Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Isal Thawab - The Sending of Rewards for the Dead

By Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph.D.
President, Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
Louisville, KY 40242.

 Man gets what he strives for, says Surah  An – Najm53: 39
The translation of 53:39  is  "That man can have nothing but what he strives for"
That no bearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another; and that there is nothing for man but what he has striven for; and that his striving shall soon be seen, and then he will be fully rewarded for it;
 From this verse three cardinal principles are derived: (1) That every person is himself responsible for what he does; (2) that the responsibility of one man's act cannot be transferred to another unless he has a share in the commission of the act; and (3) that even if a person wishes he cannot take on himself the responsibility of another man's act, nor can the actual culprit be let off on the ground that another person is willing to suffer the punishment on his behalf. 

Another interpretation of this verse is that  three important principles are derived: (1) That every person will get only the fruit of his own deeds; ,(2) that the fruit of one man's deeds cannot be given to another unless he has a share in that deed, and (3) that none can attain anything without striving for it.

Some people wrongly apply these three principles to the economic problems of the world and conclude that no person can become the lawful owner of anything except of his own earned income. But this conclusion clashes with several laws and injunctions given by the Qur'an itself, e.g. the law of inheritance, according to which many individuals inherit a person and are regarded as his lawful heirs, whereas the heritage is not their earned income. As for a suckling for instance, it cannot be proved by any stretch of imagination that its labour had any share in the wealth left by its father. Likewise, there are the injunctions about the zakat and voluntary charities according to which the wealth of one man is transferred to others only on the basis of their legal and moral entitlement and they become its lawful owners, whereas in the production of this wealth they did not make any contribution at all. Thus, it is against the intention of the Qur'an to take a verse of it and derive from it such conclusions as clash with the other teachings of the Qur'an itself.
Some other people regard these principles as concerning the Hereafter and raise the question whether, according to these principles, the deeds of one man can in some way be also beneficial for the other person, and whether the deeds of a person which he does for another person, or on his behalf, can be accepted from him, and whether it is also possible that a person may transfer the reward of his act to another. If the answer to these questions be in the negative,  the sending of spiritual rewards (isal thawab) for the dead and performing Hajj on behalf of another, would be inadmissible; even the prayer of forgiveness for the other person would be meaningless, for this prayer also is not the concerned person's own act and deed. However, this extreme point of view has been adopted by none among the followers of Islam except the Mu'tazilites. Only they take this verse in the meaning that one man's acts and deeds can in no case be beneficial for the other. On the contrary, the followers of the Sunnah are unanimous that the prayer of one man is beneficial for the other because it is confirmed by the Qur'an; however, they differ only in details, and not in principles, as to whether the sending of spiritual rewards for another and doing a good work on behalf of another is beneficial or not.

