PERIODIC seclusion from people is a positive thing. Everyone needs a breather – a time of rest and relaxation – after enduring the stresses of life, such as a string of social events, exams, work project deadlines, or extensive traveling.
Staying cooped up inside the home for too long, though, is detrimental for mental and physical health, because it turns one into a hermit. However, periodically withdrawing from people for smaller intervals of time is something that the soul needs, especially to achieve higher levels of moral enrichment and spiritual growth. Several contemporary terms are used to describe this social withdrawal nowadays, such as meditation, reflection, introspection or de-stressing. Within Shariah limits, this concept is endorsed by Islam.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) withdrew into a cave to meditate for months before he received the first Divine revelation. The Qur’an tells us how Maryam Bint Imran withdrew into a private chamber to worship her Creator in an era in which moral decadence was socially prevalent. Her uncle, Prophet Zakariyya, worshipped Allah in a special chamber or “mihrab” to ask Him for a vicegerent after he witnessed how Allah provided Maryam with provision. During Ramadan every year, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would diligently observe a 10-day period of social isolation from everyone, even his family, which was filled with intense and devout voluntary worship.
Therefore, it is a fact that our Holy Book, the Glorious Qur’an, and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) endorse the concept of periodic but temporary withdrawal from society in order to reconnect with Allah and reap the blessings of solitude. These blessings are amply summed up in the Hadith below:
‘Uqbah Bin Amir said: “I asked the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), “How can salvation be achieved?” He replied, “Control your tongue, keep to your house, and weep over your sins.”” [Al-Tirmidhi]
There is great wisdom in this advice that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) imparted to his companion as the secret to eternal salvation in the Hereafter.
Firstly, when a Muslim becomes conscious of guarding the tongue, he begins to realize the high risks posed to it by excessive, unnecessary socialization and mingling with people.
We all know that the tongue speaks only when one or more other people are around, or when we are on the phone. When we are alone, it can only speak in communion with the Lord, via dhikr, Qur’an recitation and Salah.
Hence, as soon as consciousness of Allah regarding how to use the tongue begins to dawn on a person, he or she starts to automatically do what comes next in the Hadith: to stay in one’s home unless it is necessary to go out for some valid reason. This is because one of the best means of controlling the tongue is to socialize less and meet people only when necessary, such as on Friday and during daily congregational prayers at the masjid, for obligatory upholding of familial relations, when seeking knowledge, visiting the sick, attending funerals and weddings, or accepting invitations to banquets.
When someone thus discards excessive socializing and stays mostly at home, he begins to experience a greater calm in his soul. This is because one of the effects of keeping to one’s self and not unnecessarily mingling with others is that one begins to remember Allah more, to offer prayers on time, recite more Qur’an and engage in more dhikr.
Some people get easily bored at home, citing the excuse of supposedly having “nothing to do”. Not so for the Allah-conscious Muslim, who considers actions such as remembrance of Allah by the tongue, relating real-life events to the words of Allah in the Qur’an, and reading books of Islamic knowledge, to be enjoyable acts of worship. The believer limits all distractive media and technology even at home, channelizing his worldly activities to maximize the benefit of his Aakhirah.
Solitude leads to more communion with Allah and a deeper connection with Him. It enables one to conquer the art of reflection and introspection. This causes the materialization of the last part of the Hadith: a realization of past sins. A quiet, uninterrupted domestic routine brings back memories of days gone by and sins committed therein.
Therefore, keeping to his home sans distractions results in a believer remembering his past misdemeanors more often and vividly, as a result of which he is overcome with regret and remorse. He is then more prone to shedding tears during prayers, turning back to Allah in sincere repentance.
When surrounded by people amidst chatter and din, a person can hardly get the chance to weep before Allah. In solitude at home, however, one is in complete privacy, with just Allah as his/her witness – no one else can hear or see. No longer self-conscious or shy, a believer can let loose the ‘waterworks’ and repent with a heartfelt sincerity that is not possible in front of onlookers. This is all the more probable while praying late-night prayers, which offer a more quiet time for an exclusive, emotionally-ridden tête-à-tête with Allah.
An important point to note is that long-term or permanent social isolation is discouraged in Islam. It was narrated that Ibn ‘Umar said, The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “The believer who mixes with people and bears their annoyance with patience will have a greater reward than the one who does not mix with people and does not put up with their annoyance.” [Al-Tirmidhi 5207, Ibn Majah 4032]
What is praiseworthy is that Muslims retreat into periodic but short bouts of social isolation in order to reconnect with Allah, and to avoid excessive socialization and roaming outside for no purpose. Abu Sulaiman Al-Khattabi (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “Isolation only benefits scholars and wise men, but it is the most harmful of things for the ignorant.” And he narrated from Ibrahim that he said to Mughirah: “Acquire deep understanding of Islam, then you can isolate yourself.” [Al-‘Azlah by Al-Khattabi, p. 225]
– Saudi Gazette