To put simply, isal ath-thawab is nothing other than to ask Allah for the forgiveness of our sins, and to raise the spiritual status of the deceased.This may be achieved through various practices, such as the offering of du’a’s (supplications), to recite the Qur’an, to offer Qurbani [(t ‘Id al-Adha), and also, to perform a compulsory Hajj (fard) on the behalf of the deceased.
As this chapter will seek to demonstrate, (by using the Qur’an, the Sunna and fatawa of the ‘ulema as evidence) isal ath-thawab is not an innovative practice (bid’a), but something that has been practiced by Muslims throughout the centuries and, secondly, which is permissible.
Evidence from the Qur’an
Allah Most High has ordered the Muslims to pray for their parents as follows:
“O my Lord, have mercy on my parents even as they have brought me up through my childhood”
[Sura al-Isra’, verse 24]
Allah Most High has praised those Muslims who ask for forgiveness of the deceased. They ask for forgiveness in the following manner:
“Our Lord! Forgive us and forgive our Muslim brothers who came before us [passed away]”
(Sura al-Hashr, verse 10)
The above mentioned verses demonstrate that if anyone prays on behalf of another person, the latter will receive the spiritual benefits – Allah Willing.This also demonstrates that if it was the wrong action Allah would not have ordered us to pray for other people, nor would He have stated that those who ask for forgiveness for the deceased receive praises from Allah.
Evidence from Hadith
Imam al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim write that:
“A man came to the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and said ‘My mother has suddenly died and she did not leave any will, but I suspect that if she did then she would have told me to give something to charity. Now if I offer something in charity on her behalf, will she get the reward?’ Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) replied, ‘Yes.’Then the man said, ‘I make you, the Prophet, my witness that I offer my garden full of fruits in charity'”
[Bukhari; Muslim, chapter on ‘Al-Wasiya’]
This hadith, as can be clearly read, proves that to offer a charity on behalf of the deceased will result in the deceased obtainig a benefit.
Imam al-Bukhari writes:
“Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) has said, ‘The status of the deceased is raised [during their time in the grave], and the deceased ask Allah why this has happened. Allah replies, ‘Your son has prayed for your forgiveness'”
[al-Bukhari, Al-Adab Al-Mufid, chapter on ‘Excellency of Parents’]
From this particular hadith it can be understood that not only charity, but the offering of prayers (making duas) and the giving of alms, will also benefit the deceased.
Opinion of the Scholars
Hafiz Ibn Taymiyya writes:
“From the authentic ahadith there is evidence pointing out that the deceased person will gain rewards from all the good deeds carried out on his/her behalf by others. Some people raise the objection that a person can only gain reward from their own actions, and refer to the Qur’an [for evidence]. This is not correct. Firstly, because a Muslim recieves the reward of those deeds that he /she has never done themselves [for example]: like Allah says in the Qur’an that the angels of the Throne of Allah, glorify Allah and ask for forgiveness on behalf of all the Muslims.It is also evident from the Qur’an [that] Allah Most High ordered Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) to pray for his Umma, since his du’a’ is the peace of mind for the Umma. In the same way, the du’a is offered in the funeral prayer, when visiting the grave and when praying for the deceased
“Secondly, we know that Allah Most High rewards us through the deeds of other people, which arecarried out on our behalf. An example is where the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, ‘Whenever a Muslim prays for other Muslims, Allah appoints an angel to say Amin’ – i.e. the angel asks Allah for the acceptance of the prayer. Sometimes Allah blesses the participants of the funeral prayer in response to the prayer from the deceased and vice-versa”
[Ibn Taymiyya, Mujmu’ al-Fatawa, Saudia Arabian edition, vol.7, page 500 & vol.24, page 367]
Hafiz Ibn al-Qayyim writes:-
“If a Muslim recites Qur’an, performs Hajj, offers du’a’ or gives in charity on the behalf of the deceased, then the deceased gets the benefits of it. Some innovators say that the deceased do not get any such reward, which is wrong according to the authentic ahadith. The proof is in the Qur’an that Allah Most High has praised those who ask for forgiveness for their Muslim brothers. An authentic hadith proves that Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) replied to a question saying that to offer alms on behalf of a deceased person earns benefit. Some individuals suspect that the earlier Muslims did not do isal ath-thawab. This is because of their own ignorance or lack of knowledge. The earlier Muslims did not do these to show off. The Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) himself gave permission to offer alms, so it is right to say that isal ath-thawab is right. The aya in the Qur’an, which states that only ones own deeds are rewarded, means that if one is righteous enough to get rewarded, which means that one is righteous to receive reward, but a present from someone else is also rewarded to the deceased by Allah Most High”
[Ibn al-Qayyim, Kitab ar-Ruh, Chapter 16]
Qadi Shawkani writes:
“According to the Sunni creed, a deceased receives reward from others praying, performing Hajj, offering alms, but the Mu’tazilites [a deviant sect]refuse to accept this. If it is wrong to offer these to the deceased, then Islam would not have allowed us to say Salam [greeting of peace] to the deceased when visiting or entering the graveyards”
[Qadi Shawkani, Nayl al-Awtar, chapter on ‘Janaiz’]
These above references prove our argument for isal ath-thawab and that the suspicion people harbour regarding it has no basis in either the Qur’an or the Sunna.
