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Understanding Zikr
by Shaykh Ibrahim

“Every forest branch moves differently in the breeze,
but as they sway they connect at the roots.” by Rumi

One of the most treasured practices of the Sufi path is zikr. Zikr is a ritual of remembrance. A ritual is a combination lock. By performing the same movements, words, chants and intention as others have traditionally done in the past, we unlock a gateway to a timeless place that is inhabited by all the others who have performed and will perform the same ceremony throughout time. Through that gateway we find all the Sufi Shaykhs, teachers, Prophets, and angels who may easily manifest themselves because our intention is to praise Allah, and our ceremony is a clear, clean and beautiful opening for them, and for learning and unity to take place. Zikr is a uniting of our brothers and sisters of the Tariqa. It binds us in a timeless way in praising Allah. Imagine, for example, that we are with Prophet Muhammed (a.s.) and are in a state of Remembrance guided by him.

Zikr is also what every living thing is doing, including the trees, the rocks, the wind, the angels. It is like a beacon of light that radiates in all directions for the good of humanity. It penetrates the darkness of Dunya (the World) like nothing else can. It is a uniting of hearts and minds, and as we chant Allah’s powerful Names, those aspects of Allah are brought into the circle of Zikr. To be in unity with Allah is to be in a constant state of remembrance of the source of all creation, in the sense that unity is the deepest state of surrender to Allah, this is the true zikr, and is the goal of the Sufi path. As a means to achieve that state, zikr as a ritualized practice was bequeathed to students of tasawwuf by Prophet Muhammed (a.s.). There are two forms of ceremonial zikr: jahri, or outward zikr, in which one's voice can be heard by others, and khafi, or silent zikr, in which it can be heard only by oneself. The jahri style was taught by the Prophet (a.s.) to Hazreti Ali (ra). Pir Abdul Qadir al Geylani in Secret of Secrets gives the following explanation of the origins of zikr: Hazrati Ali (ra) was the first one to ask our Master the Prophet (a.s.) about the path of zikr. He asked him to teach him the closest, most precious, easiest way. Upon this, Our Master the Prophet (a.s.) waited for the angel Jibril [Gabriel] (a.s.) to come. Jibril (a.s.) came and he inculcated “La ilaha illa ‘llah” into the Prophet (a.s.) three times. Our Prophet (a.s.) repeated this the same way and then taught it to Ali (r.a.).

“(This lamp is found) in houses which Allah has allowed to be exalted and that His Name will be remembered therein. In them He is praised in the mornings and evenings.” (Quran 24:36)

The ritual ceremony of zikr is traditionally held in a Sufi gathering-place known as the dergah. In this setting the members of a Sufi tariqa together intone certain Names of Allah, thereby invoking the characteristics represented by those Names into the hearts of the congregation. There is a traditional order in which Allah’s Names are mentioned in zikr, and each one is repeated several, often hundreds of times in unison by the group. Certain movements, such as swaying back and forth or turning from right to left, are incorporated into the activity during the intonations, and are likewise performed in unison. In some tariqas a prayerful rotation of the whole body, arms extended while pivoting on one foot, is traditional.

Each of the Beautiful Names invoked during zikr is a key to a spiritual level within the heart. In the midst of such spiritual concentration, participants sometimes travel to profound dimensions of reality. This refreshment to the soul helps to provide encouragement to the murid in his sometimes-difficult journey to Allah. The effect of zikr in the group is to enable each one present to benefit from the augmentation of spiritual energy that a unified effort achieves. In such an atmosphere of concentrated spiritual energy, it is not uncommon for unseen beings such as angels and walis [protecting friends] to attend the proceedings, thereby bringing additional blessings from Allah.

Zikr by Shaykh Taner

“These hearts are subject to corrosion; to polish them, one should regularly read the Quran, remember death and join the circles of zikr.” From the Prophet (a.s.)

