• TRADITION: Islamic/Sufi
  • NEED: Spiritual Development
  • LEVEL: Beginner, Intermediate

During fikr meditation, we watch over the spiritual heart and center it on the creator. This powerful practice enlivens the heart and focuses the mind so devotion can flow effortlessly.

What’s behind the name of this meditation practice?
The Arabic word fikr means “reflection” or “contemplation.” It is often used interchangeably with muraqaba, the Sufi word for meditation. Literally, muraqaba means “to watch over” or “to take care of.” During meditation, we watch over our spiritual heart and center it with the creator.
What’s the concept?
The core of Sufi spiritual practices is zikr, the invocation of God’s name through repetition. It is a focused act of devotion that helps the soul remember it is one with God. But what happens when the mind starts drifting off to the grocery list? This is where fikr comes in. “These are meditative techniques to help focus the mind,” Dr. Shankar Nair, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, explains. “You’re invoking the name, you’re dwelling in the presence, but you get distracted. As soon as you notice you’re distracted, you can apply a meditative technique to bring your concentration back.” Members of some Sufi orders reflect on a verse of the Quran. Others ponder the subjects of vice and virtue. They may think first about the quality of jealousy, and then a corresponding virtue they’d like to cultivate. Sufi orders in Southeast Asia focus on colors to refocus the mind. The purpose of fikr is to bring the mind back to zikr.
How did this meditation practice originate?
The Quran is rich with stories that illustrate the Prophet Muhammad’s life as a devout meditator, and Sufis base their own spiritual practices on his path. The Prophet often went into seclusion for lengthy meditation retreats in the Cave of Hira, a talus cave on a mountain near Mecca. It was during one of these retreats, during the holy month of Ramadan, that he received his first revelation from God through the angel Gabriel. These revelations eventually became the Quran, which literally means “recitation.” While the Quran doesn’t elaborate on the Prophet’s specific meditation techniques, religious scholars believe that the knowledge was passed down through his close confidantes and preserved by the Sufis. Unlike orthodox schools of Islam, meditation is an important daily practice for mystical Muslims.
What’s unique about this meditation?
Fikr is not a single meditation technique; rather, it’s a toolkit of many techniques that can be adapted to the circumstances of a specific day. Even within a technique—reflection on vice and virtue, for example—there is endless space for personalization. Exploring the subject of compassion, for instance, can lead to the discovery of new words of wisdom from the Quran.
What are its chief benefits?
The Prophet Muhammad is clear about the importance of meditation: “An hour of contemplation is of more value than seventy years of worship,” he told his followers. Sufis believe meditation is imperative to growing as a spiritual being, and that a mindful spiritual practice is the only way to find God. The benefits translate to the physical realm as well. Through meditation, we realize we are representatives of the divine and become examples of peace and goodness in the world. A solid spiritual practice also leads to improvements in health, emotional well-being, and prosperity in our own lives.
Is there evidence of its effectiveness?
Richard Davidson, one of the top researchers in the field of contemplative neuroplasticity, led a series of studies that examined the “attention regulation” of contemplative practices. He concluded that focused attention is a trainable skill. Sara Lazar and her colleagues corroborated these findings with a similar study that used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to observe the effects of contemplation on the brain. Their findings suggest that the right anterior insula, the area of the brain that regulates attention and visceral awareness, is thicker in meditators than non-meditators. Other studies associate a regular meditation practice with altered electroencephalogram patterns, which suggest long-term changes in brain activity.
Are there any side effects or risks?
Are there any controversies?
How can it be learned?
For Westerners seeking to learn more about the Quran and the Sufi perspective, it is helpful to seek a teacher for guidance. There are also many excellent books by Sufi masters that can help you to deepen an existing meditation practice.
Are there any charges for learning?
How is this meditation practiced?
There are dozens of different Sufi orders and almost as many meditation techniques. As mentioned, common forms of fikr include reflecting on verses of the Quran, contemplating a personal vice and corresponding virtue, and visualizing colors to bring the mind back to the task of zikr. Hazrat Inayat Khan, founder of The Sufi Order in the West and teacher of Universal Sufism, taught a form of fikr that focuses on the breath. He compares the breath to a swing, which has a constant motion and constant rhythm. By bringing attention to the breath, the thought that we are holding can circulate fully through the body, propelled by life force itself.

Before you practice this meditation, rinse your hands, feet, and face with water. Settle your breath and clear any distracting thoughts from your mind. Enter a state of surrender as you align yourself with God. Feel your breath expand in your heart and bring to mind a thought or name of God you want to focus on. Feel the breath carry it to all corners of your body. Our step-by-step guided meditation is available on this page.
Can anyone practice this meditation?
Dr. Stewart Bitkoff, a Sufi author, points out that exploring Sufism doesn’t mean you have to convert to Islam or join a Sufi order. Some modern schools are independent of both Islam and traditional Sufi orders, and offer the core spirituality that Bitkoff says is the birthright of all of humanity. “A form of Sufi learning exists for everyone, because the Teaching is always being updated into a modern form,” he says. “The seeker can learn from the Sufis, even become one, and yet remain independent of these specific religious trappings.”
Who are the well-known practitioners?
The best-known teachers and authors in the field include:

Alireza Nurbakhsh
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
Sidi Muhammad Sa'id al-Jamal
Pir Zia Inayat Khan
Is any equipment or material required for practice?
No special material is required beyond what you use for zikr. A copy of the Quran helps deepen the practice if used for contemplation.
Fikr Meditation
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