The origin of isal ath-thawab is in the Qur’an but it is carried out in different manners in different communities. Similarly, to preach Islam or invite others to the Din is proven but the methods are different for different situations. For example Islamic circles are held on Saturdays or Sundays in some communities but it is not mentioned in the Qur’an or ahadith that they should be held on these evenings. In the same way, the origin of isal ath-thawab is in the Qur’an and ahadith but it is carried out differently in different communities. Thus to call it an innovation is not right.Now we will discuss four issues, concerning isal ath-thawab, that have been labelled as innovations by certain people.
1) When a person dies, Muslims offer alms (sadaqa) on their behalf and pray in congregation. In these gatherings, Islamic teachings are preached; this serves as a way to preach or spread Islam. Through these gatherings, the deceased receive benefit because Muslims pray for their fogiveness and others get knowledge of Islam. The poor get benefit from these alms. If you look at it from any angle, it is not an innovation.
2)Some people raise the question that a day should not be fixed for this and that fixing such a day is haram in Islam. The answer to this question is that ‘fixing a day’ for isal ath-thawab will only be haram if it is said that outside of this day it will not be isal ath-thawab. For instance, Qurbani, Hajj and
salat times are fixed, but isal ath-thawab is sometimes found on a fixed day merely for convenience of relatives and friends for du’a. The participants do not believe it is compulsory to hold the gathering for that ‘fixed day’. Like any Islamic conference, the date of it is fixed in advance.
Another example is when the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) asked Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) after Fajr, ‘Tell me what good deeds you do because I heard your footsteps in Janna. Bilal replied, ‘The only thing I do is after I make wudu I pray as much nawafil as Allah wills me to do’ [Bukhari, Chapter of Salat]. Hafiz al-‘Asqalani writes in his commentary to this hadith, ‘We can understand from this hadith that it is permissible for a person to fix a time for their voluntary prayers’ [Fath al-Bari, Book of Salat]
A final example is the ‘fixed times’ for congregational prayers in the mosque – no one can be labelled an innovator because of this and, in the same way, to fix a day for du’a’ for the deceased is not an innovation.
3) Some people object to the provision of food and drink at the gatherings of isal ath-thawab. However, this is merely a showing of hospitality. At some of these gatherings many people get together to read Qur’an for the deceased. For the people who get together and read Qur’an, we could be hospitible by providing for them by giving food and drink. This is all done with the intention of thawab (reward). Similarly, when Islamic circles are held there are usually refreshments held after and this is carried out with the intention of blessings and reward. This is one way of doing isal ath-thawab. There are many other ways of doing isal ath-thawab..
4) One of the methods of isal ath-thawab is the gathering of Urs, which is done annually for a saint by his disciples (murids). They hold this Urs in the mosque near the grave of the saint. They recite the Qur’an and various scholars give lectures on different topics of Islam. The audience are allowed to question the scholars on anything they wish. At the end of the gathering, a du’a’ is said and then hospitality is shown to the people. The hospitality is solely done for Allah’s good pleasure and the blessings.
