Actions on behalf of dead persons

Q16 :A few months ago, you published an answer claiming that it is permissible to recite the Qur'an on behalf of a dead person and that the reward for such a recitation is granted to the dead person. This opinion has been vehemently opposed by almost all renowned Salafi scholars. They consider such a recitation as an innovation and they support that by the fact that neither the Prophet nor his companions used to read the Qur'an on behalf of those who died in battle or a natural death. They also suggest that it is not possible to compare such a recitation with offering substitute pilgrimage on behalf of a dead person, which is certainly permissible. Moreover, Allah defines the purpose of the Qur'an as "an admonition to any one who is alive". This means that the Qur'an is for those who are alive. Please comment. I am confused by your contradictory replies. You said sometime in the past that "no one may offer prayers or other religious duties which have been left undone by a deceased person." You have also quoted the Hadith which states that the actions of every person come to an end when he dies except in one of three well-known ways. Now you are saying that it is possible to transfer the reward of a good action to a deceased person. Will you please explain these contradictions?


A16 : These are the view of only two of my readers who have written to me on this subject. Others have written, making the same objections. To all such readers I say that this is a question which relates to an aspect of Islamic worship. The answer, therefore, must be based on what the Prophet has taught us. We cannot argue a case supporting any viewpoint on purely logical basis. Our starting point may just be the Qur'an and the Hadith. Before starting to answer the objections of my readers, I wish to say that I hold on to my position on both points and I do not see any reason to change either. Nor do I see any contradiction between what I have said on different occasions on this subject. The difficulty experienced by some people in reconciling these points can be easily overcome. Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim, a highly renowned scholar, has spoken extensively on this question, devoting to it more than thirty pages in his invaluable book, Ar-Rooh, or The Spirit. My reply is based largely on what he says, since he discusses all points in detail and replies to all objections. I have often quoted the Hadith which may be rendered in translation as follows: "When a human being dies, all his actions come to an end, except in one of three ways: A continuing act of charity, a useful contribution to knowledge or a God-fearing, dutiful child who prays for him." This Hadith cannot be quoted in support of the argument that our actions cannot benefit those who are dead. It is important to know that when we attempt to understand the meaning of a Qur'anic statement or Hadith, our approach should be one of careful consideration of the statement in front of us. It must be clear to us that every Qur'anic verse and every Hadith is meant to convey only the sense of the words used in it. We cannot, and must not, carry any such statement beyond its apparent meaning. It cannot be imagined or envisaged that Allah would mean something and express it in words which convey a different meaning. Nor is it possible that the Prophet, who has been endowed by Allah with the gift of the most precise expressions, should mean anything other than what he states. Anyone who would entertain such a thought actually suggests that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) could fail to convey precisely an idea which constitutes a part of his message. That is not acceptable from a Muslim. No one would remain a Muslim for a second if he attaches such an inadequacy to the Qur'an. Bearing that in mind, we have to understand every Qur'anic statement or Hadith as it is. The above mentioned Hadith states that "When a human being dies, his actions come to an end, except in one of three ways, etc. " What comes to an end, then, is the deceased person's own actions. This does not mean that a dead person does not benefit by anything else. He simply cannot do more for himself. He is powerless and incapable of accomplishing anything. Scholars, however, are unanimous that those who are dead can benefit by what living people may do in one of two ways: What the deceased person himself initiated during his lifetime and the supplication of Muslims on his behalf, their prayers to Allah to forgive him and whatever charity or pilgrimage other Muslims may do on his behalf. Scholars have different views on whether physical worship such as fasting, prayer, reciting of the Qur'an, etc. may be done by a living person and rewarded to a dead relative at his request. Imam Ahmad and many scholars say that the reward of such actions can be credited to the dead person, while the Shafie and Maliki schools of thought take the other view, saying that it does not. As for things that the dead person himself had initiated in his lifetime, the above quoted Hadith is sufficient evidence to endorse that. Another Hadith related by Ibn Majah quotes the Prophet as saying: "What is credited to a believer of his action and good deed after his death is any useful knowledge he might have taught or spread, a God-fearing child he might have left behind, a copy of the Qur'an he might have left to an heir, a mosque he might have