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Dhikr Repetition: Is it Allowed?

dhikrIn his al-Fawa’id (a patchwork-like book on moral psychology, that contains within it a collage of spiritual benefits and lessons on practical piety), Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah wrote:

‘God, Exalted is He, says: And remember Job, when he cried unto his Lord: “Affliction has seized me. But You are the Most Merciful of the merciful.” [21:83] This supplication (du‘a) combines in itself the essence of tawhid, manifesting indigence before the Lord, the taste of divine love in the praise and flattery of Him, affirming His attribute of divine mercy and that He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy, seeking the means to approach Him through [mention] of His attributes (transcendent is He), and one’s dire need of Him. Whenever the afflicted one feels this, his affliction will be removed. Experience confirms that whoever repeats this [verse] seven times, especially with this awareness, God shall lift from him his affliction.1

Consider also another passage from the works of Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah. This time, he writes: ‘Among the experiences of the wayfarers (min tajribat al-salikin) that have been tried and found to be sound is that whoever accustoms himself to [reciting]: “O Living, O Sustainer! There is no [true] God but You,” shall be bequeathed life into his heart and mind because of it. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah, may God sanctify his soul, was greatly drawn to it. He said to me one day: “These two Names of God – the Living (al-hayy) and the Sustainer (al-qayyum) – are decidedly effective in suffusing life to the heart. In fact, he indicated to me that they were God’s greatest Names (al-ism al-a‘zam). I further heard him say: “Whosoever habituates himself to reciting forty times each day, between the sunnah of Fajr and its fard: “O Living, O Sustainer! There is no God but You. With Your mercy I seek relief,” life shall be breathed into the heart such that it will never die.’2

There are a number of key principles and practices that relate to the above two passages; these include:

1. That it is not forbidden to repeat du‘as or dhikrs a specific number of times – even if this number hasn’t been stated as such in the Qur’an or hadiths – provided they have been initiated by one of our righteous salaf or imams; and that they not be deemed as an actual Sunnah; and that they not contradict a specifically legislated Sunnah for that time or occasion. In the above cases, although the du‘as are from the Qur’an (as in the first case) and from the Sunnah (as in the second), reciting them a specified number of times, and at specific times, has not been reported in the Book or the Sunnah. Instead, they stem from experience (tajribah) and spiritual intuition (ilham).

2. Permitting dhikr repetitions isn’t limited to the opinions of the above two scholars. Rather, droves of scholars can be seen allowing or practicing it. An early example of it can be seen with the Companion Abu Hurayrah, may God be pleased with him, who ‘would repeat God’s glorification (tasbih) twelve-thousand times every day.’3 He also ‘had a string on which there were a thousand knots and he would not go to sleep until he had counted tasbih on it.’4

3. One further example: Ibn Taymiyyah was asked about the legality of reciting la ilaha illa’Llah seventy-thousand times so as to gift the rewards of it to the deceased, and whether there was any specific hadith to this effect. His response was: ‘If a person recites la ilaha illa’Llah in this manner, seventy-thousand times; or more; or less, then donates the reward of it, God shall benefit the deceased by it. However, there is no actual hadith, be it sound or weak, to this effect. And God knows best.’5

4. A similar rule holds for initiating non-Quranic and non-prophetic du‘as – in that so long as they do not oppose a legislated Sunnah for that time or place; and provided such du‘as not be thought of as being Sunnah; then they too are permitted. Rifa‘ah b. Rafi‘ said: We were praying behind the Prophet, peace be upon him, when he raised his head from bowing and said: ‘May God hear whoever praises Him!’ a man behind me responded: ‘Our Lord! To You belongs all praise; abundant, excellent and blessed.’ Afterwards, the Prophet asked as to who had uttered such words, saying: ‘I saw thirty-odd angels competing as to who would be the first to record it.’6 Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani wrote: ‘From this hadith can be inferred the permissibility of inventing an invocation inside the prayer, other than what is textually-related, provided it doesn’t contravene anything that is textually-reported.’7

5. The juristic rule underscoring all the above instances is simply this: ‘Acts that have a basis and which the texts stipulate in general terms of desirability, even if the actual practice is not specifically related in the texts, are judged as praiseworthy.’8

6. With that being said, one strives to first give life to the textually-reported dhikrs in the Book and Sunnah – in both form and content – making them the bedrock of one’s invocations and du‘as to God. To limit oneself to du‘as initiated by our rightly-guided scholars and spiritual authorities, while neglecting to learn or to put into practice the textually reported du‘as, would indeed entail blame.

7. As for the modern[ist] phenomena of waging war on such repetitions, or declaring them to be misguidance, then such revisionism goes against the normative teachings of our relied-upon imams from whom religion is taken. And whilst it’s true that some people are overly concerned with such du‘as and repetitions, and pay scant attention to the prophetic petitions and invocations, there is no need to throw out the baby with the bath water.

And God knows best.

1. Al-Fawa’id (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2009), 292.

2. Madarij al-Salikin (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2008), 2:29. This Ibn Taymiyyan experience seems sufficiently important to be mentioned again at 4:136. The actual Arabic of the du‘a being: Ya hayyu ya qayyum la ilaha illa anta bi rahmatika astaghith.

3. Cited in Ibn al-Jawzi, Sifat al-Safwa (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 2008), 249.

4. Al-Dhahabi, Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:623.

5. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 24:323.

6. Al-Bukhari, no.799.

7. Fath al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1989), 2:365.

8. See: Ibn Hazm, al-Ihkam fi Usul al-Ahkam (Cairo: Dar al-Hadith, 1984), 1:47; Ibn al-Jawzi, Talbis Iblis (Cairo: Dar Ibn al-Haytham, 2004), 20.

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