The Value of Dhikr
When we look at the lives of the sahaba (the companions of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ), we commonly see extraordinary displays of strength.
Abbad ibn Bishr (ra) was once praying when an enemy arrow shot him. He removed the arrow and continued his prayer only to be shot by two more arrows. Abbad completed the prayer until its end and then said to his shocked companion, “I was reciting verses of the Quran which filled my soul with awe and I did not want to cut short the recitation…” (1).
At the battle of Khaybar, Ali (ra) dropped his shield and with nothing else around, picked up the broken gate of the fortress and used it to protect himself. Abu Rafi (ra) later said, “After the incident, seven of my friends attempted to lift the gate off the ground. By Allah, we could not even move it.” (2).
How were the sahaba able to accomplish such miraculous feats? From where did they get their strength?
In his book Al Wabil As Sayyib, Ibn al Qayyim writes that dhikr, also known as the remembrance of Allah, can physically change the body. Observing the actions of his teacher, he writes: “I have personally witnessed something very strange in the strength of Shaykh al Islam Ibn Taymiyyah – in his ways, his speech, his courage and his writings. He would write in one day the equivalent of what would take others a week or more than that. Even the army witnessed his extraordinary strength at war.” Ibn Taymiyyah was known to pray Fajr and then remain sitting in the remembrance of Allah until almost half the day.
Ibn Taymiyyah said of this practice, “This is my breakfast. I do not have any other breakfast. If I did not have this breakfast [ie. dhikr], all of my strength would fall away” (3).
Islamic history is filled with examples of ordinary men and women accomplishing the extraordinary. The Prophet ﷺ even advised his own daughter with a spiritual remedy when she was experiencing fatigue and physical pain: “…When you go to your bed, magnify Allah thirty-four times, glorify Him thirty-three times and praise Him thirty-three times. That is better for you than a servant.” [Sahih Bukhari: 3502].
Islamically, there is a clear relationship between dhikr and physical strength. The question then remains, are these feats of strength miracles from Allah or are they attainable even in this day and age? Can a person’s state of mind truly alter his or her physical being?
This is a question that has been asked many times by philosophers and psychologists alike. Current research supports the notion that mental states can cause a chemical change in the brain, which can then lead to physical manifestations in the body. For example, studies involving functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) found that meditation activates regions of the brain that are involved in attention and control of the autonomic nervous system (4). Another study found that an 8-week meditation program lead to a significant improvement in pain intensity for patients with arthritis or back/neck pain (5).
Meditation, just like dhikr, can lead to changes in the brain and thereby changes in the body. Allah SWT says in the Quran, “…and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so – for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward” (33:55).
So today, ask yourself: Are you doing enough to receive these blessings?
(1) Khalid Khalid. Men around the Messenger, 494
(2) Ibn Kathir. Al-Bidaya wa’n-Nihaya, 4/189
(3) Ibn al Qayyim. Al Wabil as Sayyib, 58-59
(4) Lazar, Sara W., George Bush, Randy L. Gollub, Gregory L. Fricchione, Gurucharan Khalsa, and Herbert Benson. “Functional Brain Mapping of the Relaxation Response and Meditation.” NeuroReport: 1581-585.
(5) Rosenzweig, Steven, Jeffrey M. Greeson, Diane K. Reibel, Joshua S. Green, Samar A. Jasser, and Denise Beasley. “Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction for Chronic Pain Conditions: Variation in Treatment Outcomes and Role of Home Meditation Practice.” Journal of Psychosomatic Research: 29-36.