Seeking Sacred Sunni Knowledge

A Brief Defense of Group Dhikr

This was a letter written on the occasion of a new circle opening in Tampa, Florida, for people to gather for what the Shadhili tariqa knows as a “Latifiyya“.  Typically it is held once a week, people recite the name Al-Latif a thousand or so times, there is a group du’a, and a brief lecture.

And remember that which is recited in your houses of the signs of God and the Wisdom; God is All-subtle, All-aware. (33:34)
السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته

As attested to in the hadith of Ibn ‘Umar (declared hasan gharib by al Tirmidhi): the gardens of Paradise are the circles of remembrance.  My greetings then to you all whom God has favoured with the blessing of attending such a noble gathering: noble in its purpose, noble in its connection to and authorisation from the Sunnah and the people of Prophetic inheritance, and noble in the stature of its company (insha’Allah).  I am writing not only to express my delight that this circle is being established, but also to explain something of the purpose and validity of the gathering.  Many in this country are given to reservations whenever unfamiliarities are encountered in our experience of Islam, and often times we find that experience to be very limited.

To God belong the Names Most Beautiful; so call Him by them, and leave those who blaspheme His Names — they shall assuredly be recompensed for the things they did. (7:180)

The command to call on Allah by the Beautiful Names, the Attributes by which He makes Himself known to His creation, is of a general nature.  A question that might arise is whether this is enough to justify the practice you have all gathered to celebrate in, namely calling on the name al-Laṭif one-thousand times and participating in a prayer shared in one voice appealing to Allah to manifest Himself by the subtle quality of His Gentleness to His creation and to exalt the immense rank of His Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his folk in every moment and time.  There will be some who deny that this is enough because of their understanding that only the practice of the Prophet was sound, and that everything beyond what he approved of is cut-off.  The basis for their claim is the hadith: “Beware of matters newly begun, for every matter newly begun is innovation, every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in hell.”  While I appreciate the care and concern in preserving the authenticity of the religion that this view shows, it is problematic for a number of reasons, particularly if it were to be used to censor the gatherings of group remembrance that have been practiced by pious Muslims for centuries.  Perhaps the most straightforward evidence against this notion is another hadith:

من سن في الإسلام سنة حسنة فله أجرها وأجر من عمل بها بعده من غير أن ينقص من أجورهم شيء ومن سن في الإسلام سنة سيئة كان عليه وزرها ووزر من عمل بها من بعده من غير أن ينقص من أوزارهم شيء ‏

“Whoever institutes a good practice in Islam has its reward and the reward of all those who practice it until the day of judgement without lessening the rewards of the latter. And whoever institutes a bad practice in Islam bears its onus and the onus of all those who practice it until the day of judgement without lessening the onus of the latter.” [Narrated from Jarir ibn Abdullah in Sahih Muslim, Tirmidhi, An-Nasa'i, Ibn Majah, Ahmad, and Ad-Darimi]

[Abu Layth: The meaning of the word sanna in this hadith is 'to start an act without precedent'. This was also used by the Prophet Muhammad when he said that the son of Adam was the first to commit murder (Awwalu man sanna Al-qatl) as reported in Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim.  "Some" argue that this hadith was specifically said in the case of giving charity, and is thus restricted to such. This is correct, however, irrelevant  to the evidentiary aspect of the hadith as the scholars of Usul maintain that the 'import of the evidence is in its generality, not [limited] to the context in which it took place.’ (Al-’Ibratu lil-’Umum, la li-Asbab Al-Wurud) Another false argument by them is that what is meant is “whoever revives a Sunnah”, yet this is not what the hadith says linguistically, and these nay-sayers have no proof that this hadith means such.]

