Answered by Imam Afroz Ali
Question: We always hear about how we should establish regular habits and times of dhikr (remembering Allah) in our lives, such that it becomes a regular part of our day that we never leave. I was wondering, what is the best way to do this, practically, in terms of picking the best times of day, and the best dhikr formulas for that time, based on the sunna. Are there (English) books available that we can benefit from in this specific issue?
Answer: Praise Be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, The Compassionate, The Merciful. And, may the peace and blessings of Allah descend upon the Prophet Muhammad, his family, his companions, and their followers.
Thank you for your question.
The Merit and Importance of Dhikr
I would firstly like to highlight the importance and purpose of Dhikr, or remembrance of Allah. Allah reveals:
“Oh Believers! Remember Allah abundantly, and glorify him in the morning and evening.” [33:41-42]
And He, The Exalted reveals to us:
“And when the prayer has been concluded, disperse within the land and seek from the bounty of Allah, and remember Allah abundantly so that you may succeed.” [62:10]
It is of significance to reflect on the verse which follows the one just mentioned:
“But when they see some merchandise or pastime, they break away to it and leave you (O Prophet) standing. Say: That which Allah has is better than pastime and merchandise, and Allah is the best of provider.” [62:11]
It is significant to reflect on [62:11], firstly because of the cause of its revelation, which was due to some who dispersed during the Friday sermon given by the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah, when they saw a caravan of goods arriving. It is significant secondly, because it highlights for us how quickly one can be heedless of Allah and be absorbed with other than Allah. This verse emphasises the fact that Allah does intend for us to seek the abundant bounties that He has created for our benefit and enjoyment, but the point is that we ought to be mindful of its place, it being a means and not the end.
A man came to the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah, and said, “O Messenger of Allah, the laws of Islam have become many for us, so give us a means of access which is comprehensive to which we can cling.” The Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah, said, “Let not your tongue cease to be moist with the remembrance of Allah, The Glorious, The Magnificent.” [Ahmad, Tirmidhi].
The Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah, also said, “Allah The Almighty says, ‘I am as My servant thinks of Me, and I am with him when he remembers Me. If he mentions Me within himself, I mention him within Myself. If he mentions Me in a gathering, I mention him in a better gathering.’” [Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi]
In Imam Ahmad’s Kitāb al-Zuhd it is recorded that Salman al-Farsi, may Allah be pleased with them both, was sitting in a congregation that was engaged in the remembrance of Allah The Almighty when the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah, passed by them and the companions stopped. He asked them, “What were you saying?” They replied, “We were mentioning Allah The Almighty.” The Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah, replied, “I saw mercy descending upon you and loved to take part in it with you!” Then the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah, added, “Praise be to Allah The Almighty who made such people among my ummah and commanded me to keep myself content with them!”
Mu`adh ibn Jabal said that the Prophet, upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah, said, “The People of Paradise will not regret except one thing alone: the hour that passed them by and in which they made no remembrance of Allah.” [al-Bayhaqi, al-Tabarani]
The Purpose of Dhikr
Those reminders above shall suffice regarding the fact that Dhikr is crucially important. What then is the primary, and ultimate, importance of Dhikr? Simply put, it is to seek nearness of Allah through consciousness of Him by being grateful to His Mercy and Favour upon us. Ibn Mas’ud, may Allah be pleased with him, said of the verse of the Qur’an:
“Have Taqwa of Allah, with the Taqwa due to Him.” [3:102]
“To have Taqwa of Allah… is that He be obeyed and not disobeyed, remembered and not forgotten, shown gratitude and not ingratitude.” [al-Hakim]
Remembrance of Allah effects consciousness of Allah in one’s heart so that he does not disobey Allah and is busy with obeying Him. Dhikr is amongst the loftiest of ways to be under the Mercy and Protection of Allah for which any person would be grateful for, for one of the seven whom Allah will shade in His Shade on the Day of Judgment when there is no other shade but His, is a person who remembered Allah while alone, such that his eyes would overflow with tears.
