thus, worshipping God and exerting oneself on His way in order to be able to receive such rewards represents deviation from the basic aim of servanthood to God and amounts to losing while on the way to winning. The perfected souls feel alarmed even over the coming of such rewards without expectations or demands, trembling with the fear that they have come to lead themselves to perdition, and they themselves are consuming the everlasting fruits of the afterlife in this fleeting world. Therefore, they supplicate to God, saying:

O God, grant those gifts to those who ask for them;
Please show me only the way to Your vision (in the Hereafter).

In this way they emphasize their utmost devotion to God without expecting anything in return except for His approval of them as His servants and His good pleasure.

All that we have tried to express so far to describe privacy is what the true travelers on the Sufi way have meant by it. However, some Sufi leaders have narrowed its frame and deal with it as being related to retreating to lodges where initiates undergo willful suffering; during this time, an initiate tries to become accustomed to speaking little, eating little, sleeping little, and remaining alone. This point has already been explained under the headings of Halwat and 'Uzlat (Privacy and Seclusion) and Chila (Suffering) in the first and second volumes of this book respectively. The Sufi scholars who approach the matter from this narrow perspective have stressed its universality, mentioning that every religion and every spiritual system gives place to privacy, even if they differ in some secondary matters. They have considered as privacy the Prophet Moses' ten years of residence in Midian and his forty days of stay on Mount Sinai, as well as the Children of Israel's wandering in the Sinai desert for forty years, and the Virgin Mary's retreat which is mentioned in the Qur'anic verse, We made the Son of Mary and his mother a miraculous sign (of Our Lordship and Power), and We provided for them refuge on a lofty ground of comfort and security with a (water) spring (23:50), and, finally, God's Messenger's seclusion in the cave of Hira for the purpose of worship. They attach great importance to privacy in the name of spiritual purification. Even if it could be said that all of the events mentioned above do not provide some substantial religious ground for privacy, the importance of privacy serving the heart cannot be denied. The heart is regarded as the "House of God" and in this way can be purified of various attachments to things other than God, being refined and brightened so that it can receive Divine manifestations.

Privacy is important—not in remaining away from people, but as being a means for a "conversation with the All-Beloved" in the house of the heart. From this perspective, we can consider privacy to be a dimension of the spiritual journeying on the way to God and a step toward attaining His company.

Privacy, which initiates try to accomplish through cycles of forty days of suffering, in fact, serves to enable them to achieve refinement toward the purification of the heart, spirit, consciousness, and feelings so that they can turn back among people (jalwat) in order to guide them.

Privacy is a way essential to Sufism through which initiates can be refined of the carnal dimension of their nature and discover themselves in the depths of their humanity. Through privacy initiates can also clearly perceive the final purpose of their existence and experience God's particular manifestations of His favors on them through the lens of the helplessness, poverty, and the neediness essential to their very nature. Thus, they turn to God with all of their faculties, in the full conviction of His being the sole source of real power, wealth, knowledge, and all accomplishments.

Privacy does not only consist of constant seclusion from people, as one who went to extremes in solitude said:

Brothers, my comfort lies in privacy—
For to whomever I have become a friend,
They publicized my faults and spread my humiliations around.
During my entire life, I have not been able to find one—
One who has been truly faithful.
For this reason, I have found comfort in privacy.

Although privacy is in appearance a retreat from people, in truth it is a process of being equipped with the necessities of guidance in order to live in people's company.

At the beginning of journeying, those who intend such privacy withdraw to a secluded place, for example, remaining in a mosque for the purpose of worship. They eat little, drink little, sleep little, speak little, and are occupied with the remembrance of God. They never abandon reflection or self-supervision. When they have reached the final point of perfection they return among people and set out to serve them as one from among them. They attain non- existence in regards to their carnal existence and egotism and acquire an ever-active existence through the lights of the Divine existence. In the concepts, thoughts, and speeches of one who has reached this point, the self no longer exists; rather the truth and the Ultimate Truth exist. For this reason, such a person may say, "I no longer exist within me; I am no longer conscious of my existence." In his Diwan Kabir, Jalalu'd-Din ar-Rumi describes this feeling of non-existence as follows:

We have been favored with a mystery, a journeying on the way to the Ultimate Truth.
We rejoice in our non- existence. So, come and let us remain in our non- existence.
The doors were closed to us before, but when we were saved from ourselves,
All the doors were opened. Our hearts have been filled with peace and satisfaction
Because we have remained freed from ourselves on this way.
The All-Beautiful Beloved, Who kept
Himself concealed from us,
Has stroked our face in our non- existence.
We have died for His sake and, in turn, He has saved us from ourselves.

Jalwat (company) denotes that initiates are freed from self-centeredness or anything that feeds their egos and—having been equipped with God's qualities or way of acting and being polished mirrors to His Names—dedicate themselves to service in God's cause with whatever they have, caring about the eternal happiness of others during their whole life. Another approach to company is that after initiates are freed from relative values that are peculiar to themselves, they then devote their intellect, logic, reasoning, and tongue to the service of humanity in the light of the lamp of Prophethood.

A person who attained company illuminates some of the features of those who have attained it as follows:

Those who have attained company polish spirits;
They are those followed by people.
They have three distinguishing marks:
Purity of the soul, refinement of the heart, and a polished spirit.
They are mirrors to the manifestations of the Divine Names.

Whether one prefers privacy or company, the true attainment is servanthood to God, perfectly fulfilling whatever this servanthood requires, and sincere self-exertion to make others know and love Him.

O God! Show us the truth as the truth and enable us to observe it, and show us falsehood as falsehood and enable us to avoid it. And bestow Your blessings and peace upon our master, Muhammad, and on his Family and Companions.