"Invoke Often"

Whereas the exercises of introspection aim at purifying the human recipient and at making faqr, the blessed destitution, reign therein, the dhikr, the pronouncing of the Divine Word, is made to communicate to the faqīr His inexhaustible Richness.

In accordance with the Quranic injunction to multiply the acts of invocation, each tarīqah suggests to its members, according to their level of preparation and their individual zeal, a large range of ejaculatory prayers (adhkār, pl. of dhikr). First comes the wird particular to the order, the same one that is sung in the collective sessions mentioned earlier, which each faqīr must recite twice a day, morning and night, using his rosary (sibhah). The shaykh can, in addition, propose that the murīd regularly read certain litanies composed by the inspired masters, often by the founder of the tarīqah. These are, for example, among the Qādiriyyah the qunūt, made up entirely of Quranic verses; among the Shādhiliyyah the Hizb al-bahr and the Hizb al-barr ("Incantations of the Sea and the Land") of Imam Shadhilī, or the Salāt mashīshiyyah by the "Pole" Abd al-Salam ibn Mashīsh (d. 625/ 1228), master of the former; among the Khalwatiyyah the Wird al-sattār; among the Tijāniyyah the Jawharat al-kamāl, etc. 33

Strictly speaking, however, the invocatory practices are those that are based on the systematic repetition of short formulas containing one or more Divine Names and, more particularly, of the Shahādah, of the sole name Allāh or of its substitute, the pronoun huwa, "He." Being acts of pure devotion performed in order to bring the faqīr face to face with himself, to test his ability to offer the sacrifice of his thoughts and his feelings, and to aid him in abandoning himself (tafrīd) in God, these exercises require recollection and solitude. Moreover, the invocation performed in retreat (khalwah) is the most often recommended mode of dhikr, the same one that the Prophet taught to Ali ibn Abi Tālib, his cousin and son-in-law. When Ali once asked the Prophet the shortest way to God, the Prophet answered, "'Ali, always repeat the Name of God in solitary places...." After this, with eyes closed, he said out loud three times, "Lā ilāha illa Llāh," making Ali repeat this formula with the same intonation. 34 Ali later initiated Hasan al-Basri to this dhikr, which has been perpetuated in numerous turuq, such as the Khalwatiyyah, founded by the Persian anchorite Umar al-Khalwatī (d. in Caesarea, Syria, in 800/ 1397). It should be noted that this tarīqah, still active in North Africa and the Near East, added to the invocation of the Shahādah and the name Allāh the pronoun huwa and the four Divine Names Haqq (Truth), Hayy (Living), Qayyūm (Eternal), and Qahhār (Dominant). These seven names correspond to the celestial spheres, to the colors emanated by the fundamental light, and to the stages of the soul on the path to perfection. The soul is first "prone to evil," then "blameworthy," "inspired," "appeased," "satisfied," "satisfying," before being rendered "perfect." 35

A very similar teaching is found in the Suhrawardiyyah order, whose founder, Shihāb al-Dīn Umar, already mentioned concerning his advice on good companions, also figures among the ancestors of the initiatic chain of the Khalwatīs. The Suhrawardī dhikr also includes seven names, of which only the last two--al-Rahmān (the Merciful) and al-Rahīm (the Forgiving)-differ from the preceding list. It is also practiced during retreats, whose normal duration is forty days, and is accompanied by the visualization of the seven symbolic colors-blue, yellow, red, white, green, black, and undifferentiated--which correspond to the various levels or worlds of universal manifestation. 36

Of all the formulas of invocation, it is the name Allāh which, even among the turuq with a multiform dhikr, has always been considered the most complete and the most efficacious way to grace. Thus it is, for example, that when the celebrated Sufi and theologian Abū Hamid al-Ghazzāalī, after having exhausted the possibilities of speculative reasoning, had the desire to follow the path of direct experience and revealed this to a Sufi, he was given the following advice:

The best method consists of breaking totally your ties with the world, in such a way that your heart is occupied with neither family nor... money.... In addition you must be alone in a retreat to carry out, from among your acts of worship, only the prescribed salat... and, being seated, concentrate your thoughts on God, without other interior preoccupation. You will do this, first by saying the Name of God with your tongue, repeating without ceasing Allāh, Allāh, without relaxing your attention. The result will be a state in which you will effortlessly feel this Name in the spontaneous movement of your tongue. 37

This is found as the first step in a process of inner penetration in three stages as suggested by the same Ghazzālī in his celebrated Revival of the Sciences of Religion.

