The Two Types of Dhikr
Dhikr (the ‘remembrance’ of Allah) can be categorised as follows:
1. General Dhikr
This is when one remembers Allah at any time, as the Messenger of Allah ﷺ used to do. These words can be uttered at any time and in unlimited quantities. This type of dhikr includes the recitation of the Qur’ān, tahlīl, tasbīḥ, taḥmīd, takbīr, ḥawqalah and the Names of Allah.
Dhikr also includes other good deeds such as seeking knowledge, enjoining the good and forbidding the evil etc. Anything which brings you close to Allah is considered as ‘dhikr’.
2. Specific Dhikr
These are the supplications (duʿās) and remembrances (adhkār) which are to be said in specific places & times, in specified quantities, and in their specific wordings.
These include the adhkār of the morning and evening, before sleep, after ṣalāh, and the adhkār of other actions (eating, wearing clothes, entering & leaving the house).
Is it more rewarding to pray ṣalāh, recite Qur’ān or do dhikr & duʿā’?
In general, the order of the most virtuous deeds is as follows (starting from most rewarding):
Dhikr is more virtuous than duʿā’, because dhikr is praising and glorifying Allah; whilst duʿā’ consists of the servant asking Allah for something the servant himself needs.
Reciting Qur’ān is more virtuous than dhikr as the Qur’ān is the word of Allah. And ṣalāh is the best of all deeds as it is a combination of Qur’ān, dhikr and duʿā’.
Yet, each of these is considered in its own right and some situations may give what has less virtue priority over what has more. So, for example, when one is in rukūʿ and sujūd, it is actually forbidden to recite Qur’ān. Or when one finishes ṣalāh, it is more virtuous to do the adhkār after ṣalāh instead of reciting Qur’ān. Thus, every situation has to be understood according to its own context.
In some situations, it will be more suited for you to perform ṣalāh. In others, reciting Qur’ān, doing dhikr or duʿā’. Try to allocate time for each in your daily schedule.
When Ibn Taymiyyah was asked about which is more virtuous: istighfār (seeking forgiveness) or tasbīḥ (glorifying Allah), he replied: “If the cloth is clean, then incense and rose water is better; but if it is dirty, then soap and hot water are more beneficial.” In other words, if you have just sinned, it is more virtuous for you to do istighfār than to do tasbīḥ.
To conclude, despite the overall superiority of the Qur’ān, remembering Allah with prescribed adhkār at their specific times is more virtuous. This is because the Messenger of Allah ﷺ encouraged and prescribed certain supplications for certain times and occasions.
“The best dhikr is reciting Qur’ān in ṣalāh; then reciting Qur’ān outside of ṣalāh; then doing dhikr.” (Sufyān al-Thawrī)
The secrets of deeds
Each type of dhikr has its own characteristics. Reflecting on each of them will lead you to taste the sweetness of each of these incredible acts of worship.
• Ṣalāh: Placing one’s heart before Allah with utmost humility as though one sees Him. Filled with His love and majesty, the heart’s attention is focused only on Him.
• Qur’ān: Reflecting and pondering deeply on the meanings of the words of Allah (tadabbur).
• Dhikr: Glorifying Allah by reflecting on His Perfect Names, Attributes and Actions and pondering over His blessings and His creation.
• Duʿā’: Displaying one’s utter need of Allah with utmost humility, desperately turning to Him and depending on Him.