The term Isal Thawab means to have the intention of sending the reward of one's virtuous deeds and acts of worship for the blessing and benefit of the deceased near and dear one. It is permissible to send the rewards of one's monetary worship, optional charity and sacrifices, and one's bodily worship, like optional prayers in fast, for the good of the dead. (  According to Imam Malik, only the rewards of one's monetary worship reach the dead one.)
To convey such rewards for the sacred soul of the greatest benefactor of humanity, the Noble  Prophet (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him), is a most commendable act on account of the innumerable favours and extraordinary compassion and kindness showed by him for the Muslim community. The least that a believer can do in this regard is to convey the rewards of all his devotional acts of worship to the sacred soul of  Rasoolullah (SAS), for a person who does not have the good fortune of doing so even once in his lifetime would indeed be a most unfortunate wretch.
The Procedure
The procedure of sending the reward is that after performing the desired devotional acts, one should attend to Allah Almighty with one's whole blind and soul and pray:
"My Lord! Convey the reward of my act of devotion and worship to the soul of so and so."
It is to be expected that Allah in His unbounded grace and mercy will convey the reward to the deceased one.
Other Regulations
1. It is not necessary that a person should have the intention of sending the rewards while actually engaged in the act of worship, but one may do so even later whenever desired.
2. Allah not only blesses the deceased one with the rewards and benefits sent for him, but favours the sender and worshipper too, with His unbounded grace and mercy. Therefore a believer should always make it a point to send the rewards of his voluntary acts of worship for the souls of the righteous people of the community as well.
3. When a person intends to send the rewards an act of worship for more than one departed soul, Allah does not distribute the rewards among them, but one out of His infinite mercy blesses each of the souls with full rewards.
4. It does not behoove the true Muslims that they should lay down extra conditions, appoint special days, observe them like any other Shari'ah injunctions and cause schisms among Muslims on their basis, for the procedure and regulations concerning the conveying of rewards for the dead are as simple as that.
According to some jurists one is allowed to do “Isal Thawab” in the case of some monetary charity only. Imam Abu Hanifah and some other jurists allow this for any good deed. You may read the Qur’an, pray some Nafl prayer, make some Nafl fast, do a Nafl Hajj, Umrah or tawaf, or any other good deed and ask Allah to give the reward of these good deeds to your relatives, friends, teachers or any Muslim or Muslims. This is permissible. It is a kind of du’a. Muslims do du’a also for those who passed away. After doing some deeds of piety and charity it is good to make du’a and include our relatives and teachers in this du’a. Such du’as help those who are living as well as those who passed away. But it is a bid’ah to make special ceremonies or appoint special days for Isal Thawab.
(1) The term Isal Thawab means that after a person has performed a good act, he may pray to Allah to grant its rewards to another. In this regard, Imam Malik and Imam Shafi'I have expressed the opinion that the rewards of the pure bodily acts of worship, e.g., the Prayer, the Fasting and recitals of the Qur'an, etc. cannot reach the other person; however, the rewards of one's monetary acts of worship, e.g. charities, or Hajj, which is a combination of the monetary and bodily worships, can reach the other, for the principle is that one man's act should not be beneficial for the other. But since according to authentic Ahadith the rewards of charities can be conveyed and Hajj on behalf of another also can be performed, they admit the permissibility of conveying of rewards to the extent of this kind of the acts of worship only. On the contrary, the Hanafi viewpoint is that a man can send the reward of each of his virtuous acts as a gift to the other, whether it is the Prayer, or the Fast, or the recitation of the Qur'an, or remembrance of Allah, or charity, or Hajj and `Umrah. The argument is that just as a man after carrying out a piece of work can tell the master to pay the wages to such and such other person instead of him, so after performing a good deed also he can pray to Allah to grant its rewards to such and such other person instead of him. In this there is no rational ground for making exception of some kinds of virtues and keeping it restricted to some other kinds of virtues. The same is confirmed by a large number of the traditions: A Tradition, on the unanimous authority of Hadrat 'A'ishah, Hadrat Abu Hurairah, Hadrat Jabir bin 'Abdullah. Hadrat Abu Rafi', Hadrat Abu Talhah Ansari and Hudhaifah bin Usaid al-Ghaffary has been reported in Bukhari, Muslim. Musnad Ahmad, Ibn Majah, Tabari  in Awsat, Musradrik and Ibn Abi Shaibah saying that the Noble Prophet (upon whom be peace) got two rams and sacrificed one on behalf of himself and his family and the other on behalf of his Ummah.
Muslim, Bukhari, Musnad Ahmad, Abu Da'ud and Nasa'i have related a Tradition from Hadrat 'A'ishah to the effect that a person said to the Noble Prophet: "My mother has died suddenly. I think if she had a chance to speak, she would have asked me giving away something in charity. Now, if I give away something in charity on her behalf, will she get a reward for it ?" The Noble Prophet replied: "Yes, she will. "

Several other traditions bearing on the same subject also have been related in Bukhari, Muslim, Musnad Ahmad, Nasa'i, Tirmidhi, Abu Da'ud, Ibn Majah, etc. on the authority of Hadrat 'A'ishah, Hadrat Abu Hurairah and Hadrat Ibn 'Abbas, according to which the Noble Prophet permitted giving away of something in charity on behalf of the deceased person describing it as beneficial for him.

Another tradition in Daraqutni has been related from Hadrat `Ali according to which the Noble  Prophet said: "If a person passing by the graveyard recites "Qul huwallah-u ahad" eleven times and gives away its reward for the dead, all the dead ones will be granted their due shares of the rewards. "

These large number of the traditions which support one another explicitly state that the transfer of the spiritual rewards is not only possible but rewards of all kinds of acts of worship and virtuous deeds can be sent and conveyed and in it there is no specification of any particular kind of acts and deeds. In this connection, however, four things should be understood well:

First, that the reward of that act only can be transferred, which may have been performed purely for the sake of Allah and according to the Shari'ah injunctions; otherwise obviously an act which is performed for the sake of other than Allah, or in contravention of the Shari 'ah injunctions, cannot even entitle its doer himself to any reward, nothing to say of its transfer to another person.

