Etiquette of Funerals: Ihda’ – Donating the reward of Qur’an

Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad

We have heard from “Salafi” sources that, contrary to the teaching of Ahl al-Sunna that we know, it is wrong to:

  1. Donate the reward of Qur’an-recital to the dead, or
  2. To address the dead upon burial such as with the kalimaLA ILAHA ILLALLAH MUHAMMADUN RASULULLAH, or
  3. To recite from the Qur’an upon the grave, although the Prophet said to read Ya Seen over the dead.
What is the understanding of the reliable scholars of the Umma on these three questions?



The condemnation by those who call themselves “Salafis” of the donation of the reward of Qur’an recitation to the deceased is another proof of an exaggerated and sectarian approach that deviates from the method and teachings of Ahl al-Sunna while claiming to uphold them, and we ask Allah for His protection from error. It is reminiscent of the Mu`tazila position whereby nothing we do can benefit the dead. Thus, in his book on the rulings that pertain to funerals (Mukhtasar ahkam al-jana’iz) published by “Jam`iyyat ihya’ al-turath al-islami,” Shaykh Nasir al-Din Albani lists among the rejected innovations in religion: “the recitation of the Qur’an for the dead and over them” (p. 104 #123, #126) and “recitation of the Fatiha for the dead” or of “Ya Seen over the graves” (p. 105 #147, #148) and “donation to the deceased Muslims of the reward of acts of worship such as the recitation of the Qur’an” (p. 106 #160) and many other such statements, all of which are false and rejected.

Donation of all kinds of acts of worship, among them Qur’an-recital, can and do benefit the dead, just as the simple supplication of a Muslim does. The Salaf believed the dead were helped and relieved by the living, as shown by the du`a of Abu Hurayra for the dead: allahumma in kana muhsinan fa zid fi ihsanihi wa in kana musi’an fa tajawaz `an sayyi’atihi — “O Allah, if he did good, then increase his goodness, and if he did evil, then forgive his evil deeds.” Malik narrated it. Moreover it is established that the best supplication is the Fatiha itself. We present in the following pages the authentic teaching of Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`a whereby recitation of the Qur’an for the dead and over them is ordered by the Prophet, especially Surat Ya Seen, and donation to the deceased Muslims of the reward of acts of worship such as the recitation of the Qur’an is not only permitted but recommended.

There are three parts to this answer in following with the tripartite phrasing of the question:

a) reciting from the Qur’an upon the grave (qira’a `ala al-qabr);

b) donation of the reward of Qur’an-recital to the dead (ihda’ al-thawab);

c) instructing the dead after burial (talqin al-mayyit).

a) reciting from the Qur’an upon the grave (qira’a `ala al-qabr):

The Prophet said: iqra’u `ala mawtakum ya seen “Read Ya Seen over those of you who are dying/deceased.” It is narrated by Abu Dawud in his Sunan (Jana’iz), al-Nasa’i in his Sunan (`Amal al-yawm wal-layla), Ibn Majah in his Sunan (Jana’iz), and Ibn Hibban in his Sahih (Ihsan), and he declared it sound (sahih).

`Abd al-Haqq ibn al-Kharrat al-Ishbili (d. 582) in his book al-`Aqiba (p. 255 #576) said: “The meaning of this hadith may be that the recitation is done over the person at the time the person is dying; or that it be done at his grave.” al-Qurtubi said the same according to Suyuti who adds: “I say: the vast majority of the scholars take the former meaning, while Ibn `Abd al-Wahid al-Maqdisi al-Hanbali [and others] take the latter in the monograph he compiled on the topic. Both apply.” Sharh al-sudur p. 312. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya in Kitab al-ruh (Madani ed. p. 18-19) also prefers the former meaning (“dying”).

The Prophet said: “Ya Seen is the heart of the Qur’an, no man reads it desiring Allah and the afterlife except he is forgiven. Read it over your dying/deceased.” Ahmad relates it in his Musnad (5:26) as part of a longer narration whose chain contains two unnamed narrators.

`Ata’ ibn Abi Rabah said: I heard Ibn `Umar say: I heard the Prophet say: “When one of you dies do not tarry, but make haste and take him to his grave, and let someone read at his head the opening of Surat al-Baqara, and at his feet its closure when he lies in the grave.” al-Tabarani narrates it in al-Mu`jam al-kabir, but Haythami said in Majma` al-zawa’id (3:44) that the latter’s chain contains Yahya ibn `Abd Allah al-Dahhak al-Babalti who is weak. However, the hadith is confirmed by the practice of `Abd Allah ibn `Umar as narrated through sound chains (see below). al-Khallal also narrates the hadith in his al-Amr bi al-ma`ruf (p. 122 #239).

It is related that al-`Ala’ ibn al-Lajlaj said to his children: “When you bury me, say as you place me in the side-opening (lahd) of the grave: Bismillah wa `ala millati rasulillah — In the name of Allah and according to the way of Allah’s Messenger — then flatten the earth over me, and read at the head of my grave the beginning of Surat al-Baqara and its end, for I have seen that Ibn `Umar liked it.” Narrated by Bayhaqi in al-Sunan al-Kubra (4:56), Ibn Qudama in al-Mughni (2:474, 2:567, 1994 ed. 2:355), al-Tabarani in al-Kabir, and Haythami said in Majma` al-zawa’id (3:44) that the latter’s narrators were all declared trustworthy.

