Are Weekly Group Dhikr Gatherings a Reprehensible Innovation (Bid`a)?

Hanafi Fiqh

Answered by Shaykh Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari

Question: Is it wrong to gather weekly, on a specific day, for a group dhikr including the sending of salat and salam on the Prophet, as some followers of some shaykh named Muhammad Zakariyya do? Is this not going against the sunna?

Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

What is a reprehensible innovation?

Firstly, what is a reprehensible and sinful innovation? It has two essential parts:

a) It was not done by the Prophet and the early generations; and, importantly,

b) It goes against the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunna, or is not based on a principle of the Prophetic message.

This is understood from the words of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), “Whoever inaugurates in our religion something contrary to our way shall have it rejected.” [Bukhari and Muslim from Sayyida `A’isha (Allah be pleased with her)]

The General Guidance of the Sunna

Second, a fundamental point regarding innovation (bid`a) must be clearly understood. If understood, then many of our queries will (insha Allah) be answered.

There are certain acts of worship which the Shariah has declared recommended (mandub) or highly encouraged (sunna), but without specifying a particular procedure or method for it.

Rewards have been promised for various types of worship, but the actual method of implementation has not been prescribed. This method of worship has been left to the convenience of the people.

In such acts of worship, it is necessary to leave the general permission given by the Shariah. If a particular method is fixed or considered to be superior to other methods, then this will be impermissible and classed as Bid`a. (Taken from Ibn Abidin’s Radd al-Muhtar Imam al-Barkawi’s al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya, and the works of Imam al-Lakhnawi).

Some actions as an example

Let us look at some examples:

It is a great act of reward and merit to perform a good action and dedicate the reward to the soul of a dead person (isaal al-thawab). The one who performs this receives twofold reward, viz; one for carrying out this act of worship, and the other for showing consideration to a fellow Muslim who has passed away.

Now, the Shariah has not prescribed any particular method for performing this act, as in the reward can only be sent by the recitation of the Qur’an or by giving charity, and so forth. Rather, it has been left to the convenience of the individual. If one was to fix a particular method, such that no other method were considered suitable, or believed it to be necessarily superior to others, or if one believed that something that was not a specific Prophetic practice to be a specific Prophetic practice, then this will become an innovation. Of course, deeming something to be an innovation is a legal ruling, which can only be issued by deeply knowledgeable and god-fearing scholars.

However, if a method  was practised without thinking it to be specifically necessary, then it will be totally permissible, and not considered to be a reprehensible innovation, even if it was not prevalent in the time of the blessed Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give peace).

Sending reward as an example

Sending a reward to the soul of a beloved can be done in many different ways.

For example, if a person was to write a book for the benefit of Muslims with the intention of propagating Islam. After completing this work, they ask Allah to send the rewards of this work to the soul of such and such person, then this is a perfectly acceptable way of sending reward, even though the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) never performed this act, as he did not write a book.

Take the same example of writing a book. The Shariah has ordered us to propagate the message of Islam and its way of life (deen) to others. Now, there are many ways to carry out this propagation (da`wah) work and all of them will be permissible, accepted and rewarded, as long as no one method is deemed specifically necessary to the exclusion of others.

Among these different ways of carrying out the da`wah work is the compilation of a book. This can not be considered an innovation, even though the Messenger of Allah (Peace and blessings be upon him) did not write himself, for the simple reason that any permitted method chosen for the purpose of da`wah will be permissible, as long as it does not go against any other fundamental texts or principles of Islam.

Similarly, a scholar conducts daily Hadith or Fiqh lessons at a particular time; let’s say after the prayer of Isha. This is totally permissible, rather recommended, even though this may not be prevalent in the time Of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace).

However, if he was to say that this gathering of ours at this particular time, is the specific sunna way of preaching, and it is superior to all the other methods, and the one who fails to attend this lesson does not have any  desire to gain knowledge and so on, then this will become an innovation.

The Companions’ Implementation of the Sunna of the Beloved of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace)

There are a large number of hadiths, many from the rigorously authenticated (sahih) collections, showing that many of the prophetic Companions initiated new acts, forms of invocation (dhikr), supplications (dua), and so on, that our Beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) had never done himself nor ordered to be done.

Rather, the Companions did them because of their reasoned deduction that such acts were part the general good that the Beloved of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) called towards and encouraged in general ways, as mentioned by Allah Most High in the Qur’an:

“And do the good, that haply you may succeed” (Qur’an 22:77)

The good, of course, is that which the Lawgiver (Allah Most High) has deemed good, either specifically, or in general terms.

The Difference Between Innovation and Following the Sunna

We can see from the foregoing, the delicate difference between the two ways. If a permissible act is performed without deeming it necessary for everyone to perform, then it is not an innovation. It becomes an innovation, however, if it is regarded as a specific Prophetic sunna (when it is not) or binding on all the Muslims, such that those who do not perform it are considered blameworthy.

By understanding this principle, many disputes of ours will no longer remain. It is very important, especially in this time of trials and tribulations that we learn to respect the opinions of others and strive towards establishing unity and love between Muslims, because we are all followers of the Beloved of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), whose message was based on mercy and love.

Your Specific Question

Coming to your question, this collective method of reciting Salat & Salam on the blessed Messenger of Allah (Peace and blessings be upon him) was initiated by one of the great Hadith and Tasawwuf scholars of India, who is widely respected across the Muslim world as a great authority in both sciences, Shaykh Muhammad Zakariyya al-Kandahlawi (Allah be pleased with him and the scholars of this Ummah). The late Shaykh, especially in the last few years of his life, stressed the importance of Tasawwuf, Dhikr of Allah, and generally the establishments of Zawiyas (khanqah).

After the demise of the Shaykh, his disciples carried on with this type of group and group recitation of peace and blessing on the Beloved of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace). Many disciples of his conduct these kinds of gatherings around the world.

In light of the above explanation concerning innovation, it becomes clear that this particular method of group dhikr is permissible, but not regarded as a specific Prophetic sunna, though it is understood from the general sunna encouragement to perform dhikr both alone and in group, as long as there is no other reason of impermissibility (such as undue mixing between men and women).

The recitation of blessings on the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) is very virtuous and increases love for the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give peace). Love of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) is something obligatory for every believer. He (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “None [truly] believes until they love me more than their child, parents, or all creation.” [Muslim and others] He also said (Allah bless him and give him peace), “By the One in whose Hand is my soul, none of you [truly] believe until I am more beloved than your parents or children.” [Ahmad and Bukhari]

However, no particular binding method has been prescribed for sending blessings on the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), to the exclusion of other ways. It may be recited individually or collectively. There is no harm in either, as both fall under the general command to send blessings on the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). Yes, if one method was regarded specifically necessary for everyone or necessarily superior, it will become an innovation.

In conclusion, the weekly group dhikr mentioned is permissible, and would be considered an implementation of the general sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the Divine Command to send blessings on the Beloved of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace). However, because it is not a specific sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), one should not believe it specifically binding nor deem those who do not attend to be doing something wrong or blameworthy. For this purpose, some scholars mention that if it is left out once or twice, it would be better, thought this is not in any ways necessary per se.

And Allah knows best, and He alone guides to all that is best in this world and the next.

Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari, Leicester , UK