Written by Zeinab Khalil and Annie Sajid.
For some of us Muslim women, the practice of dhikr might seem irrelevant in our lives. Those of us in the diaspora might understand dhikr as an outdated ritual with no benefit to us. For those of us that associate complicated experiences with places or practices of worship, dhikr might trigger long-held anxiety. For others who don’t speak Arabic, it might trigger insecurities around our recitation and pronunciation of Qur’anic tajweed.
We must reclaim dhikr as a divine tool to dig deeper into our connection with Allah (SWT), maintain our softness and recalibrate our feminine powers. At its root, dhikr means “remembrance” and the practice can be so meaningful because it underscores one of the most defining human acts: forgetting.
The word used in the Qur’an for human is insan, which comes from nasiya, meaning to forget. The other root of the word insan is aanisa meaning intimacy or closeness. Thus, to exist as human is to forget–while also searching for deep spiritual intimacy.
Dhikr, then, is a remedy to cure our deep-rooted forgetfulness and build Divine intimacy. Through dhikr, we remember how to witness and to be witnessed. During our first encounter with Allah, we formed a covenant with our Creator when we saw Allah and He saw us. In this ultimate witnessing, we were acknowledged and seen in all of our fallible and forgetful selves as we affirmed Allah’s Oneness and Infinence. This witnessing drives our yearning towards Allah (SWT). This soul contract affirms our fitrah, or the Divine inclinations embedded in our inner core.
When we practice dhikr we are meeting this spiritual yearning implanted within our fitrah (human nature.) We are reminding ourselves of our soul agreement with Allah (SWT.) With this remembrance comes humility. With this remembrance comes perspective. Through dhikr, we remind ourselves that this will not be the only dimension we experience and that it certainly is not the most definitive or significant one. We remind ourselves that the dunya is finite and that Allah (SWT) is infinite.
As the great IG meme mystics tell us, we are not here to simply pay bills, lose weight and perform other dull practices heaped onto us in this world. When we practice dhikr, we remind ourselves that there is more to the universe than the realm of the dunya. We remind ourselves that we are spirits before bodies – that we are souls who happen to inhabit bodies.
The difference between the one who practices dhikr and the one who does not is well explained through hadith. The Prophet (PBUH) said:
“The similitude of one who remembers Allah and one who does not remember Allah is like that of the living and the dead” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
Thus, dhikr can soften the heart and revive the soul. This tenderness of our spirit is crucial in order for us to open and strengthen our links with The Most Gentle.
Those who practice gentleness, humility and are able to release tears are highly revered in our tradition. The Prophet (PBUH) used to cry regularly because of his very high level of taqwa, or consciousness of Allah (SWT.) It is narrated that the Prophet (PBUH) used to cry until the earth beneath him became wet. The Prophet (PBUH) would also advise and encourage those around him to cry. Some of his men companions would respond that they could not or did not know how to cry. Recognizing how an emotional deficit creates serious spiritual blockages, the Prophet (PBUH) went so far as to recommend that they feign emotionality until they could truly reach such a state.
In this patriarchal world, glorifying these hardened spiritual blockages as strength is causing massive fitnah (disorder). The metaphysical realm is not at all concerned with these fragile masculinized attributes. It is more concerned with the expansive essence of “Allah” that has been explained as Ism Al-Dhat Al-Qudsiyya or the Name of the Divine Essence. Such Divine Essence is that which is Beyond-Being, transcendental and above manifestation. Al-Dhat (which is linguistically gendered as feminine) affirms that the Divine Essence is concerned with that which is interiorized, psychic and contemplative.
Of course, Allah (SWT) is beyond the dunya’s binary notions of gender, as Allah encompasses all dualities. Yet the “masculine” traits are routinely given more weight and value even though femininity is also sanctified in Islam through the key names and attributes of Allah.
Among the most significant names of Allah is Al-Rahman (the All-Merciful), which comes from rahma (mercy), which is also linguistically feminine in Arabic. Rahma is closely related to rahim (womb). Thus, we can understand Divine Mercy as a “feminine” attribute of Allah, one that is the source of life.
We cultivate our feminine powers when we don’t lose our softness, when we don’t become apathetic to the disorder (fitna) in the dunya. Dhikr is a way to harness these feminine powers and empathic energies. We also advocate collective or joint dhikr circles because of the abundant, powerful and cleansing energy circuits they can build around us. The words shared during dhikr not only purify our souls, but also our spaces.
Dhikr cleanses our space and invites all that is Divine to fill our space. When we practice this with our sisters or other people whom we love, we are entering into a powerful mode of communication that deepens our collective spiritual capacities.
Dhikr does not need to follow a specific formula or look the same for everyone. Dhikr is heart work that can happen in fleeting moments or in habitual meditation. As Sheik Sayyed as-Sabeeq has shared in Fiqh-Us-Sunnah, “All words of praise and glory to Allah, extolling Allah’s Perfect Attributes of Power and Majesty, Beauty and Sublimeness, whether one utters them by tongue or recites them silently in one’s heart, are known as dhikr.”
We must remember that to recalibrate our hearts through dhikr is to bring order into the world which is an inherently feminine power.