Remembering Allah: Sincerity, Consistency, and the Advice of Scholars
Returning to your question itself, the best of ways to remember Allah, i.e., to make Dhikr of Allah, is to start with sincerity to Allah in one’s purpose of engaging in anything at all. This is called intention, and every action is valued by the intention one holds in doing them. Learn the various invocations taught by the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah that precede our actions to aid in the certainty of our intentions, e.g., when entering or leaving your home, going to a journey, starting and finishing eating, etc. Recite them to invoke Allah and not only as a routine. And the best way to avoid falling into routines is to simply be conscious of the importance of what you are doing (or saying). Dhikr, really, is a dynamic and continuing habit of the righteous that he looks forward to all waking moments of living.
The great Gnostic, the Imam, Abdullah bin Alawi Al-Haddad said in his Book of Assistance, “You should have a litany (Wird) of reflection in every twenty four hours, for which you should set aside one or more hours. The best time for reflection is the one in which are the least pre-occupations, worries, and more conducive for the heart to be present, such as the depths of the night. Know that the state of one’s religious and worldly affairs depend upon soundness of one’s reflection. Anyone who has a share of it has an abundant share of everything good. It has been said, ‘An hour’s reflection is better than a year’s worship.’ ‘Ali, may Allah ennoble his face, has said: ‘There is no worship like reflection.’ And one of the Gnostics, may Allah have mercy on them all, said, ‘Reflection is the lamp of the heart; if it departs the heart will have no light.’”
The great Scholars frequently refer to and advice us of the greatly encouraged time to set aside exclusively for Dhikr- after Fajr until sunrise and after ‘Asr until sunset. The Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah, said, “That I sit with a congregation who remember Allah The Almighty after the dawn prayer until sunrise is dearer to me than the whole world over which the sun rises! Similarly, that I sit with a congregation who remember Allah The Almighty after the afternoon prayer until the sun sets is dearer to me than the world and all it contains.” [al-Bayhaqi, al-Tabarani]
Another preferred time to set aside for Dhikr is after ‘Isha prayer. Regardless, as Imam Ahmad Mashhūr al-Haddad himself permitted (for example, for the Rātib as-Shahīr- refer below), that if one cannot make these preferred times, to do so when one is able in the 24 hours of the day.
Our Teachers Habib ‘Umar bin Hafiz and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf recommend litanies like Imam al-Haddad’s Wird al-Latīf or his “Famous Litany” (Rātib al-Shahīr). Both of these litanies of Imam al-Haddad are available in a beautifully bound book, with Arabic and English translation, titled “The Prophetic Invocations”, translated by Shaykh Mostafa al-Badawi with a most insightful foreword by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and published by Starlatch.
An excellent book (translated in English, translated by Shaykh Mostafa al-Badawi) to read and benefit from about Remembrance of Allah, i.e., Dhikr, is the afore-mentioned “Book of Assistance” authored by Imam al-Haddad, and which is available from numerous bookstores.
All of this is predicated upon the fundamental obligation of prayer in their prescribed times, and increasing the recitation of the Qur’an. Further, it is a high recommendation to also perform the Sunnah prayers prescribed before and after the daily obligatory prayers.
I pray to Allah that this brief explanation is of some benefit, and aids you to be in abundant remembrance of Allah The Almighty, and there is no success other than from Allah alone.
Imam Afroz Ali is the Founder and President of Al-Ghazzali Centre for Islamic Sciences & Human Development based in Sydney, Australia. His studies in Islamic Sacred Knowledge have taken him from university-based Islamic University- Madina, Saudi Arabia then moving towards Traditional Scholarship in Yemen, United States and Mauritania, spending considerable time to learn and has received licences to teach from the most esteemed Rightly Guided Islamic Scholars of our time. He has also travelled to Cairo, Egypt for further studies in Islamic Jurisprudence with Scholars at al-Azhar University and is on the Board of Advisors at Markaz Aleem in Cairo, Egypt.