Dhikr, remembrance of God

In Bukhari and Muslim: The Prophet said that Allah has angels roaming the roads to find the people of dhikr, i.e. those who say La Ilaha Illallah and similar expressions, and when they find a group of people (qawm) reciting dhikr, they call each other and encompass them in layers until the first heaven — the location of which is in Allah’s knowledge. (This is to say, an unlimited number of angels are going to be over that group. He didn’t say: “when they find one person.” Therefore it is a must to be in a group to get this particular reward.) Allah asks His angels, and He knows already (but he asks in order to assure it and make it understandable for us) “What are my servants saying?” (He did not say “servant,” but `ibadi, “servants” in the plural.) The angels say: “They are praising You (tasbih) and magnifying Your Name (takbir) and glorifying You (tahmid), and giving You the best Attributes (tamjid).” (Can you say that all this is a lecture or a study group? Can you say that this is silent? Rather, this is saying “Alhamdulillah” and all kinds of other dhikr.) Allah says: “Have they seen Me?” The angels answer: “O our Lord! They did not see You.” He says: “(They are praising Me without seeing Me,) what if they see Me!” The angels answer: “O our Lord, if they saw You, they are going to do more and more worship, more and more tasbih, more and more takbir, more and more tamjid!” He says: “What are they asking?” Angels say: “They are asking Your Paradise!” He says: “Did they see Paradise?” They say: “O our Lord, no, they have not seen it.” He says: “And how will they be if they see it?” They say: “If they see Paradise, they are going to be more attached and attracted to it!” He says: “What are they fearing and running away from?” (When we are saying, “Ya Ghaffar (O Forgiver), Ya Sattar (O Concealer),” it means that we are fearing Him because of our sins. We are asking Him to hide our sins and forgive us.) They say: “They are fearing and running away from hellfire.” He says: “And have they seen hellfire?” They say: “O our Lord, no, they did not see hellfire.” He says: “And how will they be if they see fire and hell?” They say: “If they see your fire, they are going to be running from it more and more, and be even more afraid of it.” (Now listen to this carefully:) And Allah says: “I am making you witness (and does Allah need witnesses? He needs no witness since He said: “Allah is sufficient as witness.” Why make the angels witnesses? Does Allah change His word? “Making you witness” here means, “Assuring you”) that I have forgiven them.” (Why has Allah forgiven them? Because, as the beginning of the hadith states, they are a group of people reciting the Names of Allah and remembering Him with His dhikr.) One of the angels says: “O my Lord, someone was there who did not belong to that group, but came for some other need.” (That person came for some other purpose than dhikr, to ask someone for something.) Allah says: “Those are such a group that anyone who sits with them — no matter for what reason — that person will also have his sins forgiven.”

The late Imam Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad (d. 1416/1995) said in his book Miftah al-janna (cf. transl. Mostafa Badawi, Key to the Garden, Quilliam Press p. 107-108):

This hadith indicates what merit lies in gathering for dhikr, and in everyone present doing it aloud and in unison, because of the phrases: “They are invoking You” in the plural, and “They are the people who sit,” meaning those who assemble for remembrance and do it in unison, something which can only be done aloud, since someone whose dhikr is silent has no need to seek out a session in someone else’s company.

This is further indicated by the hadith qudsi which runs: “Allah says: I am to my servant as he expects of Me, I am with him when he remembers Me. If he remembers Me in his heart, I remember him to Myself, and if he remembers me in an assembly, I mention him in an assembly better than his…” (Bukhari and Muslim) Thus, silent dhikr is differentiated fron dhikr said outloud by His saying: “remembers Me within himself,” meaning: “silently,” and “in an assembly,” meaning “aloud.”

Dhikr in a gathering can only be done aloud and in unison. The above hadith thus constitutes proof that dhikr done outloud in a gathering is an exalted kind of dhikr which is mentioned at the Highest Assembly (al-mala’ al-a`la) by our Majestic Lord and the angels who are near to Him, “who extol Him night and day, and never tire” (21:20).