Zikr means remembrance of Allah. The Quran tells us to practice zikr in order to expand our aliveness, increase our spiritual attunement and find rest for our hearts. In doing so, we invoke the immediate experience of divine attributes, specifically activating the energies of compassion and mercy and drawing blessings from the angelic realm.
Zikr offers us the opportunity to express and reinforce our conscious alignment with the reality that Allah is our creator and that our position in the natural order is that of the created, and that we are dependent upon Allah’s mercy for our very existence.
Finally zikr creates in us the habit of remembrance. Habit is the language of the physical body, which is like a child that takes comfort in repetition. Zikr allows us to establish in our bodies a habit that nourishes our heart at a deep level.
In the Qu’ran it is written that Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth. Some people who interpret the Quran say that this ayat (verse) is talking about electricity and that Allah is describing the bulb and the filament of the electric bulb, and how it glows. But as Sufis we say that Allah is referring to a greater light. This is the light that is found in the houses where Allah gave permission to do His zikr.
When we do zikr, it is important for us to understand that we are not the ones actually doing it. It is Allah who lets us do it. Zikr is a great favor given to us from Allah so that we can learn. As Sufis we must be mindful that it is always Allah who does everything. Yet Allah is the one essential element in every action that most people overlook. When we overlook the presence of Allah in every action, we begin to think that all the power belongs to us. When we forget Allah, then we make mistakes. Allah is not hidden. Allah is very apparent. The greatest miracle is that although Allah is apparent, nobody can see Allah.
We take Allah for granted, even when we think we are doing good deeds (even this is not permitted). Don’t think that you are doing anything. Allah is letting you do this. Coming together to make zikr is Allah’s grace. We are all together here, but it is only through Allah’s grace that we are here. It is Allah’s favor upon you that we are here talking about Allah.
Allah taught Abu Bakr with the heart so they do silent zikr, khafi zikr. To Ali He taught from the mouth, outer, so we do jahri zikr. Everything is with zikr and with Allah and surrender.

On the Necessity of Zikr

Zikr (also written as dhikr) is the remembrance of Allah with the tongue and heart. Through zikr we polish the heart so that we may reflect Allah’s Nur (light). Some have suggested that the practice of zikr is an innovation of the Sufis in later times, but we find Allah’s instructions to practice zikr in the Holy Quran:

“Who have believed and whose hearts have rest in the remembrance of Allah. Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest.” (13:28)

“Recite that which hath been inspired in thee of the Scripture, and establish worship. Lo! Worship preserveth from lewdness and iniquity, but verily remembrance of Allah is more important. And Allah knoweth what ye do.” (29:45)

“O ye who believe! Remember Allah with much remembrance.” (33:41)

Perform Zikr Regularly

We also see from Hadith that it was the practice of the Prophet (a.s.) to perform zikr on a regular basis.
Narrated by Abu Ma’bad (the freed slave of Ibn ‘Abbas): Ibn ‘Abbas told me, “In the lifetime of the Prophet it was the custom to celebrate Allah’s praises aloud after the compulsory congregational prayers.” Ibn ‘Abbas further said, “When I heard the zikr, I would learn that the compulsory congregational prayer had ended.”

It is through zikr that we come closer to Allah: “Remember me, I shall remember you.” (2:152) In a Hadith Qudsi, the Prophet (a.s.) narrated: “Allah says, ‘I am to My servant as he expects of Me, I am with him when he remembers Me. If he remembers Me in his heart, I remember him to Myself, and if he remembers Me in an assembly, I mention him in an assembly better than his, and if he draws nearer to Me a hand’s span, I draw nearer to him an arm’s length, and if he draws nearer to Me an arm’s length, I draw nearer to him a fathom length, and if he comes to Me walking, I rush to him at (great) speed. (Sources: Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim)

Allah has drawn close to Him those who remember Him. The Prophet (a.s.) said, “The devotees have surpassed all.” They asked, “Who are these exceptional people (Mufarridun), O Prophet of Allah?” He replied, “Those men and women who remember Allah unceasingly.” (Source: Sahih Muslim) These are the people who are really alive. Abu Musa reported, “The likeness of the one who remembers his Lord and the one who does not remember Him is like that of a living to a dead person.” (Source: Sahih Bukhari)

Transform Nafs Through Zikr
Remembrance of Allah is the foundation for transforming the nafs (ego). Whoever succeeds in it is blessed with the close friendship of Allah. That is why the Prophet (a.s.) used to make remembrance of Allah at all times. When a man complained, “The laws of Islam are too heavy for me, so tell me something that I can easily follow,” The Prophet (a.s.) told him, “Let your tongue be always busy with the remembrance of Allah.” The Prophet (a.s.) would often tell his Companions, “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 of Allah!” The Prophet (a.s.) said, “Remembrance of Allah.” (Reported by Tirmidhi, Ahmad, and Al-Hakim, who considers reliable its chain of narrators.)

Zikr Circles
Joining the assemblies or circles of zikr is a commendable practice as shown by the following Hadith: Ibn ‘Umar reported, “The Prophet (a.s.) said, ‘When you pass by a garden of Paradise, avail yourselves of it.’ The Companions asked, ‘What are the gardens of Paradise, O Messenger of Allah?’ The Prophet (a.s.) replied, ‘The assemblies or circles of zikr. There are some angels of Allah who go about looking for such assemblies of zikr, and when they find them, they surround them.’”