Abu Bakr al-Khallal (d. 311) in al-Amr bi al-ma`ruf (p. 121 #237) relates the above with the following wording: “flatten the earth over me, then read at the head of my grave the Opening of the Book, the beginning of Surat al-Baqara, and its end, for I have heard Ibn `Umar instruct it.” Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya cites it in Kitab al-ruh (Madani ed. p. 17) from Khallal’s narration in al-Jami` but without mention of the Fatiha.

`Ali ibn Musa al-Haddad said: “I was once with Ahmad ibn Hanbal at a funeral in the company of Muhammad ibn Qudama al-Jawhari. After the dead was interred a blind man came up and recited [from the Qur’an] beside the grave. ‘O So-and-so,’ Ahmad said to him, ‘Recitation at the graveside is an innovation (bid`a)!’ But when we left the cemetary Muhammad ibn Qudama asked Ahmad, ‘O Abu `Abd Allah, what is your opinion of Mubashshir ibn Isma`il al-Halabi?’ ‘A sound authority,’ he said, ‘have you written anything down from him?’… ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘Mubashshir ibn Isma`il related to me on the authority of his father, on the authority of Abd al-Rahman ibn al-`Ala’ ibn al-Lajlaj, on the authority of his father, that he had requested that upon his death the opening and closing verses of the Chapter of the Cow should be recited over his grave, saying: I heard Ibn `Umar requesting that this be done.’ Thereupon, Ahmad said to him, ‘Return to the man, and bid him recite’.” Narrated by al-Ghazali in his Ihya, book of “The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife,” trans. T.J. Winter [`Abd al-Hakim Murad] (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1989) p. 117. al-Khallal narrates it in al-Amr bi al-ma`ruf (p. 122 #240-241), Ibn Qudama in al-Mughni (2:567, Beirut 1994 ed. 2:355) and Qal`a’ji in Fiqh Ibn `Umar (p. 618). Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya cites it in Kitab al-ruh (Madani ed. p. 18) from Khallal’s narration in al-Jami`. Ghazali prefaces the relation with the words: “There is no harm in reciting the Qur’an over graves.”

Nawawi said in Kitab al-adhkar (Ta’if ed. p. 212 #493): “We also narrated in Bayhaqi’s Sunan (4:56-57) with a fair (hasan) chain that Ibn `Umar liked for the beginning and the end of Surat al-Baqara to be recited over the grave after burial.”

Shawkani in Tuhfat al-dhakirin (p. 229) cited al-Jazari’s instruction in al-Hisn al-hasin: “Let one recite over the grave, after burial, the beginning of Surat al-Baqara and its end.” This is based on Ibn `Umar’s words narrated by Bayhaqi in his Sunan (4:56): “I like that it be read over the grave the beginning of Surat al-Baqara and its end.” Shawkani comments: “Nawawi declared its chain fair (hassana isnadahu), and even if it is only Ibn `Umar’s saying, such as this is not uttered on the basis of mere opinion. It is possible that because of what he learned of the benefit of such recitation generally speaking, he then deemed it desirable that it be read over the grave due to its merit, in the hope that the deceased benefit from its recitation.”

Mujalid said: al-Shu`bi said: “The Ansar, if someone died among them, would go to his grave and recite the Qur’an there.” al-Khallal narrates it in al-Amr bi al-ma`ruf (p. 123 #244) with a chain that contains Sufyan ibn Waki` who is weak according to Haythami, but from whom Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, and Ahmad took over eighty narrations. Furthermore Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya also cites it as evidence in Kitab al-ruh (Madani ed. p. 18).

Ya`qub ibn al-Sayyid `Ali al-Hanafi said: “[One visiting the graves] should read Surat Ya Seen or whatever is easy for him to recite from Qur’an. Know that Abu Hanifah, May Allah have mercy upon him, considered it blameworthy (makruh) to recite Qur’an at the cemetary, but not Muhammad, May Allah have mercy upon him.” Mafatih al-jinan sharh shir`at al-Islam p. 580.

Qadi Khan al-Hanafi said in his Fatawa: “Whoever recites from the Qur’an over the graves: if he intends thereby that the familiarity of the sound of the Qur’an reach them, then let him recite. If he did not intend that, then Allah hears the Qur’an wherever you recite it.” Suyuti mentions it in Sharh al-sudur (p. 312).

al-Za`farani said: “I asked al-Shafi`i about reciting Qur’an at the graveside and he said: la ba’sa bihi — There is no harm in it.” al-Khallal narrates it in al-Amr bi al-ma`ruf (p. 123 #243), Suyuti in Sharh al-sudur (p. 311), and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya in Kitab al-ruh (Madani ed. p. 18).

Ibrahim ibn Rahawayh said: “There is no harm in reciting the Qur’an in cemetaries.” al-Khallal narrates it with his chain (p. 123 #245).

Imam Ahmad said the same. Ibn Qudama relates it in al-Mughni (1994 ed. 2:355).

al-Khallal said: Abu `Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham al-Bazzar — our most trustworthy shaykh — narrated to me: “I saw Ahmad ibn Hanbal pray behind a blind man who was reciting Qur’an over the graves.” Ibn Qudama relates it in al-Mughni (1994 ed. 2:355) as well as al-Khallal himself with his chain in his book al-Amr bi al-ma`ruf (p. 123 #242).

