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.

Importance

Main Articles: Dhikr (Recitation of God’s Names)

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).

Common Types of Dhikr

Arabic


Qurʾanic Spelling

Transliteration


IPA

Phrase
بِسْمِ ٱللَّٰهِ ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ bismi -llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm In the name of God, the All-Merciful, the Especially-Merciful.
أَعُوذُ بِٱللَّٰهِ مِنَ ٱلشَّيْطَانِ ٱلرَّجِيمِ


أَعُوذُ بِٱللَّٰهِ مِنَ ٱلشَّيْطَٰنِ ٱلرَّجِيمِ

ʾaʿūḏu bi-llāhi mina š-šayṭāni r-rajīm I seek refuge in God from the pelted Satan.
أَعُوذُ بِٱللَّٰهِ ٱلسَّمِيعِ ٱلْعَلِيمِ مِنَ ٱلشَّيْطَانِ ٱلرَّجِيمِ


أَعُوذُ بِٱللَّٰهِ ٱلسَّمِيعِ ٱلْعَلِيمِ مِنَ ٱلشَّيْطَٰنِ ٱلرَّجِيمِ

ʾaʿūḏu bi-llāhi s-samīʿi l-ʿalīmi mina š-šayṭāni r-rajīm I seek refuge in God, the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing, from the pelted Satan.
سُبْحَانَ ٱللَّٰهِ


سُبْحَٰنَ ٱللَّٰهِ

subḥāna -llāh Glorified is God.
ٱلْحَمْدُ لِلَّٰهِ ʾalḥamdu lillāh All praise is due to God.
لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا ٱللَّٰهُ lā ʾilāha ʾillā -llāh There is no deity but God.
ٱللَّٰهُ أَكْبَرُ ʾallāhu ʾakbar God is greater [than everything].
أَسْتَغْفِرُ ٱللَّٰهَ ʾastaḡfiru -llāh I seek the forgiveness of God.
أَسْتَغْفِرُ ٱللَّٰهَ رَبِّي وَأَتُوبُ إِلَيْهِ ʾastaḡfiru -llāha rabbī wa-ʾatūbu ʾilayh I seek the forgiveness of God, my Lord, and repent to Him.
سُبْحَانَكَ ٱللَّٰهُمَّ


سُبْحَٰنَكَ ٱللَّٰهُمَّ

subḥānaka -llāhumm Glorified are you, O God.
سُبْحَانَ ٱللَّٰهِ وَبِحَمْدِهِ


سُبْحَٰنَ ٱللَّٰهِ وَبِحَمْدِهِ

subḥāna -llāhi wa-bi-ḥamdih Glorified is God and with His praise.
سُبْحَانَ رَبِّيَ ٱلْعَظِيمِ وَبِحَمْدِهِ


سُبْحَٰنَ رَبِّيَ ٱلْعَظِيمِ وَبِحَمْدِهِ

subḥāna rabbiya l-ʿaẓīmi wa-bi-ḥamdih Glorified is my God, the Great, and with His praise.
سُبْحَانَ رَبِّيَ ٱلْأَعْلَىٰ وَبِحَمْدِهِ


سُبْحَٰنَ رَبِّيَ ٱلْأَعْلَىٰ وَبِحَمْدِهِ

subḥāna rabbiya l-ʾaʿlā wa-bi-ḥamdih Glorified is my God, the Most High, and with His praise.
لَا حَوْلَ وَلَا قُوَّةَ إِلَّا بِٱللَّٰهِ ٱلْعَلِيِّ ٱلْعَظِيمِ lā ḥawla wa-lā quwwata ʾillā bi-llāhi l-ʿalīyi l-ʿaẓīm There is no power no strength except from God, the Exalted, the Great.
لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنْتُ مِنَ ٱلظَّالِمِينَ


لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ سُبْحَٰنَكَ إِنِّي كُنْتُ مِنَ ٱلظَّٰلِمِينَ

lā ʾilāha ʾillā ʾanta subḥānaka ʾinnī kuntu mina ẓ-ẓālimīn There is no god except You, glorified are you! I have indeed been among the wrongdoers.
حَسْبُنَا ٱللَّٰهُ وَنِعْمَ ٱلْوَكِيلُ ḥasbunā -llāhu wa-niʿma l-wakīl God is sufficient for us, and He is an excellent Trustee.
إِنَّا لِلَّٰهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ


إِنَّا لِلَّٰهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَٰجِعُونَ

ʾinnā lillāhi wa-ʾinnā ʾilayhi rājiʿūn Verily we belong to God, and verily to Him do we return.
مَا شَاءَ ٱللَّٰهُ كَانَ وَمَا لَمْ يَشَأْ لَمْ يَكُنْ mā šāʾa -llāhu kāna wa-mā lam yašaʾ lam yakun What God wills will be, and what God does not will, will not be.
إِنْ شَاءَ ٱللَّٰهُ ʾin šāʾa -llāh If God wills.
مَا شَاءَ ٱللَّٰهُ mā šāʾa -llāh What God wills.
بِإِذْنِ ٱللَّٰهِ bi-ʾiḏni -llāh With the permission of God.
جَزَاكَ ٱللَّٰهُ خَيْرًا jazāka -llāhu khayrā God reward you [with] goodness.
بَارَكَ ٱللَّٰهُ فِيكَ


