What Is Dhikr?
Dhikr (also Zikr, Zekr, Zikir, Jikir, and variants; ذِكْر, ḏikr, plural أذكار aḏkār, meaning “mentioning”) are devotional acts in Islam in which short phrases or prayers are repeatedly recited silently within the mind or aloud. It can be counted on a set of prayer beads (Misbaha, مِسْبَحَة) or through fingers of the hand. A person who recites the Dhikr is called a ḏākir, ذاكر). Tasbih (تسبيح) is a form of dhikr that involves the repetitive utterances of short sentences glorifying God. The content of the prayers includes the names of God, or a duʿāʾ (prayer of supplication) taken from the hadith or the Quran.
There are several verses in the Quran that emphasize the importance of remembering the will of God by saying phrases such as “God willing,” “God knows best,” and “If it is your will.’ This is the basis for dhikr. Sura 18 (Al-Kahf), ayah 24 states a person who forgets to say, “God Willing,” should immediately remember God by saying, “May my Lord guide me to do better next time.” Other verses include sura 33 (Al-Ahzab), ayah 41, “O ye who believe! Celebrate the praises of Allah, and do this often,” and sura 13 (Ar-Ra’d), ayah 28, “They are the ones whose hearts rejoice in remembering God. Absolutely, by remembering God, the hearts rejoice.” Muhammad said, ‘The best [dhikr] is La ilaha illa’llah (“there is no God but God”), and the best supplicatory prayer is Al-hamdu li’llah (“praise be to God”).
Muslims believe dhikr is one of the best ways to enter the higher level of Heaven and to glorify the Oneness of Allah.
To Sufis, dhikr is seen as a way to gain spiritual enlightenment and achieve union (visal) or annihilation (fana) in God. All Muslim sects endorse individual rosaries as a method of meditation, the goal of which is to obtain a feeling of peace, separation from worldly values (dunya), and, in general, strengthen Iman (faith).
There are several phrases that are usually read when remembering Allah. Here are a few:
- Allāh- الله is the Arabic word for God and mentioned in Quran most of the verses.
- Allāhu ʾakbar (Takbir) – الله أَكْبَر means “God is greater” or “God is the greatest”
- Subhan Allah (Tasbih) – سبحان الله means “Glory be to God” or “How pure is God” or “Exalted be God”
- Alhamdulillah (Tahmid) – الحمد لله means “All praise is due to God”, an expression of gratitude
- Lā ʾilāha ʾillā llah (Tahlil) – لا إله إلا الله means “There is no god but Allah”
- Lā ḥawla wa-lā quwwata ʾillā bi-llāh (Hawqala) – لا حول ولاقوة إلا بالله means “There is no power or strength except with God.”
- Bi-smi llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm (Basmala) – means “In the name of God, the gracious, the merciful”, said before anything of spiritual significance ; e.g. eating, wudhu, salaat, rising from and going to sleep, before work, etc.
- ʾastaġfiru llāh (Istighfar) – means “I seek forgiveness from Allah”.
- Audhubillah (Ta’uidh) – means “I seek refuge in Allah”.
- Laa ilaaha illal laahu wahdahoo laa sharikalahoo lahul mulku wa lahul hamdu wa huwa ‘alaa kulli shai’in qadeer – means “There is no god but Allah, alone, without partner. His is the sovereignty, and His the praise, and He has power over everything”.
- SubhanAllah wa biHamdihi – means “Glory be to Allah and Praise Him”.
- SubhanAllahi wa biHamdihi, Subhan-Allahi ‘l-`adheem (Glory be to Allah, and Praise Him, Glory be to Allah, the Supreme)
Some of these can be said together.e.g-
- Subhan’Allahi wal hamdulillaahi wa laa ilaaha ilallaahu wAllahu Akbar – means “Glory be to Allah, All Praise is for Allah, There is No God but Allah, Allah is the Greatest”.
- Subhan’Allahi wal hamdulillaahi wa laa ilaaha ilallaahu wAllahu Akbar wa laa hawla wa laa quwwata illaa billaahil ‘aleeul azeem.