Nawawi said: “Whoever visits a grave, let him greet its dweller, recite some Qur’an, and make an invocation for the deceased.” al-Nawawi, Minhaj al-Talibin, end of Kitab al-Jana’iz.

He also said in al-Majmu` sharh al-muhadhdhab: “It is desirable (yustahabb) that one who is visiting the graves recite from the Qur’an what is easy for him to recite, after which, that he invoke Allah on their behalf. Shafi`i stipulated it and his companions all agreed with him.” In another place he says: “If they conclude the recitation of the Qur’an over the grave it is better.” Suyuti mentioned both excerpts in his Sharh al-sudur (p. 311).

Nawawi also said in his Sharh Sahih Muslim (al-Mays ed. 3/4:206): “The scholars have declared desirable — mustahabb — the recitation of the Qur’an over the grave.”

al-Qurtubi said: “As for reciting over the grave, then our companions (Malikis) are categorical that it is lawful, and others say the same.” Suyuti mentioned it in his Sharh al-sudur (p. 311).

al-Jazayri said: “Someone who visits the grave must engage in du`a and supplication. He must reflect upon those who died and he must recite Qur’an for the dead, for the more correct view is that this benefits the dead.” al-Jazayri, al-Fiqh `ala al-madhahib al-arba`a (2:540).

One of the false rulings given by Albani in his Talkhis ahkam al-jana’iz (p. 102 #90) concerning recitation at the graveside is that it is an innovation — he claims — to recite upon throwing the first earth into the grave: minha khalaqnakum and upon throwing the second: wa fiha nu`idukum and upon throwing the third: wa minha nukhrijukum taratan ukhra “From it (the earth) We created you // and into it We return you // and from it We shall bring you out once more” (20:55). The proof that this is a hasty and careless ruling is:

  1. Even if the chain of the hadith stating that the Prophet did it, which al-Hakim narrated in his Mustadrak — followed by his student Bayhaqi — was declared weak by Ibn Hajar, it does not remove the possibility that the hadith is authentic, and this possibility precludes its practice from being an innovation or being called one.
  2. Albani’s ruling that it is an innovation is itself an innovation, for none of the verifying scholars of Ahl al-Sunna declared what he declared although they looked at the same evidence: Not al-Hakim, nor Bayhaqi, Ibn Hajar, Ibn al-Jazari, Shawkani, and Nawawi.
  3. Not only did Nawawi not declare it an innovation but he declared it mustahabb according to the vast majority of the authorities in the Shafi`i school, as Shawkani reported in his Tuhfat al-dhakirin (p. 229) and Nayl al-awtar (4:81) without contradicting him, although he did report Ibn Hajar’s grading in the latter.

Nawawi said in Kitab al-adhkar (Ta’if ed. p. 211-212):

The Sunna for whoever is at the graveside [at the time of burial] is to to throw earth with his hand three times into the grave at the side of the head.

A large group of our companions [in the Shafi`i school] said: “It is desirable — mustahabb — that one recite upon throwing the first earth into the grave: minha khalaqnakum and upon throwing the second: wa fiha nu`idukum and upon throwing the third: wa minha nukhrijukum taratan ukhra “From it (the earth) We created you // and into it We return you // and from it We shall bring you out once more” (20:55).

It is desirable that after burial they sit at graveside for the duration of slaughtering a camel and distributing its meat, and that during that time the sitters busy themselves with reciting Qur’an, supplicating for the deceased, exhortation, and the stories of the People of Goodness as well as the states of the saints… We narrated in Sahih Muslim [book of iman] from `Amr ibn al-`As that he said: “After you bury me, stay around my grave for the duration of slaughtering a camel and distributing its meat, so that I may share your familiar company and examine what I should reply to my Lord’s envoys [the angels of the grave].”

We also narrated in Sunan Abi Dawud [Jana’iz #3221] and al-Bayhaqi [al-Sunan al-kubra 4:56; also al-Hakim’s Mustadrak 1:370]: from `Uthman that the Prophet, whenever he finished burying the deceased, would stand over him and say: “Ask forgiveness for your brother, and ask for him to be made firm, for he is presently being questioned.”

al-Shafi`i and his companions said: “It is desirable — yustahabb — that they recite something of the Qur’an at the graveside,” and they said: “If they recited the entire Qur’an it would be good.”

We also narrated in Bayhaqi’s Sunan (4:56-57) with a fair (hasan) chain that Ibn `Umar liked for the beginning and the end of Surat al-Baqara to be recited over the grave after burial.

b) donation of the reward of Qur’an-recital to the dead (ihda’ thawab al-qur’an ila al-mayyit):

al-Kamal ibn al-Humam al-Hanafi in Fath al-qadir stated that every single act of worship including Qur’an-recital can be donated to the deceased. The Hanafi faqih `Uthman ibn `Ali ibn Mihjan al-Zayla`i said: “There is nothing rationally far-fetched in the reaching of someone else’s reward to the dead because it is nothing more than the placing of what he possesses of reward at someone else’s disposal, and it is Allah Who is the One Who conveys it, and He is able to do that. Nor is this specific to one type of act at the exclusion of another.” Ibn `Abidin said in his Hashiyat al-durr al-mukhtar that in visiting the graves one may recite:

  • Surat al-Fatiha
  • Surat al-Baqara, beginning, Ayat al-Kursi, and amana al-rasul
  • Surat Ya Seen
  • Surat al-Mulk
  • Surat al-Takathur
  • Surat al-Ikhlas 12 or 11 or 7 or 3 times

Then let him say: allahumma awsil thawaba ma qara’tuhu ila fulan aw ilayhim: O Allah, convey the reward of what I have recited to So-and-so [one or many].