Some people consider this an innovation (bid’a) and regard it to be forbidden (haram). They object to this and ask questions such as “Why once a year?” The other objection they have towards it is that the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) curses those who build mosques on the grave. Therefore, the objection they hold is that if a mosque is not allowed to be built on a grave, how can you hold a gathering, such as Urs, there?
Regarding the objection of holding Urs only once a year, Imam Tabari, Hafiz Ibn Kathir and al-Qurtubi write:
“The Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) used to go to the graves of the martyrs of Uhud once a year and recite a verse from the Holy Qur’an regarding the excellence of patience. The Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) used to pray for them. When the beloved Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) passed away himself, the khulafa, Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, Usman and ‘Ali (may Allah be pleased with them) used to do the same thing”
[Tafsir Tabari, Tafsir Ibn Kathir and Tafsir Qurtubi, commentary of Sura ar-Ra’d, verse 20]
From this we can conclude or understand that going to the grave of a saint once a year is permissible and is not an innovation (bid’a). Also to lecture in a gathering is just another way of doing da’wa (propagating Islam).
As for the alleged impermissiblilty of building a mosque over a grave, the meaning of the hadith is that it is impermissible to prostrate to the grave. There is proof in the Qur’an of building a mosque for saints near the grave:
“They said, build over their cave any building. Their Lord knows well about them. Those who prevailed in their affair said, ‘We swear that we shall erect over them amosque”
[Sura al-Kahf, verse 21]
Commenting on this verse, Imam at-Tabari, Hafiz Ibn Kathir and Imam al-Qurtabi write:
“When the people of the cave went into the cave, some people close to the entrance of the cave said, ‘Build a mosque so we can worship Allah.’ The people who said this were Muslims”
[Tafsir Tabari, Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Sura al-Kahf, verse 21]
Therefore, from this we can prove that building a mosque near the grave of a pious person is permissible.
Hafiz al-‘Asqalani writes:
“If a person built a mosque near the graves of pious people, and that person’s intention is solely for the blessings of Allah, and at the time of prayer the people do not not prostrate or face the grave, it is permissable to build a mosque near the grave of a saint and is not forbidden”
[Fath al-Bari, Chapter of Masjid]
From the above, we can understand the true meaning of the hadith which points out not to prostrate to the graves. It does not mean not to build a mosque near the graves. It basically means not to face the graves whilst praying.
Imam at-Tabari and Hafiz Ibn Kathir write, in 88 AH, that the room of ‘A’isha (may Allah be pleased with her) – where there are graves of the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with them) – was joined to the mosque of the Prophet
[Tareeh Tabari and Tar’ikh Hafiz Ibn Kathir, Chapter of Government of Walid ibn ‘abd al-Malik]
At the time of this, some Companions and their students (Tabi’un) were alive and since then no-one has objected to this, which means it is allowed to have a mosque near the grave.
Some people assert that it is not allowed to visit the grave with the intention to see the grave. We, the Ahl as-Sunna say that it is permissible and, moreover, praiseworthy to go and visit the grave with the intention that you are going to see the grave. We have already mentioned the evidences for this in the previous chapter.
Some people make the false accusation that the Ahl as-Sunna wa’l-Jama’a make vows to pious people (anbiya and awliya) but the Ahl as-Sunna make vows only for Allah and no one else. To make a vow is worship. We believe that if someone worships something other than Allah he is a mushrik, and a kafir.
Then the following question is raised: What is the meaning when the Ahl as-Sunna go to the graves of the pious and make vows to them?
When the people of Ahl as-Sunna make vows like this to Allah, they do so in the following manner: ‘O Allah, if You make our sick people better, we will feed ten poor people, and the sawab (reward) from it we will donate to this pious person named so and so.’ Sometimes the person makes a vow to Allah and then slaughters a sheep and gives the meat to the poor and then makes du’a that the sawab from this goes to pious people who have passed away.
Some People say that This Type of Vow is Kufr and Shirk.
