Did the Great Companion Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud Prohibit Group Dhikr?

Hanafi Fiqh

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question: Someone threw the following narration at me a couple of days ago, do you happen to know it or have any commentary upon it at all?

This is [said to be] a narration from the companion Abdullah Ibn Mas’ood:

From ‘Amr Ibn Salamah: “We used to sit at the door of ‘Abdullaah Ibn Mas’ood before the Morning Prayer, so that when he came out, we would be able to walk with him to the mosque. So Abo Mosa al-Ash’aree came to us, so he said, “Has Abo ‘Abdur-Rahmaan come out yet?” So we said, “No.” So he sat with us until he came out. So when he came out, all of us stood up with him. So Abo Mosa said to him, “O Abaa ‘Abdur-Rahmaan, verily I saw in the mosque a detestable action that I hated, but I did not see, and the praise is for Allaah, anything except good.”

He said, “So what was it?” He said, “If you live, you will see it. I saw in the mosque, a people sitting in circles, waiting for the Prayer. There was a man in every circle, and in their hands were pebbles, so he would say: “Say Allahu Akbar (Allah is Greater) one hundred times,” so they would say it one hundred times. So he would say: “Say al-hamdulillah (the praise is for Allah) one hundred times,” so they would say it one hundred times. And he would say: “Say subhanallah (Free is Allah from all imperfection) one hundred times,” so they would say it one hundred times. He said, “So what did you say to them?” He said, “I did not say to them anything, I waited for your command.”

He said, “Would that you had ordered them to count up their evil deeds, and assured them that nothing from their evil deeds would be lost!” Then he went, and we went with him, until he came upon the circles of these people. So he stood over them and said, “What is this that I see you doing?!” They said, “O Abaa ‘Abdur-Rahmaan, these are pebbles upon which we count the takbeer, tahleel, and tasbeeh.”

He said, “Then count up your evil deeds, and I assure you that nothing from your evil deeds will be lost. Woe to you O Ummah of Muhammad! How quickly you rush to destruction! These are the Companions of your Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) who are abundant. And these are his clothes that have not yet decayed, and his bowl that is still unbroken. By Him in Whose Hand my soul is, either you are upon the religion better guided than the Ummah of Muhammad, or you are opening the door to misguidance.”

They said, “By Allah O Abaa ‘Abdur-Rahmaan, we did not intend anything except good.” He said, “And how many people intend good yet do not achieve it? Verily the Messenger (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) informed us: “Verily there will be a people reciting the Qur’an, yet it will not pass beyond their throats. By Allah I do not know, perhaps most of them are from amongst you.” Then he left them. So ‘Amr Ibn Salamah said: “We saw the great majority of these people fight against us upon the day of an-Nahrawan along with the Khawarij.”

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

Walaikum assalam,

The narration you mention was discussed by Imam Abd al-Hayy al-Lakhnawi, [1] in his book on the permissibility of loud group dhikr, Sibahat al-Fikr fil Jahri bil Dhikr. [2] He said, while presenting the evidences for those who hold such dhikr to be impermissible, before proving the contrary:

This may be answered in several ways:

First, while this narration was mention by a group of fuqaha, it does not have any trace in the books of hadith. Rather, what is authentically established from Ibn Mas`ud (Allah be pleased with him) is the contrary.

Imam al-Suyuti (Allah have mercy on him) said in Natijat al-Fikr [his work on the permissibility of group dhikr out loud], “This narration from Ibn Mas`ud (Allah be pleased with him) needs exposition in terms of its
chain of narrations and who of the hadith masters transmitted it in their works, and I have seen evidence that would disprove its being established from Ibn Mas`ud. ” Ahmad ibn Hanbal transmitted in his Kitab al-Zuhd,  that Husain ibn Muhammad related with his chain from Abu Wa’il that he said, “Those who think that Abdullah [Ibn Mas`ud] used to prohibit the dhikr! I never sat with Abdullah [Ibn Mas`ud] in a gathering
save that  he did dhikr in it.”

Second, even if this narration were established, it goes against explicit rigorously authenticated Prophetic hadiths that permit dhikr out loud as long as it is not excessively loud. [3] These hadiths are given
precedence  [over this narration] when their indication conflicts.

Third, what al-Bazzazi mentioned in his Fatawa. (Sibahat al-Fikr, 42-43)

What al-Bazzazi [4] said was, “If he [Ibn Mas`ud] actually removed them from the masjid, it is possible that it was because they believed that it was an act of worship [specifically enjoined], and to teach people that such a belief is a blameworthy innovation. [5] (Sibahat al-Fikr , 27-28)

Among the proofs for the permissibility of group dhikr:

1. What Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i, 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, [6] “This hadiths indicates the permissibility of group dhikr.” Imam al-Suyuti said, [7] “Group dhikr can only be out loud, so this hadith indicates its permissibility.” After this hadith, Imam Lakhnawi quotes thirty nine other hadiths of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) that indicate the permissibility of group dhikr. (Sibahat al-Fikr 44-58)

Imam Lakhnawi, a Hanafi, then quoted numerous Hanafi authorities, including al-Bazzazi, Abd al-Haqq al-Dahlawi, Khayr al-Din al-Ramli, and others, who said group dhikr is permitted. [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 dhikr 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].

He concluded by stating, “As for loud 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 dhikr is impermissible or disliked.” The hadith experts, Shafi`i fuqaha and some Hanafi fuqaha [8] also permitted it.

It should be noted, too, 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 fuqaha 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.

Faraz Rabbani

[1] Imam Lakhnawi died 1306 AH, at the age of 39, after having authored over 120 books, many of with were multiple volume works, and he is considered to have been one of the great mujaddids (renewers) of the 14th Islamic Century.

[2] It is noteworthy that this work was edited by Shaykh Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda (Allah have mercy on him), the Hanafi faqih who is widely acknowledged to have been one of the foremost hadith experts of the 20th Century, and whose numerous books and critical editions of classic works are highly esteemed by students and scholars of sacred law across the Muslim world.

[3] Such that it annoys others, or, if in a masjid, distracts those who come to pray.

[4] Imam al-Bazzazi’s Fatawa are a major reference in Hanafi fiqh.

[5] That is, they believed that such group dhikr was specifically enjoined by Allah and His Messenger, which is blameworthy. Rather, the correct understanding is that it falls under the general command to do much dhikr, in any permitted way. Their being people of innovation is, of course, borne out by the final part of the narration itself, as the great majority of these people fought with the deviant Kharijites against the Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).

[6] This is one of the most authoritative and most used sources on Prophetic invocations, and has been accepted and commented upon by great scholars of Islam.

[7] Imam al-Suyuti’s words carry great weight, as it is generally agreed that he was a mujtahid. He authored at least 800 works, in virtually every science of Islam.

[8] Including most late authorities in the Hanafi school.