“My slave ceaseth not to seek to draw nigh unto Me with devotions of his free will until I love him; and when I love him, I am the hearing with which he heareth and the sight with which he seeth and the hand with which he graspeth and the foot on which he walketh.”
The same identity, which is in the nature of things, is also implicit in one of the first commands addressed to the Prophet: “Prostrate thyself and draw nigh” (XCVI, 19), and in his commentary, “The slave is nearest his Lord when he prostrateth himself,” prostration being the posture of faqr.  Moreover, nearness to God has a double significance analogous to that of slavehood. Metaphysically speaking, nearness, like slavehood, is an inescapable fact that concerns everybody. This truth, already in the Divine Name al-Qarīb,the All-Near, is affirmed by the Qur’ān: “We are nearer to him (the dying man about whom ye are gathered) than ye are but ye see not” (LVI, 85). Mystically speaking, however, “He is Near to us; we are far from Him” Only those who directly perceive the truth of nearness can be called near.
With regard to slavehood and nearness in their higher and exclusive sense, a distinction has further to be made between the relative and the Absolute. When the Qur’ān speaks of “the brought nigh” and “the slaves of God,” the plurals show that the reference is to what might be called the highest degree of relative nearness and relative slavehood, a degree that brings the souls of saints as near as possible to the Divine Presence without totally extinguishing their separate existence. This is the summit of the hierarchy of the celestial gardens in the ordinary sense of the word paradise. Beyond it is the Absolute Nearness of the Supreme Identity, which the Sufis name “the Paradise of the Essence” and which excludes all duality. “We are nearer to him (man) than his jugular vein” (L, 16),and “God cometh in between a man and his own heart” (VIII, 24), says the Qur’ān; and the possibility of realizing this identity was made explicit toward the end of the Prophet’s mission, if not before, in the above mentioned holy tradition: “My slave ceaseth not…”.
It follows that sainthood has two aspects: one of relative nearness and one of Absolute Nearness– Identity. In other words, the highest goal for man’s aspiration is a dual one. Thus, in an early Revelation, the believer is promised two paradises (LV, 46),and this duality had already been affirmed in a Qur’ānic address to the perfected soul: “O thou soul which art at peace return unto thy Lord, pleased thou and whelmed’ in His good pleasure. Enter thou among My slaves. Enter thou My Paradise” (LXXXIX, 27–30). If the following utterance of the Prophet is not a commentary on these verses, it may nonetheless be used as such: “God will say to the people of Paradise: ‘Are ye well pleased?’ and they will say: ‘How should we not be well pleased, O Lord, inasmuch as Thou has given us that which Thou bast not given unto any of Thy creatures else?’ Then will He say: ‘Shall I not give you better than that?’ and they will say: ‘What thing, O Lord, is better?’ and He will say: ‘I will let down upon you My Riḍwān.”‘ 
Thus far, with regard to the origins of Sufi method, we have considered only voluntary devotions and not those which the Law of Islam makes obligatory and which are therefore practiced by all Muslims. As far as they concern the majority, they may be called exoteric. In virtue of their simplicity and transparency, however, they could be described as exoterized esoterism; and as practiced by the spiritual minority they are re-exoterized. “The esoterism of these practices resides not only in their obvious initiatic symbolism, it resides also in the fact that our practices are esoteric to the extent that we ourselves are esoteric.” Moreover, the obligatory rites of Islam revert all the more easily to their basic inward significance by reason of the performer’s independence of any intermediary– inasmuch as every Muslim is his own priest. Nor can there be any doubt that the origin of this interiorization of the outward is to be traced back to the Prophet himself.
The same applies to the fast and to almsgiving, which symbolize respectively abstention from the world and giving oneself to God. As to the ritual prayer, we have already seen the innermost significance of the prostration which marks its climax. The difference between exoterism and esoterism depends here, as also for the ritual ablution which precedes the prayer, on “the extent to which we ourselves are esoteric,” that is, in these two cases, the depth and scope of our conceptions– and therefore our intentions– of humility and purity.