Muslims the world over sing poetry together, poetry that is virtuous in meaning from masters both ancient and contemporary, and this is not condemned.  The idea that gathering to remember Allah as a group is condemnable is awkward when both the litany that we recite here and religious songs and poetry are not unalike in being the composition of mortals rather than Divine Revelation — particularly when performing this litany obviously falls within the general commandment to make use of the Beautiful Names by which Allah adorns Himself in the Qur’an.  The generality of the hadith cautioning us to avoid matters of blameworthy innovation is simply not enough to restrict the generality of the command to call on Allah by His Names: this has been the understanding of the scholars of this Ummah from past to present.  And Allah is the Most Knowledgable of those possessing knowledge.

Dhikr, or remembrance (particularly in the context of religious meditation, awareness, learning, invocation, and reflection), possess a light, a beatitude, and a remedy for the one engaged in it.  That these gatherings uplift and illuminate the heart, and facilitate matters in both our daily and religious lives by the blessing and sanctity attached to the object of our remembrance, has been attested to even in my own personal observation of those who attend such gatherings regularly.  When our own teacher was asked for a commentary on the Laṭifiyya, his reply was that the people who attend the Laṭifiyya are its commentary.  The unanimous verdict of the spiritual masters of Islam is that those who remember Allah have more than those who fail to do so, and those who gather for the sake of Allah have more than those who attach themselves to pettiness.  The sheer act of remembering Allah is a manifestation of Allah’s love for the one He bestows that success.  The lantern of gnosis and Imam by scholarly consensus, Junayd of Baghdad, declared that belief in the spiritual path is a form of sainthood in and of itself.  Another Shaykh of our spiritual chain, Ibn ‘Ata Illah al-Iskandari, advised us never to despair of calling on Allah as those who knock at the door are nearly inside. Those who immerse themselves and give themselves fully to the Laṭifiyya are certainly knocking on a mighty door.  May we remain in each other’s prayers.  And all praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of all being.

[Abu Layth:]

And another hadith that serves to contextualise the condemnation of new practices to those that contradict what is already established as part of the religion, “Whoever innovates something into this matter of ours which does not belong in it will have it rejected”. [Bukhari, Muslim, and others]

So from this hadith we can draw the analysis of the “opposite” that if someone does innovate something into this matter of ours that belongs in it, will have it accepted. Shaykh Nur-Ad-Din Al-’Itr said of this hadith, “This hadith is the clearest proof for the innovation of guidance!

Coupled with the numerous hadiths that praise those who gather to remember Allah, the numerous examples of Prophetic companions who introduced their own practices both during and after the life of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his folk), and the simple fact that the scholars of our religion from every one of the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, & Hanbali) have vouched for the permissibility and merit of such gatherings; my personal conviction is that such gatherings as this are of those that are accepted and rewarded by Allah, Mighty and Majestic.

General examples from the words of the Prophet Muhammad include the following narrations:

عن ‏ ‏أبي هريرة ‏ ‏أو ‏ ‏عن ‏ ‏أبي سعيد الخدري ‏ ‏قال ‏قال رسول الله ‏ ‏صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ ‏إن لله ملائكة ‏ ‏سياحين ‏ ‏في الأرض ‏ ‏فضلا ‏ ‏عن كتاب الناس فإذا وجدوا أقواما يذكرون الله تنادوا ‏ ‏هلموا ‏ ‏إلى ‏ ‏بغيتكم ‏ ‏فيجيئون ‏ ‏فيحفون ‏ ‏بهم إلى السماء الدنيا فيقول الله على أي شيء تركتم عبادي يصنعون فيقولون تركناهم يحمدونك ويمجدونك ويذكرونك قال فيقول فهل رأوني فيقولون لا قال فيقول فكيف لو رأوني قال فيقولون لو رأوك لكانوا أشد تحميدا وأشد تمجيدا وأشد لك ذكرا قال فيقول وأي شيء يطلبون قال فيقولون يطلبون الجنة قال فيقول وهل رأوها قال فيقولون لا قال فيقول فكيف لو رأوها قال فيقولون لو رأوها لكانوا أشد لها طلبا وأشد عليها حرصا قال فيقول فمن أي شيء يتعوذون قالوا يتعوذون من النار قال فيقول هل رأوها فيقولون لا فيقول فكيف لو رأوها فيقولون لو رأوها لكانوا أشد منها هربا وأشد منها خوفا وأشد منها تعوذا قال فيقول فإني أشهدكم أني قد غفرت لهم فيقولون إن فيهم فلانا الخطاء لم يردهم إنما جاءهم لحاجة فيقول هم القوم لا يشقى لهم جليس ‏

