(Based on a Friday khutbah delivered on April 1, 2005)
By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat
Dhikr has two meanings:
2) Reminder, statement, mention.
Dhikr Allah can then have four meanings:
1) Remembrance of Allah (by us)
2) Remembrance by Allah (of us)
3) A reminder or message coming from Allah
4) A reminder or message about Allah
In the Qur`an when dhikr is used by itself, its primary meaning is the reminder or message from Allah, including the Qur`an and earlier revealed books. But when it is used as a phrase like “dhikr Allah”, its primary meaning seems to be the remembrance of Allah by human beings.
THE WHOLE UNIVERSE IS BUSY IN DHIKR ALLAH
One form of dhikr allah is tasbih or glorification of Allah. The Qur`an says that everything in the universe is busy in the tasbih of Allah:
The seven heavens and the earth and all that is in them glorify him and there is not a thing but declares his praise. But you do not understand their glorification. He is truly ever forbearing, oft forgiving. (17:44)
This means that the whole universe is like a huge masjid, in which dhikr of Allah is going on at all times. This includes even the bodies of all human beings[i]. The only place where the glorification of Allah is not going on is the consciousness of some human beings and other similar beings. But at some level even human beings are "aware" of Allah:
And consider [O man] your Lord brings forth from the children of Adam from their loins their seed and makes them testify to themselves -- “Am I not your Lord?” They say: “Yes, we bear witness (to that)” – lest they say on the day of resurrection: “Verily, we have been unaware of this.” (7:171)
This declaration that Allah is the Lord, which every soul has made to him, is buried deep in our subconscious mind. The purpose of revelation is to bring it to our consciousness, so that we live by it and consciously join the rest of the Creation in the glorification of Allah and obedience to him. This is why the Qur`an often calls itself dhikr; e.g., in the following verse:
And this is a blessed dhikr that We have sent down; are you going to deny it? (21:50)
The Qur`an is dhikr because: a) it is a reminder of the declaration that every human soul has made that Allah is its only true Lord; b) its main message is that we should remember the one and only true Lord; c) its main concern is to help us remember him.
AL-ISLAM IS ESSENTIALLY DHIKR ALLAH
When our consciousness starts to do dhikr of Allah, then we have adopted the way of al-islam and we have become Muslims. Al-islam and doing dhikr of Allah is therefore essentially the same thing. The Holy Qur`an says:
"Is he whose breast Allah has opened for al-islam and who is consequently (walking with) a light from his Lord (like the one who is deprived of al-islam). Then woe unto those whose hearts are hardened against the dhikr of Allah. Such are in plain error. Allah has sent down the best of hadith (word, statement), a book with inner harmony and diversity. The skins of those who fear their Lord shiver from it. Then their skins and their hearts soften to the dhikr of Allah. Such is the guidance of Allah. He guides therewith whom He pleases, but whomever Allah leads astray has no guide.” (39:22-23)
In these verses, first there is the mention of those whose breasts have been opened by Allah for al-islam and who are as a result given a nur or light to walk with. Then there is the mention of those whose hearts are too hard to remember Allah and who are therefore in dalal. This means that al-islam and dhikr of Allah go together. Where there is dhikr of Allah there is al-islam and where there is absence of his dhikr there is absence of al-islam. Also, the verses make it clear that the purpose of the Qur`an is to incline us to the dhikr of Allah.
In the following verses it is even more clearly stated that the absence of dhikr Allah leads man away from the way of Allah (al-islam) and to the way of Shaytan:
And whoever turns himself away from the dhikr of the Most Gracious One, We appoint for him a devil (shaytan) to be his associate. And (these devils) turn them away from the way (of Allah) while they think that they are guided aright. (43:36-37)
DHIKR ALLAH KEEPS US AWAY FROM EVIL AND MEANS MUCH MORE
If turning away from the dhikr of the Most Gracious One leads one into the hands of the devils, doing his dhikr keeps him safe from them. For one of the most important form of dhikr – salah – the Holy Qur`an says:
"Read what is revealed to you in the Book and establish regular prayer. Verily, the prayer stops one from indecent and disapproved acts. But verily, dhikr of Allah is greater and Allah knows what you do." (29:45)
One may say that there are people who are not religious and do not do any dhikr and yet they lead reasonably good lives, avoiding serious sins. But if we examine the hearts and minds of such people, we will find that at some level they are aware of Allah. They believe that they are accountable for their actions, not just to the society in which they live but to some higher reality.
