Masters of the inward life say that remembrance of God, or dhikr, is the cornerstone of the spiritual path, the key to sanctification (wilayah) and the weapon of the seeker. In fact, it is the goal behind all acts of worship, as the Qur’an itself teaches: Establish prayer for My remembrance. [20:14]
Dhikr is for the heart to feel the presence of the One being remembered, by freeing it of distractions, maintaining its constant attentiveness and making it aware of what the tongue is uttering. For the best dhikr, and the one yielding the greatest fruit, is one that involves the heart and tongue together; if not, then the heart; and then just the tongue.
In his customary minimalist fashion, Ibn Juzayy (whom we encountered in a previous post which can be read here) distils for us the reality of dhikr. While commenting on God’s words: Remember Me and I shall remember you [2:152], he wrote:
‘Know that remembrance of God (dhikr) is the best of all works in general, even if in some hadiths other acts, like the prayer, are given superiority. For this is only due to what they contain of the meaning of dhikr and of being present (hudur) with God. The proof for the superiority of God’s remembrance can be seen from the following three angles:
Firstly, the texts that are related about its merits over all other works. The Messenger of God ﷺ said: ‘Should I not inform you which of your deeds is best? Which purifies you most before your Sovereign? Which raises you higher in rank and is better for you than giving away gold and silver; better than facing your enemies that you might slay them or be slayed by them?’ They said: O Messenger of God, inform us! He replied: ‘The remembrance of God.” [Tirmidhi, no.3377]
The Messenger of God ﷺ was asked: Which deed is best? He replied: ‘Remembrance of God.’ It was said: Is remembrance better even than jihad in God’s path? He said: ‘Even if he should smite the non-believers until his sword breaks and blood flows, the one who remembers God is of a loftier rank.’ [Tirmidhi, no.3376]
Secondly, God, exalted is He, wherever He instructs us with remembrance, or extols it, stipulates that it be done profusely and abundantly: Remember God abundantly. [33:41] Those who remember God abundantly. [33:35] This is not the case for any other deed.
Thirdly, remembrance has a quality particular to it and it alone: being present in the loftiest Presence (hudur fi’l-hadrat al-‘aliyyah) and arriving at closeness – expressed in hadiths that speak of “sitting” and “being with” God. God says: ‘I sit with the one who remembers Me.’ Also: ‘I am as my servant thinks Me to be, and I am with him when he remembers Me.’ [Bukhari, no.7536]
People intend by their dhikr one of two stations. For the general Muslims, it is to earn rewards (iktisab al-‘ujur); for the elite, it is to draw near to God and be in His presence (al-qurb wa’l-hudur). What a tremendous gulf there is between the two stations. What a difference there is between one who takes his reward from behind a veil, and one who is drawn close and becomes of the elite lovers!’1
1. At-Tashil li ‘Ulum al-Tanzil (Beirut: Maktabah al-‘Asriyyah, 2003), 1:159-60