Muhammad ibn ‘abd al-Wahhab wrote:
“Vows is kufr for the pious” [Ibn ‘abd al-Wahhab, Kashf al-Shubhat, Chapter on Vows]
The problem with Ibn ‘abd al-Wahhab’s statement is that he did not differentiate between the vow of worship and the vow of gift. The vows of the pious mean the gift of sawab (reward) and not vows of worship that can only be for Allah.
Imam Ahmad Raza Khan writes:
“When we slaughter an animal for ‘aqiqa, the slaughtering of the animal is for Allah and the meat is for the people. Or when we have visitors we slaughter the lamb, cow, chicken, etc. We do it not for worship but for the hospitality of the visitors. So in the same way, when a person goes to the graves of the pious and slaughters an animal, the intention is for the meat to be given to the poor and the sawab to go to the pious. We cannot think that any Muslim can make vows as worship for any pious person or slaughter animals in respect and wor
ship of the pious. But if somebody does it with the intention of worship there is no doubt that he is a non-Muslim”
[Khan, Ahmad, Raza., Fatawa Razawiyya; Fatawa Shami, Fatawa Alamghir, Chapter of Vows]
Some people have raised the question that is it bid’a to read the Qur’an and say du’a on the food during an isal ath-thawab gathering.
There are certain aspects to the above question. Firstly, we believe that the food is not part of the isal ath-thawab gathering. Imam Ahmad Raza Khan writes:
“If someone puts food before an isal ath-thawab meeting and he has the intention of reading Qur’an and du’a’ on it, then this is allowed. If someone states that the deceased cannot get sawab because there is no food in the isal ath-thawab then they are wrong”
[Fatawa Razawiyya, Chapter on Janaza]
Secondly, we cannot say that having food before the isal ath-thawab gathering is bid’a, as the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) put food, milk and water in front of him, and then he did du’a’ and read something on the food. Hafiz Ibn-Kathir writes:
“One day the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was invited to someone’s house. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) accepted the invitation and he bought a lot of Companions with him to the house. There was a very short amount of food for the people. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said to bring the food out. Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) read whatever Allah wanted on the food and du’a’ was also done on the food and the food was given to the people. After the people had eaten the food, there was still the same amount of food left as it was before the people started to eat”
[Ibn Kathir, Ta’rikh Ibn Kathir & Sirat an-Nabi, Chapter of Mu’jizat]
From this narration we can see the proof for the permissibility to do du’a on food – it is not an innovation but a Sunna and is only done for the purpose of baraka (blessing) and so the food does not come short.
The purpose of isal ath-thawab gatherings is to spread and teach Islam, and to offer food to the people who join the gathering is not bid’a [Tafsir Ibn Kathir, under Sura ash-Shu’ara’, verse 214]
Hafiz Ibn Kathir writes:
“When Allah Most High revealed this verse of the Qur’an which states: ‘O Beloved, warn your nearest kinsmen’ the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said to ‘Ali, ‘O Ali, sacrifice a goat and cook that meat and bring milk and fruit with the cooked to my house for a party.’ At the party, Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, ‘I am a Prophet of Allah. I have been sent to guide you to the right path, so become Muslim.’ When the family heard this, they started to laugh and they left the house. This happened for three days continuously”
[Tafsir Ibn Kathir, under Sura ash-Shu’ara’, verse 214]
From the above references it is clear that to prepare food for blessings is allowed and to hold the gatherings for the spread and teaching of Islam and to invite people to eat the blessed food is not bid’a.
In our times, especially in the western countries, Muslims have become very lazy and they do not attend the Mosque to perform salat. Therefore, it is good to organise a gathering and to prepare food for the gathering and to invite Muslims and offer them food and to teach about Islam and their duties. The people who carry out this job are praiseworthy because they are spending their money and time in Allah’s way. Their intention is to please Allah Most High and it is very surprising that people say that this is bid’a and you will get bad deeds if you do this and this is a waste of money.
We pray for all the Muslims who have passed away for their forgiveness and we also pray for those people who organise different kinds of gatherings to guide and remind Muslims of their duties.