Issue 89 / September - October 2012
Dhikr (Recitation of God's Names)
M. Fethullah Gulen
Literally meaning mentioning, remembrance, and recollection, in the terminology of the Sufis dhikr denotes regular recitation of one or some of God's Names at one time. Some spiritual or Sufi orders prefer to recite: Allah (the proper Name of the Divine Being); others recite: La ilaha illa'llah (There is no deity but God [Allah]), the declaration of Divine Unity; and others recite one or a few of the other Names, according to the choice of the order's master.
Like thankfulness, such recitation is a duty of servanthood to be performed both verbally and actively, and also with one's heart and other conscience faculties. Verbal recitation ranges from mentioning God Almighty with all His All-Beautiful Names and sacred Attributes; praising, exalting, and glorifying Him; proclaiming one's helplessness and destitution before Him in prayer and supplication; reciting and following His Book (the Qur'an); and announcing His signs in nature and the seal special to Him on each object and event.
Recitation with the conscience faculties, primarily the heart, consists of reflecting on the proofs of His Existence and Unity, and His All-Beautiful Names and Attributes that glow in the book of creation (the universe), meditating on His orders and prohibitions, His promises and threats, and the reward and punishment issuing from His Lordship to design or order our lives, and trying to penetrate the mysteries behind the veil of visible existence by studying creation and following certain spiritual disciplines. In addition, one can repeatedly observe the heavenly beauties manifested as a result of such penetration; one comes to the conclusion that whatever exists in the universe pulses with messages from the high empyrean world, manifesting the meaning of the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divinity and functioning as a window upon the Truth of truths.
Those who feel this constant pulsing existence hear the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divinity speaking eloquently, and observe the manifestations of Grace and Majesty through those windows are so enraptured with such unimaginable spiritual pleasure that one hour spent with such pleasure is equal to hundreds of years spent without it. As a result, they advance along their way to eternity immersed in Divine gifts and spiritual delight. When the one reciting feels the light of His Glorified Face surrounding all existence, he or she is rewarded with the sight of indescribable scenes and, becoming aware of all the other beings reciting God's Names in the same tongue, begins to recite His Names.
Reciting God's Names sometimes causes the person reciting to enter a trance-like state in which their self is lost. Those who enter this entranced state or ecstatic contemplation utter such phrases as: There is none existent save He; There is nothing witnessed and observed save He; and There is no deity but God. There are others who, meaning and keeping in mind all Divine Names according to the inclusiveness of their consciousness, pronounce only but God and continue to declare His Unity. These seconds spent in this atmosphere of nearness to God and His company, the seconds of light and radiance, are much happier and more rewarding with respect to eternal life (in the Hereafter) than years spent with no light. This is what is referred to in a saying attributed to the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings: I have a time with my God when neither any angel nearest to God nor any Prophet sent as Messenger can compete with me.
Active or bodily recitation consists in practicing religion with utmost care, enthusiastically performing all obligations, and consciously refraining from all prohibitions. Verbal profundity and awareness largely depend on active recitation, which also means knocking on the door of Divinity, searching for admittance, proclaiming one's helplessness and destitution, and taking refuge in the Divine Power and Wealth.
One who regularly and repeatedly mentions God, or recites one or some of His Names, is taken under His protection and supported by Him, as if having made a contract with Him. The verse: Remember and mention Me, and I will remember and mention you (2:152) expresses this degree of recitation, by which one's feeling and sincere admittance of his or her innate destitution before God becomes a source of wealth, and helplessness a source of power. This verse also means that one's regular remembrance and worship of God will result in His bestowal of favors and bounties.
Invoking and calling upon Him brings forth His favors. One who remembers Him even while going about his or her daily affairs and preoccupations will find all obstacles removed in both this world and the next. His company will always be felt, and He will befriend one left alone and in need of friends. If one remembers and mentions Him during times of ease and comfort, His Mercy will reach one during times of trouble and pain. Those who struggle in His cause to spread His Name will be saved from humiliation in both this world and the Hereafter. Such sincere endeavors will be rewarded with special favors and ranks that one cannot now imagine.
The desire to mention Him and recite His Names will be rewarded with Divine help, so that such activities can continue and guidance can be increased. The continuation of the second part of the above verse (2:152), that is: Give thanks to Me and do not show ingratitude to Me, suggests a virtuous circle in which a believer passes from recitation to thankfulness, and from thankfulness to recitation.
Recitation is the essence of all types or acts of worship, and the origin of this essence is the Qur'an. Then come the luminous, celebrated words of the Prophet. All recitation, whether audible or silent, attracts and embodies the manifestations of the light of God's Glorified "Face." It also is the proclamation of God to all human beings and jinn, and the spreading of His Name throughout the world in order to show one's thankfulness for His manifest and hidden favors. When there is almost no one left to proclaim His Name, existence will be meaningless. According to the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, the universe's total destruction will take place when there are almost no people left to proclaim His Name.
Recitation, irrespective of its style, is the safest and soundest way leading to God. Without recitation, it is difficult to reach God. When the traveler remembers Him in his or her conscience and puts this remembrance into words with his or her tongue and other faculties, an inexhaustible source of support and (spiritual) provision is tapped.
Recitation signifies a journey toward Him. When one starts to mention Him or recites His Names both verbally and through feelings and actions, as well as in one's heart as a chorus, one enters a mysterious vehicle that ascends to the realm where spirits fly. Through the slightly opened doors of the heavens, indescribable scenes are beheld.
There is not a specific time for reciting God's Names. Although the five prescribed daily Prayers, the chief act of worship, are performed at the five appointed times and cannot be performed at certain times (e.g., during sunrise and sunset, and when the sun is at the zenith at noon), a believer can mention God and recite His Names whenever he or she wishes: They mention God standing, sitting, and lying down (3:190). There is no restriction of time or manner concerning the recitation of God's Names.
It is hard to find in the Qur'an, the Sunna, and the books of the early righteous scholars anything more strongly recommended than the recitation of God's Names. From daily Prayers to holy struggle in His cause, it is like the soul or blood of all worship. The profundity of recitation is proportional to the depth of feeling for God. Sufis call this "peace of heart," or "vision" or
Some mention God Almighty and reach Him in their hearts via a mysterious way; others know Him through their consciences and feel His constant company by means of the points of reliance and seeking help in their inner worlds. Since they remember Him uninterruptedly, always mentioning Him with their heart and conscience, always feeling Him in their being, and living fully aware of His constant presence, they regard mentioning Him verbally at certain times as being a sign of heedlessness and ignorance of Him. One who has reached this degree of dhikr says: God knows that I do not remember and mention Him just now. How should I remember and mention Him now, given that I have never forgotten Him?
O God! Make me one who mentions You much, thanks You much, fears You much, and eager for You and devoted to You, and ever-turning to You in penitence and contrition. And bestow blessings and peace on Muhammad, who always remembered and mentioned You, and on his Family and Companions, devoted and penitent.