Sufi masters stress dhikr (remembrance of God), for it grounds the belief, knowledge, and faith of the seeker by focusing his or her attention on God. One of the fundamental commands of God is to do dhikr as often as possible until continual awareness of the Divine Presence is established.
God revealed to Prophet Moses,
“Verily, I – I alone – am God; there is no deity save Me, Hence worship Me alone and be constant in prayer so as to remember Me!” (Qur’an 20:14).
This command for dhikr has extended to all generations, although the forms of dhikr have varied with time and place.
The Companions (RA) of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) did not perform dhikr as a formal technique, for one look from the Prophet (SAW) could elevate a person’s consciousness. When Islamic teachings were compiled after the Prophet’s (SAW) death, individuals who sought a state of remembrance similar to that achieved by the companions found in dhikr a critical means. They designated dhikr a core practice of Sufism and set about identifying the most effective ways to perform it.
Dhikr may be recited jalli (aloud) or khafi (silently in the heart). Some orders stress the former, while others emphasize the latter. Both types of dhikr offer the same benefits. They differ only in technique. Both forms also find justification in guidance given by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Some orders do dhikr while standing, some while sitting in a certain posture, and some while moving. Shaykhs introduced these variations to intensify the dhikr.
Through dhikr, Sufi masters train students to purify their hearts and souls. The shaykh’s role is to guide seekers to the original remembrance; to enable them to become continuously and spontaneously aware of the Divine Presence in the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of life, in the outer and inner realms.
To remember God throughout day-to-day life is far more valuable than periodically making a show of remembrance. Dhikr is not a ceremony. It is the very object of life. The person who remembers God finds happiness; the person who forgets finds only desolation. Forgetfulness is the petrifying force that turns a tree to stone. In contrast, through dhikr, the aspirant achieves the mercy of God and the angels, purity of spirit, and adornment of the soul. Progress becomes easy, and the seeker draws near to the Almighty, for God has said,
“Remember Me and I shall remember you.” (Qur’an 2:152).