Noble Character by Shaykh Ali Goma
The scholars who aimed to protect the station of ihsan (so a person reaches the level of worshipping Allah as if s/he sees Him) have restricted this path firstly by remembrance (dhikr) and thought (fikr). They take the prescription for dhikr directly from the Noble Qur’an. Allah, the Exalted, says:
فَاذْكُرُونِي أَذْكُرْكُمْ وَاشْكُرُوا لِي وَلَا تَكْفُرُونِ
So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me,
and do not deny Me. (2:152)
وَالذَّاكِرِينَ اللهَ كَثِيرًا وَالذَّاكِرَاتِ
…and the men and women who remember Allah…
وَاذْكُرُوا اللهَ كَثِيرًا لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
…and remember Allah much, that you may be successful. (8:45)
أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ القُلُوبُ
For without doubt, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find contentment.” (13:28)
Thus, dhikr is the path, and it is also the thought, reflection, and contemplation in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the world of plants and animals, and in everything that benefits people. As Allah says:
الَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ اللهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَى جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ
فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَذَا بَاطِلًا سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ
Those Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], “Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; so protect us from the punishment of the Fire. (3:191)
There are three levels of thought or contemplation:
1- Shallow thought – This is when one observes without pondering, and merely gathers information.
2- Deep thought -This is when one delves into the reality of things.
3- Illuminated thought – This is when observations are connected to one’s faith; a person would say: “Subhanak” (Exalted are You) at the height of his/her reflection, while being completely bewildered by the wondrous creation of Allah and the world that points to His existence. This is the reality of ihsan.
As for those who refuse to reflect and make dhikr, they are far from the path of Allah. He has commanded us to make dhikr, just as He has commanded us to think:
أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ القُرْآَنَ وَلَوْ كَانَ مِنْ عِنْدِ غَيْرِ اللهِ لَوَجَدُوا فِيهِ اخْتِلَافًا كَثِيرًا
Then do they not reflect upon the Qur’an? If it had been from [any] other than Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction. (4:82)
قُلْ سِيرُوا فِي الأَرْضِ فَانْظُرُوا
Say, [O Muhammad], “Travel through the land and see what has been the end of the criminals.”(27:69)
Allah exhorts us to contemplate about his creation with this verse:
اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ
Recite in the name of your Lord who created. (96:1)
Then, he alludes to revelation in these verses:
اقْرَأْ وَرَبُّكَ الأَكْرَمُ * الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالقَلَمِ
Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous; Who taught by the pen. (96:3-4)
Thus, we are asked to contemplate upon the universe around us, then to reflect upon the written revelation of Allah—which includes the Quran and the authentic Sunnah—and then reflect upon ourselves and our human state.
Allah also asks us to reflect with these verses:
الرَّحْمَنُ * عَلَّمَ القُرْآَنَ * خَلَقَ الإِنْسَانَ * عَلَّمَهُ البَيَانَ
The Entirely Merciful (One)–He taught the Qur’an; He created man, [and] taught him eloquence. (55:1-4)
Thus, we have a series of three themes to reflect upon: the Qur’an, man, and the creation of the universe. If we adopt this pattern of reflection, we will be among the true thinkers on the journey to Allah, the All-Mighty and Exalted.
The Prophetic approach to dhikr was based on vastness, and not limitation. Sometimes, people limit themselves to what has been stated by the Prophetic ﷺ. Such people will fall under one of two categories:
- Those that love what has been stated by the Prophet ﷺ, and they find their hearts at peace with it. This is a praiseworthy state and it is what is most desired because such people are living the words of the Prophet—as narrated in his ahadith, supplications, and dhikr in different situations. They have understood them, and most importantly, their hearts have responded to them. After all, finding peace within your heart is what really matters.
- Those who limit themselves only to what has been narrated. They try to convince themselves and others that they are adhering to the Prophetic method. They try to prevent others from adding on to the Prophetic dhikr, not realizing that by doing so, they themselves have violated the Prophetic methodology that was based on vastness (and not limitation).
There is a hadith reported by al-Tirmidhi and Nisa’i that relates an incident where a man said dhikr during the prayer in a way that the Prophet ﷺ had never established. After the prayer, the Prophet ﷺ asked, “Who was speaking during the prayer?” There was no answer; the man remained silent, afraid that he had made a mistake. So he ﷺ asked again. There was still no answer; the man did not speak up. He ﷺ asked a third time, “Who was speaking during prayer?” At that point, Rifa’ah ibn Rafi’ ibn `Afra’ answered: “I did, Messenger of Allah.” The Prophet ﷺ said: “What did you say?” He said: “I said: ‘Oh Allah, to You is all the Praise—Praise that is abundant, good, pure and blessed’”… till the end of the hadith—when the Prophet said: “thirty some Angels are competing over who is going to ascend with it.” This was even before the Prophet approved it, which goes to prove that the Prophet ﷺ encouraged us to remember Allah limitlessly.
Another example would be the talbiyah[i] in the hadith of Jabir: “The people did tahlil[ii] in a certain way, and the Messenger of Allah ﷺ did not reject any of it, and the Messenger of Allah ﷺ continued with his talbiyah” (reported by Muslim).
The talbiyah of the Prophet ﷺ was: “Here I am at Your service O Allah! Here I am. Here I am at Your service, and You have no partner—here I am. Verily, all the praise, and the grace belong to You, and the kingdom. You have no partner.”
Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) would say his talbiyah in this way: “Here I am at Your service, truly, truly. Here I am, in servitude and enslavement” (Musnad Al-Bazzar). `Abd Allah ibn `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) would say his talbiyah in this way: “I am at Your service. I am at Your service, and at Your call. All good is in Your Hands. Our desire is for You, and also our deeds.” The Prophet ﷺ approved both of the variations that Anas, `Abd Allah ibn `Umar (may Allah be pleased with them), and other Companions used.
So once again, we see that dhikr is based on vastness. This means that we find our hearts present when doing it. The scholars and the righteous throughout the past centuries have made dhikr that is not found in the Sunnah, and they add to what is found in the Sunnah. For example, they take the Qur’anic supplication: “Our Lord, give us in this world [that which is] good and in the Hereafter [that which is] good, and protect us from the punishment of the Fire,”(2:201) and add to it: “and make us of the dwellers of Paradise, O Ever-Pardoning, Perpetual Forgiver.”
It is also good to make dhikr with the Most Beautiful Names of Allah. As Allah says:
وَللهِ الأَسْمَاءُ الحُسْنَى فَادْعُوهُ بِهَا
“And to Allah belong the best names, so invoke Him by them.” (7:180)
This is the framework or the methodology that is the foundation for asceticism (tasawwuf). It is restricted by remembrance and reflection, and renunciation and adornment in order to reach the state of worshiping Allah as if He is apparent. It is also restricted by foundational principles, which are all described in detailed in the Qur’an and Sunnah. Thus, whoever wants to force people to follow his own way, and reject the methodology of the Qur’an and Sunnah is clearly in error.
[i] The dhikr recited during Hajj.
[ii] Dhikr that includes saying “la ilaha illa Allah.”