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DHIKR. Most commonly associated with Sufism, dhikr (“remembrance, reminder, evocation”) is both a concept and a meditative practice. It is also a unifying theme across the diversity of cultural forms in Islam, appearing in each form in a distinctive expression. Its specific appearance in Sufism can best be understood against its wider background as a key theme in Islamic cultures.

In poetry, dhikr is the remembrance of the lost beloved. The classical ode (qasidah) begins with traces of the beloved’s campsite (atlal), a listing of the stations by which she departed with the women of the tribe (za’n), or her apparition (tayf, khayal). Remembrance turns to an idyll evoking the beloved’s symbolic analogue, the lost garden. The “Burda” poem of the tribal poet Ka’b ibn Zuhayr begins with a dhikr symbolizing as the lost beloved the pre-Islamic tribal ethos that Ka’b was giving up by offering his allegiance to Muhammad. Hassan ibn Thabit’s elegy on the death of the Prophet begins with a remembrance of Muhammad as the lost beloved, with his home and mosque in Medina as the traces or atlal (I. Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, translated by A. Guillaume, Oxford, 1955, pp. 597-6o1, 795-798). Remembrance of the beloved continues through the poetic traditions of the classical Islamic world, particularly in the ghazal (love elegy), Sufi poetry, and popular song.

The Qur’an stresses human forgetfulness, with continual imperatives to remember God, one’s own mortality, and the day of judgment (yawm al-din). The Qur’an refers to itself and earlier revelations as a dhikr or dhikra (“reminder”). Through Qur’anic recitation and calligraphy, the Qur’anic text as remembrance is artistically embodied and pervades the sensible particularities of Islamic life. Qur’anic verses and components of nature (interpreted with Qur’anic guidance) are signs (dyahs) leading their interpreter along the path of remembrance.

The Qur’an links remembrance to ritual. The five prayers (initiated by the call to prayer) interrupt everyday life and turn the Muslim community toward the focal point of the Ka’bah. The fasting of Ramadan is a reminder both of the condition of those who are hungry and of the compassionate (al-rahman) through whom sustenance is received. Evening recitations continue the Ramadan remembrance. The night of destiny (Laylat al-Qadr) near the end of Ramadan is celebrated by a vigil in remembrance of the coming down (tanzil) upon Muhammad of the spirit (ruh). Zakat, contribution to the less fortunate, combines karam (generosity) and dhikr (remembrance), as the Qur’anic imperative to remember the orphan, widow, and traveler is institutionalized and placed at the heart of religious obligation.

The pilgrimage to Mecca(hajj) and the passion play (ta’ziyah) are culminations of ritual performance of dhikr. In the hajj the pilgrim relives the events of Islamic sacred history-Abraham’s sacrifice, Hagar’s frantic search for water, and Muhammad’s last sermon on the plain of Arafat-even as the same pilgrim enacts standing before God on the day of judgement. In the intensity of the Shi’ i ta’ziyah remembrance of the martyrdom of Husayn, the division between past and present, actors and audience is dissolved. Beyond specific rituals, the life and words of the Prophet serve as a model (sunnah) for the Islamic community everywhere, continually recalled through prophetic sayings (hadith), the chain of authorities by which they are related (isnad), and the comprehensive way of life (shari `ah) based on the prophetic model. [See Ta’ziyah.]

In Sufism, dhikr refers both to a divine name or Qur’anic phrase repeatedly chanted (such as Ia ilaha illa Allah, “no god but God”), and to the practice of chanting. Dhikr keeps the Sufi from stopping along the mystical ascent and from panic or inappropriate behavior when overcome by various mystical states (ahwal). For Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. I I I I) dhikr polishes the heart, allowing it to serve as a mirror reflecting the divine attributes. In the tradition of Hasan of Basra (d. 728), Ghazali gave particular attention to remembrance of death and the day of judgment. Najm al-Din al-Kubra (d. 1220) writes of dhikr sinking down into the heart, as an interior sob or cry of yearning. Dhikr ends with fand’ (the passing away of the ego-self in union with the divine), at which point, according to many Sufis, there can be no further dhikr because there can be no consciousness of otherness or self. In his Meccan Illuminations, Ibn`Arabi (d. 1240) wrote extensively on the relation of specific dhtkrs to different religious and psychological types. The combination of dhikr with samd` (ritualized music and dance) leading toward ecstasy (wajd) has been a continual source of controversy within Islam. Naqshbandi Sufis stress a silent dhikr (dhikr khafi) that can be practiced while one is engaged in the world. The spiritual chain of authority (isnad) constitutes another of remembrance, often in the form of memorials (tadhkirat) of one’s predecessors.

Visitation (ziyarah) to the shrine of a saint (such as Husayn or Zaynab inCairo, or that of a popular Sufi saint) is a common occasion for remembrance. The pilgrim may recite verbal dhikrs, touch the tomb, and receive the blessing (barakah) transmitted from the divine through the wali (friend of God). Though opposed by the Wahhabi sect ofSaudi   Arabia, local shrines exist throughout much of the Islamic world, providing accessible occasions for dhikr and visitation. [See Ziyarah.]

In Naguib Mahfouz’s modern story “Zaabalawi” the narrator searches for a famous healer, Shaykh Zaabalawi. The characters he meets mark different stages of his quest. He finally falls into a state of ecstasy, then awakes to find that Zaabalawi had been with him and is gone. The possibility of dhikr-of remembering, retrieving, and being healed by one’s deeper traditions-is ironically questioned in a modern Islamic world increasingly severed from its roots.

