Yusuf Hamadani describes:
“The heart and dhikr are like a tree and water. The heart and contemplation, in contrast, are like a tree and its fruits. It would be a mistake to wait for the tree to flourish before watering it and expect it to yield fruits before its leaves grow and flowers blossom. It will never yield any fruits, no matter how much one desired. For the time is not to expect fruits from the tree, but to feed it and tidy up around it. One needs to water it, rid it of ivies and alien weeds and then wait for sunshine. Only when all these come together does the tree come alive and become adorned with luscious green leaves; and only then does it become right to expect its branches to yield fruits, for this means that the time has truly arrived.” (Rutbat’ul-Hayat, p. 71)
Hasan Basri says:
“The intelligent continue getting themselves used to contemplating through dhikr, and dhikr through contemplating. In the end, they get their hearts to talk; and when the heart does begin to talk, it only utters words of wisdom.” (Imam Ghazzali, Ihya, VI, 46)
Dhikr and contemplation must never be separated. The most important thing about dhikr is to do it contemplatively and accompany it with a sense of awareness. According to Muhammad Parsa –Allah have mercy on him-, a prominent saint, “When saying ‘La ilaha’ (There is no god…), one should think of the mortality of all creation and consider them as nothing; and distancing everything but Allah, glory unto Him, from the mind, clear all thoughts. The heart should be filled with the consciousness of being a slave only of Allah and no-one else. When saying ‘ill-Allah’ (…except for Allah) one should think that the primordial existence of Allah, glory unto Him, is also eternal and that He is the only One to whom one can turn to with love. The Almighty’s attributes of beauty (jamali) thereby begin to manifest in the heart.”
Bahauddin Naqshband -Allah have mercy on him- says:
“The aim of dhikr is not just to repeat ‘Allah’ and ‘La ilaha ill-Allah’. It is to go from causes to the Cause and realize that all blessings come from Him.”
The truth of dhikr, in other words, is to enable one to rise from the swamp of ignorance to the horizons of witnessing the truth.
Mawlana Rumi –Allah have mercy on him- says:
“Allah, the One and Unique has given us permission to remember (dhikr) Him, saying ‘اُذْكُرُوا اللّٰهَ: Remember Allah!’. Seeing us ablaze in fire, He gave us light. A dhikr done only with the tongue and lips without feeling and contemplation is a deficient dream. A dhikr that comes from the bottom of an admiring heart is distilled of sentences and words.” (Mathnawi, v. 2, couplet: 1709, 1712)
In time, Divine love grows in a person who continues to remember the names and attributes of Allah, glory unto Him, contemplatively. The point is not to just repeat verbally the word ‘Allah’ but to place the love of ‘the Word’ in the heart, the center of comprehension.
Through dhikr and contemplation, one first reaches muhabbatullah, Divine love, and through muhabbatullah one proceeds to attain knowledge of Allah, that is a better understanding and knowledge of Divine names and attributes. As a result, Allah, glory unto Him, loves the person, too, and befriends him. Stated in a hadith al-qudsi is the following:
“The righteous from among my servants and the ones I love from among creation are those who remember me; and I mention them in return for their remembrance of Me.” (Ahmed, III, 430)
THREE FORMS OF DHIKR
Dhikr is considered threefold: with the tongue, the body and the heart. The dhikr of the tongue is to recall Allah, glory unto Him, with His names and attributes, glorify Him, read His word and pray to Him. The dhikr of the body is to busy each and every limb with what has been commanded and to keep it away from committing the wrong. As for the dhikr of the heart, exegete Elmalılı Hamdi Yazır comments:
“The dhikr of the heart is to remember Allah in a most sincere, heartfelt way, and that comes in three forms:
1) Thinking of the proofs that attest to the essence and attributes of Allah, glory unto Him, and searching for answers to doubts that may come to the heart about His sovereignty.
2) Contemplating on the rights Allah, glory unto Him, has over us and our duties of servanthood; thinking of His commands and prohibitions, their proofs and underlying wisdoms. Gaining insight into the commands and prohibitions and the consequences of adhering to them only increases tendency towards righteous deeds.
3) Contemplating on creation, both inner and outer, and the wisdoms underlying their existence in a way that allows one to realize that each particle acts as a mirror for the Divine realm. To eyes that properly gaze at that mirror, the lights of that realm shine forth and just a glimmer of that zest consciously acquired in a split second is worth the entire world.
There is no end to dhikr carried out at this level. At this stage, one loses consciousness of himself and his surroundings; all consciousness is lost in the Real, to the point where not a speck remains from either the words of dhikr or the person doing dhikr. Only the object of the dhikr, that is the Real, is felt. Although there are plenty who talk about this level, those who are at it have no business with talking.” (Hak Dîni Kur’an Dili, [el-Bakara, 152])
All beings are thus mirrors of Divine manifestations, held out to human understanding and consciousness by the Hand of Might. Sensing the wisdoms and mysteries reflected forth from this mirror depends on the purity of the mirror of the heart.
Dawn: The Most Precious Time for Dhikr and Contemplation
A lover frequently talks about the beloved. One who frequently talks about something begins to feel a greater affection for it. Love is measured by the degree of sacrifice shown for the beloved. Abandoning a pleasant sleep and a warm bed near dawn to seek refuge in Allah, glory unto Him, is one of the most supreme indications of such love.
It is worthy of note that Divine mercy and forgiveness overflows near dawn. Nightingales, inspired by this Divine abundance, tweet in the sweetest tunes and flowers that boom in multicolored tones, emit their most delicate scents. What a shame it would be for man to miss out on this feast of Divine mercy!
The most precious time of day is dawn, corresponding to the last third of night. Dawn marks a period where the mind is the most distant it can be from petty concerns, when the heart subsides to purity, a peaceful silence abounds all around and passing interests wane. This time is when Divine mercy descends and the Lord of the Universe is at His closest to His servant. Being so remote from petty concerns, the heart can then turn to the Almighty in the truest sense of the word, for which dawn is the most appropriate and fertile time to retreat to contemplation.
Allah, glory unto Him, states:
“O you wrapped up in garments! Rise to pray in the night except a little. Half of it, or lessen it a little. Or add to it, and recite the Quran in measure. Surely We will make to light upon you a weighty Word. Surely the rising by night is the firmest way to tread and the best corrective of speech. Surely you have in the day time a long occupation.” (al-Muzzammil, 1-7)
As opposed to the heavenly serenity of dawn, daytime is a period when noise reigns, and which leads to a lapse in concentration. A person who does not make the most of the effective hours of night may not be able to attain to that spiritually inspiring enjoyment of turning to and worshiping the Almighty, amid all the distracting activities of daytime, as much as he can at dawn.
Dawn is a unique time made for worship, whereas daytime is a wonderful blessing given for serving the good and earning a living. A believer should only be with the Real at dawn, while amid the public, yet still with the Real, at day.
The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- never abandoned offering ritual prayer, reciting the Quran, praying and contemplating at dawn, the richest and most inspiring time of night. Such that even when struck down with an illness that drained him of the strength to even allow him to stand up straight, he would still put his dawns to good use, even if it meant he had to be seated.
The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- would especially make the most of dawn to contemplate. He would remain standing, in tears, to the point where his feet would swell, and prostrate for hours on end.
Imam Hasan ibn Rushayq says:
“There is no better key to open the locks of the ocean of contemplation and the gates of the Real than to wake up from sleep at dawn and engage in activities conducive to spiritual promotion. At that time, man is remote from external interests, worldly concerns and ambitions. The time is ripe for privacy with the Lord. The body has been rested and revived; it has come to its senses. Dawn is the time when the weather is at its most pleasant, the breeze is at its gentlest; it is the most appropriate time between day and night. Light covers darkness at dawn. It is a stark contrast at evening: darkness caves in on light.” (See, Abu Ghuddah, Zamanın Kıymeti p. 86)
The Holy Quran pronounces:
“Those who forsake their beds to cry unto their Lord in fear and hope, and spend of that We have bestowed on them…” (as-Sajdah, 16)
Repenting for sins at dawn, becoming emotional from thinking of Divine punishment, remembering death, planning what to do in the name of good in the remaining days of life and contemplating on the Quran are among the righteous deeds treasured by Allah, glory unto Him.
To those who revive their dawns in the said manner and spend a life of charity, the Almighty promises the exceptional glad tidings below:
“No soul knows what is kept hid for them of joy, as a reward for what they used to do.” (as-Sajdah, 17)
The Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- has interpreted this verse as follows:
“Allah the Almighty has said ‘For My righteous servants, I have prepared treats no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has ever and can ever imagine!’” (Bukhari, Bad’ul-Khalq, 8; Tafsir. 32/1; Tawhid, 35; Muslim, Jannah, 2-5)
Understood from here is that the awaiting treats of Paradise that have not yet been revealed are far greater than those that have. According some reports, not even angels and prophets have full insight into what they are.
 See, Abû Dawud, Tatavvu’, 18.
Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, Contemplation in Islam, Erkam Public.