The Need for Zikr
Translated Speech of
His Eminence Ameer Muhammad Akram Awan
Shaikh Silsilah Naqshbandiah Owaisiah
Verily, in the remembrance of Allah, do hearts find rest (13: 28)
Human beings have been blessed with two types of knowledge which make them superior to the other creatures. The first type relates to the physical body and every human being whether good or bad, believer or a disbeliever can acquire it. The second type is related to the Divine Being which cannot be acquired through intellect or experience but is granted by Allah Himself to Prophets and then acquired by their followers. Its seat is the human Qalb (heart). The Divine Word was similarly revealed unto the heart of the holy Prophet (Sall Allah-o Alaihi wa Sallam). But only those people whose hearts were illuminated with the light of Faith could benefit from him. Although every believer and disbeliever saw him-saw alike, yet the holy Quran asserts that the disbelievers did not see him … looking toward thee, but they see not - 7:198. They saw him with physical eyes; their hearts being devoid of Divine love, they tried to judge him with mundane intellect and as such failed to perceive his real self. They saw him as Muhammad-saw – the son of Abdullah and not as Muhammad-saw - the Messenger of Allah.
Arwah Bin Masood Saqfi (who had not accepted Islam till then) was representing the Makkans during the Truce of Hudaibiyyah. While writing the truce document, Hadhrat Ali (Radhi Allah Unho) inscribed 'Muhammad - the Messenger of Allah' in the opening sentence. Arwah instantly reacted and said, "That is the only dispute between us. If we accept him-saw as Allah's Messenger, then why would we block his way to Allah's House? His name should be written as Muhammad-saw – the son of Abdullah.": he was right, in his own way. Unless the heart is revived and its faculties fully restored, it cannot discern reality. Also, this knowledge is beyond the realm of the intellect which can confirm only what it receives through its physical senses, it cannot perceive the intangible.
This earth has seen many periods of material progress; there have been great scientists, scholars and intellectuals of high eminence before our time and the process of amazing discoveries and miraculous inventions has continued all along. The other day, scientists discovered the remains of an ancient civilisation under the sea bed where they unearthed houses, utensils, bones and skulls. The design and beauty of those old houses even excel the present standard of our construction. It was a continent once, but those people were probably seized by Divine punishment and buried underwater. This world has witnessed many turns of time; it has seen nations rise, fall and perish forever. But despite all of the material progress and development, the intellect has only discussed a very small portion of human life, that which starts from birth and ends at death. Nobody could disclose anything about his remaining eternal life of the Hereafter, nor could provide any information about his Ruh (The Spirit). No philosopher or thinker could claim any knowledge about the Divine Being, His Attributes or the nature of His relationship with man. This aspect of knowledge is beyond the access of the human mind and intellect. There has been only one group, that of Allah's Messengers and Prophets, who provided sure knowledge about the transcendental truths. They were blessed with knowledge from the Divine Presence and their hearts were its treasure-houses.
My friend, if the intellect acquires knowledge while the heart is dark, it works more for human destruction than for its peace, it generates more distress than comfort. If you analyse the Western society, it is devoting more funds for armament research than for medicine. But if the heart comes alive, it starts guiding the human intellect. It works for the betterment of humanity and not for its destruction. It consciously migrates from vice to virtue. The life of the heart (Qalb) is related to Allah's remembrance. Man has only to implant Allah's Name firmly in his heart, what follows is really amazing. Although the eyes cannot see Him, yet the belief becomes surer than visual observation. The hands cannot feel Him, the mind cannot grasp Him but the heart recognises Him vividly. It cannot describe Him but it discerns Him, hears Him, establishes a relationship with Him, entreats Him, obeys Him and acts according to His Will.