“Narrated from Abu Hurayrah or Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri that Rasululah (saaws) said, “Allah has angels that go throughout the earth in addition to the angels that write the deeds of the people (kuttab). So when they find a group of people doing dhikr of Allah, they call to one another: “Come to that which you have been seeking! They will come and cover them up to the lowest heaven…” [Sunan Tirmidhi english edition 3600, Bukhari, Muslim with different wordings though the same meanings]

And also:

‏ ‏الْأَغَرِّ أَبِي مُسْلِمٍ ‏ ‏أَنَّهُ شَهِدَ عَلَى ‏ ‏أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ ‏ ‏وَأَبِي سَعِيدٍ الْخُدْرِيِّ ‏أَنَّهُمَا شَهِدَا عَلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ ‏ ‏صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ‏ ‏أَنَّهُ قَالَ ‏ ‏مَا مِنْ قَوْمٍ يَذْكُرُونَ اللَّهَ إِلَّا ‏ ‏حَفَّتْ ‏ ‏بِهِمْ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَغَشِيَتْهُمْ الرَّحْمَةُ وَنَزَلَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ السَّكِينَةُ وَذَكَرَهُمْ اللَّهُ فِيمَنْ عِنْدَهُ ‏

Al-Agharr Abu Muslim narrated that he bears witness, from Abu Hurayrah and Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri, that they bore witness, from Rasulillah (saaws) that he said:

“There is no group of people that remembers Allah, except that the angels encompass them, mercy covers them, and tranquility descends upon them; and Allah makes mention of them before those who are with Him.” [Muslim in his Sahih and Tirmidhi in his Sunan, English edition #3378]

إن لله تعالى سيارة من الملائكة يطلبون حِلَقَ الذكر، فإذا أتَوا عليهم حفُّوا بهم

“Verily Allah sends out angels seeking the gatherings of dhikr, and when they come upon them, they encompass them.”

(Reported by Al-Bazzar and Al-Haythami said it was “Hasan”)

Further Reading:

7 Responses to “A Brief Defense of Group Dhikr”

  1. ruhan madani says:

    mashaallah brother abu layth ….the correct position is that both are allowed ….i mean loud dhikr as well as the dhikr of the heart and the naqshbandiyyaa prefer the dhikr of the heart ,,,,,and its beautiful …although i have even practiced the qaadiriyyah loud dhikr and it too leads to ecstacy .,,
    brother could u please for our benefit inform us about the positions of the four aaemaa about dhikr and their ways ,,,i mean what they preferred …..especially imam ahmad bin hanbal (i being a hanbali)..
    may ALLAH give you and me success in this as well as that life
    aameen

  2. Rafael says:

    Dear Ruhan,

    You answered your own question, “….the correct position is that both are allowed”.

    From Ustadh Musa Furber:

    wa `alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu

    The books indicate that the scholars of the Hanbali madhhab, and as was the case in other schools as well, did not have a consensus concerning the hadra.

    One scholar who was adamant against the hadra is Ibn Al-Jawzi. This is seen in Mukhtasr Minhaj Al-Qasidin, Ahkam Al-Nisa’ and Talbis Iblis. From his accounts of what happened in the hadras of his time, he was totally justified in doing so. The hadras he talked about were gatherings of the zanadiqa and they were assemblies of moral corruption.