It is reported in Sahih Muslim that Mu’awiyyah said, “The Prophet (a.s.) went out to a circle of his Companions and asked, ‘What makes you sit here?’ They said, ‘We are sitting here in order to remember Allah and to praise Him because He guided us to the path of Islam and He conferred favors upon us.’ Thereupon he adjured them by Allah and asked if that was the only purpose of their sitting there. They said, ‘By Allah, we are sitting here for this purpose only.’ At this the Prophet (a.s.) said, ‘I am not asking you to take an oath because of any misapprehension against you, but only because Gabriel came to me and informed me that Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, was telling the angels that He is proud of you.’”

Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri and Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet (a.s.) said, “When any group of men remember Allah, angels surround them and mercy covers them, tranquility descends upon them, and Allah mentions them to those who are with Him.”

Getting Ready for Zikr
Before zikr the Shaykh’s lambskin, called the Post, is set on the floor with special prayers. The skin represents surrender, as the lamb has this character. We say Al Fatihah (the opening chapter of the Quran) at the head of the Post for Muhammed (a.s.) and then for Imam Hasan, Imam Husayn, and Hazreti Fatimah (May Allah be pleased with them). After this we pray (salat) the fardz (obligatory) prayer, usually Isha, the evening prayer.

The Opening
All of the following is done while sitting down. This is because Allah says in Qu’ran, “Remember Me much sitting, standing, and reclining and look into the space and contemplate and say, ‘O Allah, you didn’t create all this for nothing, and protect me from the torment of fire. ”

Destur (Permission)
We start by asking our Pirs to give us permission to do zikr. This is also known as Meydan, which means opening a circle of zikr. You must call the Silsillah or the Pirs, for when you do the Pirs take over zikr and help you while the angels circle and protect against shaytan and jinn.

Bismillah ‘r Rahman ‘r Rahim (In the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful)
We rock back and forth as we repeat Bismillah ‘r Rahman ‘r Rahim. There are certain movements that accompany the words that we say during zikr. These are in part based on the movements that are found in nature. The way we move is also based on how the other prophets have moved. For example, the Jewish people have a way of rocking forward and back in their worship as we do in zikr. Our movements combine those of all three religions, which are in fact one religion.

Estaughfirullah, tubtu ila ‘llah, we na’ aytu qalbi an ma siwa ‘llah. (Allah forgive me, please cleanse my heart of everything but You.
In the beginning, we were with Allah. Then we descended to this material world with the promise to Allah that we would remember Him. But in this world, we forgot our Creator. When we realize this, we ask Allah for forgiveness, so that He will show us how to get back to Him. Zikr represents our ascension back to Allah.

Allah humma salli ala Sayadinna Muhammedin wa ala alihi was-sahbihi wa sallim (May Allah give blessings and peace to the Prophet Muhammed and on his family and companions, peace.)
Allah appointed a guide in Muhammed, (a.s.). Allah said that we should send peace and blessings upon the Prophet Muhammed. Then Hz. Muhammed (a.s.) shows us what Allah taught him.

The Body

Destur (Permission)
After the opening we ask for permission again.

La ilaha illa ‘llah (There is no Allah, but Allah)

As we repeat La ilaha illa ‘llah one movement is to sway from side to side, turning the head to the right and to the left. This comes from Yunus Emre, the Sufi poet, among other sources. We say, La ilaha…” while turning the head to the right, which represents the nafs, our body and the material world. We are saying that it is not Allah. We say, “…illa ‘llah” while turning the head to the left, toward our heart, which is where Allah’s Essence lives in us. Appearance is not Allah, the Essence is Allah.

Another way we move to La ilaha illa’ llah is forward to the right, back to center, then forward left and back to center. This repetition represents the wheat field submitting to the wind, among other things. We always come back to the center so as to say that everything ends in us. Allah, of course, is everywhere, but we don’t need to look outside to find Him. We can find Him within us.

Allah, Allah
One movement is of the head from right to left with a quick breath between each Allah. This becomes like a sawing sound. It is based on the story of the Prophet Zechariah, who while being pursued cried to a tree to conceal him. The tree opened up and he entered, but he was soon discovered by his pursuers. As they began to saw down the center of the tree, Zechariah realized his mistake; he should have called upon Allah to save him, not the tree. So as the saw came closer and closer, he repeated over and over, “Allah, Allah, Allah.” Our repeating Allah in zikr reminds us to seek refuge only in Allah.

