When doing dhikr, try to keep in mind the following six etiquettes:
Reflect on the meaning of the dhikr.
Always keep in mind that Allah is with you. In a ḥadīth qudsī, Allah says: “I am with My servant whenever he remembers me and moves his lips because of Me.” (Ibn Mājah).
Rectify your intention.
Reflect on the reward of doing dhikr in general, and the specific reward for specific adhkār.
Remember the favours of Allah upon you. For your dhikr to be conscious, your heart has to overflow with gratitude for the One who is the Source of all blessings.
Try to be in a calm and quiet place, away from distractions.
Imām al-Nawawī (raḥimahullāh) states: ‘Anyone making dhikr should be in the most perfect state. If he is sitting somewhere, he should face the qiblah with humility and serenity, bowing one’s head. If one remembers Allah in any other state it is still permissible, without any disapproval; but if there is no excuse for doing so, one would be forfeiting something most excellent.’
Dhikr is of two types: habitual vs. conscious, and it is only the latter which will lead to you knowing (maʿrifah), fearing, and loving Allah.
Ibn al-Jawzī (raḥimahullāh) explains:
‘The heedless one says سُبْحَانَ الله out of habit. As for the conscious one, he is constantly thinking about the wonders of creation, or the awesome nature of the Creator, and this thinking drives him to say سُبْحَانَ الله. Thus, this tasbīḥ is the fruit of these thoughts, and this is the tasbīḥ of the conscious…
Likewise, they think about the ugliness of past sins, and this leads them to ponder, to have anxiety and to have regret. The fruit of this thought is that they say أَسْتَغْفِرُ الله. This is the true tasbīḥ and istighfār.
As for the heedless, they merely utter these out of habit. And what a difference there is between the two types…’ (Ṣayd al-Khāṭir)
In his masterpiece ‘al-Adhkār’, Imam al-Nawawī (raḥimahullāh) writes: ‘The purpose of dhikr is to remember Allah with the presence of the heart. It is extremely important that every person aims for this and strives to achieve it.
Thus, one should contemplate on what one is saying and try to understand its meaning. Contemplation is the objective of dhikr, just as it is the objective of reciting Qur’ān. This is why, for example, the correct and preferred view is that one should elongate saying “لَا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا الله” in order to contemplate upon it.’
“I’m not thinking of what I’m saying…”
However, complete contemplation from the heart may not be possible for everyone at all times. Hence, sometimes Shaytān casts doubts into an individual’s heart and one may think: ‘I am uttering سُبْحَانَ الله a hundred times but I am not thinking about it. Is there even a point?’
Ibn Ḥajar’s (raḥimahullāh) comprehensive response provides a deep insight regarding this matter. He divides dhikr into five stages:
‘Dhikr can be of the tongue, for which the one who utters it receives reward, and it is not necessary for this that he understands or recalls its meaning (as long as he does not intend other than its meaning).
In addition to uttering it, if he also remembers Allah with his heart, then this is more complete.
In this stage, one recollects the meaning of the dhikr and what it entails, such as magnifying Allah and exalting Him from defects; this is even more complete.
An even loftier stage would be if all this takes place inside a good deed, be it a fard prayer or striving in Allah’s path, etc.
And if the above is combined with complete devotion and sincerity, then that is the utmost level of dhikr.’ (Fatḥ al-Bārī)
‘The best and most beneficial dhikr is when one remembers Allah with the tongue and the heart, it is from the Sunnah adhkār, and one is conscious of its meaning and its purpose. (Ibn al-Qayyim)
Type of Dhikr and Outcome
Tahlīl: Tawhīd and servitude
Taḥmīd: Gratitude, hope and love
Tasbīḥ & Takbīr: Glorification and reverence of Allah
Ḥawqalah: Trusting Allah and entrusting one’s affairs to Him
Ṣalawāt: Utmost love for him ﷺ and following his sunnah
Istighfār: Taqwā, remorse over one’s sins and humility
Consistency is the Key
Shayṭān will try his utmost to stop the servant from consciously remembering Allah. Try to set for yourself a daily amount/duration of dhikr, and remain consistent on it.
Imām al-Nawawī advises: ‘Anyone who has a daily litany of dhikr (wird) in the night or day or after ṣalāh or any other time, and then misses it and later remembers it, ought to make it up when he is able to, so as not to neglect it. If one is consistent in practicing it, he will not find himself missing it; but if he is lax in fulfilling it, it will become easy to neglect it at its proper time.’ (al-Adhkār)