What is the precise meaning of ‘dhikr’? What is its scope and what does it entail? Does it simply involve certain utterances of the tongue, like Subhanallah (I glorify Allah’s absolute perfection), Alhamdulillah (All praise be to Allah), Allahu Akbar (Allah is the Greatest), La ilaha illa Allah (There is no god but Allah) and the recitation of some other selected verses of the Qur’an, or is there more to it?
Of course, such utterances of the tongue and recitation of verses of the Qur’an are important.
In fact they are very important forms of dhikr for, indeed, the best forms of remembrance are those that involve both the heart and the tongue. You must understand, however, that the scope of dhikr is considerably wider.
Dhikr must not only be felt by the heart and uttered with the tongue, but must also affect and effect good deeds.
All Aspects of Life
Significantly, Ibn Al-Qayyim suggests that dhikr encompasses ‘any and every particular moment when you are thinking, saying or doing things which Allah likes: Hence, if your conversation is filled with the words of God, this is dhikr and if all your actions are in accordance with His will, this is dhikr.
Indeed Allah commands that we remember Him while standing, sitting and even while reclining. This is only possible if dhikr embraces every single aspect of life. Consider for example the following verse of the Qur’an where dhikr is emphasized in both Prayer and business activity:
O Believers, when the call to Payer is sounded on the Day of Congregation, hasten to Allah’s remembrance and leave all worldly commerce. This a for your own good, if you but knew . And when the Prayer it finished then disperse through the land, and seek of the bounty of Allah; and remember Allah frequently that you may prosper. (Al-Jumu`ah 62:9,10)
Attending the Jumu`ah Prayer (Friday Prayer), listening to the khutbah (sermon) and performing the Congregational Prayer are all well known as forms of dhikr. But in our worldly pursuits as well we are urged to remember Allah even more often.
We may thus conclude, that attending to your personal needs, earning a livelihood and spending on your family are all forms of dhikr.
But of course, they can only be dhikr if, alongside with the relevant adhkar (supplications) in the heart and on the tongue, they are done in obedience to Allah, for His pleasure, to attain Jannah. Otherwise, as the Qur’an warns us, far from being dhikr, they may have the opposite effect:
Let not your worldly possessions and your children make you neglectful of Allah’s remembrance. But spend in the way of Allah. (Al-Munafiqun 63:9,10)
Methods of Dhikr
There are basically two forms of dhikr. The first involves continuous and sustained inner awareness of Allah in all that we say and do in our daily lives. The second involves mechanisms, whether performed individually or collectively, that help to develop the first.
Sustained Awareness of Allah
Let us begin with a discussion of the first form and its methods. How can you remember Allah throughout the normal course of your day without withdrawing from the routine of your daily worldly life?
How can you ensure that your personal life, family life, professional life and other activities all continue in full swing, and yet, at the same time, ensure that your life as a whole – every moment of it – is permeated with remembrance of Allah?
Such an all-pervading dhikr can be an onerous task, but one can accomplish – with some ease. Therefore, there’re four states of consciousness that you must strive to develop by remembering certain things, absorbing them and reminding yourself of them often.
1- Say to yourself: I am in Allah’s presence; He is watching me
Have you not seen that Allah knows all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth? There is no secret conference of three but He is their fourth, nor of five but He is their sixth, nor of less than that or more but He is with them wheresoever they may be. (Al-Mujadilah 58:7)
He is nearer to you than your-jugular vein. (Qaf 50:16,18)
He is watching everything that you do and hearing everything that you say. He is ever present and His knowledge is all encompassing.
Remind yourself of this as often as you can, and throughout the day- every time you begin a new task, and every time you speak. Indeed, your aim should be to impress this on your heart in such a way that it ultimately becomes your very breath.
When the Prophet (peace be upon him) was asked by a Companion about the best method of purifying himself, he replied: “You should always remember that Allah is with you wherever you are.” (Al-Tirmidhi)
2- Say to yourself: Everything I have has been given to me by Allah
All that there is – surrounding you, on you and in you – comes from Allah alone. There is none that creates or gives anything but Allah.
And Allah brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers knowing nothing, and gave you hearing and sight and hearts that haply ye might give thanks. (An-Nahl 16:78)
A sign for them is the dead earth. We revive it, and We bring forth from it grain so that they eat thereof; And We have placed therein gardens of the date-palm and grapes, and We have caused springs of water to gush forth therein, that they may eat of the fruit thereof, and their hands made it not. Will they not, then, give thanks? (Ya-Sin 36:33-35)
Therefore, reflect upon all the blessing that He has created you with and be thankful to Him.
In all the adhkar that the Prophet has taught us, gratefulness to Allah is a constant theme. Many of these adhkar are simple to learn, and indeed, it was the most simple of his adhkar that he used most frequently.
Learn as many of the adhkar as you can, and throughout the day, as you witness all that Allah has blessed you with, punctuate your day with these adhkar.
If ever you appear to be short of things to be thankful for, recall the hadith of the Prophet: “There are 360 joints in the body and for each joint you must give a sadaqah (thanks/charity) each day”. (Al-Bukhari.)
You must give a sadaqah for each one of them because without any one of them you will be incomplete and handicapped. You must do this on a daily basis for should any one of them
become damaged one day, you will similarly become incapacitated.
Additionally, you may remind yourself that, as we now know from our knowledge of human physiology, your heart beats 72 times a minute. Every time it beats, it does so with the permission of Allah. The moment He withdraws that permission, the heart will stop beating and your life will certainly come to an end.
If you feel that there is nothing else to thank Allah for, then thank him for the life that He has given you – for, so long as there is life, there is hope.
3- Say to yourself: Nothing in this world can happen without His permission
Everything lies in the hands of Allah. No harm can befall you and no benefit can reach you except as Allah ordains. It is as the Qur’an informs us:
If God should touch you with misfortune, none can remove it but He, and if He should touch you with good fortune, He has power over all things. He alone holds sway over His creatures; He is the All-wise, the All-aware. (Al-An`am 6:17,18)
The Prophet Muhammad would supplicate to Allah after each Prayer:
“O Allah, whatever You want to give me, no one can stop it from coming to me and whatever You want to prevent from coming to me, nobody can give to me.”
Prayer after Prayer, you should recite these beautiful words. And beyond that, remind yourself as much as you can and throughout the day, especially as you expect something to happen, or not to happen, that everything happens only as He commands, and by His permission.
4- Say to yourself: I am going to return to Allah one day and that day could be today
You do not know when you will leave this world. It may be that the coming morning is your last morning, or perhaps the coming evening is your last evening.
Indeed, it may be that this hour is your last hour, or even, that this moment is your last moment. Such an uncertainty does not, of course, justify a complete withdrawal from this life so as to prepare for the Next in some monastic fashion.
It is important, however, that you are always conscious of this uncertainty, to the extent that it motivates you to spend every moment of your remaining life seriously, considering it as a gift from Allah and spending the resources He has blessed you with – time, ability and energy – as He has advised.
Then, and only then, will your life have achieved what is required of it, and your return will achieve what is required of it. To help you attain this state of consciousness, recall and reflect upon the following Qur’anic verse as much as you can and throughout the day: “from Allah we came and to Him we shall return”. (Al-Baqarah 2:156)
These are the four states of consciousness that can help us achieve a life completely devoted to the remembrance of Allah. To try to reach these four states simultaneously, and with sincerity, can only purify you. To try in a determined fashion to reach these four states will lead you inevitably to Paradise.
The article is excerpted from the author’s In the Early Hours: Reflections on Spiritual and Self-Development.