built, a house he might have dedicated for use by travelers, a stream or river he might have caused to run, a donation to charity (i.e. sadaqah) he might have set aside when he was enjoying good health. All that catches up with him after his death." Another authentic Hadith related by Muslim quotes the Prophet as saying: "Any Muslim who initiates a good practice receives its reward and the reward of anyone who follows his example without reducing their reward by the smallest of fractions, and any Muslim who initiates a bad practice will bear its burden as well as the burden of everyone who follows his example without reducing their burdens in anyway." In support of our statement that a dead person will benefit by the supplication and prayer of living Muslims, I refer to the praise Allah bestows on succeeding generations of believers for praying Him to forgive those believers who lived before them. Allah says in the Qur'an: "Those who come after them pray: our Lord, forgive us our sins, as well as those of our brethren who preceded us in faith." (59;10). When a Muslim dies, it is a duty on the community of Muslims to offer a special prayer for him during which they pray Allah to forgive him and admit him into heaven. The Prophet says: "When you pray for a dead person, make your supplication sincere." In his own supplication for a dead person, just before the latter's funeral, the Prophet said: "My Lord, forgive him; bestow Your mercy on him; purge him of sin, assign to him a good abode and a wide entrance (to heaven); wash him with water, snow and hail and purge him of sin as a white dress is purged of impurity; replace his home, family and wife with better ones; admit him to heaven and protect him against torment in the grave and the suffering in hell." There are numerous Hadiths which tell us that a number of his companions came to the Prophet individually to ask him whether they can give sadaqah or fast or do the pilgrimage on behalf of their deceased relatives, and he always said that they may do that and the dead person would benefit by it. Al-Bukhari relates that Saad ibn Ubadah, the chief of the Ansari tribe of Al-Khazraj, said to the Prophet: "Messenger of Allah, my mother died when I was away. Would she benefit if I give charitable donations (i.e. sadaqah) on her behalf? The Prophet answered in the affirmative. Saad said: "I would like you to be my witness that I am giving as sadaqah on her behalf my orchard at Al-Meraf." Ibn Abbas reports that a woman traveled in a boat and pledged that should Allah save her life, she would fast for a month. She was saved but she did not fast before she died. Her daughter or her sister asked the Prophet about that and he ordered her to fast on behalf of the deceased woman. (Related by Abu-Dawood, An-Nassaie, Ahmad and others). Hadiths in support of offering the pilgrimage on behalf of a deceased person or one who is unanimously unable to undertake the journey are numerous. Moreover, it is unanimously agreed by scholars that if a person dies without settling an outstanding debt, leaving no money to settle it, anyone could pay it on his behalf. Whether the person paying it is a relative or not, the deceased is deemed to have repaid his debt. If the case is such and the deceased person may benefit by a financial payment, why should he not benefit by a gift made of the reward for a good action? It should be mentioned here that it is not possible to do the obligatory duties of fasting and prayer on behalf of a deceased person. This means that you cannot pray Dhuhr or Asr, or fast a few days of Ramadhan on his behalf. You may, however, fast if he took a pledge to fast but did not honor it, as in the Hadith quoted above. You may also do a voluntary act of worship and request Allah to credit its reward to the deceased person. That applies to reciting a passage of the Qur'an. It is important to have a clear intention when you begin such an action that you are gifting its reward to a dead person. My readers suggest that it is not known that the companions of the Prophet used to recite the Qur'an and gift the reward of their recitation to dead people. The reason is that they would view such an action as a private matter between themselves and their Lord. Why would anyone mention to other people that he recited a surah and gifted its reward to his mother or to his friend or relative? They were to gain the maximum reward for their actions in the privacy of their own home. Your motive for such publicity may not be free of self-esteem. That is bound to reduce your reward. I do not know of any Hadith or Qur'anic verse which suggests that a recitation of the Qur'an has a special status which suggests that a recitation, pilgrimage or charitable donations may not be so credited. I know of nothing to prevent that. Indeed, Allah's generosity will ensure that the reward is credited to the person to whom it is gifted, while the reciter will be rewarded for his kindness. [This is different from the act of gathering people to recite Qur'an on behalf of the deceased. Such recitations are private matters.] The best thing that can be done on behalf of a dead person is sadaqah or charitable donation. The best of that is something which continues over a long period of time. A pilgrimage on his behalf will be highly rewarded. Prayer to Allah to forgive him and bestow His mercy on him is also sure to be answered.


Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )