[Tafsir Mariful Qur'an Surah Baqarah Verse 152]
Dhikr or ‘Remembrance’ essentially pertains to the heart, but in so far as the tongue is the interpreter of the heart the oral recitation of a Divine Name or a verse of the Holy Qur’an is also described as Dhikr. In other words, oral Dhikr can be worth the name only when it is accompanied by the ‘remembrance’ of the heart. As the great Sufi poet Rumi points out, the recitation of a Divine name can have no efficacy if one keeps thinking of cows and donkeys while repeating it mechanically with the tongue. One must, however, bear in mind that even a mechanical Dhikr without the heart being engaged in it is not altogether futile. It is related that the great Sufi Abu Uthman, hearing a man complain of such a situation, remarked that one should be grateful to Allah even for this favour of having drawn at least one organ of the body into His service. (Qurtubi)
The merits of Dhikr are, indeed, innumerable. What greater merit could one wish for than the assurance that when a man ‘remembers’ Allah, He too ‘remembers’ him. Abu Uthman once claimed that he knew the time when Allah remembered His servants. The listeners grew curious as to how he could determine this. He replied that, according to the promise made in the Holy Qur’an, when a Muslim remembers Allah, He too remembers him, and thus everyone can know for himself that as soon as he turns to Allah and remembers Him, Allah too remembers him.
Let us add that Verse 152 means to say that if men ‘remember’ Allah by obeying His commandments, He will ‘remember’ them by granting His pardon and His rewards. The commentator Sa’id ibn Jubayr has, in fact, interpreted the Dhikr or ‘remembrance’ of Allah as obedience and submission to Him. He says:
“He who has not obeyed Him has not remembered Him, even though he has kept himself externally busy in offering (nafl: supererogatory) prayers and reciting His praises.”
This explanation is fully supported by a hadith cited by Al-Qurtubi on the authority of Ahkam Al-Qur’an by Ibn Khuwayz Mandadh. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) has said that one who has been obeying Allah – that is, following the injunctions with regards to the Halal and Haram – has truly been remembering Allah, in spite of being deficient in (nafl: supererogatory) prayers and fasting, while one who has been disobeying divine commandments has, in fact, forgotten Allah, in spite of devoting long hours to nafl prayers, fasting and recitation of His praises.
The great Sufi Master Dhu al-Nun al-Misri has said that the man who remembers Allah in the full sense of the term forgets everything else, and that, in reward of such a total absorption, Allah Himself takes care of all his concerns, and grants him something far more valuable for everything he loses. Similarly, the blessed Companion Mu’adh (R.A) has remarked that in so far as winning absolution from the divine wrath is concerned, no good deed on the part of man can compare with Dhikr. And in a hadith reported by the blessed Companion Abu Hurayrah (R.A), Allah Himself says that so long as the servant keeps remembering Him and his lips keep moving in Dhikr, Allah is with him.