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Dhikr (or Zikr, "Remembrance [of God]", "pronouncement", "invocation"; Arabic: ذکر ḏikr, plural أذكار ʾaḏkār, Arabic pronunciation: [ðɪkr, ʔæðˈkɑːr]), is an Islamic devotional act, typically involving the (sometimes silent) recitation of the Names of God, and of supplications taken from hadith texts and Qur'anic verses, according to Sunni Islam. Essentially, the practice of dhikr is a form of prayer in which the Muslim will express his or her remembrance of God either within or overtly; this may come in the form of recitation or simply always remembering God in one’s heart. The word dhikr is commonly translated as "remembrance" or "invocation".
There are several verses in the Qur'an that emphasize the importance of remembering the Will of God by saying "God Willing," "God Knows best," "if it is Your Will," and so on. This is the basis for dhikr. Sura 18 (Al-Kahf), ayah 24 states a person who forgets to say, "God Willing," should immediately remember God by saying, "May my Lord guide me to do better next time." Other verses include sura 33 (Al-Ahzab), ayah 41, "O ye who believe! Celebrate the praises of Allah, and do this often;", and sura 13 (Ar-Ra'd), ayah 28, "They are the ones whose hearts rejoice in remembering God. Absolutely, by remembering God, the hearts rejoice." Muhammad said that "the best [dhikr] is that of la ilaha illa’llah, and the best supplicatory prayer is that of al-hamdu li’llah," which translate to "there is no god but God" and "praise to God" respectively.
Dhikr is the practice of being aware of Allah, grateful and thankful to Allah and fearing of Allah in conduct. Remembrance is strengthened by repetition of short phrases sourced from either Qur'an or Hadith. These phrases (such as the 99 names) are designed to ingrain in Muslims their duty to submit to their creator, eliminating ego and reminding Muslims of the source of dunya. Remembrance during trials and tribulations expecting help and patience is a part of one's Iman. Remembering Allah in good times is seen to be harder, and is a sign of gratitude.
There are regional and cultural variations in the practice of Dhikr. For instance in North Africa, many Muslims engage in collective Qur'anic recital as a form of Dhikr. In Indonesia, traditional sufi rituals are common. Sufism is closely linked to Dhikr, and sufi group rituals designed to strengthen Dhikr are regularly performed across the world. These are particularly popular amongst Shia Muslims. A portion of conservative Sunni Muslims (especially centred around the Middle East) tend to abstain from involvement in these rituals, preferring to engage in silent personal forms of Dhikr. A minority of newer Islamist sects are opposed to these group rituals.
There are several phrases that are usually read when remembering Allah. Here are a few:
Muhammad 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!" Muhammad said, "Remembrance of Allah." From Sunan al-Tirmidhi
Abu Hurairah narrated that Muhammad said, "People will not sit in an assembly in which they remember Allah without the angels surrounding them, mercy covering them, and Allah Mentioning them among those who are with Him." From Sahih Muslim
Mu’adh ibn Jabal said, “There is nothing that is a greater cause of salvation from the punishment of Allah than the remembrance of Allah.” Sunan At-Tirmidhi, Book of Supplications, Number 3377, Hasan.
وَاصْبِرْ نَفْسَكَ مَعَ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُم بِالْغَدَاةِ وَالْعَشِيِّ يُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَهُ ۖ وَلَا تَعْدُ عَيْنَاكَ عَنْهُمْ تُرِيدُ زِينَةَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَلَا تُطِعْ مَنْ أَغْفَلْنَا قَلْبَهُ عَن ذِكْرِنَا وَاتَّبَعَ هَوَاهُ وَكَانَ أَمْرُهُ فُرُطًا
Followers of Sufism often engage in ritualized dhikr ceremonies, the details of which sometimes vary between Sufi orders or tariqah. Each order, or lineage within an order, has one or more forms for group dhikr, the liturgy of which may include recitation, singing, music, dance, costumes, incense, muraqaba (meditation), ecstasy, and trance. Though the extent, usage and acceptability of many of these elements vary from order to order - with many condemning the usage of instruments (considered unlawful by most scholars) and intentional loss of control. In addition, costumes are quite uncommon and is almost exclusively unique to the Mevlavi order in Turkey - which is an official cultural "heritage" of the secular Turkish state. Dhikr in a group for Sufi practitioners does not necessarily entail all of these forms however.