This is an abstract state which cannot be verbalised. If you ask a lover about love, how will he describe it? Similarly, if a person who has never remained hungry asks about hunger, how can he be told? Keep him hungry for sometime and he would understand it himself. Similarly, ask the person who wants to know about love to start loving, he would himself taste love and discover its logic. We ourselves experience these natural instincts quite often. Similarly, faith is also an arcane state of the heart. It can be experienced only after it is professed. The holy Prophet-saw has said, "Worship Allah as if you see Him". Now, to conceive an impossibility is naturally impossible. If you ask a man to imagine giving birth to a child, he would never succeed even after years of mental effort. The holy Prophet-saw has commanded the believers to worship Allah as if they see Him, while according to Quran, the human sight cannot encompass Allah. It signifies that there must be some other way to perceive His Transcendence. This is achieved through the esoteric state of Qalb, which discerns Him and assures man of His Omnipresence.
The majority of the early Muslims belonged to a poor class who were slaves of the Makkans through generations. They were tuned towards instinctive and unqualified obedience of their masters. When they professed Islam, the Makkan masters employed all means of torture to dissuade their helpless and destitute slaves. Through inhuman persecution, they demanded their slaves to renounce the Absolute Unity of Allah. The newly converted Muslims replied that it was not possible for them to comply because they knew for sure that Allah was actually, absolutely One. Their hearts had achieved that state where they perceived Allah to be present before them. Had their hearts been veiled from Divine Presence (as ours have been) they could not have resolutely withstood that suffering and may have succumbed to it - may Allah forgive us! Our hearts are so unmindful of Him that we sin, steal and lie, right in His Presence. On the other hand, we never sin in the presence of other human beings, even children, due to fear of disclosure and subsequent humiliation. If we are equally convinced that our Lord is ever Present with us, we would never dare to sin. This conviction is absent from our faith because even when our intellect accepts this fact, our hearts remain void of Divine observation. Hearts that perceive Divinity, behave differently!
I read in the biography of Ba Yazid Bustami-rua that once he went for Hajj. Travelling was difficult during those times; people went on foot or on camels and horses. Now, air travel has reduced the time and increased the comfort, and the House of Allah always remains full of pilgrims, day and night, throughout the year, like in the Hajj season. However, during earlier times it was possible to get a moment of solitude in the Inviolable Precinct. Ba Yazid Bustami-rua went there at night hoping to worship alone. As he entered, he heard the Angel's shout, "Get out of My House!" He froze with fear and thought that it was he, who was the target of Divine retort. But, he instantly observed a man, going round the K’abah and frantically crying "I am present, O my Lord! I am present". After a few moments, he again heard the angel shout, "Get out, don't pollute My House, don't make any noise here!" When that man passed in front of Ba Yazid-rua he was shivering from top to toe. Ba Yazid-rua held him by the arm and said, "Why are you bent upon getting the whole world destroyed? Don't you hear the Divine reprimand?" The man replied, "Isn't it me who is being addressed? If you can hear it, why can't I?" Ba Yazid-rua said, "Then, why don't you get out? Why are you inviting destruction for the whole area?" The man said, "I would leave but I know of no other door to go and cry at! Whether He accepts or rejects, He is the Only One for me; there is nobody else!" Ba Yazid-rua saw that as soon as the man uttered these words, he was instantly covered by Divine Refulgence and blessing.
An illuminated heart always turns towards Allah, whether He accepts or rejects. But a gloomy heart declines His call for prayers five times every day. That indeed is a great difference. We hear His call, accept it mentally but do not answer it on one pretext or the other. At times we claim that we have more important business to attend or that our clothes are not clean for the prayers or that we feel indisposed. But when the heart is alive, Allah Himself grants it the strength to worship. Then He proudly presents such slaves before the angels who have said that man would work corruption on the earth. "Look at My slaves!" He says, "If there are corrupt ones, well there are good ones like these too! Where can the devil take them? Even when I reproach them, they do not leave My door." He had similarly addressed Satan on the First Day, Lo! As for My slaves, thou have no power over any of them - 15:42. That is, ‘You have no power over those who become My slaves but if anyone chooses to be your minion, I do not care about him.’
