Vows and Sacrifices at Graves of Awliya [Shafi`i]  

as-Salamu `alaykum:

Someone asked:

"I would like to know some explanation regarding vow (Nazr) and is sacrificing animal near grave permissible or not?"

Someone else wrote:

"One of the claims of the Wahhabi sect and those that follow  them is that one who makes a vow to slaughter an animal and feeds the poor on behalf of a dead person (such as a pious person) at the grave of that person, commits shirk (idolatry) and becomes a kafir."

This issue is among the previously unheard-of matters innovated by Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab in his infamous tract al-Usul al-Thalatha ("The Three Principles") where he made such vows and sacrifices into acts of worship. The first to refute this falsehood was his own brother Sulayman ibn `Abd al-Wahhab al-Hanbali who stated that none of the Four Schools considered the basis of a vow or sacrifice to other than Allah Most High an act of disbelief, in his two books (1) al-Radd `ala man Kaffara al-Muslimin bi-Sababi al-nadhri li-Ghayr Allah ("Refutation of Him Who Pronounced Apostasy against the Muslims for Vows to Other than Allah") which al-Zirikli in his biographical dictionary al-A`lam said was in Baghdad's Awqaf archives, manuscript 6805, and (2) al-Sawa`iq al-Ilahiyya fi Madhhab al-Wahhabiyya ("The Divine Thunderbolts Concerning the Wahhabi School") which is in print.

The Algerian teacher of some of our teachers, Shaykh Muhammad `Arabi ibn al-Tabbani al-Maliki, quoted from the latter work in his large two-volume critique of the Wahhabiyya entitled Bara'at al-Ash`ariyyin min `Aqa'id al-Mukhalifin (1:150-159) and added further demonstrations that the ruling of disbelief for vowing or slaughtering at a grave is a heresy.

Following are two sets of replies by two Shafi`i authorities spanning two centuries. The first is a fatwa by the Shafi`i Musnid, Faqih, and Mufti of the Shafi`is in Madina, Imam Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Kurdi al-Madani (1125-1194) quoted in full by al-Habib `Alawi ibn Ahmad ibn al-Hasan al-Haddad at the very end of his book Misbah al-Anam (first published in 1216/1801 and reprinted in 1325/1907 edition at al-Matba`at al-`Amira al-Sharafiyya, Cairo). The second is by a living Master in Madina, Habib Zayn ibn Sumayt.

Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Kurdi studied under the Shafi`i Mufti of Makka, Muhamad Sa`id ibn Muhammad Sunbul al-Shafi`i (d. 1175) from whom he narrates the Awa'il al-Sunbuliyya; Mulla Abu Tahir al-Kurani; Mustafa al-Bakri; al-Shihab al-Jawhari; Hamid ibn `Umar al-`Alawi, `Abd al-Rahman ibn `Abd Allah Balfagih, and others.

Among his students: the Shafi`i arch-Musnids of Ahl al-Bayt: Murtada al-Zabidi, al-Wajih `Abd al-Rahman ibn Sulayman al-Ahdal, Zayn al-`Abidin ibn `Alawi Jamal al-Layl al-Madani; and other important Musnids such as Salih al-Fullani, Shakir al-`Aqqad, al-Shams al-Kuzbari, and others.


Q. If a man described as a complete Muslim as defined by Allah and His Prophet comes to the grave of a righteous person or a Prophetic Companion and vows something to him or slaughters a sacrifice near him or his grave [...] without his actual intention being known: is such a person a kafirand mushrik guilty of a type of shirkthat brings him out of Islam and makes his blood and property licit? [...]

What about someone who swears an oath by other than Allah Most High? Is such a person a mushrik guilty of a type of shirk that brings him out of Islam or not?


Vows to Awliya are subject to a detailed discussion among our Shafi`i colleagues. In the chapter on gifts (al-hiba) of the Tuhfa [=Tuhfat al-Muhtaj bi-Sharh al-Minhaj, a commentary on al-Nawawi's Minhaj al-Talibin] the author [Ibn Hajar al-Haytami] said: "If one makes a vow to a dead wali consisting in property: if he means by that to entitle that wali to its personal ownership, he has said nonsense (lagha); but if he spoke in nonspecific terms, in that case, if there is any expense-incurring repair needed around the grave the property can be spent toward it. Otherwise, if there are, around the wali, people who are usually meant when considering the wali, the property is conveyed to them." [Cf. al-Malibari, Fath al-Mu`in (Dar al-Fikr 1998 ed. 3:184) and others.]