The most common forms of Sufi group dhikr consist in the recital of particular litanies (e.g. Hizb al-Bahr of the Shadhilis), a composition of Qur'anic phrases and Prophetic supplications (e.g. Wird al-Latif of the Ba `Alawis), or a liturgical repetition of various formula and prayers (e.g. al-Wadhifa of the Tijanis ). All of these forms are referred to as a "hizb" (pl. "ahzab") or a "wird" (pl. "awrad"). This terminological usage is important as some critics often mistakenly believe that the word hizb only refers to a portion of the Qur'an. In addition, many recite extended prayers upon Muhammad (known as durood) of which the Dala'il al-Khayrat is perhaps the most popular. Though common to almost all Sufi orders, some (such as the Naqsbandis) prefer to perform their dhikr silently - even in group settings. In addition, most gatherings are held on Thursday or Sunday nights as part of the institutional practices of the tariqah (since Thursday is the night marks the entrance of the Muslim "holy" day of Friday and Sundays are a convenient congregational time in most contemporary societies) - though people who don't live near their official zawiya gather whenever is convenient for the most amount of people.
Another type of group dhikr ceremony that is most commonly performed in Arabic countries is called the haḍra (lit. presence). The haḍra is a communal gathering for dhikr and its associated liturgical rituals, prayers, and song recitals, performing both in private or public. Though the haḍra is popular (in part because of the controversy surrounding it), it is mostly practiced in North Africa, the Middle-East and Turkey. In Turkey this ceremony is called "Zikr-i Kiyam" (Standing Dhikr) and "imara" in Algeria and Morocco. In places like Syria where Sufis are a visible part of the fabric and psyche of society, each order typically has their private gathering on one day and will participate in a public haḍra at a central location to which both the affiliated and unaffiliated alike are invited as an expression of unity. Similar public ceremonies occur in Turkey, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco.
For those who perform it, the haḍra marks the climax of the Sufi's gathering regardless of any teaching or formal structure - it often follows a formal teaching session as a way of internalizing the lessons. Musically, the structure of the haḍra includes several secular Arab genres (each of which expresses a different emotion) and can last for hours. It is directed by the sheikh of the tariqa or one of his representatives; monitoring the intensity, depth and duration of the phases of the haḍra, the sheikh aims to draw the circle into deep awareness of God and away from the participants own individuatedness. The dhikr ceremonies may have a ritually determined length or may last as long as the Sheikh deems his murids require. The haḍra section consists of the ostinato-like repetition of the name of God over which the soloist performs a richly ornamented song. In many haḍras, this repetition proceeds from the chest and has the effect of a percussion instrument, with the participants bending forward while exhaling and stand straight while inhaling so that both the movement and sound contribute to the overall rhythm. The climax is usually reached through cries of "Allah! Allah!" or "hu hu" (which is either the pronoun "he" or the last vowel on the word "Allah" depending on the method) while the participants are moving up and down. Universally, the haḍra is almost always followed by Qur'anic recital in the tarteel style - which according to al-Junayd al-Baghdadi, was a prophetic instruction received through a dream.
More common than the haḍra is the sama` (lit. audition), a type of group ceremony that consist mostly of the audition of spiritual poetry and Qur'anic recitation in an emotionally charged manner; and thus is not dhikr is the technical sense the word implies. However, the same debate over certain matters of decorum apply as exists with the haḍra. Even though group dhikr is popular and makes up the spiritual life of most Sufi adherents, other more private forms of dhikr are performed more routinely - usually consisting of the order's wird (daily litany) - which adherents usually recite privately, even if gathered together. So although group dhikr is seen as a hallmark of Sufism, the Sufis themselves practice the same private forms of worship that other Muslims practice, though usually more frequently and methodically; group dhikr is a less-frequent occurrence and is not the end-all-and-be-all of Sufism, as some Sufi orders do not even perform it.