The life of the heart, its light and peace depend upon Allah's Zikr (remembrance). How can it be acquired? There is a fundamental difference between knowledge given by Prophets and knowledge given by others. A non-Prophet offers only words, but a Prophet also distributes certain invisible feelings along with his words. The beneficence of Prophethood comprises two distinct divisions of knowledge and blessings. Recites His verses unto them and makes them grow (spiritually) and teaches them the Book and Wisdom - 62:2. The religious preaching is followed by purification of the hearts and subsequently knowledge of the Book and Wisdom. Unless the heart is purified, the mind can only remember words but cannot assimilate these feelings. A gloomy heart would definitely command the mind to devour prohibited things and perform sinful acts.
The teachings of the holy Prophet-saw contained so much strength, that even after fourteen centuries, anybody who professes Islam can still discriminate between right and wrong. It is indeed an extremely strange phenomenon that a person who lives in a jungle, far from civilisation, can instinctively differentiate between lawful and taboo, and between virtue and vice. But then why doesn't everybody act according to his knowledge? It is because knowledge influences the mind, but the mind cannot transform knowledge into practice. No positive change can occur unless the Qalb realises that the Divine Word is addressing it directly. This is through the beneficence of the holy Prophet-saw. As far his teachings are concerned, both direct and indirect recipients were equally benefited. But his blessings were only available to those who found his august company. His blessings instantly elevated everyone who accepted Islam and came to him-saw to the status of Companionship notwithstanding the misdeeds and gross misconduct of his past life. Companionship is not just a label - it denotes the highest level of piety and morality after Prophethood. During the present times, it has become a custom to criticise the Companions we grade them as our equals (or even lower) and criticise them without any reservations. This happens when we are completely ignorant of the exalted status of Companionship; as stated earlier, it denotes the acme of human excellence. The dust raised by the shoes of a Companion is more valuable in the sight of Allah than the collective sainthood of the entire Ummah. Someone asked Imam Abu Hanifah-rua about the relative status of Hadhrat Amir Muawiyah-rau and ‘Umar Bin ‘Abdul Aziz-rua. He replied that Hadhrat Muawiyah-rau was decidedly better. The questioner was amazed and submitted that ‘Umar Bin ‘Abdul Aziz-rua was a Tab’a Tab’i and the holy Prophet-saw had prophesied that he would be the best person of his time in the whole World. The Imam-rua replied, "Millions of such ‘Umar Bin ‘Abdul Aziz-rua can be sacrificed for the dust gathered in the nostrils of the horse which Hadhrat Muawiyah-rau rode while in the company of the holy Prophet-saw - he was a Companion!"
Unquestioned adherence to the holy Prophet-saw is obligatory for the believers. His blessed company purified the beliefs and conduct of his followers to the highest conceivable level. It is the singular distinction of his Companions that their adherence has been made obligatory for the entire humanity for all times to come. And the first to lead the way, of the Muhajirin and the Ansar and those who followed them in goodness - 9:100. There are only two groups in Islam - the group of the Companions and of those who followed them in earnest - there is no third group. The point which merits consideration is that the Companions were neither Prophets, nor they were innocent - then why have they received so much importance? That is because they had completely submitted themselves before the holy Prophet-saw - they represented his will and pleasure. Once someone asked the holy Prophet-saw, "After all, they are human beings and they would interpret your instructions according to their different levels of intellect. What should be done in case of their difference of opinion?" The holy Prophet-saw replied, "Follow any one (of them) and you would be rightly guided." That is, even with different opinions they would follow the truth and would not go astray and their adherence would lead you to eternal salvation. Their mutual difference is a blessing which provides various courses for the remainders to follow - anyone can adopt the course of his choice.
