Gatherings of Dhikr
Dhikr is the Greatest Obligation and a Perpetual Divine Order
Dhikr of Allah is the most excellent act of Allah’s servants and is stressed over a hundred times in the Holy Qur’an. It is the most praiseworthy work to earn Allah’s pleasure, the most effective weapon to overcome the enemy, and the most deserving of deeds in reward. It is the flag of Islam, the polish of hearts, the essence of the science of faith, the immunisation against hypocrisy, the head of worship, and the key of all success. There are no restrictions on the modality, frequency, or timing of dhikr whatsoever. The restrictions on modality pertain to certain specific obligatory acts which are not the issue here, such as Salat. The Shari`a is clear and everyone knows what they have to do. Indeed, the Prophet said that the People of Paradise will only regret one thing: not having made enough dhikr in the world! Are not those who are making up reasons to discourage others from making dhikr afraid of Allah in this tremendous matter?
Allah says in His holy Book: “O Believers, make abundant mention of ALLAH!” (33:41) And He mentions of His servants “Those who remember their Lord standing, and sitting, and lying on their sides” (3:191), in other words at all times of the day and night. He said (3:190-191): “The creation of heaven and earth and the changes of night and day are signs for people who have wisdom: — consider who is described as having wisdom — Those who remember (and recite and call) Allah standing up, sitting, and lying on their sides.” `A’isha said, as narrated by Muslim, that the Prophet mentioned/remembered Allah at all times of the day and night.
The Prophet said: “If your hearts were always in the state that they are in during dhikr, the angels would come to see you to the point that they would greet you in the middle of the road.” Muslim narrated it. Imam Nawawi in his Sharh sahih muslim commented on this hadith saying: “This kind of sight is shown to someone who persists in meditation (muraqaba), reflection (fikr), and anticipation (iqbal) of the next world.”
Mu`adh ibn Jabal said that the Prophet also said: “The People of Paradise will not regret except one thing alone: the hour that passed them by and in which they made no remembrance of Allah.” Narrated by Bayhaqi in Shu`ab al-iman (1:392 #512-513) and by Tabarani. Haythami in Majma` al-zawa’id (10:74) said that its narrators are all trustworthy (thiqat), while Suyuti declared it hasan in his Jami` al-saghir (#7701).
Allah placed His remembrance above prayer in value by making prayer the means and remembrance the goal. He said:
“Lo! Worship guards one from lewdness and iniquity, but verily, remembrance of Allah is greater/more important.” (29:45)
“He is successful who purifies himself, and remembers the name of his Lord, and so prays.” (87:14-15)
“So establish prayer for My remembrance.” (20:14)
Ibn Hajar in his Fath al-bari (1989 ed. 11:251) relates Qadi Abu Bakr Ibn al-`Arabi’s explanation that there is no good deed except with dhikr as a precondition for its validity, and whoever does not remember Allah in his heart at the time of his sadaqa or fasting, for example, then his deed is incomplete: therefore dhikr is the best of deeds because of this. Dhikr is, therefore, something of tremendous importance. Abu Hurayra said that the Prophet said, Peace be upon him: “The earth and everything in it is cursed, except for dhikr and what attends dhikr, and a teacher (of dhikr) and a student (of dhikr).” Narrated by Tirmidhi who said it is hasan, Ibn Majah who said the same, Bayhaqi, and others. Suyuti cites it in al-Jami` al-saghir from al-Bazzar’s similar narration from Ibn Mas`ud and he declared it sahih. Tabarani also narrated it in al-Awsat from Abu al-Darda’. By the words “the world and everything in it” is meant here all that claims status or existence apart from Allah instead of in Him. In fact, all creation does dhikr because Allah said that all creation does praise to Him constantly, and tasbih is a kind of dhikr. Allah said of the Prophet Yunus, when the whale swallowed him: “Had he not been one of My glorifiers (musabbihin), he would have remained inside the whale’s stomach until Judgement Day.” (37:143-144) The one who engages in dhikr has the highest rank of all before Allah. The people who call on Allah without distraction have been mentioned in Qur’an, as well as the effect that calling has on their heart: “In houses which Allah has allowed to be raised to honour and for His Name to be remembered in them; He is glorified there day and night by men whom neither trade nor sale can divert from the remembrance of Allah” (24:36-37). “Those who believe, and their hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah: By remembering Allah, truly satisfaction comes to the heart” (13:28).
During the night of Isra’ and Mi`raj, the Prophet was taken up to a point where he heard the screeching of the Pens (writing the divine Decree). He saw a man who had disappeared into the light of the Throne. He said: “Who is this? Is this an angel?” It was said to him, no. He said: “Is it a Prophet?” Again the answer was no. He said: “Who is it then?” The answer was: “This is a man whose tongue was moist with Allah’s remembrance in the world, and his heart was attached to the mosques, and he never incurred the curse of his father and mother.” Shaykh Muhammad `Alawi al-Malaki cited it in his collated text of the sound narration’s on that topic entitled al-Anwar al-bahiyya min isra’ wa mi`raj khayr al-bariyya.