In the chapter on vows in the same book it says: "It is valid to vow a sadaqa on/for (`ala) a dead person or their grave as long as one does not intend to entitle him to its personal ownership (tamlikah). Furthermore, it is the usual custom that whatever is brought there is distributed on those who are poor in that vicinity, for example. If there is no such custom, that vow is invalid." He continued to speak at some length.

In the book Targhib al-Mushtaq fi Ahkam Masa'il al-Talaq by the erudite Shaykh `Abd al-Mu`ti Shibli al-Samlawi we find written: "Al-Ramli was asked about someone who made a certain vow to a walion condition that his crops be safe from heat and defects and so forth. He mentioned the entire question then said: Answer: "If there is benefit thereby for someone living [e.g. sustenance] or dead [e.g. reward], and its expenditure to that end is part of the gains (masalih) of that wali, such a vow and expenditure are both valid toward his gains without such being exclusively limited to his descendents and relatives. Otherwise, it is invalid."

He [al-Ramli] was also asked: "In a certain place deemed blessed a group of people reside and a certain quantity of oil, candles, money, and other than that is vowed. Charity is likewise given to those in it, but whoever pays does so silently, so the matter is obscure and his intention remains unknown. In such a case, is it permissible to dedicate such charity to that place, in view of the fact that it is apparently impermissible? And is the vow to shaykhs, gravesites, and places deemed blessed to the intention of magnifying them (ta`zim) invalid? What about a person who vowed that if Allah Most High healed his sick, he shall bring the wali So-and-so a sheep, when the waliin question is buried in a spot that is deserted except for the keeper of his grave?"

[He replied:] "Among the rules of law is that custom is firmly established. Otherwise, it is distributed in equal shares among those who are present. As for the vow to something valid before Shaykhs, gravesites, and the places that were mentioned, it takes effect if its benefit returns to the living, otherwise not, and the welfare of the locale comes first. As for the latter case, if someone benefits from it it is a valid vow, otherwise not."

It is well-known that those who vow something to the shaykhs and awliya do not intend thereby to entitle them to personal ownership, since they know that they died. Rather, they only intend to perform sadaqa on their behalf or give it away to their servants. In such a case, THEIR VOWS ARE ACTS OF DRAWING NEAR TO ALLAH MOST HIGH, as a vow does not take effect, for the Shafi`is, if it consists in an indifferent matter or a disliked matter or a categorically prohibited matter. A vow only takes place if it consists in acts of drawing near or acts of sunna that are not legally obligatory.

End of Imam Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Kurdi's reply on vows and sacrifices at the graves of Awliya.

As for sacrificing at the gravesite:

Abu Dawud narrates in his Sunan, book of Jana'iz, chapter entitled: "The offensiveness of slaughtering at the grave," with his chain from Anas, Allah be well-pleased with him, that the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, said: "There is no hamstringing (`aqr) in Islam." Ahmad narrates something similar in his Musnad. Abu Dawud added that `Abd al-Razzaq said: "They [pre-Islamic Arabs] used to hamstring cow or sheep at the grave."  `Abd al-Haqq al-Ishbili cited Abu Dawud's narration in his Ahkam al-Kubra (2:539) in a chapter entitled  ""The Prohibition of Slaughtering over the Grave."

Al-Khattabi said in his commentary on Abu Dawud, Ma`alim al-Sunan (`Ilmiyya ed. 1:274-275): "The people of Jahiliyya used to hamstring a camel on the grave of the generous man, saying: 'We requite him for his deeds for he used to hamstring it in his life and feed others, so we hamstring it at his grave so that beasts and birds eat it and it will feed after his death just as it fed in his lifetime.' Among them some believed that if his mount were hamstrung he would be resurrected mounted, otherwise he would be resurrected walking on foot."

