Dhikr, remembrance of God

The importance of silent dhikr

The author of Fiqh al-sunna writes:

The purpose of dhikr is to purify hearts and souls and awaken the human conscience. The Qur’an says:

“And establish regular prayer, for prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds, and remembrance of Allah is the greatest thing in life, without doubt.” (29:45)

In other words, the remembrance of Allah has a greater impact in restraining one from shameful and unjust deeds than just the formal regular prayer. This is so because when a servant opens up his soul to his Lord, extolling His praise, Allah strengthens him with His light, increasing thereby his faith and conviction, and reassuring his mind and heart. This refers to:

“those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah, for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction.” (13:28)

And when hearts are satisfied with the Truth, they turn to the highest ideals without being deflected by impulses of desire or lust. This underscores the importance of dhikr in man’s life. Obviously it would be unreasonable to expect these results just by uttering certain words, for words of the tongue unsupported by a willing heart are of no consequence. Allah Himself has taught us the manner in which a person should remember Him, saying:

“And do bring your Lord to remembrance in your very soul, with humility and in reverence, without loudness in words, in the mornings and evening, and be not of those who are unheedful.” (7:205)

This verse indicates that doing dhikr in silence and without raising one’s voice is better. Once during a journey the Prophet, peace be upon him, heard a group of Muslims supplicating aloud. Thereupon the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “Give yourselves a respite, you are not calling upon someone deaf or absent. Surely He Whom you are calling upon is near you and He listens to all. He is nearer to you than the neck of your mount.” [Muslim]

This hadith underlines the love and awe a person should feel while engaged in dhikr.

It is related from Sa`d that the Prophet said: “The best dhikr is the hidden dhikr, and the best money is what suffices.” Ahmad narrates it in his Musnad, Ibn Hibban in his Sahih, and Bayhaqi in Shu`ab al-iman. Nawawi said the hadith was not firmly established.

In the Fatawa fiqhiyya of al-Haytami (p. 48): He was asked about Nawawi’s saying at the end of the chapter entitled “Dhikr Gatherings” in his Commentary on Sahih Muslim: “Dhikr of the tongue with presence of the heart is preferable to dhikr of the heart [without].” Ibn Hajar said: “It is not because dhikr of the heart is an established worship in the lexical sense [i.e. consisting in specific formulae] that it is preferable, but because through it one intently means, in his heart, to exalt and magnify Allah above all else. That is the meaning both of the aforementioned saying of Nawawi and of the saying of some that “There is no reward in dhikr of the heart.” By denying there is a reward in it, one means “There is no reward in the words, which are not uttered”; and by establishing that there is reward in it, one means “in the fact that the heart is present,” as we have just said. Consider this, for it is important. And Allah knows best.”

According to the Naqshbandi masters, dhikr in the heart is more useful for the murid or student for it is more efficient in shaking the heart from indifference and awakening it. Shah Naqshband said: “There are two methods of dhikr; one is silent and one is loud. I chose the silent one because it is stronger and therefore more preferable.”

Shaykh Amin al-Kurdi said in his book Tanwir al-qulub (Enlightenment of Hearts) p. 522:

Know that there are two kinds of dhikr: “by heart” (qalbi) and “by tongue” (lisani). Each has its legal proofs in the Qur’an and the Sunna. The dhikr by tongue, which combines sounds and letters, is not easy to perform at all times, because buying and selling and other such activities altogether divert one’s attention from such dhikr. The contrary is true of the dhikr by heart, which is named that way in order to signify its freedom from letters and sounds. In that way nothing distracts one from his dhikr: with the heart remember Allah, secretly from creation, wordlessly and speechlessly. That remembrance is best of all: out of it flowed the sayings of the saints.

That is why our Naqshbandi masters have chosen the dhikr of the heart. Moreover, the heart is the place where the Forgiver casts his gaze, and the seat of belief, and the receptacle of secrets, and the source of lights. If it is sound, the whole body is sound, and if it is unsound, the whole body is unsound, as was made clear for us by the Chosen Prophet.