The affinity is clearly evident between those who do dhikr in the transcendent world, who have been created with an inherently obedient and remembering nature, namely the angels, and those who do dhikr in the dense world, whose natures contain lassitude and distraction; namely, human beings. The reward of the latter for their dhikr is that they be elevated to a rank similar to that of the Highest Assembly, which is sufficient honor and favor for anyone.

Allah has bestowed a special distinction upon those who remember Him. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “The single-hearted (al-mufarridun) have surpassed all.” They asked, “Who are these single-hearted people, O Prophet of Allah?” He replied, “Those men and women who remember Allah unceasingly.” (Muslim)

The mountain has overtaken the people because the mountain is reciting dhikr also. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya in Madarij al-salikin explains that the term mufarridun has two meanings here: either the muwahidun, the people engaged in tawhid who declare Allah’s Oneness as a group (i.e. not necessarily alone), or those whom he calls ahad furada, the same people as (single) individuals sitting alone (in isolation). From this example it is evident that in the explanation of Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya, sittings of dhikr can be in a group, and can be all alone. In another explanation of mufarridun also cited by Ibn Qayyim, the meaning is ‘those that tremble from reciting dhikrullah, entranced with it perpetually, not caring what people say or do about them.’ This is because the Prophet said: udhkur Allaha hatta yaqulu majnun “Remember / mention Allah as much as you want, until people say that you are crazy and foolish” (Narrated by Ahmad in his Musnad, Ibn Hibban in his Sahih, and al-Hakim who declared it sahih); that is: do not care about them!

The mufarridun are the people who are really alive. Abu Musa reported, “The likeness of the one who remembers his Lord and the one who does not remember Him is like that of a living to a dead person.” (Bukhari)

Ibn `Umar reported that the Prophet said: “When you pass by the gardens of Paradise, avail yourselves of them.” The Companions asked: “What are the gardens of Paradise, O Messenger of Allah?” He replied: “The circles of dhikr. There are roaming angels of Allah who go about looking for the circles of dhikr, and when they find them they surround them closely.” Tirmidhi narrated it (hasan gharib) and Ahmad.

Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri and Abu Huraira reported that the Prophet, peace by upon him, said, “When any group of men remember Allah, angels surround them and mercy covers them, tranquility descends upon them, and Allah mentions them to those who are with Him.” Narrated by Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Ibn Majah, and Bayhaqi.

Muslim, Ahmad, and Tirmidhi narrate from Mu`awiya that the Prophet went out to a circle of his Companions and asked: “What made you sit here?” They said: “We are sitting here in order to remember / mention Allah (nadhkurullaha) and to glorify Him (wa nahmaduhu) because He guided us to the path of Islam and he conferred favours upon us.” Thereupon he adjured them by Allah and asked if that was the only purpose of their sitting there. They said: “By Allah, we are sitting here for this purpose only.” At this the Prophet said: “I am not asking you to take an oath because of any misapprehension against you, but only because Gabriel came to me and informed me that Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, was telling the angels that He is proud of you!” Note that the hadith stated jalasna — we sat — in the plural, not singular. It referred to an association of people in a group, not one person.

Shahr ibn Hawshab relates that one day Abu al-Darda’ entered the Masjid of Bayt al-Maqdis (Jerusalem) and saw people gathered around their admonisher (mudhakkir) who was reminding them, and they were raising their voices, weeping, and maiking invocations. Abu al-Darda’ said: “My father’s life and my mother’s be sacrificed for those who moan over their state before the Day of Moaning!” Then he said: “O Ibn Hawshab, let us hurry and sit with those people. I heard the Prophet say: If you see the groves of Paradise, graze in them, and we said: O Messenger of Allah, what are the groves of Paradise? He said: The circles of remembrance, by the One in Whose hand is my soul, no people gather for the remembrance of Allah Almighty except the angels surround them closely, and mercy covers them, and Allah mentions them in His presence, and when they desire to get up and leave, a herald calls them saying: Rise forgiven, your evil deeds have been changed into good deeds!” Then Abu al-Darda’ made towards them and sat with them eagerly. The hafiz Ibn al-Jawzi relates it with his chain of transmission in the chapter entitled: “Mention of those of the elite who used to attend the gatherings of story-tellers” of his book al-Qussas wa al-mudhakkirin (The Story-tellers and the Admonishers) ed. Muhammad Basyuni Zaghlul (Beirut: dar al-kutub al-`ilmiyya, 1406/1986) p. 31.