Allah Hu, Hu Allah
We move the torso in a circular fashion. This represents the angels moving in a circle around Allah’s Throne (Arsh).


The following is done while standing.

Allah, Allah Haqq (Haqq means Truth/Reality)
We bend at the waist and move the torso to the right and back to the center, then to the left and to the center. This is similar to the previous motion which connotes the wheat field.

Ya Hayy (Living)
At this time we may join hands in the circle. This is to reinforce unity in Allah. Actually, it is traditional during the sitting portion to lock arms. We haven’t done that yet because Americans like to have room; it is more comfortable for them. But with everyone locked arm in arm, men and women separately, this really builds brotherhood. Everyone’s energy level rises with the group. If there is love in someone’s heart, you get the benefit of that love. There is more power in moving together. We May also repeat Hayy as we bend our knees and straighten up with each repetition. Our arms are bent at the elbow in front of us and we move them up and down in time with the movements of our legs.


Allah Hayy, Ya Qayum (Allah Ever-Living, the Self Existing One)
We turn the whole body with feet planted firmly. At Allah Hayy…we turn to the right, placing left hand on the heart and at …Ya Qayyum turn to the left, placing right hand on the heart. In every direction is Allah. In all of these movements we are trying to develop a body language. What we want to do is make zikr with body, heart, soul, and mind. Each time you do zikr you should do it with all your being.


Ya Wadud, Ya Salaam (O Loving One, O Peace)
We turn to the left, moving in a slow circle, right arm extended with palm up and left arm downward with palm down. This time we are activating Allah’s love and peace in the universe. In this world love and peace are not usually together. The only time when love and peace are together is when nafs is not around. When there is love, there is fire, frustration, disappointment, and expectation. Only in Divine Love is peace and love together. This is what we are trying to attract, with Allah’s permission, to the universe.

Hu (you, referring to Allah, in Arabic, 3rd person singular, not make or female)
After such an active zikr people get tired, and with Hu we relax. At the same time, Hu sums everything up. At this time we also sing a song that sends salaams (blessings) to all the members of our silsillah (Our Pirs, the Lineage). At this time the Shaykh goes into the center of the circle, turns, and talks to the Prophet (pbuh). We send salaams to him and to the whole universe. We sing his salawat in all directions. Then we end zikr.

The Closing

After zikr we make du’a (personal prayer). In this we also follow the example of the Prophet, peace be upon him. Allah asked him what he wanted. He asked Allah to forgive his people. Then Allah asked him what he wanted for himself. He asked that Allah not dismiss him from His service. Allah wants us to make du’a because He wants to give us something. By making du’a we are also confirming that Allah is Lord and we are not. In this way we return to being His bondsman. Allah said, “Irji,” which means, “Return.” We make the trip to Allah during zikr, and then He wants us to return to the world. It is Allah’s desire that we should be in this body, serving Allah in this world.

Songs, Turning, and Prayers

Some dervishes turn during zikr. Turning did not start with the Mevlevis. Shams was a student of Abdul Qadir al Geylani. He wore the Qadiri color of green and he turned. From the beginning we turned.

Prostration is also a part of zikr. Allah said, “Prostrate,” so we prostrate to show respect at various times throughout the ceremony.
We say Al Fatihah several times during zikr. Fatihah means Opening. We open and close zikr with this sura (verse), and recite it during transitions. Just prior to closing, we recite the three last suras of Quran. These are like a summary of the whole Quran, and reciting these is traditional in virtually all-religious ceremonies. These suras are a protection for those of us who have done zikr, against evils of shaytan and evil jinns. Shaytan’s job is to take us away from the path or to stop us from progressing. So he could be waiting right outside the door to tempt us with doubt or confusion or fighting.

During zikr we also sing certain songs (ilahis), which are designed to provide motivation. These songs tell us of our philosophy, of the wisdom of Sufism. For example, one of them says, “You cannot reach the High Headquarters with vanity. You have to leave what you have and what you have not. Then, come.”


Contemplation

Whoever contemplates an affair and seeks its cause finds that each of its parts has many part of its own, and finds that each of these is the cause of many other things. This is a contemplation that is worth a year’s worship.

Whoever contemplates his devotions and seeks the cause and reason and comes to know it, his meditation is worth seventy years of worship.

Whoever contemplates the divine wisdom with a strong wish to know Allah Most High, his meditation is worth a thousand years of worship, for this is true knowledge.

From Pir Abdul Qadir al Geylani’s book ‘Secret of Secrets’