THE word zikr has been used innumerable times in the Quran with various meanings. It can mean remembrance, or remembering God through the recitation or repetition of one or more of His names, or some verses or parts of the Quran, or through praying for blessings on the Prophet (PBUH).
Salat or formal prayer has also been referred to as zikr. Zikr also means 'sincere advice', (3:58), both when it is given and followed. Each zikr has its own beneficial effect. The negative energy of Satan's actions and efforts are also countered by the positive energy of zikr.
Everything in this world sings the praises of its Lord, the living with their tongues, the non-living with the tacit acquiescence of their condition: 'The seven heavens and the earth, and all those who are in them, sing His praises. There is nothing (in the universe), which does not sing His praise, but you cannot comprehend it' (17:44).
The angels praise Him (2:30). The birds, trees and hills would join Prophet Dawood in glorifying his Lord (34:10). Since human beings and jinns have been given free will, they do not instinctively sing God's praises.
According to the Sufi teachers, remembrance of God can be divided into two categories, direct and indirect. The first involves calling out to God by repeating a word or a formulation that pleases God. This kind of zikr is relatively easy, for it is restricted to repetition.
If the practice continues, the heart takes over and starts doing the zikr automatically. Indirect remembrance is more demand-ing, for every word and deed is now done constantly, in accordance with the pleasure of God. The conscience is now the guard as well as the guardian, self-sufficient in its duty of keeping the person rooted to praising God.
The purpose of life is to first acknowledge the Highest Truth of the existence of the One God, and then to remember thisTruth, day in and day out, progressively with one's tongue, heart, thoughts, actions and finally one's whole being. The person who has reached this state can be described as muttaqi, meaning pious or God-conscious or one 'who loves God so much that he is afraid to displease Him'.
The Sufis think that peace comes from within the heart, regardless of what is happening outside. Those who keep running after worldly pleasures reach a point when they realise that all this success has not brought them any contentment. It is said in the Quran 'Alaa, bezikrillahe tatmainnul qulub' 'Indeed, in the remembrance of God is peace for the hearts' (13:28); and also, 'Fazkurni, azkurkum' -'remember Me, and I will remember you' 2:152).
In Surah Al-Ahzab is found a list of men and women who have 10 good qualities. The most important are '...the men who remember God a great deal and the women who remember Him, God has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward' (33:35). In the spiritual realm, both men and women have the same goals and the same rewards.
According to a hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) said, 'Allah says, 'I treat My servant according to his opinion of Me and I am with him when he remembers Me; if he remembers Me privately, I remember him privately and if he remembers Me in public, I remember him in a better gathering (of angels)'' Bukhari.
Of the innumerable formulae for Allah's remembrance, many are found in hadith: 'He who recites, 'Subhan Allahae wa behamdehi' ('Allah is free from imperfection and for Him is all praise') 100 times a day, will have a great reward' (Bukhari).
The Tasbih Fatimah was taught by the Prophet to his daughter: 33 times Subhan Allah ('God is free from imperfection'), 33 times Al-hamdo Lillah ('all praise be to Allah') and 33 times Allaho Akbar ('God is the greatest'); according to another narration, the last mentioned is to be recited 34 times (Bukhari). This zikr, when recited after prayers, brings great spiritual benefits and, as taught by the Prophet, could also be a substitute for charity for those who cannot afford it.
The Prophet said, 'The best way to celebrate the remembrance of Allah is to say, 'La ilaha illallah'' ('There is no deity except Allah'Tirmizi). The Prophet asked Abu Musa to recite,'La hawla wa la quwwata illa billa' ('There is no change of condition, nor power, except by Allah'Muslim). The fourth Kalima, recited 100 times a day, will provide protection and have an immense reward (Bukhari). There is a tradition of reciting the Ayat-ul-Kursi (2:255) to invoke protection.
There are several hadiths about the excellence of performing zikr in a congregation. The Prophet said, 'When a group of people assemble for the remembrance of Allah, the angels surround them (with their wings), Allah's mercy envelops them, tranquillity descends upon them and Allah makes a mention of them before those who are near Him' (Muslim). Istighfar, or asking for forgiveness, can keep punishment at bay from a whole nation for, 'God is not going to bring down His wrath on them when you (Muhammad) are amongst them. And neither is God a giver of punishment when they ask for forgiveness' (8:33).
One could go on endlessly about zikr. According to the Quran, 'If all the trees on earth were turned into pens and all the seas into ink, with seven more seas to supplement it, God's words would not be exhausted, for God is the Eminent, the Wise' (31:27).
The writer is scholar of the Quran and writes on contemporary issues.