One of the significant aspects of a faithful life is the remembrance of God. Remembering God by heart and tongue is what has been defined as remembrance or ‘dhikr’ in Islamic terminology. It is indeed an effort of contemplation that should accompany our acts of worship. In religious scriptures, remembrance refers mainly to devotional disciplines such as ritual prayer, recitation of the holy Qur’an, invocations and specific liturgies. Also, it should be noted that recitations devoid of spiritual attention cannot be considered as real remembrance because they are just a mere movement of the tongue without significance.
In Islam, every act of worship, being necessary or just recommended, is subject to limits. For example, the daily ritual prayers are five, the daily supererogatory prayers are thirty-four, the annual fasting is one month, the pilgrimage is once a year, etc. However the remembrance of God has been mentioned with no requirement of limitation: “O you who have faith! Remember God with frequent remembrance,” (33:41) and “So celebrate the Name of your Lord and dedicate yourself to Him with total dedication.” (73:8). It follows that if someone wants to win the battle against the negative traits of the self, he should be in constant remembrance of God.
A constant remembrance of God, in the morning and in the evening, alone and in the company of others, may effectively change the course of our life. Such remembrance is one of the most important supports both in worldly life and after it. Prophets and saints were always in constant remembrance of God and that is why sometimes they are called “Da’im al-dhikr” (those who constantly remember). On the road, at home, at work, while cooking or cleaning, it is possible to remember God by simple invocations, asking for assistance and help, or by the recital of expressions like “la ilaha illa Allah” (there is not divinity but God) and “la hawla wa la quwata illa billahi” (there is no power or strength other than God). Of course, this should not become an obsession that distracts us from other duties but a relief and a practice leading to the serenity of the heart.
It is important to emphasise the remembrance of God by the approaching of the month of Sha’ban as it is the month in which the Prophet Muhammad(s) used to dedicate himself to specific personal worship; for example it has been reported that he used to fast the whole month and recite very particular supplications. His cousin Ali Ibn Abi Talib(a) has alo been reported to have recited his famous “supplication of Sha‘ban” in which he says: “O my God! Bestow upon me total separation towards other than Thee”. It is not easy for people who commonly interact with the world to cut their connection with it and with everything else other than God and totally consecrate themselves to godly life. Ambitions, desires and attractions of this world are very tempting but deprive us of the spiritual taste provided by the light of religious guidance.
Guidance is not something that is arbitrarily given but requires a certain predisposition, a pure heart and appropriate conduct; neither does it depend on profane education obtained by extra-religious curriculums (although in some cases it may be used as theoretical supplementary tool). The attitude of the believer should not be determined by external criteria like personal interests, occupation, social class, etc. because what he is looking for is intrinsically established within himself and represents the call of his real nature uninfluenced by any other factors.
That is why the emphasis is put on remembrance: nothing new is to be discovered through it but it is just a reminder to satisfy the needs of our spiritual self.
Some people overwhelmed by spiritual dissatisfaction feel “far from God” or think that “God is far from us”. However, it seems that these are just misunderstandings as God himself says: “When My servants ask you about Me, [tell them that] I am indeed near most.” (2:186) and “…We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.” (50:16).
The root problem rather lies in the state of ghafla (forgetfulness) that in the Hereafter will be removed: “You were certainly oblivious of this. We have removed your veil from you, and so your sight is acute today.”(50:22).
Now, moving from a state of forgetfulness to a state of remembrance may seem a very difficult task but this is not what we understand from the words of one invocation of the great Imam Ali Ibn Husayn as-Sajjad(a), as reported from his pious disciple Abu Hamza al-Thumali: “Indeed migrating towards You is of near distance”. In another tradition the great Imam Ali Ibn Musa ar-Rida specifies that “The best migration is cutting-off [the ties with everything other than God] during the night”. And as every journey needs provision, God mentions that “indeed the best provision is Godwariness. So be wary of Me” (2:197). All these instructions are of vital importance in remembering God.
The general guidelines that have been expressed in forms of religious rules should be enacted for the benefit of these specific guidelines which bring us to the very scope of our actions. If we reflect properly on this issue, we realise that the way has already been paved and all the necessary steps have been clearly mentioned and they are not out of our reach: commitment to religious rules, early morning vigils and piety brings awareness of God’s presence in the heart and are the cause of a life devoted to transcendental purity and godly aims. It is the only resolution that is required from our side: the courage to make that step by which all blessings will follow.
It is possible that what has been said here may seem fanciful to some as this dimension of faith is not directly experienced by most people and is actually rejected by many of them; this is because those who want to delve into this field without a pure heart and a sincere abandonment of everything except God, spontaneously withdraw themselves as it is not a realm feasible for “curiosities” or “intellectual luxuries”. Rather it is an existential step to be taken at the entrance of the gardens of eternal bliss.
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