Donating Reward to the Dead: A Detailed Answer
Hanafi FiqhShafi'i Fiqh
Answered by Ustadh Faraz Khan
In a class I attended recently, we were told that reciting Surah Yaseen is a sunnah for the sick and dying (in their presence). However, it is not a sunnah not after a person’s death. We were told this was a cultural practice and brings no benefit to the deceased. Is this true?
Insha’Allah you are well.
The short answer to your question is that reciting the Qur’an, whether Surah Yasin or otherwise, is not merely a cultural practice but does indeed provide benefit to the deceased according to the majority of Sunni scholars. It falls under the more general ruling of donating reward to others.
The Legal Ruling of Donating Reward to Others
With respect to this discussion, actions can be divided into two categories: (1) actions with a monetary component such as charity or pilgrimage, and (2) solely physical actions such as praying, fasting, and reciting Qur’an.
There is scholarly consensus regarding the first type that one may donate its reward to the deceased, based on several clear hadith texts. For example, Imam Muslim actually titled a section of his Sahih Collection “The Reward of Charity on Behalf of the Deceased Reaches Him.” He relates in that section that a man told the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that his mother died a sudden death and did not have a chance to leave a bequest in her will, and that were she able to speak she would want to donate charity. He then asked if the reward of charity on behalf of his deceased mother would reach her, to which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “Yes.”
With regards to the second type of actions, physical actions with no monetary component, the view of some scholars was that one could not donate the reward to the deceased. However the majority of scholars, especially later ones, affirmed that one can indeed perform physical voluntary acts and donate the reward of those acts to the deceased. This is established in all four canonical schools of law, as mentioned by major Imams of each school – such as Ibn Abidin of the Hanafi school, Hattab of the Maliki school, Nawawi of the Shafi`i school, and Ibn Qudama of the Hanbali school – all of whom give the example of specifically reciting Qur’an for the deceased, notwithstanding minor differences such as whether or not one must be at the physical grave-site for the deceased to benefit. [Ibn `Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar; Hattab, Mahawib al-Jalil; Nawawi, al-Minhaj; Ibn Qudama, al-Mughni]
The Hanafis specifically mention that a person may designate the reward of any voluntary good deed to another person, whether the designated recipient is alive or deceased, without it decreasing from the performer’s reward whatsoever. Based on this ruling, some scholars even suggested that when a person gives voluntary charity [and by extension any voluntary work], he should intend it on behalf of all believing men and women, as the reward will reach them and take nothing away from his own personal reward. [Ibn `Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]
Evidence from the Sunnah
There is much evidence in the Sunnah for this position, a few examples of which will be presented here.
Imam Bukhari titled a section of his Sahih Collection, “Performing Hajj and Fulfilling Vows on Behalf of the Deceased,” and relates in that section that a woman asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) if she could perform hajj on behalf of her deceased mother, who had made a vow to do so, to which he replied, “Yes, perform the hajj on her behalf; if she had a debt, wouldn’t you pay it back for her? Pay off her debt to Allah, for He is more deserving of fulfilling obligations.”
Also, both Bukhari and Muslim relate in their Sahih Collections that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “If someone dies while owing obligatory fasts, his relative can fast on his behalf.”
An Example from a Companion-Scholar, Whose Understanding Reflects the Sunnah
With regards to reciting Qur’an for the deceased, this was the practice of Ibn Umar himself (may Allah be pleased with him), one of the greatest Companions and a scholar among them, who was particularly well-known for being strict in his adherence to the Prophetic Sunnah.
Imam Abu Bakr al-Khallal, an eminent Imam of the Hanbali school, mentions in his work, “Commanding the Good and Forbidding the Evil,” that Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal once entered a graveyard with some of his students and saw a blind man sit at a grave to recite Qur’an. Imam Ahmad told him to stop since he considered it a reprehensible innovation (bid`a). When they left the graveyard, one of his students narrated a hadith with a sound chain of narration that Ibn Umar himself left a bequest that someone should recite Qur’an at his grave after his demise. Upon hearing the narration, Imam Ahmad told the student to return and tell the blind man to go ahead and recite Qur’an. [Muhammad Awwama, Athar al-Hadith al-Sharif, citing Ibn Qayyim, Kitab al-Ruh]
As in all matters of difference of opinion, such issues should not be a source of dispute or animosity among Muslims. The issue is not a central tenet of faith, whereas the unity of Muslims is an obligation and of the utmost priority. One can appreciate that there is sufficient legal precedent to donate the reward of voluntary works to others, including that of solely physical actions like praying, fasting, or reciting Qur’an, and therefore those who wish to do so have every right to and should not be condemned or blamed. At the same time, if one prefers not to, that is his right and there is nothing wrong with that.
May Allah Most High unite our hearts for His sake, and make our entire community the coolness of our Beloved Messenger’s eyes, peace and blessings be upon him. Amin.
[Shaykh] Faraz Khan
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Faraz A. Khan has lived in Amman, Jordan, for several years studying and teaching traditional Islamic sciences, with a focus on Hanafi jurisprudence, hadith studies, theology, logic, and Arabic grammar. He translated and annotated the classical Hanafi primer “Ascent to Felicity” (Maraqi ‘l-Sa`adat) by Imam Shurunbulali, recently published by White Thread Press.