How can one get closer to God through specific acts of worship? Is it through obligatory or supererogatory acts we may reach such closeness? God says:
“Remember Me and I shall remember you. Be grateful unto Me and deny Me not.” (Al-Baqarah 2:152)
For us to achieve a continuous and sustained awareness of Him, Allah, in His Wisdom and Mercy, has taught us some very specific mechanisms of dhikr. These include: the formal `ibadah (worship) like salah (prayer), sawm (Fasting), Zakah and Hajj; tilawah of the Qur’an, du`aa’, istighfar (asking for forgiveness) and tawbah, seeking the company of the righteous and da`wah.
Together these mechanisms or methods constitute what we have classified above as the second form of dhikr– coming after dhikr as a way of continuous and sustained awareness of God– but here we may sub-divide them into two groups: those that can be performed individually and those that are performed collectively.
Methods of Individual Dhikr
The foremost of the specific methods pertaining to individual dhikr include the fard or obligatory `ibadah. Allah has said in a hadith qudsi (Divine hadith):
My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved by Me than what I have made obligatory. (Al-Bukhari)
Each specific formal `ibadah or act of servitude to God, has been ordained as an instrument of self-development. When we observe our salah regularly at the proper times, together in congregation whenever possible, with clear intentions and sincerity; when we fast in the month of Ramadan with awareness and resolve; when we give zakah as soon as it falls due with a generous heart; and when we fulfill the obligations of Hajj as soon as we have the means, we will gain that special closeness to Allah that He has promised.
Closeness through Worship
Those who remember Allah standing, sitting and reclining and who reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth are highly commended in the Noble Qur’an. They are wise in that they fill their hearts with the remembrance of God in every, moment, in every circumstance and in every posture of their lives. (Aal `Imran 3:191)
Indeed, we may get even closer to God through additional observance of these specific formal acts of servitude, for Allah continues in the hadith qudsi:
My servant continues to draw nearer to Me with additional devotions until I love him. When I love him, I become the hearing with which he hears, the sight with which he sees, the hand with which he strikes and the foot with which he walks. Were he to ask for something I would surely give it, and were he to ask for refuge, I would surely grant him refuge. (Al-Bukhari)
For each specific obligatory `ibadah, there is an additional nafl or supererogatory equivalent. These are as follows:
The Sunnah Prayers
These include the additional prayers before and after the five obligatory ones, but just as importantly the Tahajjud Prayer (optional late night Prayer).
The Sunnah Fasts
As recommended by the Prophet (peace be upon him) and to be practiced on Mondays and Thursdays of each week, the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth day of each lunar calendar month, and other recommended days in the Islamic year.
The giving of voluntary charity, however much and whenever one can afford, for the pleasure of Allah.
Performance of the voluntary short pilgrimage.
In addition to the obligatory and their related supererogatory `ibadah, there are two further specific methods of individual dhikr: the first is the daily recitation of the Qur’an, and the second, frequent du`aa’ or supplications to Allah for forgiveness, guidance and fulfillment of needs.
These specific methods of dhikr are instruments of tazkiyah (purification of the heart), dhikr, and true closeness to God.
The article is excerpted from the author’s In the Early Hours: Reflections on Spiritual and Self-Development.