Hasanayn Muhammad Makhluf mentioned all these sayings in his Fatawa shar`iyya (2:277-279, 2:308).

Makhluf also reports (2:300) that among the later Malikis the preferred position is that the reward of Qur’an recitation does reach the deceased, as stated by Ibn Farhun according to Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani in his Risala, and Ibn Rushd states that there is no objection on the permissibility of donating the reward.

Imam Suyuti states in Sharh al-sudur bi sharh hal al-mawta wa al-qubur (p. 310):

There is disagreement as to the reward of recitation reaching to the dead. The vast majority of the Salaf as well as the Three Imams consider that it does reach them, while our Imam, al-Shafi`i, differs. His basis was the verse: wa an laysa li al-insani illa ma sa`a: “Man can have nothing but what he strives for” (53:39). However, the former replied to this objection in several ways:

(a) The verse is abrogated by Allah’s saying: wa al-ladhina amanu wa ittaba`athum dhurriyyatuhum: And those who believe and whose families follow them in Faith, — to them We shall join their families: nor shall We deprive them of the fruit of anything of their works: yet each individual is in pledge for his deeds (52:21). This verse enters the children into Paradise because of the righteousness of the parents.

(b) The verse “Man can have nothing but what he strives for” is specific to Ibrahim’s and Musa’s nations. As for this Community which has been granted mercy, then it has both what it strove for and what was striven for on its behalf. This is the saying of `Ikrima (Ibn `Abbas’s freedman and the transmitter of his Tafsir. Bukhari included 139 of his narrations in his Sahih. He died in Madina in 104).

(c) What is meant by “man” in that verse is the disbeliever. As for the believer, then he has both what he strove for and what was striven for on his behalf. This is the saying of (the Tabi`i) al-Rabi` ibn Anas (d. 139).

(d) Man can have nothing but what he strives for according to divine justice (`adl); as for what comes through divine munificence (fadl), then it is permissible for him that Allah increase him in anything whatsoever. This is the saying of al-Husayn ibn al-Fadl (al-Bajali, one of Bayhaqi’s (d. 458) shaykhs. Qurtubi often cites him in his Tafsir).

(e) The meaning of the verse is: “Man will have nothing counted against him except what he strove for.”

They used as proof of the reward of recitation reaching to the dead, the analogy of all that is sent in the way of supplication (du`a), charity (sadaqa), fasting (sawm), pilgrimage (hajj), and manumission (`itq): since there is no difference in the transfer of reward whether it is for pilgrimage, charity, endowment (waqf), supplication, or recitation. They have also used the hadiths that will be mentioned, and even if these are weak, yet their collected import is that the donation of reward has a basis in the Law. Another proof they have used is the fact that the Muslims never ceased at any time in history to gather and recite (the Qur’an) for their dead without anyone objecting, and this constitutes consensus (ijma`). All the above was mentioned by the hadith master (hafiz) Shams al-Din ibn `Abd al-Wahid al-Maqdisi al-Hanbali in a monograph he compiled on the topic. End of Suyuti’s words.

Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Marwazi said: “I once heard Ahmad ibn

Hanbal say, ‘Whenever you enter a cemetary, recite the Opening Chapter of the Book, the Two Refuge-taking Chapters, and [the chapter which begins] {Say: He is God, the One}. Make the reward of all this over to the people of the cemetary, for it will reach them.'” Narrated by `Abd al-Haqq ibn al-Kharrat al-Ishbili (d. 582) in his book al-`Aqiba, also by al-Muhibb al-Tabari and Suyuti in Sharh al-sudur (p. 312). See also Ghazali’s Ihya, book of “The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife,” trans. T.J. Winter [`Abd al-Hakim Murad] (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1989) p. 117.

Ibn `Abbas narrates: The Prophet once passed by two graves and said, “These two persons are being tortured not for any major sin. One of them never saved himself from being soiled with his urine, while the other used to spread calumnies.” The Prophet then took a green date-palm stalk, split it into two pieces, and fixed one on each grave. They said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Why have you done so?” He replied, “I hope that their punishment might be lessened until these two pieces become dry.” Bukhari and Muslim narrated it. (Cf. (English Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 4, Number 217.)

Nawawi said in commenting on the above in his Sharh Sahih Muslim (al-Mays ed. 3/4:206): “The scholars have declared desirable — mustahabb — the recitation of the Qur’an over the grave due to the above hadith, because if relief from punishment is hoped for through the glorification of date-palm stalks, then the recitation of the Qur’an is more deserving yet, and Allah knows best.”