Something that confirms this was narrated on the authority of `A’isha: “Allah favors dhikr above dhikr seventyfold (meaning, silent dhikr over loud dhikr). On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will bring back human beings to His account, and the Recording Angels will bring what they have recorded and written, and Allah Almighty will say: See if something that belongs to my servant was left out? The angels will say: We left nothing out concerning what we have learnt and recorded, except that we have assessed it and written it. Allah will say: O my servant, I have something good of yours for which I alone will reward you, it is your hidden remembrance of Me.” Bayhaqi narrated it.

Also on the authority of `A’isha: “The dhikr not heard by the Recording Angels equals seventy times the one they hear.” Bayhaqi narrated it.

On Seclusion (khalwa, `uzla)

Silent dhikr is the dhikr of the servant who secludes himself away from people. Narrated Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri: A bedouin came to the Prophet and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Who is the best of mankind?” The Prophet said, “A man who strives for Allah’s Cause with his life and property, and also a man who lives (all alone) in a mountain path among the mountain paths to worship his Lord and save the people from his evil.” (English Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 76, Number 501) [Arabic: Ja'a a`rabiyyun ila al-nabi faqala ya rasulallahi ayyu khayru al-nas? qala rajulun jahidun bi nafsihi wa malih...]

Abu Sa`id al-Khudri said: I heard the Prophet say: “There will come a time upon the people when the best property of a Muslim man will be his sheep which he will take to the tops of mountains and to the places of rainfall to run away with his Religion far from trials. (English Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 76, Number 502) [Arabic: ya'ti `ala al-nasi zamanun khayru mali al-rajuli al-muslim...]

Malik narrates in his Muwatta’: that Humayd ibn Malik ibn Khuthaym was sitting with Abu Hurayra in his land of al-`Aqiq when a group of the people of Madina came to him. They dismounted and came to him. Humayd said: Abu Hurayra said [to me]: “Go to my mother and say to her: Your son send his salam and asks you to send us a little food.” I went and she gave me three loaves of bread and some olive oil and salt. I carried it to them. When I put it in front of them Abu Hurayra said: “Allahu akbar. Praise be to Allah Who has sated us with bread after the time when our only food was the two black ones: water and dates.” The people did not leave anything except they ate it. When they went away, he said: “Son of my brother: be kind to your sheep, wipe their mucus from them, improve their pastures, and pray in their vicinity, for they are from the animals of Paradise. By the One in Whose hand is my soul, there will soon come a time upon people when the flock of sheep will be dearer to its owner than the sons of Marwan [= human company?].”

Muslim and Tirmidhi narrate on the authority of Abu Hurayra who said: “While on the road to Mecca the Prophet passed on top of a mountain called Jumdan (= frozen in its place), at which time he said: Move on (siru)! Here is Jumdaan Mountain: and the single-minded (al-mufarridun) are foremost. They said: What are the single-minded? He said: The men and women who remember Allah much (al-dhakirun Allah kathiran wa al-dhakirat).” Muslim related it in his Sahih, beginning of the book of Dhikr.

The version in Tirmidhi has: The Prophet said: “The single-minded (al-mufarridun) are foremost. They said: What are the single-minded? He said: Those who dote on the remembrance of Allah and are ridiculed because of it (al-mustahtirun bi dhikr Allah), and whose burdens the dhikr removes from them (yada`u `anhum al-dhikru athqalahum), so that they come to Allah fluttering (fa ya’tun Allaha khifaqan).”

al-Mundhiri said in al-Tharghib wa al-tarhib [The Encouragement to Good and the Discouragement from Evil]: “These are the ones who are fired up with the remembrance of Allah (al-muwalla`un bi dhikrillah).”

Nawawi writes in Sharh Sahih Muslim, Bk. 48, Ch. 1, Hadith 4: “Some pronounced it mufridun (= those who isolate themselves)… Ibn Qutayba and others said: The original meaning of this is those whose relatives have died and they have become single (in the world) with regard to their passing from them, so they have remained remembering Allah the Exalted. Another narration has: They are those who are moved at the mention or remembrance of Allah (hum al-ladhina ihtazzu fi dhikrillah), that is, they have become fervently devoted and attached to His remembrance. Ibn al-I`rabi said: ‘It is said that “a man becomes single” (farada al-rajul) when he becomes learned, isolates himself, and concerns himself exclusively with the observance of Allah’s orders and prohibitions.’”

