In the understanding of the people of Tasawwuf, dhikr is essential because it is the primary means for conveying the seeker to the Presence of Allah. It is of three gradations reflecting the stages of the journey to the Divine Presence:
the dhikr of the common people by the tongue;
the dhikr of the special people by the heart;
the dhikr of the Elect of the Special by their Annihilation in their Dhikr [Fana’un `an dhikrihim], when they see the One they are Remembering and are annihilated in His Presence.
Imam Ghazali said, “You must know that Allah removed all the veils of ignorance and brought people to the state of vision through their continuous Dhikr. The first stage of Dhikr is the Dhikr of the Tongue, then the Dhikr of the Heart, then the Appearance of the Divine Presence in the reciter of dhikr, making him no longer need to do dhikr.” 13
Shaikh al-Munawi said, “For the seeker in Allah’s Way, the thing of highest benefit to him is dhikr with the name, ‘Allah,’ whereby he will taste and see the Love of the Divine Presence [adh-dhawq wal hubbu fillah].”14
Imam Junaid said, “Whoever made Dhikr with the all- encompassing Name, ‘Allah,’ is the one who left himself behind, connecting to His Lord, existing in His presence, looking at Him through his heart, where the Light of Allah has burned away his physical body.”15
Therefore, it is the practice of the grandshaikhs of the Naqshbandi Order to initiate their murids in dhikr with the Unique Name encompassing All Attributes, ‘Allah,’ and by negation and affirmation of the affirmation of faith, la ilaha illallah. Through these two forms they will be able to reach the State of Ihsan, Perfection, which was mentioned by the Prophet in the hadith narrated by Bukhari and Muslim, “al-Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you are seeing Him.”
Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya said, “If a person wants to be guided, he must look for a person who is from the People of Dhikr. If he found one who is from the People of Dhikr, keeping Dhikr continuously, and following the Sunnah of the Prophet (s), he must stick to him.”16
Ibn Hajar al-Haythami said, “The seeker in the first stages, before reaching to the stage of Knower, must obey the orders of his shaikh, who is carrying both knowledges, the Divine knowledge and the knowledge of the Shari’ah, because he is the Great Physician who has tasted and sensed all the Heavenly Wisdom through keeping the Dhikr in his heart.”
13. Imam Ghazzali, Kitab al-arba in fi usul ad-din, pp.52-55.
14. Shaykh al-Munawi, Fayd ul-qadir, vol.2, p. 309.
15. Farid ad-Din Attar, Mystics and Saints, p.102.
16. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, al-Wabil as-sa ib, p.53.