    And one scholar who was a proponent of the hadra was none other than Al-Safarini, the later Hanbali who authored one of the greatest book on athari `aqidah as well as Ghidha Al-Lubab Sharh Alfiyat Al-Adab. Sheikh `Abd Al-Qadir `Isa frequently cites Ghidha Al-Lubab in his book Haqa`iq `An Al-Tasawwuf. In addition to being a top notch scholar of Hanbali fiqh and `aqidah, he was also a student of the great Hanafi, Sufi, Sheikh `Abd Al-Ghani Al-Nablusi.

    Something to keep in mind is that many of the things that Ibn Al-Jawzi condemned Al-Safarini and other proponents of the hadra condemn as well. Proponents of the hadra put conditions on it.

    Such a delicate and controversial topic warrants a detailed study, if only to show each side that there is enough evidence to require mutual respect. We all, in sha Allah, have more important things to do. Like actually practicing tazkiyat al-nafs instead of talking about it and soiling our tongues.

    May Allah be pleased and have mercy on all of the scholars of Islam.

    And Allah knows best.

    PS: My name is not Abu Layth (check post author).

  3. BaaZauq says:

    Assalam-o-Alaikum
    You said :
    “The idea that gathering to remember Allah (SWT) as a group is condemnable is awkward…. ”

    Let’s see the action of Abdullah bin Masood (Radi Allahu anhu) …..
    Ath’r from Sunan Darmi :
    أخبرنا الحكم بن المبارك، أخبرنا عمرو بن يحيى، قال سمعت أبي يحدث، عن ابيه، قال كنا نجلس على باب عبد الله بن مسعود قبل صلاة الغداة فإذا خرج مشينا معه إلى المسجد فجاءنا أبو موسى الأشعري فقال أخرج إليكم أبو عبد الرحمن بعد قلنا لا فجلس معنا حتى خرج فلما خرج قمنا إليه جميعا فقال له أبو موسى يا أبا عبد الرحمن إني رأيت في المسجد آنفا أمرا أنكرته ولم أر والحمد لله إلا خيرا قال فما هو فقال إن عشت فستراه قال رأيت في المسجد قوما حلقا جلوسا ينتظرون الصلاة في كل حلقة رجل وفي أيديهم حصى فيقول كبروا مائة فيكبرون مائة فيقول هللوا مائة فيهللون مائة ويقول سبحوا مائة فيسبحون مائة قال فماذا قلت لهم قال ما قلت لهم شيئا انتظار رأيك وانتظار أمرك قال أفلا أمرتهم أن يعدوا سيئاتهم وضمنت لهم أن لا يضيع من حسناتهم ثم مضى ومضينا معه حتى أتى حلقة من تلك الحلق فوقف عليهم فقال ما هذا الذي أراكم تصنعون قالوا يا أبا عبد الرحمن حصى نعد به التكبير والتهليل والتسبيح قال فعدوا سيئاتكم فأنا ضامن أن لا يضيع من حسناتكم شيء ويحكم يا أمة محمد ما أسرع هلكتكم هؤلاء صحابة نبيكم صلى الله عليه وسلم متوافرون وهذه ثيابه لم تبل وآنيته لم تكسر والذي نفسي بيده إنكم لعلى ملة هي أهدى من ملة محمد أو مفتتحو باب ضلالة قالوا والله يا أبا عبد الرحمن ما أردنا إلا الخير قال وكم من مريد للخير لن يصيبه إن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم حدثنا أن قوما يقرءون القرآن لا يجاوز تراقيهم وايم الله ما أدري لعل أكثرهم منكم ثم تولى عنهم

    Reciting SubhanAllah , Alhamdulilla … etc is good. no doubt.
    then whats the reason that Ibn Masood (Radi Allahu anhu) stopped them from that act of reciting in a specific way? why?
    And why did he say : وكم من مريد للخير لن يصيبه

    Hope you explain.