Secondly, the gift of the rewards will certainly reach those righteous persons who are staying as guests with Allah, but no rewards are expected to reach those culprits who are placed in confinement there. The gift can reach the guests of Allah but the criminals of Allah cannot be expected to receive it. If a person sends his rewards to him because of a misunderstanding, it will not go waste but instead of reaching the culprit it will return to the actual worker himself just like the money-order which returns to the sender in case it does not reach the one to whom it has been sent.

Thirdly, the transfer of the reward is possible but not the transfer of punishment. That is, it is possible that one may do a good deed and may willingly transfer its reward to the other and it reaches him, but it is not possible that one may commit a sin and transfer its punishment to the other and it reaches him. The opposite of that is “Isal ‘Iqab” which is to pray that the punishment of one’s bad deeds go to someone else. This cannot happen and it is not allowed in Islam.

The fourth thing is that  virtuous acts are beneficial in two ways: First, on account of its those results which accrue to the soul and morality of the doer himself because of which he becomes worthy of a reward in the sight of Allah; second, on account of the reward which Allah grants him as a gift and favour. The transfer of the spiritual reward does not concern the first but only the second. This can be understood by an example. A person tries to attain proficiency in the art of wrestling or boxing by constant practice. The strength and skill thus gained (by Boxer Muhammad Ali) is in any way specially meant for his own self; it  cannot be transferred to another. Similarly, if he is attached to a royal court, and there is a stipend fixed for him as a wrestler, he alone will receive it and no one else. However, in respect of the prizes and gifts that his patron may like to grant him as an appreciation for his creditable performance, he may request that they may be given to his coach, or parents, or some other benefactor, on his behalf. The same is the case with the virtuous deeds: their spiritual benefits are not transferable and their rewards also cannot be transferred to another, but as for their rewards and gifts he can pray to Allah that these may be granted to a near and dear one, or a benefactor of his. That is why it is termed as isal thawab (conveying of spiritual rewards) and not as isal jaza' (conveying of material reward).
(2) Another form of a person's work being beneficial for another is that one should either do a virtuous deed on the desire or beckoning of another, or without his desire or beckoning, on his behalf, which, in fact, was obligatory for him to carry out, but which he was unable to carry out himself. In this regard, the Hanafi jurists say that the acts of worship are of three kinds: purely physical, e.g. the Prayer(Salat) ; purely monetary, e.g. the zakat; and the compound acts of bodily and monetary worship, e.g. Hajj. As for the first kind, nobody can act as an agent of another. As for the second kind, one can act as an agent of the other, e.g. the husband can pay the zakat due on the ornaments of the wife. As for the third kind, one can act as an agent of the other only in case the actual person on whose behalf the act is being performed, is permanently, and not just temporarily, unfit to carry out his obligation himself or herself. For example, Hajj can be performed on behalf of another only in case the person concerned  is unable to go for Hajj himself nor-may have the hope that he would ever be able to perform it himself. The Malikis and the Shafi  also concur on this.  However, Imam Malik lays down the condition that if the father has willed that his son should perform Hajj after him, on his behalf, the son can perform Hajj on his father's behalf, otherwise not.  But the traditions in this regard are very explicit. Whether the father has expressed the desire, or made a will or not, the son can perform Hajj on his behalf.

Ibn 'Abbas has related that a woman from the tribe of Khath'am said to the Noble Prophet: "The command for Hajj has reached my father at a time when he has become very old: he cannot even sit on the camel's back." The Noble Prophet replied: "You then may perform Hajj on his behalf." (According to Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Nasa'i). A tradition bearing on the same subject has also been related by Hadrat 'Ali. (Ahmad, Tirmidhi).

