Can you hold a khatam for the deceased? Should you mark death anniversaries? Can you attend non-Muslim funerals?

Can you hold a khatam for the deceased? Should you mark death anniversaries? Can you attend non-Muslim funerals?

Can you hold a khatam for the deceased? Should you mark death anniversaries? Can you attend non-Muslim funerals?

Can you hold a Khatam al Quran or recite the Quran for the deceased

Widespread practice

The practice of holding khatams is so widespread in the community. Statistically more than 80 percent of people do this. Is it permissible?

There are two opinions and the bottom line is that as long as it is done without mixing it with any haram elements, it is permitted to continue this based on the strong and majority opinion for it.

In a nutshell, in our time, the entire ummah, except for a modern strand of Hanbalism say that it is permitted to recite Quran for the deceased and pass the reward to them.

We have a tendency sometimes to insist that only one viewpoint is right, but Islam can accommodate multiple opinions on certain matters and so it is not right for anyone to criticise another for not holding the same opinion as themselves. As long as nothing haram is added to the recitation of the Quran it is perfectly fine to recite the Quran on behalf of deceased as a means for their earning reward.

The history of the two views

Abu Hanifa and Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal believed that the good deeds of the living, such as reciting the Quran, can reach the deceased and so do the majority of the pious predecessors.

However the Shafi and Maliki school used to believe that these good deeds did not reach them. The schools later revised these opinions in favour of being able to pass on the reward.

The ‘against’ camp

The evidence against gifting deeds such as reciting the Quran to the deceased were based on the hadith which states that a person’s deeds end except for three things which continue to bring reward. Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:

When the human being dies, his deeds end except for three: ongoing charity, beneficial knowledge, or a righteous child who prays for him. (Sahih Muslim)

Therefore, Imam Shafi, in his Kitab al Umm said, ‘other than fulfilling the wajib, and sadaqa, dua and istighfar, no deed benefits the dead and nothing reaches the dead’.

The wajib refers to any missing acts of ibadah which the deceased did not do, can be fulfilled by their heirs.

This is based on the hadith that a woman from the tribe of Juhaina came to the Prophet (peace be on him) and said:

“My mother had vowed to perform Hajj but she died before performing it. May I perform Hajj on my mother’s behalf?” The Prophet (peace be on him) replied, “Perform Hajj on her behalf. Had there been a debt on your mother, would you have paid it or not? So, pay Allah’s debt as He has more right to be paid.”(Bukhari)

Some of the Maliki distinguish between monetary deeds and other good deeds, and say only monetary deeds can be gifted.

The claim it is biddah

The senior committee of ulema in Saudi Arabia, fifty years ago, said there were two opinions on this issue, but they believe it is biddah – an innovation after the death of the Prophet (peace be on him), and that the reward for recitation is only for the reciter and cannot be passed on to anyone else. It is a strong opinion based on the idea that you only receive reward for what you have earned yourself:

..man shall have nothing but what he has strived for. (53:39)

To say that it is a biddah is quite strong as none of the previous scholars called it biddah but accepted that there were different views on the matter.

Imam Nawawi (died 676) took the Shafi position that the reward of recitation could not be gifted to the deceased. However the Shafi school  moved away from this opinion later and revised it to say that it may be gifted. Therefore the Dar al Ifta school in Egypt which is very influential, follows the later Shafi opinion that you may gift the reward of good deeds including the recitation to the deceased.

The Maliki school holds that you may not gift imaan, tawheed and the kalima to to anyone else, eg you cannot take the shahada on behalf of anyone else, or pass on bodily actions, such as fasting, hajj and qirat al quran. However you can pass on monetary good deeds to the deceased, such as charity, building wells, mosques, schools and give qurbani (udhiya). Later this opinion was overridden and the majority of the Andalusian scholars where the Maliki madhab flourished, believed that the deceased benefits from the recitation of the Quran of the living.

The ‘for’ camp

The Hanafi madhab hold the opinion that any  good deed can be gifted to the deceased (and even to the living), including siyam, hajj and recitation of the Quran. They also believe that you can decide this before or after the deed is completed.

If you gift your reward to someone else, Allah Almighty is generous. So we expect that He would multiply the reward, rewarding the one who gave it and the one who received it. If you don’t want to do it, fine. It is not sinful. It is your choice. This is based on the ayah at the end of Surah Baqarah:

Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity. It will have [the consequence of] what [good] it has gained, and it will bear [the consequence of] what [evil] it has earned. (2:286)

According to this view point, you own what you have earned, and it is your property – whether it is  recitation, or fasting. If it is your property you are free to gift the reward to others. With the exception of salah, which is obligatory. 

My opinion is that as long as the gathering does not involve anything haram; it is simply a gathering, with dhikr, dua and recitation, that is fine. The reward may be gifted to the deceased on the basis that you can own the reward of the recitation, therefore it is in your possession to pass on if you wish.

Reward or barakah?

The Hanbali school holds the opinion that when the Quran is recited over the deceased and gifted, its reward goes to the reciter and to the deceased. Some ulema said if you recite the Quran over the deceased they do not get the reward of the recitation, but the barakah of the recitation. Ibn Qudamah al Maqdisi said there is ijma (scholarly consensus) on the topic:

It is the unanimous actions of the Muslims in every era and in every land, they come together and they recite the Quran and gift the Quran to their dead without any one criticising them.

Ibn Taymiyyah, who is from the Hanbali school and Ibn Qayyim, his student, said explicitly that all goods can be gifted to the deceased, including the recitation of the Quran. This is based on the fact that when the Prophet (peace be on him) was asked if the deceased would benefit from good deeds performed on their behalf, he said yes. This suggests that other good deeds in addition to the ones he was asked about, would also be acceptable.

