At the Art as Meditation class of Chanting Wisdom at the Fox Institute for Creation Spirituality in July, David and I will be sharing the powerful zikr, La Ilaha Illa Allah within the Islam wisdom tradition. In the class, students will learn the pronunciation of the words and join in chanting the mantra. Let me give you just a little taste of this mantra here, and I hope you are able to join us in the upcoming class!
A most treasured practice of the Sufi path is the zikr, a state of remembrance of the divine source of all of creation, Allah. To be in remembrance is to be in unity with Allah, and to be in unity is to be in the state of surrender to Allah. This is the true zikr, that which is the impulse of the Sufi path. As a way to achieve this state, a practice was given as a gift to students of Sufism by Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam. This practice of devotion includes the rhythmical, repetition of the name of the Divine.
One of the beloved zikrs is La Ilaha Illa Allah. Translated it means, “There is no reality, but the One” or “If there is no God, we do not exist…. and if God exists, then this is our creator and we appear.”
Here is a tale that helps us to better understand this zikr more deeply.
Once a Sheikh (Sufi master) came to Istanbul and went to the governing authority to ask permission to open a tekke or sufi lodge. The Sheikh was asked how many dervish members he has and the reply was only one dervish, and the master himself.
….An old rundown building was available and given to them. The Sheikh with one dervish accepted it with an open heart.
Very soon, radiant light was shining from within the building as the sound of zikr could be heard every night and as many came to join together in practice.
The governing authorities wanted to know what this man was doing to draw so many people to him and what was this light that was coming from the old building.
So the Sheikh was summoned. The officials said, “We are the educated ones and we want to question you to make sure you are doing things correctly.”
“All right,” was the humble answer.
“What is the meaning of la ilaha illa Allah?” they asked.
“Do you want the meaning as you understand it, or do you want the meaning as I understand it?”
“We know how we understand it. Tell us how you understand it.”
“For this I need my one dervish, the one I brought with me the first time I came to this building.”
They agreed and say down as he and his dervish begin to practice the zikr. When he said, “La ilaha,” his dervish disappeared. When he said, “ill Allah,” he appeared. When he said, “la ilaha” again, they both disappeared. With “ill Allah” they reappeared.
The last time he said, “la ilaha, “the entire room disappeared. And when he said, “illa Allah,” everyone appeared.
He turned to face the officials and said, “This is how I understand the zikr.”
– adapted from the book, When You Hear Hoofbeats Think of a Zebra by shams Friedlander.