- Laa ilaaha illal laahu wahdahoo laa sharikalahoo lahul mulku wa lahul hamdu wa huwa ‘alaa kulli shai’in qadeer – means “There is No God But Allah Alone, who has no partner. His is the dominion and His is the raise, and He is Able to do all things”.
- Subhan’Allahi wal hamdulillaahi wa laa ilaaha ilallaahu wAllahu Akbar wa laa hawla wa laa quwwata illaa billaahil ‘aleeul azeem.
- Laa ilaaha illa Anta, subhaanaka inni kuntu min al-zaalimeen (There is no God but Allah, Glory to You, verily I was one of the wrongdoers).
Quran as Dhikr
Reciting the Quran sincerely is also considered a kind of Dhikr.
- Reciting Sura Ikhlas / Tawheed (Sura 112) is equal to one-third of the Quran.
- Reciting Sura Ikhlas 10 times gives a palace in Heaven.
- Reciting Sura Kaafiroon (Sura 109) is equal to one-fourth of the Quran. 
- Reciting Sura Nasr (Sura 110) is equal to one-fourth of the Quran.
- Reciting Sura Zalzalah is equal to half of the Quran.
Ahadith mentioning virtues
“Shall I tell you about the best of deeds, the most pure in the Sight of your Lord, about the one that is of the highest order and is far better for you than spending gold and silver, even better for you than meeting your enemies in the battlefield where you strike at their necks and they at yours?” The companions replied, “Yes, O Messenger ﷺ of Allah!” He replied, “Remembrance of Allah ﷻ”.— at-Tirmidhi
“People will not sit in an assembly in which they remember Allah ﷻ without the angels surrounding them, mercy covering them, and Allah ﷻ Mentioning them among those who are with Him”— narrated by Abu Hurairah, Sahih Muslim
“There is nothing that is a greater cause of salvation from the punishment of Allah than the remembrance of Allah”— Narrated by Mu’adh ibn Jabal
, Sunan At-Tirmidhi, Book of Supplications
Hadhrat Mu`adh ibn Jabal said that the Prophet ﷺ 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 ﷻ.”— Narrated by Bayhaqi, Shu`ab al-iman
It is mentioned in hadith that where people are oblivious to dhikir, remembrance of Allah is like being steadfast in jihad when others are running away (Targhib, p. 193, vol. 3 ref. Bazar and Tibrani).
Followers of Sufism often engage in ritualized dhikr ceremonies, the details of which sometimes vary between Sufi orders or tariqah. Each order, or lineage within an order, has one or more forms for group dhikr, the liturgyof which may include recitation, singing, music, dance, costumes, incense, muraqaba (meditation), ecstasy, and trance. Though the extent, usage and acceptability of many of these elements vary from order to order – with many condemning the usage of instruments (considered unlawful by most scholars) and intentional loss of control. In addition, costumes are quite uncommon and is almost exclusively unique to the Mevlavi order in Turkey – which is an official cultural “heritage” of the secular Turkish state. In Sufism, group dhikr does not necessarily entail all of these forms.
The most common forms of Sufi group dhikr consist in the recital of particular litanies (e.g. Hizb al-Bahr of the Shadhilis), a composition of Quranic phrases and Prophetic supplications (e.g. Wird al-Latif of the Ba `Alawis), or a liturgical repetition of various formula and prayers (e.g. al-Wadhifa of the Tijanis ). All of these forms are referred to as a “hizb” (pl. “ahzab”) or a “wird” (pl. “awrad”). This terminological usage is important as some critics often mistakenly believe that the word hizb only refers to a portion of the Quran. In addition, many recite extended prayers upon Muhammad (known as durood) of which the Dala’il al-Khayrat is perhaps the most popular. Though common to almost all Sufi orders, some (such as the Naqsbandis) prefer to perform their dhikr silently – even in group settings. In addition, most gatherings are held on Thursday or Sunday nights as part of the institutional practices of the tariqah (since Thursday is the night marks the entrance of the Muslim “holy” day of Friday and Sundays are a convenient congregational time in most contemporary societies) – though people who don’t live near their official zawiya gather whenever is convenient for the most people.