In Ahmad, Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah, and Ibn Hibban declared it fair (hasan): A man came to the Prophet and said, “O Rasulallah, the laws and conditions of Islam have become too many for me. Tell me something that I can always keep (i.e. in particular, as opposed to the many rules and conditions that must be kept in general).” By reading that the man said there were too many conditions to keep, one must understand that he was unsure that he could keep them all. He wanted something that he would be sure to keep always. The Prophet said: “(I am advising you in one thing:) Keep your tongue always moist with dhikrullah.”
It is well-known in Islam that the best work in the path of Allah is jihad. Yet the Prophet, Peace be upon him, placed dhikr even above jihad in the following authentic hadiths.
Abu al-Darda’ narrates: The Prophet once asked his companions: “Shall I tell you about the best of all deeds, the best act of piety in the eyes of your Lord, which will elevate your status in the Hereafter, and carries more virtue than the spending of gold and silver in the service of Allah or taking part in jihad and slaying or being slain in the path of Allah? The dhikr of Allah.” Related in the Malik’s Muwatta’, the Musnad of Ahmad, the Sunan of Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, and the Mustadrak of Hakim. Al-Bayhaqi, Hakim and others declared it sahih.
Abu Sa`id narrates: The Prophet was asked, “Which of the servants of Allah is best in rank before Allah on the Day of resurrection?” He said: “The ones who remember him much.” I said: “O Messenger of Allah, what about the fighter in the way of Allah?” He answered: “Even if he strikes the unbelievers and mushrikin with his sword until it broke, and becomes red with their blood, truly those who do dhikr are better than him in rank.” Related in Ahmad, Tirmidhi, and Bayhaqi.
`Abd Allah ibn `Umar said that the Prophet used to say: “Everything has a polish, and the polish of hearts is dhikr of Allah. Nothing is more calculated to rescue from Allah’s punishment than dhikr of Allah.” He was asked whether this did not apply also to jihad in Allah’s path, and he replied: “Not even if one should ply his sword until it breaks.” Bayhaqi narrated it in Kitab al-da`awat al-kabir as well as in his Shu`ab al-iman (1:396 #522), also al-Mundhiri in al-Targhib (2:396) and Tibrizi mentions it in Mishkat al-masabih, at the end of the book of Supplications.
Loudness in dhikr
The word dhikr has many meanings. It means:
- Allah’s Book and its recitation;
- Learning and teaching: The author of Fiqh al-sunna said:
Sa’id ibn Jubayr said, “Anyone engaged in obeying Allah is in fact engaged in the remembrance of Allah.” Some of the earlier scholars tied it to some more specified form. `Ata said, “The gatherings of dhikr are the gatherings where the lawful and the prohibited things are discussed, for instance, selling, buying, prayers, fasting, marriage, divorce, and pilgrimage.”
Qurtubi said, “Gatherings of dhikr are the gatherings for knowledge and admonition, those in which the Word of Allah and the sunnah of His Messenger, accounts of our righteous predecessors, and sayings of the righteous scholars are learned and practised without any addition or innovation, and without any ulterior motives or greed.”
- Invocation of Allah with the tongue according to one of the formulas taught by the Prophet or any other formula;
- Remembrance of Allah in the heart, or in both the heart and the tongue.
We are concerned here with the last two meanings, that of mention of Allah, as in the verse, “The believers are those who, when they hear Allah mentioned, their hearts tremble” (al-Anfal), and the Prophet’s saying in Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah from Ibn Jubayr: “The best dhikr is La ilaha illallah.” The Prophet did not say, “the best dhikr is making a lecture”; or “giving advice”; or “raising funds.” We are also concerned here with the meaning of remembrance through the heart, as in the verse: “The men and women who remember Allah abundantly” (33:35). The Prophet both praised and explained what is in the latter verse when he said, as it is related in Muslim, “The single-hearted are foremost.” When he was asked, “O Messenger of Allah, who are the single-hearted?” he replied, “The men and women who remember Allah abundantly.” The Prophet further elucidated the role of the heart in effecting such remembrance when he said to Abu Hurayra: “Go with these two sandals of mine and whoever you meet behind this wall that witnesses that there is no god except Allah with certitude in his heart, give him glad tidings that he will enter Paradise.” (Narrated by Muslim.)
Dhikr may sometimes mean both inner remembrance and outward mention, as in the verse “Remember Me, and I shall remember you” (2:152) when it is read in the light of the hadith qudsi, “Those that remember Me in their heart, I remember them in My heart; and those that remember Me in a gathering (i.e. that make mention of Me), I remember them (i.e. make mention of them) in a gathering better than theirs.” We return to the explanation of that important hadith further below. Suffice it to say that, broadly speaking, there are three types of dhikr: of the heart, of the tongue, and of the two together.
Ibn Hajar in Fath al-Bari (1989 ed. 11:251) explained that what is meant by dhikr in Abu al-Darda’s narration of the primacy of dhikr over jihad is the complete dhikr and consciousness of Allah’s greatness whereby one becomes better, for example, than those who battle the disbeliever’s without such recollection.
