Dhikr, also spelled zikr, is an arabic word for "Rememberance." Muslims use dhikr along with prayer and supplication as a way to remember God and reform our hearts. It is basically the same as saying the Rosary in Catholicism or the idea of mantra, exept Islam has a great variety of phrases to bring to mind the reality of God. There are over 50 to choose from.

Note: The arabic for this word is sorta hard to transliterate, since the letter dhal doesnt have a direct english equivalent. It sounds like the first part of "that" or "this" or "the," making it sound like thikr. South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, Bengalis, etc.) pronounce and spell it as "zikr" which I suppose you can get away with saying.

Dhikr (Thikr or ├░ikr), means Remembering God. The best way to remember God would be if we were seeing Him, but even though we cannot see Him, to know that He is seeing us is the best way to remember Him. (similar to Taqwa). It's quite easy to forget about God because we can easily get carried away by the things happening around us. If we forget about God, we can easily go astray and do things which are wrong. Remembering God can let us know that He is near us, and when we don't remember Him, we can become unhappy.

The whole philosophy of whispering or chanting a set of words or phrases is rooted in psychology: Whatever you fill your mind with, that is what you will believe. This doesn't cause passiveness or complacency or hypnotize you, but instead it keys and conditions your subconsciousness. In this case, filling your mind with consciousness of God helps you surrender to Him. It helps strengthen your sense of taqwa.

Karl Marx said that religion was the opium of the people, but Muslims say that excessive music is the true opiate. Most people memorize lyrics to popular songs and sing them freqently, and you could call this a secular rosary in a way. Music and singing are allowed in Islam (with some restrictions), but remembering God is a more productive activity, and dhikr is considered the best music in Islam.

For example, one common dhikr phrase is Alhamdulilah, which means "Praise be to God." By saying this phrase over and over to ourselves, we make ourselves aware that God should be praised.

The Sufis, the mystics of Islam, have perfected group dhikr and practice it as part of their daily routine, usually by sitting in a circle with others, sometimes adding musical instruments.

The Prophet Muhammmad, peace be upon him, used to sometimes say, "Be mindful of Allah, and Allah will protect you. Be mindful of Allah, and you will find Him in front of you."

All dhikr should be said in arabic for maximum benefit and blessings. Any word or phrase may be chosen and chanted. Many people choose one of the 99 attributes of Allah and repeat it over and over and reflect upon it. Some phrases for dhikr are paragraphs long. The Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) taught each of them, and many of them carry a reward from God for their performance. He taught people how best to remember God. Muslims say "Bismillah (in the name of God)" before starting anything, "Alhamdulilah" anytime or when enjoying something, "Insha'Allah (If God wills it)" when planning about the future.

Here are a few more examples:

  • I seek refuge in God (said when seeing something nasty or having a nightmare)
  • There is no might or power except in God. (By saying this dhikr often, you will be given treasure in Paradise.)
  • Glory be to God and praise belongs to Him. (If said 100 times, all your lesser sins will be forgiven.)
  • Glory to God. Praise be to God. God is the Greatest. (Say each one 33 times before going to bed.)
  • Astaghfir Allah (God forgive me.)

Often after prayer, you will find Muslims sitting for a few quiet minutes "making dhikr." When they finish, their minds are relaxed and they have preprogrammed their consciousness to strive to be a virtuous servant of God for the rest of the day. If you want to see a really large number of people doing this at once, stick around for the friday afternoon prayer at a mosque, where you'll often see so many people making dhikr that its hard to exit even though the prayer has ended.

Dhikr helps remind people of God, raises their iman (faith) and taqwa, and helps mold our thoughts in a way that is pleasing to God.

Sources: Yahya Emerick, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam"
Yusuf Islam, "A is for Allah," CD

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