Dhikr: Remembering Allah
The distractions are many. Satan and our own desires are constantly trying to steer us away from our goal.
The shepherd was approa-ched by a lone traveller in the desert. “I am hungry and have run out of food. Could I milk one of your sheep?” The shepherd replied that he was not the owner of the sheep and could not let anyone milk them without the owner’s permission. The owner would surely notice it and would not like it. The traveller had an idea. “Why don’t you sell one of them to me. When the owner asks, you can tell him that a wolf killed it. Wolves attack the herds all the time. I’ll satisfy my hunger. You’ll get the money. We’ll both profit.” The shepherd strongly refused saying, “But what about Allah!” Strangely, the traveller was pleased to hear that. “As long as there are people like you in the Ummah, wolves won’t kill the sheep,” he said.
The shepherd was, of course, not aware that he was talking to the Ameer-ul-Momineen, Umar who kept his finger on the pulse of his people. It was the spontaneous natural reaction of a believer who remembered Allah. And the comment came from the person who knew the value of that remembrance. Today we find wolves killing the sheep everywhere. Corruption has become commonplace in most parts of the Muslim world. Why? Because most of us have moved away from that remembrance that was the protection against sin and corruption!
The journey of life is beautifully described in the Qur’an as a constant toil, at the end of which we are going to meet our Creator.
“O mankind, Verily you are ever toiling on towards your Lord, painfully toiling and you shall meet Him.” (Al-Inshiqaq, 84:6).
The person who remembers Allah then, is the person who keeps his eyes on his destination. The journey is arduous. The distractions are many. Satan and our own desires are constantly trying to steer us away from our goal. But the stakes are extremely high. And a vigilant and wise person will never lose sight of his destination. Such is the person who remembers Allah all the time.
“Behold! In the creation of the Heavens and the Earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are indeed Signs for men of understanding…men who remember Allah standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides.” (Al-Imran, 3:190-191).
This remembrance or dhikr is itself the source of strength for the believer. According to one hadith-e-qudsi, Allah says: “I am with my servant as long as he remembers Me.” (Bukhari, Hadith 6856)
It is for this reason that a distinction is made between other ritual acts of worship, and dhikr. We are not required to engage in the former excessively. In fact we are cautioned against that possibility. But we are asked to perform dhikr profusely—keeping our heart and tongue busy in that remembrance all the time.
How can we remember Allah when we cannot see Him? There are two answers. First, we look at His creations, for the creations remind one of the Creator. The more we look at the grand design of the universe, the more we are reminded of the Designer. It is a sign of wisdom that a person looks at the universe and says Subhan-Allah, Glory be to Allah.
Second, we recall Allah’s blessings on us. The fact is that we cannot fully encompass the blessings of a single moment in our life. Right now somebody is reading these lines. We take the act for granted and think nothing of it. But let us pause and reflect on it. The eyes have to be working for us to recognise the printed characters. The brain has to be working for us to translate the images of characters we see on paper into meaningful statements that they stand for. We need peace of mind to reflect on it. We need available time to even begin the process. None of these is of our own making.
It is a sign of wisdom that a person realises all this and says Alhamdulillah, Praise be to Allah.
Subhan-Allah, Alhamdulillah, Allahu Akbar—these are some of the forms of dhikr of Allah. To pronounce them is dhikr by the tongue. To understand and reflect on them is dhikr by the heart. Both forms are highly desirable and they reinforce each other. Repetition by the tongue engraves the words in the heart. Understanding and reflection brings life to the spoken words. Together, they help us keep our eyes on our destination through the journey of life. They help us develop and strengthen our relationship with Allah, thereby bringing peace of mind and protecting us from the evil temptations.
The unlettered shepherd was a greater man of understanding than the “greatest great” who does not remember Allah. If only, we can understand.