Tafakkur’ means, among others, ‘to think deeply’, ‘to meditate’, ‘to be thoughtful’, ‘contemplation’, ‘meditating’ and ‘thinking’. In a religious sense, tafakkur means ‘to reflect and to meditate over the creation of Allah, to think deeply and ponder on the Ayat mentioned in the holy Qur’an and be thoughtful and deeply understand whatever is in the heavens and earth (or in the universe).
Tafakkur has been used in various verses of the holy Qur’an (in different Surahs) in different senses: 2:266; 6:50; 7:176; 10:24; 13:3; 16:44; 39:42; and 59:21. There are many other verses wherein tafakkur is used/ mentioned; examples are: 2:219; 7:184; 30: 8, 21; 34: 46; 45:13. All these Qura’nic verses invite humans to use their reason and rational faculty and ponder on these Signs of Allah, so that to understand the reality (by understanding these things).
The term ‘tafakkur’ is derived from the root ‘f-k-r’ (Fa-Kaf-Ra) meaning thought, reflection, idea, to think, to reflect, think on, ponder over; to meditate, consider, ponder with care, attention and endeavour. It is, as defined by Abdul Mannan Omar in ‘Dictionary of the Holy Qur’an’, as the action of speculative sense as well as of thought and heart. Fakkara (as V. II, intransitive) means to think, to ponder (as in Q 74:18); while as Yatafakkar (imperfect of v. V, intrans.) means to contemplate, to reflect, to meditate (as in Q3:191).
‘Tafakkur’ has various meanings, like having the ability to understand; careful consideration; thoughtfulness; the process of thinking; meditation; act of thinking deeply or thoughts; act of considering; thinking about; taking into consideration; thinking carefully; serious/ deep thinking; pondering; contemplation; and consideration. In the Qur’an, the root f-k-r (Fa-Kaf-Ra) is used 97 times. “Thinking about, and deciding a course of action based upon perceptions or observed events,” writes Angelika Brodersen (in Encyclopaedia of the Quran), and to convey this concept, “The Qur’an most frequently employs the trilateral Arabic root f-k-r”—of which second and ﬁfth forms are attested eighteen times in the Qur’an. And for Reinhart, the root appears, as does aql, in assertions “humans have been given the means to religio-moral knowledge if they reﬂect upon what they know” (la allakum tatafakkarūn) (Q. 2:219; cf. 2:242). In most verses it appears as ya tafakarun and ta tafakarun, rendered into English as ‘they may reflect’, ‘they may contemplate’, ‘they may ponder upon’, or ‘they may think’; or as Yatafakkarûna=they reflect; Yatafakkarû=they reflect; Tatafakkarûna=you reflect; Tatafakkarû=you reflect upon.
Fethulleh Gülen (b. 1938; Turkey) in his article, “tafakkur (Reflection)” [published in The Fountain (Magazine) July-Sep 2007) writes that tafakkur literally means, “to think on a subject deeply, systematically, and in great detail.” For him, in this context, tafakkur: “Signifies reflection, which is the heart’s lamp, the spirit’s food, the spirit of knowledge, and the essence and light of the Islamic way of life. Reflection is the light in the heart that allows the believer to discern what is good and evil, beneficial and harmful, beautiful and ugly. Again, it is through reflection that the universe becomes a book to study, and the verses of the Qur’an disclose their deeper meanings and secrets more clearly. Without reflection, the heart is darkened, the spirit is exasperated, and Islam is lived at such a superficial level that it is devoid of meaning and profundity”.
In religious sense, tafakkur means to reflect and to meditate over the creation of Allah, to think deeply and ponder on the Ayat mentioned in the holy Qur’an and be thoughtful and deeply understand whatever is in the heavens and earth (on in the universe).
Tafakkur has been used in various verses of the holy Quran in different senses. For example, in Q 2:266, it is used in the sense that one who does good deeds out of obedience to Allah will be bestowed by various blessings in the paradise: “In this way God makes clear His messages unto you, so that you might take thought.” In Q3: 190-191, the “signs” of Allah in His various creations—heaven, earth, day, night, etc.—are presented as “messages for all who are endowed with insight”. These verses read as: “Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight, [and] who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep, and [thus] reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: ‘O our Sustainer! Thou hast not created [aught of] this without meaning and purpose’” (Q. 3:190-91). These verses present the book of the universe with its way of creation, the peculiarities of its letters and words, the harmony and coherence of its sentences, and its firmness as a whole. By drawing our attention to the universe and calling us to reflect upon it, the Qur’an shows us, in the words of Gülen, one of the most beneficial methods of reflection: “To reflect on and study the Qur’an, and to follow it in all our thoughts and actions; to discover the Divine mysteries in the book of the universe and, through every new discovery that helps the true believer deepen and unfold his or her reflections to live a life full of spiritual pleasure along a way of light extending from belief to knowledge of God and therefrom to love of God; and then to progress to the Hereafter and God’s good pleasure and approval-this is the way to become a perfect, universal human being.”
For Brodersen, the Qur’an mentions the creation of the heavens and earth and everything in between, “to request humans to reﬂect on and to realise divine omnipotence and the reality of resurrection,” as in Q30:8; 45:13. Similarly, natural phenomena are interpreted in a similar way, Q10:24; and “The singular status of the Prophet (SAW) is another fact perceptible by means of reﬂection”, as pointed out in Q34:46. These verses, among others, “aim at divine omnipotence that comprises everything in creation. By reﬂecting upon these signs, people … should be able to recognise this divine power”. Tafakkur, along with dhikr (remembrance) aim at the same result: “the deep awareness of divine presence and omnipotence in contrast to the limitation of human contingency.”
In Q 6: 50, “Can the blind and the seeing be deemed equal? Will you not, then, take thought? Tafakkur is used in the sense that men of seeing or men of Allah cannot be compared with blind men or ordinary men as men of Allah have the higher light with them; so think deeply. Or in the words of Muhammad Asad (The Message of the Quran): “Can those who remain blind and deaf to God’s messages find their way through life equally well as those who have achieved a spiritual vision and guidance through God’s revelation?”
—The author holds a PhD in Islamic Studies from Aligarh Muslim University. —Feedback: [email protected]