Invocation of God: what does it mean?
What does dhikr mean? Is it permissible to invoke God with one of His Names like ‘Allah, Allah’ and, ‘Al-Rahman, Al-Rahman’ without putting it in a full sentence?
As mentioned by the author of Mukhtar Al-Sihah, the lexical meaning of dhikr (making remembrance of God) has the opposite meaning of forgetting. In Shari’ah (Islamic law) terminology, dhikr has a more general set of meanings. For example, God refers to the Friday sermon as dhikr saying, “O you who believe! When the call is heard for the prayer of the day of congregation, haste unto remembrance of God and leave your trading” [Al-Jumu’a:9]; He refers to hajj as dhikr saying, “Remember God through the appointed days” [Al-Baqarah:203]; He refers to prayer as dhikr saying, “And if you go in fear, then (pray) standing or on horseback. And if you are again in safety, remember God, as He has taught you that which (heretofore) you knew not [Al-Baqarah:239]; and He refers to the Qur’an as dhikr saying, “This (which) We recite unto you is a revelation and a wise reminder” [AL-Imran:58]. All of these acts of worship are referred to as dhikr because Muslims invoke the Name of God in them.
As for the meaning of making remembrance of God when it is not associated with any of these things, it is the invocations that Muslims do with their tongues and hearts outside the acts of worship mentioned above. God differentiates between invocations and prayer saying, “Indeed, prayer preserves from lewdness and iniquity, but verily remembrance of God is greater” [Al-Ankabut:45]. The invocation of God is an act that may be performed either individually or in a group, silently or audibly. The number of invocations may be counted on one’s fingers or on prayer beads (as we have previously mentioned in the answers to the preceding questions). It may either comprise a phrase from the Qur`an and the hadith or it may not. It is permissible to compose new invocations provided their meanings do not conflict with Islam.
There is nothing wrong with invoking one of God’s Names, and there is no evidence to indicate its impermissibility. Quite the opposite, the evidence points to its permissibility. Those who hold a variant opinion may object to invoking God through one of His Names for the following reasons:
- The absence of a command or precedent from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) to invoke God through one of His Names.
-The issue of the evidentiary nature of the Prophet’s choice not to pursue a certain action.
Al-Hafidh Ibn Hajar adduces as evidence of permissibility the hadith of Rifa’ah ibn Rafi’ al-Zarqi that says, “One day we were praying behind the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and he raised his head from bowing and said, ‘God hears whoever praises Him.’ A man from behind him said, ‘Our Lord, Yours is the praise, abundantly, wholesomely, and blessedly therein.’ When he rose to leave, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) asked who said it, and when the man replied that it was he, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘I saw thirty-odd angels each striving to be the one to write it.’ “Ibn Hajar said, “This hadith is used as evidence for the permissibility of composing new invocations in prayer that are not found in the Qur`an or Sunna provided they do not contradict them.”
The objection may also be that invoking God with one of His Names alone does not carry the meaning of exaltation, and one must have a complete sentence in order for this meaning to be present. The answer [to this objection] is that the invocation of God’s Name alone does carry the meaning of exaltation, and this is what scholars have understood. The preeminent imam, Abu Hanifah, confirms this when he discussed the issue of whether or not one enters prayer by merely mentioning the Name of God alone. The author of Al-Bada’ wrote that according to Abu Hanifah, the text is understood [to mean that the opening of the prayer] carries the meaning of exaltation, and this occurs with the mere utterance of [God’s] Name. The evidence for this is that when one says, “There is no god but God,” one enters prayer due to uttering ‘God’ and not by the negation [at the beginning of the statement] .” So the position of Abu Hanifa is that exaltation occurs with ‘God’ without the condition of it occurring in a complete sentence.
This is a response to those who hold that there is no precedent for this in the primary legal texts (the Qur`an and the Sunna) or that exaltation does not occur by the utterance of God’s Name. The Qur`an and Sunna do in fact contain texts that permit one to utter ‘God’ on its own. These include, “Say: God. Then leave them to their play of caviling” [Al-An’am: 91] and, “So remember the name of your Lord and devote yourself with a complete devotion” [Al-Muzzammil: 8]. The prophetic ahadith evince that invoking God with His Name alone will continue to persist and be considered commendable. When it dies out, this will be one of the final signs [of the coming of the Hour]. According to Anas, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “The Hour will not come until ‘God, God,’ is no longer being said.” Another narration says, “The Hour will not come upon anyone who says, ‘God, God.’ Thabit said, “Salman was in a group invoking God when the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) passed by, so they stopped. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “What were you saying?” We said, “We are invoking, ‘God, God.” He said, “I saw mercy descending upon you so I wanted to join you in it.” Then he said, “Praise be to God who has placed in my community those with whom I have been commanded to be patient.”
Muslims do not need evidence to say ‘God’ as long as they are able to feel in their hearts the meanings of exaltation, closeness, and remembrance. However, invoking the name ‘God’ without inserting it in a sentence should not contradict the principles of faith and the bases of Islam. Moreover, one should acknowledge that the invocations attributed to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) are generally better. The transmitted and rational evidences we mentioned above, as well as the scholarly interpretations should make those who have different opinions allow people to invoke God with whatever resonates in their hearts. And God is Most High and Knows best.