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Absorbing truth through Remembrance Practice in Islamic Sufi Tradition

In the Sufi Tradition of Islam one of the most important and central practice is the practice of remembrance. The Qur'anic word for Remembrance is Zikr / Dhikr which appears about 292 times. The primary meaning in which context this word or term is used are remembrance, remind, to mention, becoming conscious or mindful, take heed and to call to mind.

Sometime Qur'an speaks about Remembering the Name of G-D, sometime Qur'an speaks about Remembering the favors of G-D the Most High.

For example we read:

And remember the name of your Lord and devote yourself to Him with [complete] devotion. ~ Qur'an 73:8

O mankind, remember the favor of G-D upon you. Is there any creator other than G-D who provides for you from the heaven and earth? There is no deity except Him, so how are you deluded? ~ Qur'an 35:3

All three Abrahamic traditions include this Remembrance of the Divine. Malachi, the Messenger, appears in the Jewish Tanakh as the last of the writings of the Hebrew Prophets and in the Christian Bible as the very last book of the Old Testament. According to the transmission of Malachi, "the Divine is the ultimate observer, observing and responding (a teaching shared and continued in Islamic tradition). Divine memory becomes action on our behalf. Action that anticipates our becoming. Action that supports our becoming.

The Eucharist in Christian tradition in reality is a ceremony of Remembrance. The Apostles and early believers were instructed by their Guide: "Do this in remembrance (Greek word used in translation is anamnasin) of me."

>> Read an article titled Zecher, Anamnesis, Zikr and Remembrance

Among all the three Abrahamic faiths in Sufi tradition of Islam, the remembrance practice is most formalized and made an essential part of daily practice. But as it happens with traditions that people start to follow it mechanically and the essence or soul of the practice start to diminish and we come to a point when all its left is the ritual and mechanics of it.

This is a trend that is true in every level in human society. Any tradition you look, the Prophets and Messengers were there primarily to correct and recover from this phenomena. People take one practice and slowly lose its essence. The practice which was there with the intention to be transformative eventually become hardened and people lost contact with it's essence. Many factors come into play including lack of the presence of illumined personalities and teachers who can continue to renew and elevate people's understanding, shift in new culture and language and simply the too familiarity of the old etc.

In modern time in the Muslim circles, for both kind of Muslims who understand the value of remembrance or who are oblivious to the fact that Qur'an declares "Remembrance as the greatest (of practice) / wa la zikru Llahi akbar (29:45)" or "Salaat is to be established for Remembrance of the Lord / wa aqimis salata li zikree (20:14)."

We find that in Sufism, the teachers / guides of the Path may recommend certain remembrance formula to facilitate the practice. If we probe into the essence of remembrance, it is about internalizing the truth conveyed in those remembrance formula. People may have forgotten this, but the goal of remembrance is to transform our being through absorbing the truth.

Take for example the sacred formula that says:


Which may translate as "Enabling comes from Allah" or "There is not capacity except that of Allah."

Now someone may recite this formula if given to him or her thousands of times but if he or she does it just mechanically, the transformation of the inner being may not happen if he or she fail to absorb the truth embedded in the formula and that truth says that actual Doer is G-D and without G-D's enabling us, we can do nothing, no matter how thick is our illusion.

If we wish to partake in the benefit of zikr or remembrance, we must try to get to the essence of what we are remembering with. Often these remembrance are done with certain sacred formula which are seeds of truth. That truth can illume us when we focus on the truth within that statement and with our entire being take that truth in.

The success of any remembrance practice to be transformative is proportional to the level in which we can absorb the truth. In the past and that practice is still carried out today that each sacred formula may be told to be enumerated a number of times. We must understand why? It is not the number but the guide would give that number so that within that reputation hopefully the truth will slowly start to settle in us, will increase our certainty in that truth and finally it will settle.

If we again go back to the sacred remembrance formula mentioned before which says: LA TAWFIQA ILLA BILLAH - here LA means No, None; TAWFIQ means capacity, enabling, ability to do something, ILLA means except, BILLAH means with Allah. So in whole it means, "there is no capacity except by Allah."

Now thats easy to say but how many of us has the full conviction and certainty that without God we have no power, no capacity, we are unable to do anything. We may see in others who have been paralyzed or has some physical disability or has an accident and suddenly they can not do some simple task which they could do easily without thinking even. We see people having a brain stroke and now they can't even move their muscles. When such incidents we see then we come to appreciate if we think that everything we do on the physical plane or otherwise are capacity given from the Creator. But how many of us remain in that state of mindfulness where we are fully aware of our incapacity and also conscious about the Real Doer from Whom comes all capacity and enabling. Most of us are not.

If we wish to achieve that awareness within us, if we wish to attain that level of certainty where we know, yes LA TAWFIQA ILLA BILLAH - then we may chose to repeat this sacred formula as a seed of remembrance in our practice, in our awake moments and hopefully, by G-D's doing, a moment may come when we live in that permanent state of awareness that our capacity is only through and by Allah. Our ability to do anything is only possible because of the permission from G-D.

May G-D help us realize truth in all shape, form and formlessness. Ameen.

Sadqi M. Alam
Paribag, Dhaka

# Suggestive Reading:
* Transformative Worship in Islam


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Technology of the Heart: Absorbing truth through Remembrance Practice in Islamic Sufi Tradition
Absorbing truth through Remembrance Practice in Islamic Sufi Tradition
How do we revive the essence of remembrance?
Technology of the Heart
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