After the Battle of the Trench, the holy Prophet-saw was commanded to attend to Bani Quraizah. The Companions had not yet laid down their arms when the holy Prophet-saw ordered them to offer their ‘Asar (afternoon) prayers at the location of this tribe. They were hurrying towards their destination which was about six or seven miles away when the prayer time came. Some opined that the prayers should not be delayed because the holy Prophet-saw had only desired them to reach their destination immediately. The other group maintained that the holy Prophet-saw had explicitly ordered them to offer their prayers at the destination and that they would obey him in letter and spirit even if it delayed their prayers; each group acted according to its interpretation. Upon reaching the destination, the issue was placed before the holy Prophet-saw, he ruled that both groups had acted correctly. Their illuminated hearts were brim with sincerity for Allah and His Messenger-saw; therefore, their actions were not governed by worldly motives or personal impulses. The blessed company of the holy Prophet-saw had granted them this honour. The Quran has described their condition in a strange manner: So that their flesh and their hearts soften at Allah's reminder - 39:23. It means that each cell of their bodies, from the outermost skin to the innermost compartment of the heart, was constantly engaged in His remembrance. This blessing was naturally available, distributed and acquired in the company of the holy Prophet-saw.
Khawajah Owais Qarni is famous for his piety, abstinence and love for the holy Prophet‑saw, who had desired that someone should meet him and requested of him to entreat Divine forgiveness for his-saw Ummah and so he directed Hadhrat ‘Umar Faruq-rau to convey his greetings to him. It was a great honour for Owais Qarni and in pursuance of the orders of the holy Prophet-saw, Hadhrat ‘Umar-rau searched for and met him. But despite this singular honour and his special relationship with the holy Prophet-saw, he could not become a Companion because he was unable to physically meet the holy Prophet-saw. These blessings did not fade during the Companions' times, anybody who accepted Islam and came to them became a Tab’i. The Taba’in also enjoy a distinguished status within the Ummah. Then, all those who found their company became Tab’a Taba’in. Companionship was the greatest blessing but it was distributed without any discrimination. Everybody who accepted Islam and came to the holy Prophet-saw became a Companion; his further attainments depended on his subsequent endeavour and effort but they all commonly shared the title of Companionship. Again there was no precondition to become Tab’i except to attend the august company of a Companion. Similarly the Tab’a Taba’in had only to go to a Taba’i to acquire this status.
Every Muslim is blessed with a heart that can perform Zikr. The Quran and the holy Prophet-saw have repeatedly exhorted the believers to keep performing Zikr. The Quran has enjoined Zikr alongside every worship like Salah, Hajj and Jihad. The holy Prophet was himself commanded, "So remember the Name of thy Lord and devote thyself with a complete devotion." - 73:8. This blessing was similarly distributed down through the ages. Some religious scholars devoted their lives for Tafsir (interpretation of the Quran), some dedicated themselves for Hadith and some others attained excellence in Fiqh (jurisprudence). But despite their diverse fields, all scholars of Tafsir, Hadith and Fiqh used to perform Zikr and had acquired this blessing. If you look back only fifty years, you would discover that every religious scholar, after completing his education, went to some spiritual master to learn Allah's Zikr. It was only after acquiring this blessing that he set out for religious service. This has been their common practice, without exception. The objection that Zikr is not necessary is the product of our time only. In reality, the life of the Qalb is dependent upon Allah's Zikr, “Verily, in Allah's remembrance do hearts find rest.” - 13:28. This Divine Verse asserts that the hearts can find peace only in Allah's Zikr and nowhere else. The holy Prophet-saw has said that the best provision is the one which just suffices, where one neither borrows nor accumulates and it is sufficient for his needs; and the best Zikr is the hidden Zikr and that which illuminates the heart. "There is a cleanser for everything and the cleanser for the heart is Allah's Zikr", he-saw is reported to have said.