Qurtubi said: “It is also said that the reward of recitation goes to the reciter while the reward of listening goes to the deceased, whence mercy reaches him. Allah said: If the Qur’an is recited, listen to it and be silent, perhaps you will be granted mercy (7:204). It is not unlikely that in Allah’s munificence the reward of both the recitation and the audition reach him, and, added to that, the reward of whatever is donated to him from the recitation even what is not heard, such as charity and supplication… Some of our scholars have inferred a proof for the deceased’s benefit in the recitation of Qur’an at the grave from the hadith of the date-palm stalk which the Prophet split and fixed (above the graves) saying: Perhaps their punishment might be lessened until these two pieces become dry.” al-Khattabi said: “Among the People of Knowledge this is understood on the basis that all things make glorification as long as they are in their original state, or their verdancy and freshness; until they lose their moistness or greenness, or they are cut off from their root.” Other than Khattabi said: “If the glorification of the stalk lightens their punishment, what about the recitation of the Qur’an by the believer? This hadith also constitutes a legal basis for the planting of trees at the site of graves.” Among the Companions it is established that Abu Barza al-Aslami [as narrated by Ibn `Asakir through Hammad ibn Salama] and Burayda [as narrated by Ibn Sa`d] asked to be buried together with two fresh stalks. Suyuti mentioned this in Sharh al-sudur (p. 312-313).

Ibn al-Jawzi said, as reported by Ahmad ibn Qudama al-Maqdisi in his abridgment entitled Mukhtasar minhaj al-qasidin (p. 448): “Let whoever visits the graves face towards the deceased in his grave, recite something from teh Qur’an, and donate it to him, and let the visit be on the Day of Jum`a.”

Nawawi said: “There is consensus among the scholars that du`a [invocation] for the dead benefits them, and that its reward reaches them. They have adduced Allah’s saying: “And those who came (into the faith) after them say: Our Lord! Forgive us and our brethren who were before us in the faith” (59:10) and other well-known verses with the same import, as well as the well-known narrations such as the Prophet’s saying: “O Allah, forgive the people of Baqi` al-Gharqad” [i.e. the cemetary of the Companions]

and others. There is disagreement among the scholars as to whether the reward of reciting Qur’an reaches the dead. It is well-known that Shafi`i and some Shafi`i scholars said it did not, while Ahmad ibn Hanbal and another group of scholars among whom are Shafi`is said that it did reach the dead. It is up to the reciter to say at the end of his recitation: O Allah, bring the reward of what I have recited to So-and-so. And Allah knows best.” Nawawi, al-Adhkar (Mecca ed. 1992 p. 208; Ta’if ed. p. 215 #500). These words of Nawawi make it patently clear that he did not consider ihda’ al-thawab an innovation, rather he declared it permissible.

Ibn Taymiyya in his Majmu` al-fatawa (24:300, 24:317) said: “The sound position is that the deceased gets the benefit of all kinds of bodily worship whether prayer, fasting, or recitation, just as he gets the benefit of acts of monetary worship such as sadaqa and its like and just as if one supplicated on his behalf.”

Ibn Abi al-`Izz al-Hanafi, who adopted the doctrines of Ibn Taymiyya, said in his commentary on Tahawi’s `Aqida (1995 ed. 2:664-673):

Ahl al-Sunna agree that the dead benefit from the striving of the living in two matters: the first is what the dead one himself caused to take place during his life, and the second is the invocation of Muslims on behalf of the dead, their asking forgiveness for them, giving charity, and performing pilgrimage….

As for the reward of such bodily worship as fasting, reciting Qur’an, and dhikr reaching the dead, there is disagreement. Abu Hanifa, Ahmad, and the vast majority of the Salaf agree that it reaches the dead, while the more known position of the schools of al-Shafi`i and Malik is that it does not… Some of the innovators among the Ahl al-kalam [i.e. the Mu`tazila] have adduced as proof for the complete lack of benefit for the dead such ambiguous verses as: “Man can have nothing but what he strives for” (53:39), and “Nor are you requited except for what you used to do” (36:54), and “For the soul is only what it has earned, and against it only what it has deserved” (2:286) and that the established hadith whereby the Prophet said: “When a human being dies his work ceases, except for three things…” shows that the Prophet said that one only benefits from what one has brought about during his life, and as for the rest then he is cut off from it….

But the proof that the dead benefits from other than what he has brought about in his life is in the Book, the Sunna, the Consensus, and the sound analogy…. [After citing several proofs he says:] As for the reaching to the deceased of someone else’s reward for fasting, it is narrated in the two Sahihs [also Abu Dawud, Ahmad, and al-Nasa’i] from `A’isha that the Prophet said: “Whoever dies without making up an obligatory fast that he had missed, let his patron (wali) fast on his behalf…. The Lawgiver pointed, with the reaching of the reward of fasting, to the reaching of the reward for Qur’an-recitation and other such types of bodily worship. It is made plain by the fact that to fast is merely to restrain the ego from food through intention, and the Lawgiver has prescribed that its reward will reach the dead: what about the reward of recitation which is both work and intention?…. The recitation of Qur’an and its voluntary, unpaid donation to the dead do reach him, just as the reward of fasting and pilgrimage reach him.

Mulla `Ali al-Qari in his commentary on Abu Hanifa entitled Sharh al-fiqh al-akbar (p. 194-197) said:

Among them [the rulings that pertain to barzakh] is the ruling that the supplication of the living and the donations on their behalf (sadaqa) benefits the dead and raises their positions, contrary to the Mu`tazila who said that the qada’ or divine decree does not change for the dead and that every soul has only what she gained and cannot acquire what someone else does: the answer to this is that the immutability of qada’ for the dead does not preclude the benefit of the supplication of the living on their behalf, for such benefit may well be part of the qada’ in the first place. Furthermore it may be that the benefit of the living in making the du`a is itself for an action they did in the world and for which they get the reward in the hereafter.

