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 practiceThe practice of holding khatams is so widespread in the community. Probably more than 80 percent of people do this. Is it permissible? In a nutshell, in our time, the entire ummah, barring a small minority, say that it is permitted to recite Quran for the deceased and gift the reward to them. As long as you hold a khatam without adding any haram elements to it, it is permitted to recite the Quran and gift the reward to the deceased. This is the majority opinion. Muslims have a tendency to insist that only one viewpoint on an issue is right, but Islam can accommodate multiple opinions on certain matters at the same time. Therefore, if some people prefer not to hold a khatam, while others do, they are both within their rights, and should not criticise others for holding a different opinion to themselves.
The modern opinion that khatams are biddahFifty years ago, the senior committee of ulema in Saudi Arabia declared that it is biddah – an innovation after the death of the Prophet (peace be on him) to recite the Quran and pass its reward to the deceased. Their opinion has been very vocal. It is based on ayah that you will only receive reward for what you have earned yourself:
..man shall have nothing but what he has strived for. (53:39)No previous scholars called it biddah. They simply accepted that there were different scholarly views on the matter.
The history of the two opinionsAbu Hanifa and Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal and the majority of the pious predecessors, believed that the good deeds of the living, such as reciting the Quran, can reach the deceased. By contrast the Shafi and Maliki school used to believe that these good deeds did not reach them. However, later the Shafi and Maliki schools revised their opinion and agreed with the position that you can gift the reward of reciting the Quran to the deceased.
The Shafi schoolImam Shafi’s original opinion that you cannot gift the reward of reciting the Quran was based on the famous hadith that a person’s good deed end when they die, 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)Imam Shafi did however agree that one is permitted to fulfil any acts of ibadah such as Hajj, that were not fulfilled by the deceased based on another hadith in which a woman came to the Prophet (peace be on him) and asked:
“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)One of the scholars who believed it was not possible to gift the recitation was Imam Nawawi (died 676) took the early 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. The influential Dar al Ifta school in Egypt follows the revised opinion.
The Maliki schoolThe early Maliki school held the opinion that you could pass on monetary good deeds to the deceased, such as charity, building wells, mosques, schools and give qurbani (udhiya) but not gift imaan, tawheed and the kalima to to anyone else. But they revised this opinion 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 Hanafi schoolThe 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.
The Hanbali schoolThe 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 timeIbn 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 recitationIn 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 anniversaryIt 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 mournersWhen 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 foodThe 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 distributedPeople 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 deceasedYou 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. (Sunan An Nasai’)
Does a body have to be buried in a Muslim cemeteryIf 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 gravesIbn 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 funeralsPart 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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March 17, 2022