What is the precise meaning of 'dhikr'? What is its scope and what does it entail? Does it simply involve certain utterances of the tongue, like Subhanallah (I glorify Allah's absolute perfection), Alhamdu lillah (All praise be to Allah), Allahu Akbar (Allah is the Greatest), La ilaha illallah (There is no god but Allah) and the recitation of some other selected verses of the Qur’an, or is there more to it? Of course, such utterances of the tongue and recitation of verses of the Qur’an are important. In fact they are very important forms of dhikr for, indeed, the best forms of remembrance are those that involve both the heart and the tongue. You must understand, however, that the scope of dhikr is considerably wider.
Dhikr must not only be felt by the heart and uttered with the tongue, but must also affect and effect amal salih, or good deeds. Significantly, Ibn al-Qayyim suggests that dhikr encompasses `any and every particular moment when you are thinking, saying or doing things which Allah likes: Hence, if your conversation is filled with the words of God, this is dhikr and if all your actions are in accordance with His will, this is dhikr. Indeed Allah commends that we remember Him while standing, sitting and even while reclining. This is only possible if dhikr embraces every single aspect of life. Consider for example the following verse of the Qur’an where dhikr is emphasised in both Prayer and business activity:
“O Believers, when the call to Prayer is sounded on the Day of Congregation, hasten to Allah's remembrance and leave all worldly commerce. This is for your own good, if you but knew. And when the Prayer it finished then disperse through the land, and seek of the bounty of Allah; and remember Allah frequently that you may prosper.” [Surah Al-Jumuah, 62:9-10]
Attending the Salat al-jumua, listening to the khutba or sermon and performing the congregational Prayer are all well known as forms of dhikr. But in our worldly pursuits as well we are urged to remember Allah even more often.
We may thus conclude that attending to your personal needs, earning a livelihood and spending on your family are all forms of dhikr. But of course, they can only be dhikr if, alongside with the relevant adhkar or supplications in the heart and on the tongue, they are done in obedience to Allah, for His pleasure, to attain Janna. Otherwise, as the Qur’an warns us, far from being dhikr, they may have the opposite effect:
“Let not your worldly possessions and your children make you neglectful of Allah's remembrance. But spend in the way of Allah.” [Surah al-Munafiqun, 63:9-10.]
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