Dhikr in isolation or seclusion (khalwa) is corroborated by the hadith in Bukhari: “Seven people will be shaded by Allah…” The seventh is: “A person who remembers Allah in seclusion (dhakara Allaha khaaliyan) and his eyes get flooded with tears.”

In Tirmidhi: `A’isha relates: “In the beginnings of Allah’s Messenger’s Prophethood, at the time Allah desired to bestow honor upon him and mercy upon His servants through him, he would not have any vision except it came to pass as surely as the sun rises. He continued like this for as long as Allah wished. Most beloved to him was seclusion (al-khalwa) and there was nothing he loved more than to be alone in seclusion.” Tirmidhi narrates it and said: hasan sahih gharib. Bukhari and Muslim narrate something very similar through different chains and the word khala’ is used instead of khalwa.

Ibn Hajar said in Fath al-Bari in the commentary on Bukhari’s chapter on seclusion:

Ibn al-Mubarak relates in Kitab al-raqa’iq from Shu`ba from Khubayb ibn `Abd al-rahman from Hafs ibn `Asim that `Umar said: “Take your part of fortune from seclusion.” And what a good saying is al-Junayd’s saying, may Allah grant us the benefit of his baraka: “Undergoing the difficulty of seclusion is easier than mixing with society unscathed.” al-Khattabi said in his “Book of Seclusion” (Kitab al-`uzla): “If there were not in seclusion other than safety from backbiting and the sight of what is forbidden but cannot be eliminated, it would have been enough of an immense good.” Bukhari’s title [Chapter on Seclusion As Rest From Keeping Company Towards Evil] refers to the hadith cited by al-Hakim from Abu Dharr from the Prophet with a fair (hasan) chain: “Isolation is better than to be sociable in committing evil.” However, what is usually retained is that it is a saying of Abu Dharr or Abu al-Darda’. Ibn Abi `Asim cited it… al-Qushayri said in his Risala: “The method of the one who enters seclusion is that he must have the belief that he is keeping people from his evil, not the reverse, for the former presupposes belittlement of himself, which is the attribute of the humble, while the latter indicates that he considers himself better than others, which is the attribute of the arrogant.”

Abu Bakr ibn al-`Arabi writes in Sharh Sahih Tirmidhi, Book 45 (da`awat), Ch. 4:

If it is said that the times have become so corrupt that there is nothing better than isolating oneself, we say: one isolates oneself from people in one’s actions, while he keeps mixing with them with his physical body, however, if he cannot succeed, then at that time he isolates himself from them physically but without entering into monasticism (ya`taziluhum bi badanihi wa la yadkhulu fi al-rahbaniyya) which is condemned and rejected by the Sunna.

Dhikr with the name “ALLAH”

Allah said in His Book: “And mention the name of your Lord and devote yourself to Him with a complete devotion” (73:8). Qadi Thana’ullah Panipati said in his Tafsir Mazhari (10:111): “Know that this verse points to the repetition of the name of the Essence (ism al-dhat),” that is: “Allah.” The same meaning is intimated also by the end of verse 6:91 in Surat al-An`am: “Say ALLAH. Then leave them to their play and vain wrangling.”

The Prophet said: “The Hour will not rise before Allah, Allah is no longer said on earth.” And through another chain: “The Hour will not rise on anyone saying: Allah, Allah.” Muslim narrated both in his Sahih, Book of Iman (belief), chapter 66 entitled: dhahab al-iman akhir al-zaman “The Disappearance of Belief at the End of Times.”

Imam Nawawi said in his commentary on this chapter: “Know that the narrations of this hadith are unanimous in the repetition of the name of Allah the Exalted for both versions, and that is the way it is found in all the authoritative books.” (Sharh Sahih Muslim, Dar al-Qalam, Beirut ed. vol. 1/2 p. 537)

Imam Muslim placed the hadith under the chapter-heading of the disappearance of belief (iman) at the end of times although there is no mention of belief in the hadith. This shows that saying “Allah, Allah” stands for belief. Those who say it show belief, while those who don’t say it, don’t show belief. Therefore those who fight those who say it, are actually worse than those who merely lack belief and do not say “Allah, Allah.”