Another type of group dhikr ceremony that is most commonly performed in Arabic countries is called the haḍra (lit. presence). The haḍra is a communal gathering for dhikr and its associated liturgical rituals, prayers, and song recitals, performing both in private or public. Though the haḍra is popular (in part because of the controversy surrounding it), it is mostly practiced in North Africa, the Middle-East and Turkey. In Turkey this ceremony is called “Zikr-i Kiyam” (Standing dhikr) and “imara” in Algeria and Morocco. In places like Syria where Sufis are a visible part of the fabric and psyche of society, each order typically has their private gathering on one day and will participate in a public haḍra at a central location to which both the affiliated and unaffiliated alike are invited as an expression of unity. Similar public ceremonies occur in Turkey, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco.
More common than the haḍra is the sama` (lit. audition), a type of group ceremony that consist mostly of the audition of spiritual poetry and Quranic recitation in an emotionally charged manner; and thus is not dhikr is the technical sense the word implies. However, the same debate over certain matters of decorum apply as exists with the haḍra. Even though group dhikr is popular and makes up the spiritual life of most Sufi adherents, other more private forms of dhikr are performed more routinely – usually consisting of the order’s wird (daily litany) – which adherents usually recite privately, even if gathered together. So although group dhikr is seen as a hallmark of Sufism, the Sufis themselves practice the same private forms of worship that other Muslims practice, though usually more frequently and methodically; group dhikr is a less frequent occurrence and is not the end-all-and-be-all of Sufism, as some Sufi orders do not even perform it.
Dhikr takes on a wide range and various layers of meaning. In some Sufi orders it is instituted as a ceremonial activity.
In tasawwuf (Islamic mysticism or Sufism) dhikr is most likely the most frequent form of prayer. Among the orders of Muslims that practice dhikr, there are some who advocate silent, individual prayer, while others join together in an outward, group expression of their love for God. There are also a number of hadiths that give emphasis to remembrance of God.
Dhikr in Sufism
Dhikr is given great importance by some Sufi writers, among them is Najm-al-Din Razi who wrote about dhikr in the context of what it combats. In contrast to the virtues of remembrance, Razi uses the perils of forgetfulness to show the importance of dhikr. The soul and the world are veils that make people forget God. The Naqshbandi Haqqani Sufi Order of America says this about dhikr:
Dhikr is the means by which Stations yield their fruit, until the seeker reaches the Divine Presence. On the journey to the Divine Presence the seed of remembrance is planted in the heart and nourished with the water of praise and the food of glorification, until the tree of dhikr becomes deeply rooted and bears its fruit. It is the power of all journeying and the foundation of all success. It is the reviver from the sleep of heedlessness, the bridge to the One remembered. 
There are some Sufi orders, such as the Shadhili, that perform a ritualized form of dhikr in groups termed “haḍra” (lit. presence) – the details of which are discussed below. Another method of dhikr, but which is most commonly associated with Sufism, is the repetition of the Arabic name “Allah Hu”. Sufi orders have similar practices – some with similar visualizations and others choosing to focus only on the attachment of their heart to the One they are invoking. Though this is associated almost exclusively with Sufism in modern times, many of the Quranic exegesis of the past approved of the practice (e.e. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi in his Mafatih al-Ghayb), which confirms that it has a basis in orthodoxy.
Known also as Tasbih, these are usually Misbaha (prayer beads) upon a string, 99 or 100 in number, which correspond to the names of God in Islam and other recitations. The beads are used to keep track of the number of recitations that make up the dhikr.
When the dhikr involves the repetition of particular phrases a specific number of times, the beads are used to keep track so that the person performing dhikr can turn all of their focus on what is actually being said – as it can become difficult to concentrate simultaneously on the number and phrasing when one is doing so a substantial number of times.