The above shows evidence for the permissibility of loud dhikr, group dhikr, and the understanding of dhikr as including admonishment and the recounting of stories that benefit the soul. And Allah knows best.

Types and frequency of Dhikr

Because dhikr is the life of the heart, Ibn Taymiyya is quoted by his student Ibn Qayyim as saying that Dhikr is as necessary for the heart as water for the fish. Ibn Qayyim himself wrote a book, al-Wabil al-sayyib, on the virtues of dhikr, where he lists more than one hundred such virtues, among them (Quoted in Maulana M. Zakariyya Kandhalvi, Virtues of Dhikr (Lahore: Kutub Khana Faizi, n.d.) p. 74-76:

- It induces love for Allah. He who seeks access to the love of Almighty Allah should do dhikr profusely. Just as reading and repetition is the door of knowledge, so dhikr of Allah is the gateway to His love.

- Dhikr involves muraqaba or meditation, through which one reaches the state of ihsan or excellence, wherein a person worships Allah as if he is actually seeing Him.

- The gatherings for dhikr are gatherings of angels, and gatherings without dhikr are gatherings of Satan.

- By virtue of dhikr, the person doing dhikr is blessed, as also the person sitting next to him.

- In spite of the fact that dhikr is the easiest form of worship (the movement of the tongue being easier than the movement of any other part of the body), yet it is the most virtuous form.

- Dhikr is a form of Sadaqa — charity. Abu Dharr al-Ghifari said: “The Messenger of Allah said: “Sadaqa is for every person every day the sun rises.” I said: “O Messenger of Allah, from what do we give sadaqa if we do not possess property?” He said: “The doors of sadaqa are takbir (i.e. to say: Allahu Akbar, Allah is Greater); Subhan Allah (Allah is exalted high); al-hamdu lillah (all praise is for Allah); La ilaha illallah (there is no god other than Allah); Astaghfirullah (I seek forgiveness from Allah); enjoining good; forbidding evil…. These are all the doors of sadaqah from you which is prescribed for you, and there is a reward for you even in sex with your wife.” Narrated by Ahmad and Ibn Hibban, and there is something of similar effect in Muslim.

All words of praise and glory to Allah, extolling His Perfect Attributes of Power and Majesty, Beauty and Sublimeness, whether one utters them by tongue or says them silently in one’s heart, are known as dhikr or remembrance, of Allah. He has commanded us to remember Him always and ever. Allah says:

“O you who believe! Celebrate the praises of Allah, and do so often; and glorify Him morning and evening.” (33:41-42)

If anyone remembers Allah, He remembers that person:

“Remember me, I shall remember you.” (2:152)

Remembrance of Allah is the foundation of good deeds. Whoever succeeds in it is blessed with the close friendship of Allah. That is why the Prophet, peace be upon him, used to make remembrance of Allah at all times. When a man complained, “The laws of Islam are too heavy for me, so tell me something that I can easily follow,” the Prophet told him, “Let your tongue be always busy with the remembrance of Allah.” [Narrated by Ahmad with two sound chains, also Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah through other chains, and Ibn Hibban who declared it sahih as well as al-Hakim.]

The Prophet, peace be upon him, would often tell his Companions, “Shall I tell you about the best of deeds, the most pure in the sight of your Lord, about the one that is of the highest order and is far better for you than spending gold and silver, even better for you than meeting your enemies in the battlefield where you strike at their necks and they at yours?” The Companions replied, “Yes, O Messenger of Allah!” The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “Remembrance of Allah.” (Narrated by Tirmidhi, Ahmad, and Hakim who declared its chain of narrators sound.)

