From Miftah al-Falah (The Key to Success)
by Ibn ‘Ata’llah al-Iskandari
Dhikr is a fire which does not stay or spread – so if it enters a house saying, “Me and nothing other than me,” which is one of the meanings of “la ilaha illa’llah’ (There is no god but Allah), and there is firewood in the house, it burns it up and it becomes fire. If there is darkness in the house, it becomes light. If there is light in the house, it becomes ‘light upon light’.
Dhikr expels from the body impure substances produced by excess in eating or from the consumption of unlawful food. As for food which is lawful, it does not touch it. So the harmful components are burned up and the good components remain.
Dhikr is heard by every part as if it were blowing on a trumpet. When dhikr first occurs in the head, the sound of trumpets and cymbals is experienced there. Dhikr is a sultan – when it descends in a place, it descends with its trumpets and cymbals because dhikr is opposed to all that is other than the Truth. When it descends in a place, it occupies itself with negating what is contrary to the Truth, as we find in the union of water and fire. After these sounds, different sounds are heard: like the ripple of water, the sound of the wind, the sound of fire when it is kindled, the sounds of galloping of horses, and the sound of leaves of the trees rustling in the wind.
This is because man is a combination of every noble and low substance: dust, water, fire, air and earth, and heaven and earth and what is between them: these sounds issue from every source and element of these substances. Whoever has heard these sounds in dhikr praises Allah and glorifies Him with his entire tongue. This is the result of the dhikr with the tongue with the force of complete absorption. Perhaps the worshipper will reach the state where, if he falls silent from dhikr, the heart will stir in his breast, like the movement of the child in the womb, seeking dhikr.
Some say that he heart is like ‘Isa, the son of Mary, peace be upon him, and dhikr is its milk. When it grows and becomes strong, longing for the Truth audibly springs from it and pangs of yearning craving for dhikr and the One invoked. The dhikr of the heart is like the sound of the bee, neither a confused high noise nor a very low hidden sound. When the One invoked takes possession of the heart and the dhikr is obliterated and vanishes, and the invoker does not pay attention to the dhikr nor to the heart. If during this, he notices the dhikr or the heart, that is a distracting veil.
This is state is annihilation (fana’) – and it is that man is annihilated in respect to his self (nafs), and he feels nothing in his limbs nor things outside of him or things inside of him. If, during that, it occurs to him that he is totally annihilated in respect to himself, that then is a blemish and turbidity. Perfection is that he be annihilated to himself and to annihilation, and the annihilation of annihilation is the goal of annihilation. Annihilation is the earliest of the Path (Tariq) since it is travelling towards Allah Almighty, and then guidance follows. By guidance I mean the guidance of Allah as the Prophet Ibrahim said, “I am going to my Lord, and He will guide me.” (37:99)
This absorption is seldom stable and rarely continues. If the invoker continues, it becomes a fixed habit and a permanent state by which he may ascend to the celestial world. Then the purest real Being emerges and he is imprinted with nature of the invisible world (malakut) and the holiness of Divinity (lahut) is manifested to him. The first thing manifested to him from that world are the essences of the angels and the spirits of the Prophets and saints in beautiful forms through which some of the realities overflow onto him. That is the beginning. This continues until his degree is higher than forms and he encounters the Truth in everything with clarity.
This is the fruit of the core of dhikr. Its beginning is only the dhikr of the tongue; and then the dhikr of the heart is stimulated. Then the dhikr becomes natural; and then the One invoked takes possession and the invoker is obliterated. This is the inner secret of the words of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace: “Whoever wish to abide in the Garden of Paradise should invoke Allah much” and the secret of his words “Hidden dhikr is seventy times preferable to dhikr which is heard by listeners.”
The sign of dhikr moving to the inner conscience (sirr) is the absence of the invoker from dhikr and the One invoked, and the dhikr of the inner conscience is frantic thirst and drowning in it.
Among its signs is that when you ceasing doing dhikr, it does not leave you, and the ascendancy of dhikr in you stirs you from absence to presence.
Among its signs is that dhikr presses against your heads and limbs so that they seem as if they were bound with shackles and chains.
Among its signs is that its fires do not abate and its light does not depart. Rather you always see its lights rising and descending while the fires around you are pure, aflame and brightly burning. When dhikr reaches the inner conscience when the invoker falls silent from dhikr, it is as if needles had been thrust through his tongue or as if his entire face were a tongue invoking, light pouring from it.
Subtle point: Know that every dhikr which you heart feels is heart by listeners, if their awareness match your awareness. There is a secret in it: when your dhikr vanishes from your awareness since you have departed to the One invoked, your dhikr vanishes altogether from the awareness of listeners.
Subtle point: The dhikr of the letters is without the presence of the dhikr of the tongue. The dhikr of the presence in the heart is the dhikr of the heart; and the dhikr of absence from presence with the One Invoked is the dhikr of the inner conscience (sirr), and it is hidden dhikr