Allah mentions that: "Verily! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for ulul-albab (men of understanding)." (Ali Imran, verse 190)
Ulul-albab are ones who are constantly contemplating about Allah and are in a continuous state of zikr. Literally this phrase means the core of the tree, which provides its life source and nourishment, and which is the metaphor for our own core - our intellectual faculties from which our actions are initiated.
The value of deep thinking is immense. A lapse in focus can cost a chess player the game. A momentary distraction is the tipping point between success or defeat for a martial artist. In various aspects of life, the slightest disruption can have a significant impact.
Human beings can only focus on one thing at a time. If we text and drive, the results can be fatal. It is impossible to read and watch television simultaneously.
If we become negligent in our zikr, we lose focus on Allah and we create chinks in our armour against Shaitan. Shaitan can then overpower us with just his whispers and doubts. He can command our thoughts, manipulate our emotions and make us develop desires aimed at distracting us from Allah. At the next level he can influence us to pursue those desires, even if they are harmful to us.
To shield ourselves against the whisperings of Shaitan, we must be on guard all the time. A Mu'min will focus most of his thinking on Allah, and perform actions which lead him to Allah.
Fikr (thinking) is the action of the brain, and our powerful thoughts can overwhelm us completely. Zikr is mostly performed with the tongue, but does not affect us unless the heart and the mind are in sync. If the soul is in the state of contemplation, it is in an elevated position, because the body is the slave of the soul and will obey the soul's desires.
Fikr is the opposite of ignorance. The ignorant are complacent and do not seek knowledge or self improvement. They allow their minds to remain idle for days. One of the nicknames of the disbeliever is "jahil ", the ignorant. He is ignorant of Allah, does not reflect on creation and does not add value to his surroundings. He is only interested in applying his thoughts to what he desires.
A person who chatters constantly but allows his mind to be idle is inferior to a quiet person who is constantly thinking. It is often said that most wisdom is contained in silence and most foolishness is contained in talking. A wise person is always in deep thought and he uses his words sparingly.
Ibn `Umar (RA) reported that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, "Do not indulge in excessive talk except when remembering Allah. Excessive talking without the Remembrance of Allah hardens the heart; and those who are the farthest from Allah are those whose hearts are hard." [Tirmidhi]
Neglecting the contemplation of Allah propels one to a state of disbelief. Someone irregular with his worship but has Allah in his heart and mind may one day, be granted taubah by Allah. Others may be consistent with their zikr and salah, but if their minds are disconnected from the contemplation of Allah, they are spiritually malnourished and their worship is mechanical and lacks the true essence of iman.
The start of any journey to Islam is by contemplation. This has been demonstrated by Ibrahim AS, Musa AS and Muhammad SAW. In fact, all Messengers and Prophets used herd sheep prior to their prophethood, and spent long periods in seclusion which severed them temporarily from dunia and gave them the ability to ponder about the Creator.
When we are engrossed with dunia, our faculties will be hijacked by sights, sounds and incidents of dunia which derail us from the contemplation of Allah. Habitual seclusion will disengage us from the daily babble of our material lives and give us mental and spiritual clarity. When we disengage from dunia, we will have space, mind and priority to call out to Allah. Otherwise our faculties are like a storage room, crammed with so much junk that it has no space for anything valuable to occupy it.
If our thoughts are geared towards Allah, the rest of the body will follow suit. If we are concentrating on dunia and our minds are not spiritually attuned, our limbs will translate such instability through their actions.
Distractions will gradually cause a person's desires to have mastery over him, causing him to descend towards the level of beasts, until the slavery to desire becomes second nature. Like an animal, he has poor control over his discipline and emotions. His value systems revolve around his longings, yearnings and appetite, which is why his temper can easily be triggered by the smallest provocation.
Thinking is also the motivational force behind our actions. It is what inspires us to perform any action. Every athlete trainer will confirm that perseverance is the determined by the mind, not the muscles. A non-thinker is spiritually lazy and indifferent because he lacks motivation. He is a puppet to his own desires until satisfying his desire is his core purpose of existence. His happiness or sense of contentment are measured only by the satisfaction of his cravings and longings, but he does not aspire towards any larger goal nor is he inclined to opening his mind to be a better person.
Thinking is higher than zikr, because zikr in the absence of thinking, understanding and appreciation of value is meaningless. The constant performance of zikr in a spiritual vacuum or without understanding is merely a physical routine, because it is not in conformity with the heart and mind.
The impact of zikr can only be understood if experienced first hand. To understand the flavour of a pomegranate flavoured marshmallow, one has to taste it with his own tongue, no matter how vividly described by others. If zikr is performed without living out the message of Islam, no matter how passionately someone is describing Allah, the listener cannot fully appreciate the enormity, and is unable to grasp the essence of zikr.
Rasulullah SAW never lost sight of his mission, Allah, akhirah, the people, and the condition of the ummah. One of the highest elevations he received on earth was the journey of Isra' and Mi'raj, where he achieved the highest level of surrender, being the realization that we cannot praise Allah enough.
Many people claim to be thinkers, but what are they thinking about? Where is their thinking directed, and what do they achieve? How much progress do they make in their spiritual reform? Intellect is the highest gift human beings possess. It is generated from desire within for something that you believe in, and what you benefit from. If you think about a car, a house, clothes or a vacation, man or woman, jewellery and money, you will find your desire for them taking a life of its own. How much pleasure and benefit will actually last? What if you make the same effort, thoughts and sacrifice to get closer to Allah, imagine what long lasting pleasure it will generate for you!