After seating himself in solitude, he (the sūfī) does not cease to say with his mouth "Allāh, Allāh," continually and with presence of heart. And he continues thus until he reaches a state wherein he abandons the movement of the tongue, and sees the word as if flowing upon the tongue. Then he arrives at the point of effacing any trace of the word upon his tongue, and he finds his heart continually applied to the dhikr; he perseveres assiduously, until he effaces from his heart the image of speaking the letters and the shape of the word, and the meaning of the word alone remains in his heart, present in him, as if joined to him and not leaving him. 38

Integral religion (al-dīn) includes three stations capable of sanctifying the entire man--body, soul, and spirit--through submission (islām) to the prescriptions and prohibitions of the Law (Sharīah), through the faith (īmān) that blooms on the spiritual path (tarīqah) and through the conformity (ihsān) of the individual to the Divine Reality (Haqīqah). In the same way, the practice of the dhikr, which is the central method of this sanctification, takes place on three levels--that of acts, that of qualities, and that of the Essence-and in each of these achieves sanctifying union. In effect, what occurs is the following: (1) The invocation of the tongue (dhikr al-lisān) unites all the separate moments of the man in the single act of the dhikr and thus restores primacy to the only real Agent, Which is God (tawhīd alaf’al). (2) The invocation of the heart (dhikr al-qalb) causes the appearance of all the qualities of the universe in a single place, a blessed center, while attributing them to the only One Who is worthy to be qualified by the most beautiful Names (tawhīd al-sifāt). (3) The invocation of the depths of the heart, of the "secret" (dhikr al-sirr), has neither point of departure nor end, nor distinct subjects and objects. Because of a clear vision, it affirms that nothing exists except the One Who is the Name, the Named, and the Namer, in His Absolute and Unconditional Essence (tawhīd al-dhāt).

Mastery of the first stage of the dhikr, which corresponds to the acquisition of the "science of certainty" (ilm al-yaqīn), is largely attributable to the clarity of the mind, thus to the aptitude of the faqīr to meditate on himself (according to the Quran XXX, 8) as well as on "the creation of the heavens and the earth" (III, 191) and, in general, on all the signs of God (X, 24). Not only does meditation (tafakkur) aid in eliminating distractions and in maintaining a fixed attention on the dhikr, but it causes doubt and existential worry to cease and confirms the murīd in his vocation of seeking God.

The second stage, that of the heart, is also that of "the eye" or the "source of certainty" (ayn al-yaqīn). It implies an unfailing adherence of the will, a confidence that the dhikr fills all needs and that it leads to salvation. It is the stage of love of God, that of the man who resides in the "inward dimension,... the domain of unity, synthesis and permanence." 39

As for the third stage of the dhikr, that of the "truth of certainty" (haqq al-yaqin), it is a gift from heaven, incommensurate with the effort of the thought and will that preceded it. The individual abandons himself to it. He is said to have "disappeared" (ghāy’ib), to be absorbed by the One invoked and "made one" with Him. He becomes, then, through a direct vision (shuhūd) a perfect witness (shahīd) to the Truth. According to the testimony of one of those who arrived at this final stage, the "master of the circle" (shaykh al-tāifah) of the Sufis of Baghdad, Abul-Qāsim al-Junayd (d. 298/ 910), "It is the supreme reality of tawhīd professed by one who attests to the One after having been himself effaced." 40