Maulana Wahiduddin Khan | Discover God | Al-Risala, April 1987, p. 24
Qays ibn Abu Hazim tells the story of how a leading companion of the Prophet, Abdullah ibn Rawahah, fell sick towards the end of his life and lay with his head in the lap of his wife, weeping. When his wife saw his tears, she began to weep too. “Why are you crying?” he asked her. “I saw you crying, and I felt like crying too,” she replied. Then he explained to her why he was crying. “I remembered the words of Almighty God: “There is not one of you but shall approach the fire” (Quran, 19:71). I do not know if I will be saved from it or not.” (Tafsir ibn Kathir, Vol III p. 132)
This touching episode clearly shows what in Islamic terminology is meant by “Dhikr” – remembrance of God. A mere repetition of words does not constitute “Dhikr”. Rather it is a feeling that wells up from the very depths of a man’s soul, a spontaneous expression, of the joy and anguish that are kindled in his heart when he remembers his Lord.
When a person of true faith remembers God, he is overawed by the greatness of the Lord; he trembles at the thought of coming before Him in all His majesty. His emotion at this point involuntarily takes the form of words. Such is the nature of remembrance of God: It is the reaction that sets in with tremendous force from within a man’s heart when God enters therein. Dhikr – remembrance of God – is the result of discovering God Himself; it can never come from the mindless parroting of a few words learned by rote.