Dhikr takes on a wide range and various layers of meaning. In some Sufi orders it is instituted as a ceremonial activity. In tasawwuf (Islamic mysticism or Sufism) dhikr is most likely the most frequent form of prayer. Among the orders of Muslims that practice dhikr, there are some who advocate silent, individual prayer, while others join together in an outward, group expression of their love for God. There are also a number of hadiths that give emphasis to remembrance of God.
Dhikr is given great importance by some Sufi writers, among them is Najm-al-Din Razi who wrote about dhikr in the context of what it combats. In contrast to the virtues of remembrance, Razi uses the perils of forgetfulness to show the importance of dhikr. The soul and the world are veils that make people forget God. The Naqshbandi Haqqani Sufi Order of America says this about dhikr;
Dhikr is the means by which Stations yield their fruit, until the seeker reaches the Divine Presence. On the journey to the Divine Presence the seed of remembrance is planted in the heart and nourished with the water of praise and the food of glorification, until the tree of dhikr becomes deeply rooted and bears its fruit. It is the power of all journeying and the foundation of all success. It is the reviver from the sleep of heedlessness, the bridge to the One remembered.
There are some Sufi orders, such as the Shadhili, that perform a ritualized form of dhikr in groups termed "haḍra" (lit. presence) - the details of which are discussed below. Another method of dhikr, but which is most commonly associated with Sufism, is the repetition of the Arabic name "Allah". For instance, in the Qadri Al-Muntahi Sufi tariqa, originated by Riaz Ahmed Gohar Shahi, their particular practice of dhikr is called Zikar-e-Qalbi (remembrance of Allah by Heartbeats). In this ritual, the aspirant visualizes the Arabic name of God, Allah, as having been written on the disciple's heart. Other Sufi orders have similar practices - some with similar visualizations and others choosing to focus only on the attachment of their heart to the One they are invoking. Though this is associated almost exclusively with Sufism in modern times, many of the Qur'anic exegesis of the past approved of the practice (e.e. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi in his Mafatih al-Ghayb), which confirms that it has a basis in orthodoxy.
Known also as Tasbih, these are usually Misbaha (prayer beads) upon a string, 99 or 100 in number, which correspond to the names of God in Islam and other recitations. The beads are used to keep track of the number of recitations that make up the dhikr.
When the dhikr involves the repetition of particular phrases a specific number of times, the beads are used to keep track so that the person performing dhikr can turn all of their focus on what is actually being said - as it can become difficult to concentrate simultaneously on the number and phrasing when one is doing so a substantial number of times.
Some Islamic scholars argue that using the beads are forbidden, insisting that the usage of the fingers to count as what was practiced by Muhammad precludes the use of anything else. The vast majority of scholars, however, do not believe it is an either/or proposition and cite the documented usage of stones and pebbles by the Muhammad's Companions as evidence for their inherent lawfulness.
In the United States, Muslim inmates are allowed to utilize dhikr beads for therapeutic effects. This was a result of a successful action brought pursuant to 28 USC @ 1983 (by Imam Hamzah S. Alameen in the State of New York against Thomas A. Coughlin III, the Department of Corrections) arguing that prisoners have a First Amendment Constitutional right to pursue Islamic healing therapy called KASM which uses Dhikr beads. Imam Alameen, is a student of the late Shaykh Ismail Abdur Rahim, who was the Islamic Supervisor at Arthur-kill C.F., and was finally promoted to M.C.P for NYSDOC. The Dhikr was used to rehabilitate inmates suffering from co-occurring mental health challenges, and substance abuse issues. The dhikr Alameen developed was used to assist the successful recovery of hundreds if not thousands of inmates in the 90's. It became controversial when gang-members began carrying dhikr beads to identify themselves (as they come in a wide range of colors) after Muslims and Catholics were allowed to use their respective prayer beads inside the prisons - arguing that their freedom of religion was being violated when the prison administration forbade their possession as contraband in the penal system.
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