In another hadith narrated by Bukhari, the Prophet compared doers of dhikr among non-doers, to those who are alive among those who are dead: mathalu al-ladhi yadhkuru rabbahu wa al-ladhi la yadhkuru rabbahu mathalu al-hayyi wa al-mayyit. (Book of da`awat ch. 66 “The merit of dhikrullah”) Ibn Hajar comments it thus in his Fath al-Bari (1989 ed. 11:250):
What is meant by dhikr here is the utterance of the expressions which we have been encouraged to say, and say abundantly, such as the enduring good deeds — al-baqiyat al-salihat — and they are: subhan allah, al-hamdu lillah, la ilaha illallah, allahu akbar and all that is related to them such as the hawqala (la hawla wa la quwwata illa billah), the basmala (bismillah al-rahman al-rahim), the hasbala (hasbunallahu wa ni`ma al-wakil), istighfar, and the like, as well as invocations for the good of this world and the next.
Dhikrullah also applies to diligence in obligatory or praiseworthy acts, such as the recitation of Qur’an, the reading of hadith, the study of the Science of Islam (al-`ilm), and supererogatory prayers.
Dhikr can take place with the tongue, for which the one who utters it receives reward, and it is not necessary for this that he understand or recall its meaning, on condition that he not mean other than its meaning by its utterance; and if, in addition to its utterance, there is dhikr in the heart, then it is more complete; and if there is, added to that, the recollection of the meaning of the dhikr and what it entails such as magnifying Allah and exalting Him above defect or need, it is even more complete; and if all this takes place inside a good deed, whether an obligatory prayer, or jihad, or other than that, it is even more complete; and if one perfects one’s turning to Allah and purifies one’s sincerity towards Him: then that is the farthest perfection.
Fakhr al-Din al-Razi said: “What is meant by the dhikr of the tongue is the expressions that stand for tasbih, tahmid, and tamjid — exaltation, praise, and glorification. As for the dhikr of the heart, it consists in reflection on the proof-texts that point to Allah’s essence and His attributes, on those of the obligations including what is enjoined and what is forbidden so that one may examine the rulings that pertain to them, and on the secrets of Allah’s creation. As for dhikr of the limbs, it consists in their being immersed in obedience, and that is why Allah named prayer: “dhikr” when He said: “When the call is proclaimed on Jum`a, hasten earnestly to the dhikr of Allah” (62:9). It is reported from some of the Knowers of Allah that dhikr has seven aspects:
dhikr of the eyes, which consists in weeping (buka’);
dhikr of the ears, which consists in listening (isgha’);
dhikr of the tongue, which consists in praise (thana’);
dhikr of the hands, which consists in giving (`ata’);
dhikr of the body, which consists in loyalty (wafa’);
dhikr of the heart, which consists in fear and hope (kawf wa raja’);
dhikr of the spirit, which consists of utter submission and acceptance (taslim wa rida’).”
Loudness in Dhikr
The Prophet praised a man who was awwah — literally: one who says ah, ah! — that is: loud in his dhikr, even when others censured him. Ahmad narrated with a good chain in his Musnad (4:159) from `Uqba ibn `Amir: “The Prophet said of a man named Dhu al-bijadayn: innahu awwah, He is a man who says ah a lot. This is because he was a man abundant in his dhikr of Allah in Qur’an-recitation, and he would raise his voice high when supplicating.”
Allah said of the Prophet Ibrahim: “Verily, Ibrahim is awwah and halim” (9:114, 11:75), that is, according to Tafsir al-jalalayn: “Crying out and suffering much, out of fear and dread of his Lord.” [halim = merciful, gentle.] The Prophet prayed to be awwah in the following invocation: rabbi ij`alni ilayka awwahan, “O Allah, make me one who often cries out ah to you.” Narrated by Tirmidhi (book of da`awat #102, hasan sahih), Ibn Majah (Du`a’ #2), and Ahmad (1:227) with a strong chain [Yahya ibn Sa`id al-Qattan < Sufyan al-Thawri < Shu`ba < `Amr ibn Murra < `Abd Allah ibn al-Harith < Taliq ibn Qays al-Hanafi < Ibn `Abbas] with the following wording:
The Prophet used to supplicate thus: “O my Lord! help me and do not cause me to face difficulty; grant me victory and do not grant anyone victory over me; devise for me and not against me; guide me and facilitate guidance for me; make me overcome whoever rebels against me; O my Lord! make me abundantly thankful to You (shakkaran laka), abundantly mindful of You (dhakkaran laka), abundantly devoted to You (rahhaban laka), perfectly obedient to You (mitwa`an ilayks), lowly and humble before You (mukhbitan laka), always crying out and turning back to You (awwahan muniban)!….
Gatherings of Collective, Loud Dhikr
The hadith qudsi already quoted, “Those that remember Me in a gathering,” makes gatherings of collective, loud dhikr the gateway to realising Allah’s promise “Remember Me, and I shall remember you.” It is no wonder that such gatherings receive the highest praise and blessing from Allah and His Prophet, Peace be upon him, according to many excellent and authentic hadiths.
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 from 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 honour and favour 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 making 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.
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.