In the United States, Muslim inmates are allowed to utilize prayer beads for therapeutic effects. In Alameen v. Coughlin, 892 F. Supp. 440 (E.D.N.Y 1995), Imam Hamzah S. Alameen, a/k/a Gilbert Henry, and Robert Golden brought suit against Thomas A. Coughlin III, etc., et alia (Head of the Department of Corrections) in the State of New York pursuant to 28 USC @ 1983. The plaintiffs argued that prisoners have a First Amendment Constitutional right to pursue Islamic healing therapy called KASM (قاسَمَهُ | qaasama | taking an oath ) which uses prayer beads. The rosary of oaths, which Alameen developed, was used to successfully rehabilitate inmates suffering from co-occurring mental health challenges and substance abuse issues during the 1990s. All people, including Muslims and Catholics, were allowed to use prayer beads inside prisons, lest their freedom of religion be violated when the prison administration forbade their possession as contraband in the penal system. The practice of carrying prayer beads became controversial when gang-members began carrying specific colors of prayer beads to identify themselves.
- Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi (26 March 2016). The Laws of Islam(PDF). Enlight Press. ISBN978-0994240989. Retrieved 22 December 2017.
- Razi, Najm al-Din. The Path of God’s Bondsman: From Origin to Return. Trans. Hamid Algar. North Haledon, New Jersey: Islamic Publications International, 1980. Print.
- “Dhikr, remembrance of God”. sunnah.org. Retrieved 2015-09-28.
- “Dhikr and tasbih from the Sunnah | islam.ru”. islam.ru. Retrieved 2017-12-19.
- “Sunnah 83: la ilaha ila Allah wahdahu la sharika lah, lahu al-mulk wa lahu al-hamd, wa huwa `ala kulli shay’in qadir”. A Sunnah A Day. 2010-07-12. Retrieved 2017-12-19.
- al-Bukhaari. p. 4628.
- Saheeh al-Jaami’ al-Sagheer. p. 6472.
- Mu’jam Al-Kabeer. p. 13319.
- Tafsir Ibn Kathir.
- Tafsir Ibn Kathir.
- Friedlander, p. 20.
- Touma, p.162.
- In his “The Whirling Dervishes and Orthodox Islam” the Nuh Ha Mim Keller (an indisputed shaykh of the Hashimi-Shadhili order) criticizes the common usage of music by the contemporary Turkish branch of the Mevlavi order in particular – arguing that the Sufis are not exempt from following Islamic law. See The Whirling Dervishes and Orthodox IslamArchived 2012-04-02 at the Wayback Machine.
- “The Litany of Tijani Prayers”. Retrieved 15 September 2011.
- For instance, Ahmad al-Tijani is often unfairly criticized for saying that the Salat al-Fatih which he instructed his students to recite is “more valuable than a hizb“. This “hizb” that he was referring to was not a hizb of the Quran, but a hizb of the Dala’il al-Khayrat which was so commonly recited in Tijani’s time that many people recited the entire composition several times a day.
- Ahmad, Zulfaqir. Wisdom for the Seeker(PDF). Concerning the Dhikr of the Naqsbandi-Mujaddid Tariqa.
- In earlier orders, the “presence” referred to was that of God, but since the 18th century it has been considered to be the spiritual presence of Muhammad (John L. Esposito, “Hadrah.” The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Web. 3 Apr. 2010.) The shifting focus, however, is not shared by all and is a result of the Sufi reforms which sought to mitigate the heretical belief of theopanism committed by some Sufi claimants through a greater focus on the spirit and active life of Muhammad instead of a metaphorical union with God.(Ira Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies, p. 210)
- Touma, p.165.
- Abdullah Jawadi Amuli, Dhikr and the Wisdom Behind It.
- Gardet, L. Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill, 2010. Web. 4 Apr. 2010.
- Naqshbandi Sufi Way. Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi Order of America, 2010. Web. April 3, 2010.
- Naqshbandi Sufi Way. Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi Order of America, 2010. Web. 3 Apr. 2010.
- Geels, Antoon. “A Note on the Psychology of dhikr: The Halveti-Jerrahi Order of Dervishes in Istanbul.” the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 6.4, 229-251 (1996). ATLA. Web. 3 Apr. 2010.
- United States District Court for the Eastern District of New YorkArchived 2007-03-11 at the Wayback Machine.
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