In the “The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid” by the Sudanese author Tayeb Saleh (1968), the doum tree is subtly linked to Qur’anic tree symbols-the lote tree of the boundary (53.1-18), the tree that succored the virgin Mary, the tree of Jandal, the blessed (mubarakah) tree of the light verse (24.35). It embodies the remembrance of the villagers, their common dreams and traditions, and their source of healing. When the tree (threatened by colonialists, nationalists, modernists, and outside preachers) is gone, the old man who speaks for the village says, the community’s identity will pass away.

[See also Sufism.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bowering, Gerhard. The Mystical Vision of Existence in Classical Islam.Berlin, 1980. The thought of Sahl al-Tustari (d. 896), which relates dhikr to the precreative covenant and precreative state of being.

Chittick, William C. “Dhikr.” In Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 4, pp. 341-344.New   York, 1987. Includes key references to dhikr in the Qur’an and hadith.

During, Jean. Musique et extase: L’audition mystiqiue dans la tradition soufie.Paris, 1988. Interrelations among poetry, music, dhikr, dance, and ecstasy (wajd).

Farid al-Din `Attar. Muslim Saints and Mystics. Translated and abridged by A. J. Arberry from Tadhkirat al-awhyd’ (Memorials of the Saints).London, 1966. Superb example of the tadhkira genre. Feldman, Walter. “Musical Genres and Zikir of the Sunni Tarikats ofIstanbul.” In The Dervish Lodge, edited by Raymond Lifchez, pp. 187-202.Berkeley, 1992. Sophisticated examination of liturgy in its musical context.

Gardet, Louis. “La mention du Nom divin dans la mystique musulmane.” Revue Thomiste 53 (1953): 197-216. Comparisons to mantra and other meditation practices.

Ghazal!, Abu Hamid al-. Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya’ `ulum ad-din). See sections translated by Kojiro Nakamura in Ghazali on Prayer (Tokyo, 1973), and T. J. Winter, The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife (Kitdb dhikr al-mawt wa ma ba’dahu) (Cambridge, 1989).

Homerin, Th. Emil. From Arab Poet to Muslim Saint: Ibn al-Farid, His Verse and His Shrine.Charleston,S.C., 1994. Relations between poetry, mystical charisma, dhikr, interpretation, hagiography, and the development of a shrine.

Ibn al=Arabi. Bezels of Wisdom (Fusus al-hikam). Translated by R. W. J. Austin.New York, 1980. Ibn `Arabi’s most widely read work, with dhikr as both a major theme and a major literary technique.

Ibn al-Arabi. Meccan Openings (AI -futuhat al-Makkiyah). For two recent selected translations, see: Les illuminations de la Mecque: Textes choisis/Selected Texts, translated by Michel Chodkiewicz et al. (Paris, 1989); and The Sufi Path of Knowledge, selections with commentary by William C. Chittick (Albany, N.Y., 1989). For the Futuhat, Fusus, and other works, see Muhyiddin Ibn al-`Arabi, edited by Stephen Hirtenstein (Oxford, 1993).

Zings, Martin. A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century: Shaikh Ahmad al= Alawi.Berkeley, 1971. Includes an illuminating discussion of a1= Alawi’s practice and teaching of dhikr.

Martin, David, “The Return to the One in the Philosophy of Najm ad-Din al-Kubra.” In Neoplatonism and Islamic Thought, edited by Parviz Morewedge, pp. 221-246.Albany,N.Y., 1992.

Qushayri, `Abd al-Karim. Das Sendschreiben al-Qusayris uber das Sufi-tum (Al-Risdlah al-Qushayriyah). Translated by Richard Gramlich.Wiesbaden, 1989. See as well selections by Barbara von Schlegell in Principles of Sufism (Berkeley, 1992).

Salih, AI-Tayyib. The Wedding of Zein and Other Stories. Translated by Denys Johnson-Davies.London, 1968. Brilliant and accessible evocations of dhikr in all aspects of village life.

Sarraj, Abu Nasr `Abd Allah al-. Schlaglichter fiber das Sufitum (Kitdb al-luma’fi al-tasawwuf ). Translated by Richard Gramlich.Stuttgart, 1990. Masterwork of early Sufism.

Sells, Michael. Desert Tracings: Six Classic Arabian Odes.Middletown,Conn., 1989. Includes five of the more famous dhikrs of the beloved in early Arabic poetry.

Stetkevych, Jaroslav. The Zephyrs ofNajd: The Poetics of Nostalgia in the Classical Arabic Nasib.Chicago, 1993. Poetic tradition and its transformations through the medieval period.

The Traditional World of Islam, 1978. A film series featuring the physical and artistic embodiments of dhikr in calligraphy, architecture, village, garden, and city planning, and the relationship of the human to the natural world. See Man and Nature and Patterns of Beauty.

Zayn al-`Abidin `All ibn al-Husayn. The Psalms of Islam: Al-Sahifah al-kamilah al-Sajjddiyah. Translated by William C. Chittick.London, 1988. Supplicatory prayers (du’a’), which are closely related to the invocatory prayer of dhikr.

MICHAEL A. SELLS

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/dhikr/
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