In addition to all the above the supplication for the dead is established in sound hadith, especially in salat al-janaza, and the Salaf transmitted it, and the Khalaf agreed upon it, and if there was no benefit in it for the dead it would be in vain, whereas many verses of the Qur’an comprise invocation for the dead such as: “O my Lord! grant them mercy as they raised me when I was young” (17:24), “O my Lord! forgive me and my parents and whomever enters my house a believer, and all believers males and female” (71:28), “O our Lord! forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in faith” (59:10). It is related from Sa`d ibn `Ubada that he said: “O Messenger of Allah! Umm Sa`d — in Nasa’i: my mother — died, what is the best donation (sadaqa) [on her behalf]?” The Prophet replied: “Water.” Sa`d dug a well and said: “This is for Umm Sa`d.” Abu Dawud and al-Nasa’i [with a sound chain] narrated it [also Ibn Majah and Ahmad with a sound chain]…

al-Qunawi said: “The principle inferred from this among Ahl al-Sunna is that any person can donate the reward of their work to another, whether prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, charity (sadaqa), or other than that.” al-Shafi`i permitted this in charity and acts of monetary worship (`ibada maliyya) as well as pilgrimage, and if someone recites over the grave then the deceased obtains (only) the reward of listening to the Qur’an, but he objected to the bestowability of the reward of Qur’an-recital to the dead, as well as that of prayer, fasting, and all non-monetary acts of obedience and worship. The position of Abu Hanifa and his companions is that donation is permitted and that the reward (of recitation) does go to the deceased.

Those who object cite the verse: “Man can have nothing but what he strives for” (53:39) and the hadith: “When a human being dies his work ceases, except for three things: an ongoing sadaqa, knowledge of his from people derive benefit, and a righteous child of his who supplicates for him.” [Muslim Tirmidhi, and others.]

The answer is: The verse is a proof for us, because the one who donates the reward of his work to another strives in conveying such reward to the other: therefore he obtains what he strove for according to that verse, and he does not obtain it except through the reaching of the reward to the one to whom he donates it. Thus the verse is a strong proof for us, not against us! As for the hadith, then it indicates that the work of the deceased stops and we hold this to be the case also, however, the issue is only the reaching to him of another’s reward. The One who causes the reward to reach the dead is Allah, because the dead do not hear by themselves, and their nearness and distance is all one and the same with relation to Allah’s power, and He said: “Call upon Me and I shall respond to you” (40:60)…

Shaykh Muhammad Makhluf said: “As for reciting the Qur’an for the deceased, whether at his grave or far from it, scholars disagree as to whether the reward for it reaches him. The scholarly majority hold that it does reach him, and this is the truth, especially if the reciter afterwards donates the reward of what he has read to the deceased. In such a case the reciter also receives the reward for his recital without this diminishing anything from the reward of the deceased.” Fatawa shar`iyya wa buhuth Islamiyya (2:303). From Nuh Ha Mim Keller’s Reliance of the Traveller (w35.0).

Sheikh Nuh Ali Salman said: “The position of Hanafis and Hanbalis is that a Muslim is entitled to donate the reward of any kind of worship he performs to whomever he wishes of the Muslim dead. As for Shafi`is and Malikis, they distinguish between acts that are valid to perform in another’s stead and those that are not, the former being valid to donate the reward of to the deceased, while the latter are not, though the later scholars of the Shafi’i and Malikis incline toward the validity of donating the reward of any kind of worship whatever to the dead. The Hanafis and Hanbalis adduce the following evidence to support their position:

(1) Bukhari and Muslim relate that the Prophet sacrificed two rams of predominantly white color, one for himself and the other for his Community. The evidence therein is that the Prophet offered sacrifice animals and donated the reward to his Community, which includes both the living and the dead, both those who existed in his time and those who came after.

(2) Anas relates that he said to the Prophet: “O Messenger of Allah, we give in charity, perform the pilgrimage, and supplicate for our dead. Does this reach them?” He replied, “Yes, indeed it reaches them, and they rejoice thereat just as one of you rejoices at the gift of a tray of food.”

(3) The Prophet said: “Recite Ya Seen [Qur’an 36] over your dead.”

(4) Allah Mighty and Majestic has informed us that the angels ask forgiveness for believers, as He says: “The angels glorify their Lord with praise and ask forgiveness for those on earth” (42:5) and He praises believers who ask forgiveness for their brethren, by saying: “…And those who come after them say, ‘Lord, forgive us and our brethren who have preceded us in faith'” (59:10).

(5) And the Prophet used to supplicate for those he performed the funeral prayer over — the evidence in all of the above being that supplication (du`a’) are an act of worship, for the Prophet said: “Supplication is worship,” while the above texts clearly show that supplications benefit others besides the one who makes them, even when the other does not ask for the supplication to be made for him.

