What is Khalwa?
Khalwa is an Arabic word that can be translated into English as “seclusion” or “separation”. In Sufism, khalwa has the specific meaning of leaving everyday life behind for a period of time and going into seclusion with the goal of altering one’s consciousness connecting with the divine in a deeper way.
Traditionally, Sufis practice khalwa by isolating themselves for a period of forty days with a spiritual advisor and repeating the name of Allah continuously. Khalwa is an essential part of Islamic spirituality, and without practicing khalwa it can be hard for the faithful to find true knowledge, enlightenment, and closeness to the divine will. Khalwa is a kind of dhikr, or religious practice done for the remembrance of god.
Khalwa Through History
Khalwa has a long history in Sufi religious life. The twelfth-century author and religious scholar Muhiyid-Did ibn Arabi described khalwa meditation in his book, “Journey to the Lord of Power,” stating that by the end of a retreat Sufis will have divine wisdom and heaven and hell revealed to them.
In modern times, individuals practice khalwa to attain these divine revelations and also to gain insight into their life and its purpose. After the period of spiritual retreat, individuals may find that they experience more joy and success in their day-to-day lives.
To facilitate the practice of khalwa, many Sufi religious leaders organize retreats where seekers can withdraw into isolation and contemplation with the help of a trained Sufi guide. During their period of retreat, seekers are called Murid, which means “commited one.” This name refers to the Murid’s commitment to spiritual striving and to the teachings of their Murshid, or teacher. Many Sufi retreat centers offer both individual and group retreats.
Life During a Retreat
In modern practice, retreats can last anywhere from a day or two to the traditional forty days. In addition to repeating the name of Allah, Murids can also be assigned a wide variety of spiritual practices to aid their journey towards understanding.
Retreats are generally held in natural surroundings and those participating are often fed vegetarian or vegan foods. The natural setting and simple diet help remove potential distractions from the period of contemplation. To further reduce distractions, speaking and noise are limited on personal retreats, except of course for conversations between the Murid and the Murshid.
Where to go on a Sufi Retreat
Retreat centers where spiritual seekers can go on their journey in the company of qualified guides are located around the world. Lists of retreat centers located throughout North America and Europe can be found at sufiorderretreats.net, sufiway.org, sufism.org, and many other websites. Individuals interested in going on a Sufi retreat should research centers located close to them to make sure they find a place that meets their needs and is staffed by qualified spiritual guides.