The daily wird of the various branches of the Shadhili tariqa is generally composed of a certain number of repetitions of three formulas: the petition for forgiveness, the sending of prayers upon the Prophet, and the testimony of the Oneness of God; that is, to say Astaghfiru’llah, Allahumma salli ‘ala sayyidina Muhammad, and La ilaha illa ‘Llah or some variant thereof. Some years ago Sheikh Haddad in Fes explained to me that these three formulas perform respectively the functions of tathir, tanwir and ta‘mir; that is, ‘purification, illumination, and saturation.’To understand this, we must first ask what it is that is being purified, illuminated and saturated or filled. The answer is the heart, which the faqir seeks to turn into a ‘house for God’.

In order for the house to be fit for God to live in, it must first be emptied of all other occupants, since ‘He hath no partner’ and ‘God hath not given a man two hearts in his breast.’ The house must be emptied of ‘all that is other than God’ (ma siwa Allah) and cleansed of all its idols as the Kaaba was cleansed after the conquest of Mecca. To ask forgiveness of God means to ask God to perform this cleansing for us or aid us to perform it, since we are too weak to do it on our own.

Once the house is clean it must be lit, since no one likes to live in a dark house. We illuminate our hearts by invoking prayers and blessings upon the Prophet; after having emptied the house of all that is ‘other than God’, we fill it with a light which, although not God, is not ‘other than God’ either: ‘He took a piece of His Light and said unto it, Be Muhammad!’ And again: ‘There hath come unto you from God a light.’ When someone asked the sheikh to elaborate on this, I remember, he simply asked one of us to turn on the light in the room in which we were sitting, and once it was done he said no more.

Once the house is clean and lit, it is ready to be occupied: the faqir invites God into his heart by invoking His Oneness. In principal it would be enough to do this only once; but since we are prone to bad housekeeping and allow our hearts to be cluttered up again and again with foreign objects and impure artificial lights, we repeat over and again the process of purifying, lighting and filling.

The hadith says: ‘The believer’s heart is the Throne of the Most Merciful.’ Or again: ‘My heaven containeth Me not, nor My earth; yet the heart of my faithful servant doth contain Me.’