The foregoing provides evidence that the deceased benefits from all types of worship, whether monetary or physical, since fasting, pilgrimage, supplications, and asking forgiveness are all physical acts of worship, and Allah Most High conveys the benefit of them to the deceased — and so it must also be with other works.” Nuh `Ali Salman, Qada’ al `ibadat wa al-niyaba fiha, Maktaba al-Risala al-Haditha, Amman, 1403/1983 (p. 400-403). From the Reliance of the Traveller (w35.0).

c) instructing the dead after burial (talqin al-mayyit)

Abu Umama al-Bahili said: Allah’s Messenger said: “When one of you dies and you have settled the earth over him, let one of you stand at the head of his grave and then say: O So-and-so, son of So-and-so [name of the mother]! for he will hear him even if he does not reply. Then let him say a second time: O So-and-so, son of So-and-so [name of the mother]! whereupon he will sit up (in his grave). Then let him say: O So-and-so, son of So-and-so [name of the mother]! At this the other one will say: Instruct me, and may Allah grant you mercy! even if you cannot hear it (wa lakin la tasma`un) — or [in Ibn Hajar’s narration]: even if you cannot notice it (wa lakin la tash`urun). Then let him say: Remember the state in which you left this world, which is your witnessing that there is no god except Allah, and that Muhammad is His servant and messenger; that you are pleased with Allah as your Lord, Islam as your religion, Muhammad as your Prophet, and the Qur’an as your book. At that Munkar and Nakir [the angels of the questioning in the grave] hold each other back, saying: Let us go; there is no need for us to tarry here, for he has been instructed his argument. [In Tabarani’s and Ibn Qudama’s narration:] And Allah will accept his argument without the two of them.” A man said: O Messenger of Allah, what if his mother’s name is not known?” He replied: “Then let him say: Son of Hawwa’ [Eve].”

It is narrated by Ibn Qudama in al-Mughni (1994 ed. 2:319) who mentions that Ibn Shahin narrates it in Kitab dhikr al-mawt with his chain. Ibn Hajar in Talkhis al-habir (2:143) said that Tabarani narrates it with an adequate chain (isnaduhu salih) which, despite its weakness, is consolidated by the witnessing of sound hadiths, and that Dia’ al-Din declared it strong (qawwah) in his Ahkam. Shawkani also narrates it in Nayl al-awtar (4:89-90) from the narration of Sa`id in his Sunan from Rashid ibn Sa`d and Damara ibn Habib, and he mentions that `Abd al-`Aziz al-Hanbali also narrated it in his Shafi. Shawkani’s citation of Sa`id’s narration is not traced back to the Prophet and its wording is: “They used to like (kanu yastahibbun) that it be said to the dead…”, “they” referring to the Companions, and Shawkani added that Shafi`i’s companions also considered it mustahabb — desirable.

Among the Hanafis Ibn `Abidin stated in his Hashiyat al-durr al-mukhtar that instructing the deceased after burial is lawful and that it is useful to make him firm and keep him company with a reminder according to what has been mentioned in the reports. Hasanayn Muhammad Makhluf mentioned it in his Fatawa shar`iyya (2:272). See also Ibn `Abidin’s Shifa’ al-`alil.

Nawawi in al-Adhkar (Ta’if ed. p. 212-213 #494) said:

A very large number of our companions [i.e. of the Shafi`i school] declared that it is desirable — mustahabb — to instruct the deceased after burial, and among those who prescribed it are Qadi Husayn in his Ta`liq, his companion Abu Sa`d al-Mutawalli in his book al-Tatimma, the Shaykh, the Imam, the Zahid Abu al-Fath Nasr ibn Ibrahim ibn Nasr al-Maqdisi, Imam Abu al-Qasim al-Rafi`i, and others… The Shaykh and Imam Abu `Amr ibn al-Salah was asked about this instruction to the dead and he said in his Fatawa: “The talqin is what we choose and what we practice.”

Ibn Qudama in al-Mughni (1994 ed. 2:319) cites among those who practiced talqin al-amwat or declared it desirable — mustahabb:

  • Abu al-Mughira
  • Abu Bakr ibn Abi Maryam al-Tabi`i
  • Rashid ibn Sa`d al-Tabi`i
  • Hamza ibn Jundub al-Tabi`i
  • Hakim ibn `Umayr al-Tabi`i
  • The shuyukh of the above-named, i.e. among the Companions
  • Ibn `Iyash
  • al-Qadi Abu Ya`la ibn al-Farra’
  • Abu al-Khattab

Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya adds Imam Ahmad to the above list of those who consider it good to instruct the deceased, as stated in the following passage of his Kitab al-ruh (Madani ed. p. 20-21):

Another proof of this [the dead hearing the living] is also the practice of people (`amal al-nas) formerly and to the present time of instructing the dead in his grave (talqin al mayyit fi qabrihi). If the dead did not hear that and did not benefit by it there would be no advantage in it and it would be done in vain. Imam Ahmad was asked about it and he considered it good (istahsanahu) and adduced for it a proof from usage (ihtajja `alayhi bi al-`amal).

There is also related on this subject a weak narration which al-Tabarani related in his Mu`jam from Abu Umama, who said:… [see above]. Although this hadith has not been established (lam yathbut), nevertheless the continuity of its practice in every country and time without objection is sufficient warrant for its performance. For Allah certainly never caused a custom (`ada) to persist so that a people who encompass the eastern and western parts of the earth, and who are the most perfect of peoples in intelligence, and the most comprehensive of them in sciences, should agree to address one who neither hears nor reasons, and approve of that, without some mistrustful one of that people disapproving it! But, the first established it for the last (sannahu al-awwalu li al-akhir), and the last imitates the first therein (wa yaqtadi fihi al-akhiru bi al-awwal). And were it not that the one who is addressed hears, this act would have the status of address to earth and wood and stone and the non-existent — and this, even if one person might approve of it, the learned would unanimously abhor it and condemn it.