The words “dhikr of Allah is greater” cannot mean that dhikr in some form other than salah, e.g. doing tasbih, is greater than salah, since salah is the highest form of dhikr, combining all other forms acceptable to Allah. An acceptable interpretation of the words is that dhikr of Allah includes more than prayers: it includes all that one does in accordance with Allah’s will, revealed in his book and through the authentic Sunnah of his Prophet. But probably the best interpretation is that dhikr of Allah has many other greater blessings than helping one to avoid indecent and disapproved acts. Let me mention some of these additional blessings of dhikr.
DHIKR ALLAH BRINGS US IN TOUCH WITH OURSELVES
Remembrance of Allah, of course, brings us close to our Creator. But it also brings us close to our own selves:
It is implied in this verse that those who remember Allah also have awareness of their own selves. In this positive form the idea is similar to what is expressed in a saying attributed to the Holy Prophet: “He who has come to know his own self has come to know his Lord ( man ‘arafa nafsahu fa qad ‘arafah rabbahu)”[ii].
DHIKR ALLAH GIVES US PEACE
A priceless blessing of the remembrance of Allah is that it brings inner peace. In fact, it is the only source of peace:
The Unbelievers say: "Why is not a sign sent down to him from his Lord?" Say: "Truly Allah leaves to stray whom he will. He guides to himself those who turn to him in sincerity. Those who believe, and whose hearts find peace in the remembrance of Allah and beware it is in the remembrance of Allah that the hearts find real peace. (13:27-28)
DHIKR IS MUTUAL
The Qur`an tells us that Allah also remembers those who remember him:
“So remember me and I remember you. Give thanks to me and do not be ungrateful." (2:152)
The part about dhikr in this verse can be understood in two ways:
1) You remember me (just as) I remember you (all the time). This meaning is consistent with the verses which tell us that Allah does not forget anything (19:64, 20:52), that is, remembers everything at all times.
2) You remember me; then I will remember you, that is, Allah’s remembering man is a result or reward of man’s remembering him. This meaning is also valid within the Qur`anic thought, since it is stated in 9:67 that Allah forgets those who forget him (see also 7:51, 20:126, 32:14, 45:34): if Allah’s forgetting man can be a result of man’s forgetting him, then Allah’s remembering man can also be a result of man’s remembering him. In this case, Allah’s remembering man is his turning to him in mercy and forgiveness and Allah’s forgetting him is to withhold from him that mercy and forgiveness.
HOW MUCH DHIKR ALLAH TO DO
The Qur`an says that men of understanding are those "who remember Allah standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides (yadhkurun allah qiyaman wa qu'udan wa 'ala junubihim)" (3:191). Since we are either standing or sitting or lying, this means all the time. But how can we remember Allah all the time? Do we not work or have some fun or play with children? Do we become like monks, doing tasbih all the time? The answer is, No. It is possible to remember Allah all the time and yet live fully. For remembering something means being aware of it and awareness has many levels. You can be aware of something while doing something else. Thus when you are sitting in a masjid, you are not all the time thinking about masjid but still at some level you are aware that you are in the masjid. If you are working at home and other members of your family are also present, you are aware of their presence and sometimes even while working you are aware of what they are doing. We can be even sleeping and yet our mind may be registering what is going on around us. In the same way, we can be aware of Allah while doing other things.