    • admin says:

      The chain standing on its own is weak and disconnected. However, even if one could argue that it is hasan li-ghayrihi, which is possible, a mawquf report can not stand against the weight of the Sunnah and the clear words of the Nabi ‘alayhis salam allowing dhikr in jama’ah.

      Imam As-Suyuti responded to those who could utilize this athar against the Sunnis stating that the chains are not authentic and that the mawquf can not be taken over the Marfu’. Furthermore he states that this athar was not utilized by the Imams as proof against dhikr in jama’ah aloud!

      See Suyutis words here: http://marifah.net/articles/louddhikr-Suyuti.pdf

      was-salam

  4. Muhammad Amin says:

    This issue of group dhikr (collectively, like a chorus, saying some words of dhikr found in the Quran, or making it in a joint songlike fashion), and also this issue of group du’aa’ (where a du’aa’ is collectively said & everyone says ‘Amen’):

    This is amongst those innovations that have become so common that many Muslims actually believe it is a Sunnah (tradition of the Prophet/Companions). Yet, this act has no basis in the Qur’aan or the Sunnah, not even a weak hadeeth!! In many mosques, a joint-du’aa’ is made after Every single Salah; the Imam says a du’aa’ out loud, and the entire congregation says, “Amin” behind him. There’s no doubt that such an act is an innovation into this perfect religion, as the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) never did such a congregational du’aa’ after the Salah, nor did the Companions after him, nor did the Successors after them.

    In fact, quite the opposite is true! * When a drought afflicted the Muslims during ‘Umar’s Caliphate, ‘Umar (رضي الله عنه) himself was the one who made the du’aa’, and he also ordered ‘Abbaas to make an individual du’aa’. He did NOT order all the companions to come together & make a joint du’aa’ with him, nor did Any of the other Companions suggest this to him. This shows that such a concept was unknown to the Companions (Allah be pleased with them).

    + It has been narrated that one of the governors wrote to ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab, “There are a group of people here who come together, and make du’aa’ in congregation for the Muslims and the Caliph”. So ‘Umar (رضي الله عنه) ordered some of his servants TO GO WITH STICKS AND BEAT THEM, and in fact he helped them in this!” [Reported by Ibn Abi Shaybah, #6242] * This, despite the fact that they were actually making du’aa’ – for – him, as he was the Caliph at that time. This narration is Clear Proof that congregational du’aa’ is an innovation that was Strongly disapproved of by the Companions.

    — Note: It should be mentioned that congregational (group) du’aa’s are permissible during certain occasions that the Sunnah has confirmed [such as during the Khutbah on Friday, or during the Witr prayer when it is performed in congregation], but to make it a habit on other than such occasions makes it an innovation. Additionally, it directly CONTRADICTS many of the etiquettes of du’aa’ {and dhikr}, and opens up the door for riyaa’ (showing off one’s deeeds). Such congregational, group du’aa’s make it easier for a person’s thoughts to wander, as concentration can only be perfected when one supplicates to Allah in seclusion, away from the eyes of people [Remember Prophet Zakaria, whom Allah praised in the Qur'aan saying: إذ نادى ربه نداء خفيا 'When he called out to his Lord, a secret call']. —

  5. admin says:

    What a complete load of pseudo-salafi vomit! A sufficient refutation of your baatil claims can be found in Suyuti’s treatise on dhikr, as well as an-Nabhani’s treatises as well. You can also see a decent refutation found in Mawsu’at Yusufiyyah, which refutes your batil of trying to rape the Sunni Ummah of a higher connection with Allah:

    http://www.seekingilm.com/mosoah.zip

    I urge you to read them so that you may find real and complete spirituality in dhikr, not a dry and empty rhetoric based dhikr – empty of feeling and ma’rifah and suhbah – that is found in the spiritually debunk cult of pseudo- “salafiyyah” ! Dhikr in congregation, and dhikr aloud, was sanctioned by the Prophet Muhammad in very clear words, authentically.

    was-salam
    Abu Layth

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