In a verse of the Quran that I love very much, Allah, Most Gracious and Loving, commends:
Remember Me and I shall remember you. Be grateful unto Me and deny Me not. (2:152)
Can you imagine a more gratifying state than this, where, when you remember Allah, the Creator, Sustainer and Lord of the Universe, He remembers you in return? The same exhortation has been beautifully conveyed in a hadith Qudsi:
I treat My servant as he hopes that I would treat him. I am with him whenever he remembers Me: if he remembers Me in his heart, I remember him in My ‘heart’; if he remembers Me in a gathering, I remember him in a gathering far better than that gathering; if he draws near to Me a hand’s span, I draw near to him an arm’s length; if he draws near to Me an arm’s length, I draw near to him a fathom’s length; and if he comes to Me walking, I go to him running. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Those who remember Allah standing, sitting and reclining and who reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth are highly commended in the Noble Quran.
They are wise in that, they fill their hearts with the remembrance of God in every moment, in every circumstance and in every posture of their lives.
The exhortation to remember Allah at all times is a reflection of Allah’s all-embracing and overwhelming love for us. The door to Allah is always open to us:
Remember Me and I will remember you. (2:152)
We need only to find our way to and through that door.
The Significance of Dhikr
Regarding the significance of the remembrance of God, Allah says in the Quran the following:
Remember Allah, for He has guided you. (2:198)
O you who believe! Remember Allah often with much remembrance. And glorify Him morning and evening. (33: 41-2)
And men who remember God much and women who remember God has prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward. (33: 35)
Hadith literature is similarly replete with references to the remembrance of Allah:
The servant cannot perform a better deed which will save him from God’s punishment than the remembrance of God. (Malik)
Whoever wishes to feast in the gardens of Paradise, let him remember God often. (At-Tirmidhi)
Indeed, with regard to dhikr, the Quran concludes:
And the remembrance of Allah is the greatest deed, without doubt. (29: 45)
The significance of dhikr lies in the fact that it is God’s own chosen and recommended mode by which the believers show gratitude for having been shown the straight path. In addition, it is indeed the surest way of attaining God’s forgiveness and achieving the ultimate reward of Paradise.
The importance of dhikr then is not difficult to understand. It is dhikr that purifies your heart and makes it sound. And you can only attain salvation and true success by having a pure and sound heart.
The ‘heart’ referred to here is not the pump in your breast that pushes blood around your body but rather the center or locus of your personality which pumps out your desires and motivations and which makes you conduct yourself as you do.
It is this heart that lies at your center and dictates your actions which is the key to your ultimate success. Thus, with reference to the Day of Judgment, the Quran declares:
It will be a Day when neither wealth nor children shall profit, [and when] only he [will be saved] who comes before God with a sound heart [free of evil]. (26:88-9)
This point is more elaborately made in a hadith in which the Prophet says:
Listen [to me] carefully. There is a lump of flesh in the body, if it is set right and made good, the entire body becomes good and healthy; but if it becomes diseased, the entire body becomes diseased. Remember well, it is the Heart. (Al-Bukhari)
If the heart is the key to ultimate salvation and success, it may, likewise, be the seat of much corruption and open doors to many evils. It may facilitate the corruption of political and economic activities and ultimately the social institutions of a society. Where such a state prevails, the Quran suggests that it is because people, individually, have become diseased in their hearts.
It is the heart, as the decider of our ultimate fate, that must then be the starting point of any tazkiya program to purify this heart and then summon it to the service of mankind.
Ibn al-Qayyim, one of the great scholars of Islam, states in his book, The Book of Remembrance:
“The heart which is devoid of the remembrance of Allah is a heart that is ‘dead’; it is dead even and long before the body carrying the heart reaches its grave. Indeed, this living body that carries the heart is the heart’s grave.”
Ibn al-Qayyim’s statement is reminiscent of the hadith of the Prophet which states:
The difference between someone who remembers his Lord and someone who does not is like the difference between the living and the dead. (Al-Bukhari)
The statement is also reminiscent of the following verse of the Quran:
Do not become like those who forget Allah and Allah makes them forget themselves. It is they who are truly deprived. (59:19)
The purpose of tazkiya is to ensure that the heart never falls into a sorry state of being and that it is always alive with the remembrance of God.
Prosperous indeed is one who purifies himself and remembers the name of his Guardian-Lord, and prays [unto Him]. (87:14-5)
The Prophet further emphasized the importance of dhikr when he said to his Companions:
Shall I not inform you of the best of your actions, the purest in the sight of your Lord, which raises your rank to the highest, which is better for you than spending gold and silver, better than meeting your enemy so that you strike at their necks and they strike at yours?
“Yes, indeed,” and he said:
It is the remembrance of Allah. (At-Tirmidhi)
Strive then, to fill all your moments, all your thoughts and all your actions with His remembrance. Recite words of glorification and praise to punctuate all your actions and achievements.