The above type of slaughter is a pre-Islamic superstition with which the vows and sacrifices of Muslims have nothing to do. This is established by another hadith Abu Dawud narrated from Thabit ibn al-Dahhak, Allah be well-pleased with him, that a man made a vow (nadhr) in the time of the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, to slaughter camels at Buwana (a place near Makka), so he came to the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and told him. The latter asked: "Was there in it [Buwana] any idol of the idols worshipped in Jahiliyya?" They said no. He asked: "Was there in it any festival observance (`id) of their festivals?" They said no. He then said: "Fulfill your vow, for a vow in the way of disobedience to Allah must not be fulfilled, nor in that which a human being does not control."

Ibn Hajar in Bulugh al-Maram (with Subul al-Salam 4:218 no. 1293) said its chain is sound. The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, therefore, did not forbid them from slaughtering over a grave except in the pre-Islamic sense. In the latter, prohibited sense, any sacrifice is forbidden regardless of its location, as per the hadith in Sahih Muslim: "Allah Most High curses whosoever slaughters a sacrifice for other than Allah." Otherwise he allowed it, specifically in the sense of benefiting others not only by feeding the living but also conveying reward to others, as in the Prophetic hadith in Sahih Muslim from `A'isha, Allah be well-pleased with her, that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said while slaughtering: "O Allah, accept it from Muhammad, the House of Muhammad, and his Umma!"

Al-Habib Zayn al-`Abidin ibn Sumayt al-Madani said in his book of questions and answers entitled al-Ajwibat al-Ghaliya fi `Aqidat al-Firqat al-Najiya ("The Precious Replies Concerning the Belief of the Saved Group," published in the year 2000 (p. 125-128):

Q. What is the ruling on sacrificial slaughters at the doorsteps of Awliya?

A. The Ulema, Allah Most High have mercy on them, replied to this in a detailed way. They said that if someone did this in the name of the wali or to draw near to that wali through such a sacrifice, this would be tantamount to slaughtering for other than Allah. In such a case the animal is carrion meat and the performer of that slaughter is a transgressor. kufr is not attributed to him unless he means by such slaughtering magnification (ta`zim) and worship (`ibada) as would be the case, for example, if he prostrated to for those two reasons. However, if he meant the slaughtering to be for Allah most High and gave away the meat in charity to the poor and the needy, intending for the reward of such charity to go to the spirit of that wali, this is permissible or rather recommended (ja'iz bal mandub ilayh) by agreement of the Imams, because it comes under the heading of sadaqa on behalf of the deceased and being kind to the deceased, which the Lawgiver has recommended and emphasized for us, so understand that well.

Q. What is the ruling on presenting vows to the Awliya?

A. The Ulema, Allah Most High benefit us with them, mentioned that the vow to the graves of the Awliya and the Ulema is permissible and valid (al-nadhru li-mashahid al-awliya'i wal-`ulama'i ja'izun sahih) if the person pronouncing it means thereby the people of that locality among their children or the poor that are around their graves, or if he means to spend it toward the upkeep of their tombs since there is in such upkeep the reviving of lawful visitation. Similarly, it is valid if the person pronouncing the vow does so in absolute terms, without meaning anything of the above, then it is spent over the above needs. Contrary to this, if he meant to magnify the grave and draw near to the deceased, or if he meant to vow to the deceased himself, such a vow does not take effect because it is categorically prohibited; and it is well-known that none of those who make vows mean them in that way.

Q. What do the Muslims mean when they slaughter sacrifices for the dead?

A. Know that the Muslims do not mean by that except sadaqa on their behalf and the conveyance of its reward to their souls. Every Muslim who slaughters a sacrifice for a Prophet or a wali, or vows something to either, does not mean anything other but sadaqa of that thing on their behalf and conveyance of its reward to them. Such is among the gifts of the living to the dead which are commanded by law. Ahl al-Sunna and the Ulema of the Umma hold by consensus that the charity of the living benefits the dead and reaches them. [Cf. Tahawiyya]

End of Habib Zayn ibn Sumayt's replies on vows and sacrifices at the graves of Awliya.

See also: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Sunna-Principles/message/28 http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Sunna-Principles/message/30

And Allah Most High knows best.