Religious scholars have spent their lives in the company of those whose hearts performed Zikr. They ardently endeavoured to absorb these lights in their own hearts and subsequently distributed them to other Muslims, that was the beginning of Shaikhdom in our religion. Most of the present day concepts which ascribe worldly powers to a Shaikh (spiritual guide) are outrightly false. The belief that anyone without a Shaikh would be subjected to distress and affliction is equally unfounded. A Shaikh is also a human being and also undergoes worldly trials and tribulations. How can he alleviate the miseries of others? A real Peer (Shaikh/spiritual guide) is the one who strives to acquire this light of the heart from an erudite spiritual guide and spends his life in total submission to Allah according to the Sunnah of the holy Prophet-saw. Allah grants him the strength to illuminate the hearts of those who come to seek his spiritual attention, such a seeker is called a Mureed and the spiritual mentor is known as a Peer (Shaikh). If there is no transfer of blessings, then this relationship is unnecessary and of no consequence whatsoever.
In the present time, Jews, Hindus and even atheists, who do not believe in Allah and His Prophet-saw rule countries, possess wealth and property. If everyone else can have all these worldly facilities and comforts, why can't a Muslim get his basic provisions of life without a Peer? Allah Himself has proportioned the worldly provisions of everyone and a Peer has absolutely no say in this matter. If someone adopts virtue, Allah arranges his provisions from lawful and permitted means; but if some choose to adopt a sinful life, He directs his provisions through unlawful and wrong ways. But in both cases, each person gets only that which has already been divinely destined for him.
Hadhrat Ali-rau used to visit different areas during his caliphate. One day he was passing through a village when the time for ‘Asar (afternoon) prayers drew near. He arrived at the mosque slightly late, when people were coming out after offering their prayers, so he requested a passer-by to hold his mule so that he could offer his prayers in the mosque. While coming out, he decided to pay two dirhams to the man for this service, but when he came out he found the man missing along with the reins of his mule. He walked to the market to buy another set of reins, where he found the reins of his mule at a shop. "Would you sell them?" he asked the shopkeeper. "Of course, yes!" was his reply. Hadhrat Ali asked, "For how much?" The shopkeeper said, "For two dirhams." After he purchased the reins, he asked the shopkeeper wherefrom he had procured them. "A man has just sold them to me for one dirham and I sold them to you for two." Hadhrat Ali-rau said to himself, "I had decided to pay two dirhams to the wretched thief but he chose the wrong way and still got one. This shopkeeper told the truth and earned a lawful profit of one dirham."
If someone decides to change the course of his life, his decision cannot increase his divinely ordained provisions, only the means of its acquisition are modified according to his new course - he still gets only that which has already been destined for him. A Peer or a religious scholar has simply no say in this matter. A Peer is the one whose own heart is illuminated and he can illuminate the hearts of others. The indication of an illuminated heart is the reformation of one's belief and conduct and not the mere observation of Divine lights. If the heart rejects unsound belief and conduct, it has come alive and has started doing Zikr; otherwise it is still dead. The association with such a Shaikh is a sheer waste of time, one should immediately search for another Shaikh who is capable of reviving his heart. The speech and conduct of a Shaikh should not be oriented towards self exaltation but towards acquisition of Divine Pleasure. He should not covet others’ riches but should earn his sustenance through lawful means. His conduct should corroborate his firm belief in the Omnipresence of Allah. His countenance should reflect Divine Lights and when he bows his head before his Rabb, the earth should quake with the grandeur of Divine Refulgence. If these blessings are available, this institution of Shaikhdom is of immense value.
The Gracious Lord has given complete freedom of choice in the method of Zikr, “Such as remember Allah, standing, sitting and reclining.” - 3:191, "And remember your Lord when you forget.” - 18:24. Various Mashaikh have adopted different methods of Zikr for the common aim of illuminating the hearts; there may be many means of transport to reach the same city. Similarly, all these different methods aim at acquiring the Prophetic blessings that were transferred from one bosom to the other and can only be acquired in the company of their custodians. However, this freedom can be exercised within the limits prescribed by the holy Prophet-saw. The adoption of any method prohibited by the Shari‘ah would be incorrect under any pretext.