If we spend part of our time in doing dhikr Allah with our conscious mind, then for other times we can be aware of him even if we are busy with something else. Thus if when I sleep I say, as recommended in ahadith: bi ismik allahumma ahya wa amut (in your name, O Allah, I live and die) and in this way entrust myself to Allah, then the whole night my mind may be aware of him at some level. Then when I wake up I pray fajr and take a few minutes to look ahead at all my day’s activities -- going to work or school or taking care of some of my needs and some of my family's needs, including need for some fun. If for each activity I consciously make the intention or niyyah that it is in accordance with the will of Allah, then while I am engaged in those activities I will be aware of Allah at some level. This intention is very important. With this intention even secular activities become religious and a means of Allah's remembrance and spiritual blessings. Without such an intention, even religious activities such as looking after a masjid or teaching or learning Islam become secular, with little spiritual benefit.
WAYS OF DHIKR ALLAH AT THE CONSCIOUS LEVEL
Thus if we consciously do dhikr allah for part of our time, then for the rest of the time we would be aware of him at some subconscious level. We therefore need to know what are the ways of remembering Allah at the conscious level.
Whenever we make a conscious decision or intention to do something or not to do something because Allah and his Messenger (sall allah ‘alayh wa sallam) have commanded/recommended it or prohibited/discouraged it we are doing conscious dhikr.
Another form of dhikr Allah at the conscious level is salah:
"Lo! I am Allah. There is no god except me. So [O man] serve me and establish salah for my remembrance." (20:14)
But believers are expected to spend some more time in conscious remembrance of Allah than performing the five obligatory prayers. The Holy Qur`an says:
"O you who believe! Remember Allah with much remembrance; and glorify him morning and evening." (33:41-42)
"And remember [O man] your Lord in your heart with humility and fear and with words in low voice in the mornings and early evenings late afternoons and do not be of those who are unaware." (7:205)
"And remember Allah much, that you may be successful." (62:10)
Ahadith suggest many ways of doing dhikr at the conscious level. They mostly consist of performing salah on nafl or non-obligatory basis or repeating some parts of the salah.
Salah has the following parts:
Tasbih -- declaring that Allah is above all imperfections, e.g. in the form subhan allah
Tahmid -- expressing Allah's praises, e.g. in the form al-hamd lillah
Takbir -- expressing Allah's greatness, e.g. in the form allahu akbar
Tashahud -- declaring oneness of Allah and the risalah of Muhammad (sall allah ‘alayh wa sallam)
Istighfar -- seeking forgiveness from Allah,
Salah ‘ala al-nabi -- honoring the Prophet (sall allah ‘alayh wa sallam) and praying for increased blessings of God on him
Tilawah al-Qur`an – reading the Qur`an
So you can choose certain times in the morning and/or evening etc and regularly read the Qur`an and/or perform nafl prayers and/or repeat a certain number of times words like:
la ilaha illallah
la ilaha illallah wahdahu la sharika lah, lahul-mulk wa lahul-hamd wa huwa `ala kulli sha`yin qadir
subhan allahi wa bihamdihi subhan allahil 'azim
some form of istighfar
some form of blessings on the Prophet (sall allah ‘alayh wa sallam)
KEEPING COMPANY OF OTHER AHL AL-DHIKR
The Holy Qur`an tells us that whenever possible we should stay in the company of those who do dhikr. This will make it easier for us to do dhikr and also increase the blessing of dhikr:
And persist in the company of those who call upon their Lord morning and evening seeking his Countenance and do not turn your eyes away from them desiring the attractions of the life of this world. And do not obey him whose heart We have made to neglect Our dhikr, who follows his own whims and desires and whose affairs (deeds) have gone beyond bounds." (18:28)
[i] That the body and the person who possess it have different relationships with Allah is suggested by the following verse:
A day (is coming when) their tongues, their hands, and their feet will bear witness against them as to what they used to do. (24:24)
[ii] This hadith is rejected by most Hadith scholars as falsely attributed to the Holy Prophet. At first sight it seems to be expressing the same idea as the Qur`anic verse, presenting the other side of the same coin: The hadith talks about knowing while the Qur`an talks about forgetting. The Qur`an says that those who forget Allah forget their own selves while the hadith says that those who know Allah know themselves. But there is a subtle and important difference. In the Qur`an the emphasis is on remembering Allah, which leads to self-awareness while in the hadith the emphasis is on knowing oneself, which leads to knowing Allah
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