Nawawi highlights the authenticity of the repetition of the form to establish that the repetition of the words “Allah, Allah” are a sunna ma’thura (practice inherited from the Prophet and the Companions) as it stands. Ibn Taymiyya’s claim that the words must not be used alone but obligatorily in contruct, e.g. with a vocative form (“Ya Allah”), contradicts the Sunna.

One who knows that the dhikr “Allah, Allah” has been mentioned by the Prophet himself, is not at liberty to muse whether it was used by the Companions or not in order to establish its basis. It suffices for its basis to establish that the Prophet said it.

One who knows that Allah, Allah is a dhikr used by the Prophet, is not at liberty to object to similar forms of dhikr such as HU and HAYY and HAQQ. “To Allah belong the most beautiful names, so call Him by them” (7:180). As for the hadith of the ninety-nine names, it does not limit the names of Allah to only ninety-nine, as Nawawi made clear in his commentary of that hadith.

It is established that Bilal used to make the dhikr Ahad, Ahad while undergoing torture. Ibn Hisham says in his Sira: Ibn Ishaq narrates [with his chain of transmission] saying: “Bilal was a faithful Muslim, pure of heart… Umayya ibn Khalaf used to bring him out in the hottest part of the day and throw him on his back in the open valley and have a great rock put on his chest; the he would say to him: You will stay here until you die or deny Muhammadand worship al-Lat and al-`Uzza. He used to say while he was enduring this: ahad, ahad — One, One!” Ibn Hajar cites it in al-Isaba (1:171 #732).

It is noteworthy that the Siddiqi translation of Sahih Muslim mistranslates the first narration cited above as: “The Hour (Resurrection) would not come so long as Allah is supplicated in the world” and the second as “The Hour (Resurrection) would not come upon anyone so long as he supplicates Allah.” This is wrong as translation goes, although it is right as a commentary, since saying Allah, Allah is supplicating Him, as is all worship according to the hadith of the Prophet: “Supplication: that is what worship is.” (Tirmidhi and others narrate it.) However, concerning accuracy in translation, the word form highlighted by Nawawi must be kept intact in any explanation of this hadith. It is not merely “supplicating Allah.” It is saying: Allah, Allah according to the Prophet’s own words.

Dhikr “hu”, “hayy”, “haqq”

- “Hu” and “Hayy” are a pronoun and name of Allah Almighty in the Qur’an according to ayat al-Kursi:

Allahu la ilaha illa HU AL-HAYY al-Qayyum (2:255)

Allah! There is no god except HE, the LIVING the Self-Subsistent

- “Haqq” is one of the names of Allah in the hadith in Bukhari and Muslim enumerating the ninety-nine Names (see below).

Furthermore, the Prophet prayed to Allah with the following invocations:

(a) “Labbayka ilah al-Haqq” [At your command, O the God of Truth]. It is narrated in the book of Hajj in al-Nasa’i's Sunan, and in the book of Manasik in Ibn Majah’s.

(b) “Anta al-Haqq” [You are Truth]. Bukhari and Muslim.

- Allah said: “Wa lillahi al-asma’ al-husna fad`uhu biha” : To Allah belong the Most beautiful Names, so call Him with them (7:180). These names are not confined to ninety-nine, as Nawawi explicitly stated in his commentary on the hadith in Bukhari and Muslim whereby the Prophet said: “Inna lillahi ta`ala tis`atan wa tis`ina isman, mi’atan illa wahidan, man ahsaha dakhala al-jannat…”: “There are ninety-nine names which belong to Allah, one hundred less one, whoever memorizes (or recites) them enters Paradise…”

- The Prophet used to call Allah by ALL His Names: “Allahumma inni ad`uka bi asma’ika al-husna kulliha”: O Allah, I invoke You with all of Your beautiful Names. Narrated by Ibn Maja, book of Du`a; and by Imam Malik in his Muwatta’, Kitab al-Shi`r.

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