Do not gift all your deeds all the time

Ibn Taymiyyah also made the comment that it was not the practice of the sahaba and tabbieen to gift the reward of all their actions to the deceased or to relatives. However we do not know whether they did this in private or not, as they did not do all their acts of worship in public.

Though we hope that Allah will reward us for giving our good deeds away, we have still transferred them, and we are in need of good deeds ourselves. We cannot give away all our good deeds as we cannot give away all our wealth.

It is not right to hire people to recite the Quran for the deceased. However if they recite and you give them a gift from the wealth of the deceased the deceased will receive the reward for the recitation.

Ibn al Qayyim’s proofs that you can gift the reward of recitation

In the Kitab al Ruh, Ibn al Qayim said a thousand years ago, that you can prove the reward of the good deeds reach the dead, because the Prophet (peace be on him) allowed people to fast, perform hajj, give sadaqa, and make dua and istighfar on behalf of the dead, but there is no evidence that there is any difference between these and reciting the Quran.

He says furthermore that the fact the famous hadith says the deeds of the  deeds of the deceased end, does not mean that the deeds of the living on behalf of the deceased end. Therefore there is no contradiction between the hadith and the transfer of good deeds from the living to the dead as a voluntary gift.

Can you mark a death anniversary

It is not from the sunnah to mark specific anniversaries after someone has died. However, if people want to come together, recite the Quran and gift the reward of that to the deceased, there is no harm in that.

Should you feed mourners

When a family member died the Prophet (peace be on him) would tell the companions to make food for the deceased’s family, because they would be busy mourning. The custom was not that the deceased’s family would feed their visitors. They are the ones needing comforting and this is not a time when they are expected to be tested in their hosting skills.

Offering a meal to mourners is against the sunnah. The sunnah is for mourners to cook for the family. They have been afflicted by loss, so we comfort them. It is not the other way around that they are comforting their visitors. That would be inflicting double pain: they lost a beloved one, and they are burdened by cooking and spending money to feed their guests. We have twisted the sunnah and made the lives of the family even more difficult. This is the wrong culture. It is the opposite of the sunnah. You can see from the hadith:

Abdullah bin Ja’far said that when the news of the death of Ja’far came, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

Prepare some food for the family of Ja’far, for indeed something has happened to them that will keep them busy. (Tirmidhi)

Funerals should not be the equivalent of weddings, and yet, in certain Muslim communities, there is an expectation that the family of the deceased should provide a banquet, to the extent that in some communities if the food hasn’t been ordered from the leading caterer people feel the funeral was not up to scratch.

However this is not just unnecessary but a pointless expense when the family are grieving and coming to terms with their loss.

Over time, the tradition has gone from bringing food for the family, to the family feeding those who have travelled to visit them, and more often than not, for the family to distribute food on behalf of the deceased as sadaqa. Therefore practices have become somewhat warped and onerous, and a burden on the deceased’s family, particularly when there are large numbers of visitors over three days, and the cost escalates.

Is it acceptable to bless food

The words of the Quran put barakah in whatever they are recited on, whether this is over your own self, or it is blown on water, or food that is eaten. We wipe over our body with the verses when we do ruqya, i.e. protect ourselves from illness or envy.  The Prophet (peace be on him) used to recite the three quls, blow into his hands and wipe over himself.

This is the concept of barakah. If you recite the words of the Quran on water or food they become  blessed. When you recite, the angels and mercy descend and these permeate your food, drink, and home so there is nothing wrong with it.

Should food be distributed

People recognise that distributing food as a charity, but it must be within your limits. If people have to borrow money to fulfil society’s expectations, or to fulfil cultural needs, by procuring food from expensive restaurants to feed mourners, this is not acceptable and we should fight such cultural practices.

What can you do for the deceased

You can recite the Quran, do an umrah, go for haj, build a mosque or hospital on their behalf,  sponsor an orphan or knowledge seeker. All good deeds are sadaqah jariah for the deceased.

A man asked the Prophet (peace be on him): “My father died and left behind some money, but he has made no will. Would it benefit him if I give sadaqah, or charity, on his behalf?” The Prophet said: “Yes.” (Ahmad, Muslim and others).

Another hadith mentions that Saad ibn Ubadah said to the Prophet (peace be on him):

“My mother has died. Can I give to charity on her behalf?” The Prophet (peace be on him) said: “Yes.” Saad said: “Which type of charity is best?” The Prophet (peace be on him) answered: “To provide drinking water.” Saad carried out a project to provide drinking water in Madinah, which continued to be known by his family’s name for a long time.

Does a body have to be buried in a Muslim cemetery

If Muslim cemetery is not available a body can be buried in the Muslim section of the graveyard. By law, in some areas you are not allowed to take the body out of the coffin, which is the sunnah: you have to abide to the rules. In some areas they allow you to do this. If you can, this is the sunnah and so preferable.

Should you visit graves

Ibn Mas’ud reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:

I prohibited you from visiting graves, but visit them now. Verily, they will weaken your attachment to the world and remind you of the Hereafter. (ibn Majah)

Visiting graveyards remind you of your final destination. They bring you back to the ultimate reality. You still have time so stop moaning and complaining. Be grateful. You realise this when you visit hospitals and graves.

Should you attend non-Muslim funerals

Part of being a good Muslim is being part of the community – Muslim and non-Muslim, and sharing in the happiness and sadness of those we around us. This does not mean that we should get involved in any ritual which is out of Islam. Certainly pay your respects and give your condolences to the family of the deceased. Avoid being part of any religious rituals.

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Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001. His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College). He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.