Allah has defined the form and frequency of all obligatory worship. The rak‘at (cycles) of Salah, various recitals therein and the timings of each Salah have all been laid down. Similarly, all details about Hajj and Saum have also been defined. Allah has however, not defined any form and frequency for His Zikr. There is neither any pre condition nor any time limitation, even ritual purity or cleanliness of garments is not obligatory. It is not mandatory to perform Zikr in the mosque, although ritual purity and the holy atmosphere of the mosque would definitely attract more blessings. Zikr must continue at all times, under all circumstances and conditions. It must continue in mosque, in market, standing, sitting or reclining.
However, it is not possible to perform this continuous, uninterrupted Zikr with the tongue, that is, orally. Every conversation would interrupt Zikr and finally, during sleep, all organs would become listless and the tongue would also be quiet. But, if someone receives the attention that was distributed in the company of the holy Prophet-saw, it would saturate his heart with Allah's Zikr. Every beat of his heart would reverberate with Allah's Zikr and his every breath would be modulated with His Name. Each drop of his blood would carry His blessings to every part of the body, So that their flesh and their hearts soften at Allah's reminder - 39:23. The condition of continuous and frequent Zikr can be met only in the company of an accomplished Shaikh when his attention initiates Allah's Zikr in every cell of the body. This is our primary need because only this attention can revive our hearts, a live heart observes Divine Splendour according to its capacity. This observation can only be experienced - it cannot be described, words fail to translate these indefinable feelings.
My brother, I am also a simple, delinquent person of the present time - may Allah forgive me and all of us! He blessed me to remain in the company of His Aulia (sing – Wali: lit. friends) for thirty years and I declare that while sitting in the mosque, I had never thought of becoming a Shaikh - I have always been afraid of this appointment. I had gone there for my own reformation but was assigned the responsibility to teach others, it is no favour but my duty to convey this blessing to you. Now, if someone accepts this, it is his sweet pleasure and if someone rejects this, it is his own choice. You have seen policemen on duty in the markets. People abuse them, scorn them and at times pelt them with stones and throw empty bottles at them. Do they run away? Of course not, because that is their duty.
Similarly this is my duty which I must perform under all circumstances. People insult me - some pass verdicts; once I was driven out of a mosque for teaching Allah's Zikr1 I do not have to care about the reaction of people nor do I have any expectations from anyone. I repose all my hopes and expectations in my Lord Who has assigned me this duty. I have learnt His name and He has so blessed me, that if you remain with me for a while and perform His Zikr, you would also get these blessings - this is nothing difficult. It is incorrect to believe that only the son of a Peer can become a Peer - there is no truth in it. Every Muslim is a Shaikh and a Wali. If every Muslim could become a Companion, why should then Wilayah be the lot of a chosen few? There is no discrimination between male and female in this respect; Companionship, the highest title after Prophethood, was also achieved by men and women alike. While mentioning laudable human attributes in the Quran, the Gracious Lord concludes, And the men who remember Allah much and the women who remember Allah much. Here females have been bracketed with males because both are members of the same human race. Therefore, in our Order, every member is permitted to teach Zikr to the ladies in his house, you can try it yourself. Whenever you give spiritual attention to your mother, sisters, wife or daughters during Zikr, the hearts of all of them will be illuminated. Life becomes most pleasurable when the entire family, including all of the men, women and children, perform Allah's Zikr. At that moment even the walls, stones and bricks resound with His Name. The holy Prophet-saw has said that such houses appear like stars to the dwellers of the Heavens.
This is a blessing over which you have a claim, you have a share in it and it is your basic requirement as well. You should learn it and adopt it, for the sake of Allah, for the Hereafter and for attaining the good pleasure of the holy Prophet-saw - may Allah bless you! May He grant us His Zikr during this life, death and Hereafter! May He raise us with His Zikr on the Day of Resurrection and include us in the ranks of His slaves! Ameen!