Remembrance (al-Dhikr)

article picked 4U by - Mohammad Shahrour

May 27, 2020

Remembrance (al-dhikr)

We have, without doubt, sent down the [remembrance] [ al-dhikr]; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption). (hijr:9) They say: “O you to whom the [remembrance] [ al-dhikr] is being revealed! Truly you are mad (or possessed)!” (hijr:6) sad. By the Quran, containing the remembrance [ al-Quran dhi ’l-dhikr]. (sad 38:1,) If we now turn to the term al-dhikr (the remembrance) which, as in the two verses of Al-hijr above, is stated in its definite form, as the remembrance, we notice that in verse 1 of Surat sad, al-dhikr is the possessive attribute of al-Quran, connected to it by the conjunctive particle dha (of). It means that the Quran possesses ‘remembrance’. But what exactly is remembrance?

We have said that the Quran represents the totality of objective, universal laws that govern every event in the cosmos, nature, and human history. By means of revelation these laws, which used to exist outside the human mind, were then expressed in human language: We have made it a Quran in Arabic… (Zukhruf:3)
Only because of this transformation into a linguistic format did it become possible for human beings to participate in knowledge of the Quran and to ‘remember’ it spiritually as well as intellectually: We have raised onto you your remembrance [dhikrak]… (Sharh:4).

We therefore define al-dhikr as the result of transforming the Quran from a nonlinguistic, naturalist state into words of Arabic: Now We have sent down to you a Book [kitaban] wherein is your remembrance [dhikrukum]; will you not understand? (Anbiya”:10,)

This implies that al-dhikr was a revived or renewed form of what had existed before in our universe. Notice in the following verse the precision of the Book when it refers to the renewal of al-dhikr and not al-Quran: Whenever any fresh revelation [dhikrin muhdathin] comes to them from their Lord, they listen to it playfully with frivolous hearts… (Anbiya”:2,)

Once we realize that al-Quran and al-dhikr are not identical, and that al-dhikr is only an attribute of al-Quran (after it had been transformed into Arabic), the dilemma of past Mu’tazilh group  theology should no longer haunt us. We are now able to say that Allah did not create the Quran as such but only its verbal format, that is, al-dhikr. This allows us to state that the quran has existed since eternity and has been an integral part of Allah’s primordial nature. We can also say that, by creating the linguistic format of books (kutub), Allah provided the grounds on which the signs of the Quran can be rationally understood:

And We sent none before you, but men to whom we made revelation— question the people of the remembrance [ahl al-dhikr = those who speak Arabic], if you do not know—nor did We fashion them as bodies that ate not food… (Anbiya”:7)

After the transformation of the Quran into Arabic it had become objectified, it entered into the realm of human texts (oral or written) and thus could become part of people’s ritual practices. The recitation of the Quran could then become one of the central features of religious life. Believers are now able to recite the Arabic text whether they understand its content or not: And to rehearse the Quran… (Naml:92), And We have indeed made the Quran easy to understand and remember [li’l-dhikr]: then is there any that will receive admonition? (Qamar:17)

The linguistic format of an Arabic text also exists for the other parts of the book. We hear the proof in verse 29 of Surat Fatir: Those who rehearse the book of God [yatlun kitab Allah], establish regular prayer… (Fatir:29) Since no human being can rehearse, or better, recite something that does not exist as a text, we conclude that all verses of the book must have been transformed into al-dhikr. This is significant because if we, as believers, recite the verses of al-kitab we do so by reciting the transformed parts of al-dhikr. And when Muhammad was given the Book, he received it as al-dhikr, that is, as oral lecture that he only needed to hear (and not necessarily to understand), so that he was able ‘to pronounce it clearly to men’: We have revealed to you the reminder [al-dhikr], so that you make [known] to mankind what has been revealed to them, and that, perchance, they may reflect. (Nahl:44,)

The ‘Arsh , throne, chair.

As we point out, the umm al-kitab is ‘with Him’: it comes directly from Allah. It would be more precise to say that the concrete location of the umm al-kitab is Allah’s throne. What and where exactly is Allah’s throne? The word ‘throne’ in Arabic (al-‘arsh) can either mean literally the ‘chair of a ruler’ or metaphorically the ‘seat of power’. The Book uses the term al-‘arsh in both meanings.

  1. a) Throne in the sense of ‘chair’: And he raised his parents high on the throne (of dignity) [ al-‘arsh], and they fell down in prostration, (all) before him… (Yusuf:100)
  1. b) Throne in the sense of ‘authority’ or ‘seat of power’: He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in six days—and His throne was over the waters… (Hud:7) Your guardian-lord is God, who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly established on the throne (of authority) [al-‘arsh]… (A’raf:54) And the angels will be on its sides, and eight will, that day, bear the throne [‘arsh] of your Lord above them. (haqqa:17)…(God) most gracious is firmly established on the throne (of authority) [al-‘arsh]. (ta-Ha”:5) Say: If there had been (other) gods with Him, as they say, behold, they would certainly have sought out a way to the Lord of the throne [ al-‘arsh]! ( Al-Isra” 17:42)..

In verse 7 of Surat Hud it is said that ‘His throne was over the waters’. This does not imply that a chair was literally placed over the oceans. It rather means that before this universe was created with all its planets, galaxies, and stars, the world consisted of just hydrogen, water particles, and Allah’s command ruled ‘over the waters’. Then came the period, as verse 54 of Surat Al-A’raf says, when God created the heavens and the earth, which became His ‘seat of power’:

He draws the night as a veil over the day, each seeking the other in rapid succession. He created the sun, the moon, and the stars, (all) governed by laws under His command. Is it not His to create and to govern? Blessed be God, the cherisher and sustainer of the worlds! (A’raf:54)..

Finally, Allah’s authority will reign over a new world, the Afterlife, or rather: a new ‘becoming’ of this universe, transformed into a new existence with new laws that will host Allah’s ‘seat of power’. On ‘that day’, eight angels will bear the throne, this being a metaphor for Allah as merciful God on the Day of Judgement. In sum, the word al-‘arsh is a generic term for the (metaphorical) place where Allah’s power resides. It is dependent on the material state of the universe but has by no means a concrete spatial connotation.

This is also true for verse 42 of Surat Isra” which refers to the (only theoretical) possibility that other gods, if they were ‘with Him’, would have competed with one another to become the one who commands over right and wrong, that is, to become the ‘Lord of the throne’, Allah. It certainly does not mean a race by those gods to a specific chair!