Remembrance of Allah is also a means of deliverance from Hell Fire. Mu’adh reported, “The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, ‘No other act of man is a more effective means for his deliverance from the chastisement of Allah than the remembrance of Allah.” (Narrated by Ahmad.)

Ahmad also reports that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Whatever you say in celebration of Allah’s Glory, Majesty, and Oneness, and all your words of Praise for Him gather around the Throne of Allah. These words resound like the buzzing of bees, and call attention to the person who uttered them to Allah. Don’t you wish to have someone there in the presence of Allah who would call attention to you?”

The required amount of dhikr is as much as possible

Allah ordered that He should be remembered abundantly. Describing the wise men and women who ponder His signs, the Qur’an mentions:

“Those who remember Allah standing, sitting and on their sides,” (3:191), and

“Those men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise. For them has Allah prepared forgiveness and a great reward.” (3:191, 33:35)

The author of Fiqh al-Sunna mentioned that Mujahid explained: “A person cannot be one of ‘those men and women who remember Allah much’ as mentioned in the above verse of the Qur’an, unless he or she remembers Allah at all times, standing, sitting, or lying in bed,” and that when asked how much dhikr one should do to be considered as one of “those who remember Allah much,” Ibn as-Salah said that “much” is “when one is constant in supplicating, in the morning and evening and in other parts of the day and the night as reported from the Prophet, peace be upon him.”

Concerning the above Qur’anic verses `Ali ibn Abu Talha relates that Ibn `Abbas said, “All obligations imposed upon man by Allah are clearly marked and one is exempted from them only in the presence of a genuine cause. The only exception is the obligation of dhikr. Allah has set no specific limits for it, and under no circumstances is one allowed to be negligent of it. We are commanded to ‘remember Allah standing, sitting and reclining on your sides,’ in the morning, during the day, at sea or on land, on journeys or at home, in poverty and in prosperity, in sickness or in health, openly and secretly, and, in fact, at all times throughout one’s life and in all circumstances.

We see by the above evidence that there is no such thing as too much dhikr. The Prophet is related to say: “He who loves something mentions it much.” (Narrated by Abu Nu`aym in the Hilya and Daylami in Musnad al-firdaws. Sakhawi cites it in al-Maqasid al-hasana p. 393 #1050 and does not comment upon it.) We love Allah and His Prophet, and therefore we mention Allah and His Prophet. No one may declare a limit to such mention except those who do not have such love and they are undoubtedly the enemies of Islam.

Imam Ghazali said in the fortieth book of his Ihya’ entitled “The Remembrance of Death and The Afterlife” (p. 124 in the translation of T.J. Winter, `Abd al-Hakim Murad):

It is man’s soul and spirit that constitute his real nature… Upon death his state changes in two ways. Firstly he is now deprived of his eyes, ears and tongue, his hand, his feet and all his parts, just as he is deprived of family, children, relatives, and all the people he used to know, and of his horses and other riding-beasts, his servant-boys, his houses and property, and all that he used to own. There is no distinction to be drawn between his being taken from these things and these things being taken from him, for it is the separation itself which causes pain….

If there was anything in the world in which he had found consolation and peace, then he will greatly lament for it after he dies, and feel the greatest sorrow over losing it. His heart will turn to thoughts of everything he owned, of his power and estates, even to a shirt he used to wear, for instance, and in which he took pleasure.

However, had he taken pleasure only in the remembrance of Allah, and consoled himself with Him alone, then his will be great bliss and perfect happiness. For the barriers which lay between him and his Beloved will now be removed, and he will be free of the obstacles and cares of the world, all of which had distracted him from the remembrance of Allah. This is one of the aspects of the difference between the states of life and death.

On the same topic Imam Habib al-Haddad said (Key to the Garden p. 104):

Time and days are a man’s capital, while his inclinations, desires, and various ambitions are the highway robbers. The way in which one profits on this journey lies in succeeding in coming to Allah and in attaining everlasting happiness, while one loses by being veiled from Allah, and being consigned to the painful torment of the Fire.

For this reason the intelligent believer transforms all his breaths into acts of obedience, and interrupts them only with the dhikr of Allah.

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