Dhikr (Remembering Allah)
The shepherd was approached by a lone traveler in the desert. "I am hungry and have ran 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 traveler 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 traveler was pleased to hear that. "As long as there are people like you in this ummah, wolves won't kill the lambs," he said.
The shepherd was, of course, not aware that he was talking to the Ameer-ul-Momineen, Umar, Radi-Allahu unhu, who kept his finger on the pulse of his ummah. 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 lambs everywhere. Corruption has become common place 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." [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." [Aal-e-Imran, 3:190-191].
This remembrance or dhikr is itself the source of strength for the believer. According to one hadith qudsi, Allah says: "I am with my servant as long as he remembers Me."
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. We simply cannot overdo it. In fact Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, said: "Those who enter paradise will not be sorry for anything they did in this life, except the moments they spent without the remembrance of Allah."
But how can we remember Allah when we cannot see Him and cannot even visualize His Person? There are two answers. First, we look at His creations, for the creation reminds one of the Creator. The verses of Aal-e-Imran quoted above mention this, as do numerous other verses throughout the Qur'an. The more we look at the grand design of the universe, the more we are reminded of the Designer. How many forces must come together with perfect coordination before a seed can sprout? What keeps this immensely complex and constantly expanding universe work so flawlessly? From the simplest to the most complex things there are pointers to the Creator on every square inch of this universe. In fact the Arabic word for the universe (alam) comes from the root ilm or knowledge, because this universe is the means of knowing the Creator.
Unfortunately the tragedy that occurred when the Western civilization took the lead in science, was that this connection was severed. As the Qur'an mentions:
"And how many Signs in the heavens and the earth do they pass by? Yet they turn their faces away from them." [Yusuf, 12:105].
For the Muslim scientists today, a prime task must be to remove this ignorant delinking. 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 recognize 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.
Most of us are lucky enough to get food everyday. Again, we just take it for granted. But let us reflect on the process of production of food materials; cooking and preparation of our meals; and its consumption and digestion by our body -- and we may begin to realize the blessings that we are receiving in one bite of the simplest food we may eat! It is a sign of wisdom that a person realizes 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 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. And we can hope that a person who always remembered that he has to meet with Allah will not be disappointed when that time comes.
The unlettered shepherd was a greater man of understanding than the "greatest great" who does not remember Allah. If only we can understand.