Abu Dawud related in his Sunan with a chain to which there is no objection: The Prophet attended the funeral of a man, and when he was buried he said: “Ask confirmation for your brother, for he is now being questioned.” So he gave information that he was being questioned at that time. And since he was being asked, then he could hear the dictation. And it is valid on the Prophet’s authority that the dead one hears the beating of their sandals when they turn to leave.

`Abd al-Haqq [Ibn al-Kharrat al-Ishbili] related on the authorities of one of the saints that he said: “A brother of mine died and I saw him in my sleep. I said: O brother, what was your state when you were placed in your grave? He said: Someone kept coming to me with a bright flame of fire. If it had not been that someone made du`a for me I would have perished.”

Shabib ibn Shayba said: “My mother enjoined me at her death saying: O my son, when you bury me, stand at my grave and say: O mother of Shabib, repeat: la ilaha illallah. So when I buried her, I stood at her grave and said: O mother of Shabib, repeat: la ilaha illallah. Then I departed. When night came I saw her in my sleep and she said: O my son, I was on the point of perishing but for the expression: la ilaha illallah overtaking me. So you have observed my last wish, O my son.

Shaykh Nuh `Ali Salman said as reported in The Reliance of the Traveller (p. 921-924 w32.1-32.2):

Instructing the deceased (talqin) is when a Muslim sits besides the grave of his fellow Muslim after burial to speak to him, reminding him of the Testification of Faith “There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah,” and certain other matters of belief, such as that death is real, paradise is real, hell is real, and that Allah shall raise up those who are in their graves — and praying that the deceased will prove steadfast when the two angels question him. It does not have a particular form, but rather anything that accomplishes the above is called “instructing the deceased.” The following evidence may be adduced for its validity in Sacred Law:

  1. The rigorously authenticated (sahih) hadith that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) ordered that the bodies of the idolators slain on the day of Badr be thrown into a well whose interior was uncased with stones, then he approached the well and began calling the unbelievers by their names and fathers’ names, saying: “O So-and-so son of So-and-so, and So-and-so son of So-and-so: it would have been easier if you had obeyed Allah and His Messenger. We have found what our Lord promised to be true; have you found what your Lord promised to be true?” To which `Umar said: “O Messenger of Allah, why speak to lifeless bodies?” And he replied: “By Him in whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, you do not hear my words better than they do.”
  2. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:”When a servant is laid in his grave and his friends have turned away from him and he hears the footfalls of their sandals, two angels come to him, sit him upright, and ask him: “What were you wont to say [i.e. what did you use to say] of this man Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace)?” The believer will answer: “I testify that he is the slave of Allah and his Messenger,” and it will be said: “Look at your place in hell, Allah has changed it for a place in paradise,” and the man will behold both of them…”
  3. `Uthman ibn `Affan (Allah be well pleased with him) relates that when the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to finish burying someone, he would stand by the grave and say, “All of you, ask Allah to forgive your brother and make him steadfast, for he is now being asked.”
  4. Abu Umama said: “When I die, do with me as the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) ordered us, saying: “When one of your brothers die and you have smoothed over the earth upon his grave, let one of you stand at the head of the grave and say: “O So-and-so son of So-and-so [note: the latter “So-and-so” is feminine, naming the deceased’s mother] — for he will hear, though he cannot reply — and then say: “O So-and-so son of So-and-so,” and he will sit upright; and then say: “O So-and-so son of So-and-so,” and he will say: “Direct me, Allah have mercy on you,” though you will not hear it, but should say: “Remember the creed upon which you departed from this world, the testification that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His slave and Messenger, and that you accepted Allah as your Lord, Islam as your religion, Muhammad as your Prophet, and the Koran as your examplar.” For then the two angels Munkar and Nakir will take each other’s hand and say: “Let us go, what is there to keep us beside someone who has been instructed how to make his plea?” A man said: “O Messenger of Allah, what if one does not know the name of his mother?” and he answered, “Then he should mention his descent from his mother Eve, saying: “O So-and-so son of Eve….”

Tabarani related this hadith in his al-Mu`jam al-kabir, and Ibn Hajar `Asqalani has said that “its chain of transmission is sound” (isnaduhu salih) in Talhis al-habir fi takhrij ahadith al-Rafi`i al-kabir (2:143). Some scholars have said that this hadith is not well authenticated (da`if), while others have gone to the extreme of calling it a forgery.

The first three of the above hadiths, all of them rigorously authenticated (sahih), show that:

  1. a dead person hears the words of a living person speaking to him and even the sounds and movements around him;
  2. the dead are questioned in their graves;
  3. and that it is legally valid after burial for a living person to ask Allah to forgive the deceased and make him steadfast for the questioning of the two angels.

As for the fourth hadith, scholars have felt comfortable with it (ista’nasa bihi al-`ulama’), saying that if the deceased can hear, we should let him hear these words which he is in the direst need of in such circumstances, and even if the hadith that has conveyed them is not well authenticated, its content is valid and true (madmunuhu kalamun haqqun sahih).

The foregoing is what has been said about instructing the deceased (talqin), so whoever does it cannot be blamed, since they have something of a case for it; and whoever does not cannot be blamed, because they do not consider the case sufficient. In any event, we should be anxious to promote love and brotherhood between Muslims, and not divide the ranks with questions like this, for the important thing is our belief in the oneness of Allah, and the unity of the Islamic Community.