Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Question: Is group remembrance (dhikr) permissible? Is the group remembrance that includes the singing of poetry and rhythmic swaying (hadra) also permitted?
Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful.
There are a number of explicit, rigorously authenticated Prophetic hadiths that permit group remembrance (dhikr) out loud as long as it is not excessively loud (such that it annoys others, or, if in a mosque, distracts those who come to pray). These hadiths are given precedence over others when their indication conflicts.
Among the proofs for the permissibility of group remembrance is what Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Nasai, Ibn Majah, and Bayhaqi narrated from Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:
“Allah says: ‘I am as My servant thinks of Me, and I am with him when he makes remembrance (dhikr) of Me. If he makes remembrance of Me to himself, I make remembrance of him to Myself. If he makes remembrance of Me in a gathering, I make remembrance of him in a gathering better than it.’”
Imam al-Jazari (Allah have mercy on him) said in his Miftah al-Hisn al-Hasin, “this hadith indicates the permissibility of group remembrance.” Imam al-Suyuti said, “group remembrance can only be out loud, so this hadith indicates its permissibility.”
After this hadith, Imam Lakhnawi, a Hanafi jurist, quotes thirty nine other hadiths of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) that indicate the permissibility of group remembrance. He then quotes numerous Hanafi authorities, including al-Bazzazi, Abd al-Haqq al-Dahlawi, Khayr al-Din al-Ramli, and others, who said that group remembrance is permitted. He concludes by stating, “as for loud remembrance (dhikr), the hadiths permitting it are numerous, as are the reports (from the Companions and early Muslims), and we did not find a single proof clearly indicating that loud remembrance is impermissible or disliked. The hadith experts, Shafi`i jurists and some Hanafi jurists [including most late authorities in the school] also permitted it.” [Sibahat al-Fikr, 44-58]
This is also the position adopted by al-Tahtawi and Ibn Abidin, the two foremost references for fatwa in the Hanafi school, and there is no consequential disagreement about the permissibility of group remembrance in the Shafi`i school; it is the recorded position of al-Nawawi, Ibn Hajar, al-Subki, Ibn Daqiq, Ibn Abd al-Salam, al-Khalili, and their other imams.
It should be noted that when it comes to the legal ruling of a particular human act, it is our duty to see what the legal experts of Islam, the jurists of the four schools, said about the matter. Any matter that they deemed permitted may not be criticized by the common person or deemed wrong, for they are the inheritors of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), and they fulfilled the duty of operationalizing the sunnah of the Beloved of Allah.
Other Narrations Related to Group Remembrance (Dhikr):
The following is from Shaykh Abd al-Qadir `Isa’s “Haqa’iq al-Tasawwuf” [p.163]:
Abu Hurayra reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Allah Almighty has angels who travel the highways and by-ways seeking out gatherings of remembrance (dhikr) in the earth. When they find a gathering of remembrance, they enfold them with their wings stretching up to the heaven. Allah asks them, ‘From where have you come?’ They reply, ‘We have come from Your slaves who are glorifying You, praising You, proclaiming Your oneness, asking of You and seeking refuge with You.’ He says, and He knows better than them, ‘What are they asking Me for?’ They reply, ‘They are asking You for the Garden.’ He says, ‘Have they seen it?’ They reply, ‘No, our Lord.’ He says, ‘How would it be if they were to see it?’ Then He asks, and He knows better than them, ‘What are they seeking refuge from?’ ‘From the Fire,’ they reply. He asks, ‘Have they seen it?’ ‘No,’ they reply. Then He says, ‘How would it be if they were to see it?’ Then He says, ‘I testify to you that I have forgiven them, I have given them what they ask Me for, and I give them the refuge which they ask of Me.’ They say, ‘Our Lord, among them is a wrongdoer who is sitting with them, but is not one of them.’ He says, ‘I have forgiven him as well. The one sitting with these people will not be wretched.’” [Muslim, al-Tirmidhi, al-Hakim]
Abu Hurayra reported from Abu Sa’id al-Khudri that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “There are no people who remember Allah without the angels surrounding them, mercy covering them, tranquility descending on them, and Allah mentioning them to those who are with Him.” [Muslim, al-Tirmidhi]
Mu’awiya reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, went out to a circle of his Companions and asked, “What is it that has caused you to sit together?” They answered, “We have sat down to remember Allah and praise Him.” He said, “Jibril came to me and reported to me that the angels are boasting about you.” [Muslim, al-Tirmidhi]
Anas reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Allah Almighty has angels who travel about seeking out gatherings of remembrance (dhikr). When they come to them, they encircle them.” [al-Bazzar]
Anas also reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “When you come upon the meadows of the Garden, graze in them.” He was asked, “What are the meadows of the Garden?” “Circles of remembrance (dhikr)” he replied. [al-Tirmidhi]
The scholar Ibn ‘Allan, commentator on al-Adhkar, said that this hadith means, “When you pass by a group remembering Allah, do the remembrance (dhikr) they are doing or listen to their remembrance. They are in the meadows of the Garden now or ultimately. The Almighty says, ‘For him who fears the Station of his Lord there are two Gardens.’ (55:45)” [al-Futuhat al-Rabbaniyya ‘ala’l-Adhkar al-Nawawiyya]
In his gloss, Ibn ‘Abdin said about remembrance of Allah in a group, “Imam al-Ghazali compared doing remembrance alone and the remembrance of a group to the call to prayer (adhan) of someone alone and the call to prayer of a group. He said, ‘As the voices of a group of callers to the prayer (mu’adhins) reach further than the voice of a single caller, so the remembrance of a group has more effect on one heart in lifting dense veils than the remembrance of a single person.’”
In his Hashiyya, al-Tahtawi says: “al-Shar’awi states that scholars, both early and modern, agree that it is recommended to remember Allah Almighty in a group in the mosques and elsewhere without any objection unless their remembrance aloud disturbs someone sleeping, praying, or reciting the Qur’an, as is confirmed in books of jurisprudence.”