To pass now to the question of method, the following Qur’ānic verses, by general among the earliest to be revealed, are particularly significant: Keep vigil the night long save a little-a half therefore, or abate a little thereof or add (a little) thereto – and chant the Qur’ān in measure… and invoke in remembrance the name of thy Lord and devote Thyself to Him with an utter devotion. (LXXIII, 2-4, 8)
This Revelation enjoins upon the Prophet– and therefore indirectly upon his closest followers– an intensity of worship that goes far beyond anything that could be imposed as a legal obligation upon a whole community. It is to be noticed, moreover, that what has always been the essence of Sufi practice, the invocation of the Divine outset of the religion, possibly even before the ritual prayer had been shown to the Prophet and certainly well before the five daily prayers had been established as the central aspect of Sufi method, if not all as early as this, are nonetheless of apostolic origin. Some were established in Mecca, others in Medina. One of them, the spiritual retreat (I‘tikāf or khalwah), is in fact pre-Islamic and may be said to mark a continuity between Abrahamic esoterism and Islamic estoerism.. As to its complement, the spiritual gathering for the performance of communal voluntary rites (which may include one or more of the obligatory prayers if they should happen to be due), it takes its name, “session of remembrance”(majlis al-dhikr), from the many traditions in which the Prophet mentioned it with praise. The Sufis have kept these two practices alive throughout the centuries, and, generally speaking, they are the only Muslim who still practice them today. The same applies to certain other aspects of Sufi method which have been inherited from the Prophet and his companions.
If the term dhikr, “remembrance” or “invocation,” is used above all in the sense of the already quoted verse–“Invoke in remembrance the name of thy Lord”– it has always been used by extension to include other practices, such as the reading or chanting of the Qur’ān as well as the recitation, usually a specific number of times, of certain Qur’ānic verses or other formulas recommended by the Revelation or by the Prophet. Needless to say, the recitation of the Qur’ān is by no means confined to the Sufis, and the recommended formulas are likewise at the disposition of all Muslims. What distinguishes esoterism here is the methodic regularity of the recitations, that is, their quantity (the Qur’ān enjoins “muchdhikr”),and the mystical intent that bestows on them their quality.
This brings us to consider the other side of the question. What is it that hampers a wholesome development of human personality, a complete and integral manifestation of all the divine attributes in a harmonious manner? In one word we can say that forgetfulness and heedlessness are fundamental faults because they negate tawḥīd. One could equally say that to forget God is to forget oneself, since the human being is the form of God. To lose touch with God is to lose touch with one’s own reality and hence to fall into unreality, which can only be experienced as painful separation from everything that is real and good.
If forgetfulness and heedlessness mark the basic fault of human beings, dhikr(remembrance) designates their saving virtue. Just as forgetting God leads to the painful chastisement of being forgotten by him, so also remembering God leads to the joy of being remembered by him: “Remember Me, and I will remember you” (2:15). But dhikr means much more than simply the proper human response to God, since it also designates the function of the prophets. This indeed is the most central spiritual practice involved in the development of the human personality and it has been the main concern of Sufism throughout the ages but it has a wide range of signification’s and it operates within the frame work of the sharī‘ah in the Islamic tradition. The wholesome development of human personality is the special domain of Sufism though it has other concerns as well. It has a vision. To be fully human is to actualise the divine form. In order to achieve this, Sufis follow the Sunnah of the Prophet and seek to embody the Qur’an. They want the Qur’an to be their character, just as it was the Prophet’s character. Every activity needs to be correct– that is, based on the prophetic model and that this can only come about when the soul is harmonized and integrated through sincerity, god-wariness, and doing what is beautiful (iḥsān). Moreover, doing what is beautiful cannot be forced or affected– that would destroy its spontaneity, which is one element of its beauty. Doing what is beautiful must well up in the soul– our poets might say– as fragrance wells up from the rose. Beautiful activity must be rooted in beautiful being. To embody the beautiful is to embody the qualities of God. This is Ibn ‘Arabī’s point when he defines Sufism as “assuming the character traits of God as one’s own.” Ibn ‘Arabī explains that this is only a manner of speaking. In fact, those character traits are all latent within human beings because of the divine form, but they belong to God, and as long as people remain heedless of their own nature, the divine qualities within them will not become manifest in proper harmony and balance.
The Sufis considered all Islamic theoretical teachings to be aimed at awakening remembrance in the soul. In commenting on the Qur’anic teachings, they demonstrate thatdhikr implies far more than just the ritual activities that go by the name. Full remembrance means actualising all the perfections latent in the original human disposition (fiṭrah) by virtue of its being a divine image. Ghazālī and many others speak of human perfection as “assuming the traits of the divine names” (al-takhalluq bi ’l-asmā’ al-ilāhiyya).
Notes and References
 Ibn Ḥanbal, II, 421.