The following is an excerpt from one of my favourite books, written by Professor Malik Badri. He is a Professor of Psychology at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, Malaysia.
The first Arabic edition, Al-Tafakkur min al-Mushahadah ila al-Shuhud was then translated into English entitled, Contemplation, An Islamic Psychospiritual Study.
Islamic contemplation passes through three interconnected stages, leading to the fourth and final stage which i call the stage of 'spiritual cognition' (shuhud).
The first stage is when knowledge of the contemplated object comes through direct sensory perception - via sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste - or indirectly, as in the case of imagination.
Such information can be purely mental and often has no relation to emotional or sentimental aspects.
The second stage of contemplation starts
when a person takes a closer look at these data, inspecting their aesthetic aspects and particular qualities.
It is a shift from mere perception to a state of wonder at the beauty, excellence, vastness of structure, and miraculous appearance of the perceived object.
It is a stage of fine appreciation, delicate feelings and powerful passion.
The third stage is when meditator crosses the boundary between the created object of contemplation and its Creator.
He or she is then carried away by feelings of submission to and appreciation of the One Who brought the appreciated object of contemplation, as well as everything else in this universe, into being because of the meditator's realization that there is nothing in existence save God and what he has originated.
When this refined meditation is repeated and reinforced with continual remembrance of the Almighty, it leads the worshipper to the fourth stage: spiritual cognition.
Here, the spiritual feelings associated with deep contemplation become part of the worshipper's nature, and make him or her more loving toward and fearful of God and His sublime Attributes.
These feelings, continually experienced, are beyond verbal description.
Observing creation is only a primitive stage that can be enjoyed by believers and unbelievers alike. Similarly, the second stage, that of appreciating the beauty of form and structure, can touch the hearts of both believers and unbelievers.
However, the third stage, which relates this aesthetic appreciation of the universe to the Almighty creator, can only be achieved by believers.
As for the believers who reach the fourth stage, they are in such deep veneration and remembrance of God that they can no longer look at God's creation in a detached manner: they see nothing but precision, mercy, beauty and wisdom in the structure of the world, and become ever more awesticken and appreciative of the glory of the Lord.
This vast universe is indeed nothing but a place of worship to which only believers can have access, when their souls are refined, their hearts are submissive, and they are able to listen to and witness truth.
Robbana..maakholaqta haathza baatila...subhaanaka faqina athzaabannaar...
Men who celebrate the praises of God, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the (wonders of) creation in the heavens and the earth, (With the thought): "Our Lord! not for naught Hast Thou created (all) this! Glory to Thee! Give us salvation from the penalty of the Fire. (Qur'an 003.191)