بَٰرَكَ ٱللَّٰهُ فِيكَ

bāraka -llāhu fīk God bless you.
فِي سَبِيلِ ٱللَّٰهِ fī sabīli -llāh On the path of God.
لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا ٱللَّٰهُ مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ ٱللَّٰهِ lā ʾilāha ʾillā -llāhu muḥammadun rasūlu -llāh There is no deity but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God.
لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا ٱللَّٰهُ مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ ٱللَّٰهِ عَلِيٌّ وَلِيُّ ٱللَّٰهِ lā ʾilāha ʾillā -llāhu muḥammadun rasūlu -llāhi ʿalīyun walīyu -llāh There is no deity but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God, Ali is the vicegerent of God. (Usually recited by Shia Muslims)
أَشْهَدُ أَنْ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا ٱللَّٰهُ وَأَشْهَدُ أَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُولُ ٱللَّٰهِ ʾašhadu ʾan lā ʾilāha ʾillā -llāhu wa-ʾašhadu ʾanna muḥammadan rasūlu -llāh I bear witness that there is no deity but God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
أَشْهَدُ أَنْ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا ٱللَّٰهُ وَأَشْهَدُ أَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُولُ ٱللَّٰهِ وَأَشْهَدُ أَنَّ عَلِيًّا وَلِيُّ ٱللَّٰهِ ʾašhadu ʾan lā ʾilāha ʾillā -llāhu wa-ʾašhadu ʾanna muḥammadan rasūlu -llāhi wa-ʾašhadu ʾanna ʿalīyan walīyu -llāh I bear witness that there is no deity but God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God, and I bear witness that Ali is the vicegerent of God. (Usually recited by Shia Muslims)
ٱللَّٰهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلَىٰ مُحَمَّدٍ وَآلِ مُحَمَّدٍ ʾallāhumma ṣalli ʿalā muḥammadin wa-ʾāli muḥammad O God, bless Muhammad and the Progeny of Muhammad.
ٱللَّٰهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلَىٰ مُحَمَّدٍ وَآلِ مُحَمَّدٍ وَعَجِّلْ فَرَجَهُمْ وَٱلْعَنْ أَعْدَاءَهُمْ ʾallāhumma ṣalli ʿalā muḥammadin wa-ʾāli muḥammadin wa-ʿajjil farajahum wa-lʿan ʾaʿdāʾahum O God, bless Muhammad and the Progeny of Muhammad, and hasten their alleviation and curse their enemies. (Usually recited by Shia Muslims)
ٱللَّٰهُمَّ عَجِّلْ لِوَلِيِّكَ ٱلْفَرَجَ وَٱلْعَافِيَةَ وَٱلنَّصْرَ ʾallāhumma ʿajjil li-walīyika l-faraja wa-l-ʿāfiyata wa-n-naṣr O God, hasten the alleviation of your vicegerent (i.e. Imam Mahdi), and grant him vitality and victory. (Usually recited by Shia Muslims)
لَا سَيْفَ إِلَّا ذُو ٱلْفَقَارِ وَلَا فَتَىٰ إِلَّا عَلِيٌّ lā sayfa ʾillā ḏū l-faqāri wa-lā fatā ʾillā ʿalīy There is no sword but the Zu al-Faqar, and there is no youth but Ali. (Usually recited by Shia Muslims)

Common phrases

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.
e.g.-

  • 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

See also: Dua

“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).

Sufi view

See also: Sama In Sufism

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.

Dhikr hadrah articulation, upward beams indicating inhalation and downward beams indicating exhalation

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.

For those who perform it, the haḍra marks the climax of the Sufi’s gathering regardless of any teaching or formal structure – it often follows a formal teaching session as a way of internalizing the lessons. Musically, the structure of the haḍra includes several secular Arab genres (each of which expresses a different emotion) and can last for hours. It is directed by the sheikh of the tariqa or one of his representatives; monitoring the intensity, depth and duration of the phases of the haḍra, the sheikh aims to draw the circle into deep awareness of God and away from the participants own individuatedness. The dhikr ceremonies may have a ritually determined length or may last as long as the Sheikh deems his murids require. The haḍra section consists of the ostinato-like repetition of the name of God over which the soloist performs a richly ornamented song. In many haḍras, this repetition proceeds from the chest and has the effect of a percussion instrument, with the participants bending forward while exhaling and stand straight while inhaling so that both the movement and sound contribute to the overall rhythm. The climax is usually reached through cries of “Allah! Allah!” or “hu hu” (which is either the pronoun “he” or the last vowel on the word “Allah” depending on the method) while the participants are moving up and down. Universally, the haḍra is almost always followed by Quranic recital in the tarteel style – which according to al-Junayd al-Baghdadi, was a prophetic instruction received through a dream.

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.

Sufi meaning

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.

Sufi methods

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.

Prayer beads

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.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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