Hadrat 'Abdullah bin Zubair has made mention of a man of the same tribe of Khath'am, who also put a similar question to the Noble  Prophet concerning his aged father. The Noble  Prophet asked: 'Are you his eldest son?" He answered in the affirmative (means YES). Thereupon the Noble Prophet said "If your father had left behind a debt and you paid it off, would it stand paid on his behalf?" He replied that it would. The Noble  Prophet said: "Then you should likewise perform Hajj also on his behalf." (Ahmad, Nasa'i). Ibn 'Abbas relates that a woman from the tribe of Juhainah came to the  Prophet (SAS) and said: "My mother had vowed to perform Hajj but she died before performing her vow. Now, can I perform Hajj on her behalf ?" The Prophet (SAS) replied: "If your mother had left behind a debt, would you not have paid it? Likewise, you should also discharge the vow made to Allah, and Allah has a greater right that the vows made to Him be performed." (Bukhari, Nasa'i). Bukhari and Musnad Ahmad contain another tradition to the effect that a man came and put the same question to the Prophet (SAS) concerning his sister as has been mentioned above, and the  Prophet (SAS) gave him also the same answer.

These traditions provide a clear proof that so far as the compound acts of bodily and monetary worships are concerned, one can act on behalf of another. As for the purely bodily acts of worship, there are some Ahadith which prove the permissibility of acting on behalf of another in this kind of worship as well. For example, Ibn 'Abbas has related that a woman from the tribe of Juhainah asked the Prophet(SAS) : 'My mother had vowed to observe the Fast and she died without performing her vow. Now, can I observe the Fast on her behalf?" The Prophet (SAS) replied: "Observe the Fast on her behalf." (Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad, Abu Da'ud). And Hadrat Buraidah's tradition that a woman asked concerning her mother: "She had one month's (according to another tradition two months') Fasts to observe; can I observe those Fasts on her behalf?" The Prophet (SAS) said that she could." (Muslim, Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Abu Da'ud). And Hadrat 'A'isha's tradition that the  Prophet (SAS) said: "If a person dies and he had some Fasts to observe, his guardian should observe those Fasts on his behalf." (Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad). In the tradition related by Bazzar the Noble Prophet's words are to the effect: "If his guardian may so like, he may observe those Fasts on his behalf." On the basis of these very traditions the Ashab al- Hadith and Imam Auza'i and the Zahiris have formed the view that one is permitted to perform bodily acts of worship also on behalf of the other. But Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik, Shafi'I and Imam Zaid bin 'Ali have given the ruling that a fast cannot be observed on behalf of a dead person, and Imam Ahmad, Imam Laith and Ishaq bin Rahawaih opine that this can be done only in case the deceased person might have so vowed but might not have been able to perform his vow. Those who oppose this give the argument that the reporters of the Ahadith, which prove its permissibility, have themselves given their rulings against it. Ibn 'Abbas's ruling has been related by Nasa'i, thus: "No one should offer a Prayer or observe a Fast on behalf of another." And Hadrat 'A'isha's ruling, according to 'Abdur Razzaq, is: "Do not observe the Fast on behalf of your dead ones; feed (the needy) instead." The same has been related from Hadrat 'Abdullah bin 'Umar also by 'Abdur Razzaq that the Fast should not be observed on behalf of the deceased person. This shows that in the beginning it was permissible to perform acts of bodily worship on behalf of others, but the practice that became established in the end was that it was not permissible to do so; otherwise it was not possible that those who have reported these Ahadith from the Noble  Prophet, should have themselves given rulings against them.
In this connection, it should be understood well that fulfilment of an obligation on behalf of another can be beneficial only to those people who have themselves been keen and desirous of fulfilling their obligations and might have been unable to do so being rendered helpless by circumstances. But a person who deliberately shirked going for Hajj although he had the necessary means for it and had no feeling whatever of this obligation in his heart either, cannot be benefited even if several Hajj be performed on his behalf afterwards. This would be analogous to the case of a person who deliberately avoided paying his debts and had no intention to pay them till the last. Afterwards even if every penny is paid off on his behalf, he would remain a debtor in the sight of Allah. The payment of the debts by another can relieve only such a person who in his lifetime was desirous of paying off his debts but was unable to do so due to straitened circumstances.  

Imagine a person’s mother who had a great desire to build a hospital for the poor, but due to certain circumstances she was not able to. Now if the son gets the chance to fulfil his mother’s wish, then this will indeed be a rewarding deed for the son while her mother has already got the reward of this because of her intention. Of course! she may get a further reward because, as ‘Sadaqah-i- Jariyah’ (the charitable act of a person that continues to afford him reward even after he dies), pious children themselves are a source of reward for the parents.

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