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Meanings of Remembrance of Allah (dhikr)

The word dhikr has many meanings. It refers to: Allah's Book and its recitation; prayer; learning and teaching. The author of Fiqh al-sunna said in his chapter on dhikr that Said ibn Jubayr said, "Anyone engaged in obeying Allah is in fact engaged in the remembrance of Allah."


…Invocation of Allah may be with the tongue, according to one of the formulas taught by the Prophet (saw), or any other formula; or remembrance of Allah in the heart, or with both the heart and the tongue.

The present text is concerned with the last two meanings: that of the mentioning of Allah, as in the verse, "The believers are those who, when they hear Allah mentioned, their hearts tremble" (8:2); and the Prophet's saying, "The best dhikr is la ilaha illallah."15 The Prophet (saw) did not say, "the best dhikr is giving a lecture," or "giving advice," or "raising funds." The present text is also concerned with the meaning of remembrance through the heart, as exemplified by the verse: "The men and women who remember Allah abundantly" (33:35). The Prophet (saw) both praised and explained the verse when he said, "The single-hearted are foremost."16 When asked, "O Messenger of Allah, who are the single-hearted?" he replied, "The men and women who remember Allah abundantly."

The Prophet (saw) further clarified the role of the heart in effecting such remembrance of Allah 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.17

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 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.

This important hadith will be explained further below. Suffice it to say that, broadly speaking, there are three types of dhikr: that of the heart, that of the tongue, and that of the two together.

Ibn Hajar explained that, according to Abu al-Darda's narration of the primacy of dhikr over jihad, what is meant by dhikr is the complete dhikr and consciousness of Allah's greatness whereby one becomes better, for example, than those who battle the disbelievers without such recollection.18

In another hadith narrated by Bukhari, the Prophet (saw) said those who perform dhikr are alive while those who do not perform dhikr are like the dead. He said mathalu al-ladhi yadhkuru rabbahu wa al-ladhi la yadhkuru rabbahu mathalu al-hayyi wa al-mayyit.19 Ibn Hajar comments:

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 nima al-wakil), istighfar, and the like, as well as invocations for the good of this world and the next.

Dhikr Allah also applies to diligence in obligatory or praiseworthy acts, such as the recitation of the Quran, 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. 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.


(The next page is about gatherings of dhikr.)

15 In Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah from Ibn Jubayr.
16 Related in Muslim.
17 Narrated by Muslim.
18 Ibn Hajar, Fath al-bari (1989 ed. 11:251).
19 Book of daawat ch. 66 "The merit of dhikr Allah".

(May Allah (swt) forgive me for any errors I may have introduced through transcription or editing of this text.)