Sufis believe that all of creation is a manifestation of the Divine. If all created things are divine manifestions, then nothing can exist by itself. All are parts of a whole. Sufis call this principle tawhid, or unity.
All created things are a reflection of this One Divine Being on the plane of multitude. They do not have their own existence. If we believe there is a separation between the creator and the created things, we bring about duality. However, this does not mean that God, the Divine Being and Her creation are the same and equal. Creation is like a drop in the ocean of Divine Being. Chemically, the drop and the ocean have the same nature, while quantitively they differ from each other. To give another analogy, if God represents water, the created ones are the different phases of water, such as liquid, vapour or ice.
Sufis ground the story of creation on tawhid. By saying “I was a hidden treasure, I wanted to be known (and loved), that’s how I created everything” (Hadith Qudsi), the Divine Being
positioned the human being as a mirror into this realm to actualize Her potentiality and Beauty. The Divine witnesses Herself in this mirror and experiences Love through the human being. That’s because the human being is the only medium which unites all the divine names in his/her being.
All creatures are journeying towards spiritual completion. All creatures are evolving towards the human form, so that they may experience divine Love in the fullest expression possible. Here we realize that Love according to the Sufi understanding is not a romantic affair or even a physical or emotional human experience, but a way of knowing and witnessing the Divine. All of creation is thus based on Love. The act of creation is not linear and is not over; it is an ongoing process which deepens in spirals. This is how Love moves.
In order to help humans remember this love story with the Divine, they were asked in the realm of souls, “in the presence of everyone’s essence and its witnessing: ‘Am I not your Rabb (teacher/trainer)?’ and the souls answered: ‘Yes, you are!’” (Surah Araf, 172) This primordial conversation sealed this love commitment. However, when the souls took the
bodily form, they forgot this commitment. Sufis call it the state of forgetfulness, gaflet. In order to remember this divine covenant, they practice the act of remembrance, or zikr.
Humans relate to the material world through their limited and conditioned perceptions. This leads to the state of gaflet. Our human identity is shaped by our desires and fears that stem from certain judgements, habits and conditionings. We become attached to our identities.
According to Sufis, the Divine is the only thing which owns a being (zat) in itself. Everything else does not exist out of itself, it just reflects the Divine Being. So if human beings think that they exist by themselves, this assumption takes them out of the state of love as expressed in the covenant with the Divine in the realm of the souls.
This situation keeps us in a state of constant longing, which we try to compensate through different addictions and attachments. That’s why it is crucial on the Sufi path to disentangle yourself from the ties that keep you attached to the things you assume exist. This journey is towards nothingness. A Sufi is not someone who becomes, but someone who un-becomes; not takes but gives; not dresses up but takes off what is on him/her.
When our souls cannot fit into the present realities we find ourselves in, they feel suffocated. They start searching for their true home, the place where they belong (the state of unity). This state of searching is the first step towards zikr, as in the verse “When you forget, remember your Rabb.” (Surah Al-Kahf, 18/24).
The Arabic word Rabb has different connotations. Literally, it means someone who teaches and trains. We all have this quality of trainer/teacher in ourselves, because all the
names of God are contained in us human beings. The state of remembrance is actualized by unlocking this training quality in us. Rememberance is not an end result, but a process, and it needs to be sustained so it can become our way of being.
Practicing remembrance (zikr) does not require a specific time, place or condition as the Qur’anic statement “Those who remember Allah standing and sitting and (lying) on their sides” (Surah Al-Imran, 191) implies. However, at his point we need to remember not to position ourselves as someone who needs to remember something that lies outside of us.
This might result in giving ourselves existence which leads to duality. This takes us back into the sleep of forgetfulness. Allah is not a separate being residing in the skies. It is the only things that exists.
When you practice rememberance as a sustained practice, you become one of those “whom neither commerce nor sale distracts from the remembrance of Allah” (Surah An- Nur, 37), since whomever you communicate with and whatever you do is of Allah, with Allah, from Allah and towards Allah. This is the field beyond separation. The one who remembers and the one who is remembered merge in the field of unity. In that state a person re-connects with the quality of Rabb in herself/himself.
According to a Sufi dictionary “remembrance (zikr) is not something to be performed only by the tongue, but it is the work you do.” For Sufis, there are three types of zikr; the zikr of the tonque, the zikr of the heart and the zikr of secrecy. The zikr of the tonque is about the “taste”, which means enjoying the words we utter, books we read and topics we talk about. If this brings us back to the remembrance of our true essence, it is the zikr of the tongue. If the state of joy, pleasure and contentment we experience becomes a sustained presence, it reaches the heart.
The zikr of the heart pertains to the faculty of imagination; it is the practice of imagining the Heart of the Beloved in your heart and focusing on it. This means, it doesn’t satifsy
my heart to only talk about the Beloved or read books about Her. My heart wishes to be in close contact, to get more intimate with Her and bond with Her from an unshakable place. In this way I can stay in constant remembrance of our primordial commitment to Love.
The zikr of secrecy is the melting of the rememberer into the remembered. In this state of unity we reconnect with our True Essence. The act of remembrance takes over the heart of the rememberer and the Divine Being can be realized more fully.
“A person loves what s/he remembers (or constantly talks about); recognizes who s/he loves, and surrenders to whom s/he recognizes” (from a Sufi dictionary). According to this statement, there is a direct relationship between zikr and the state of intimate friendship, because what we remember in the end is the state of love, it is our true nature.
Everything around us that helps us reconnect with our true nature and helps us remember our essence becomes a means to keep our remembrance alive and fresh. My partner, friends I gather with in a circle, animals, stones under my feet, the water I drink, a beautiful breakfast I enjoy. All of them can take me from sleep into wakefulness. In fact, I witness the Divine on the face of my true friends, I taste Her in delicious food or in a wild flower I smell, just like in this hadith (prophetic saying): “I am how my divine servant imagines Me and I am always with her/him.” (Muslim, Zikr, 6).