The Qur’an is the source of guidance, mercy, illumination, and healing for the faithful at all times. There is nothing wrong as far as Islamic Shari`ah is concerned in gathering to read the Qur’an, as this is a richly rewarded act of devotion.
Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states: Gathering people to read the Qur’an in the presence of a person who is pious and knowledgeable cannot be considered an innovation so long as it is not done with the intention of taking him as an intermediary in the worship of Allah, the One and only God. In order to form a better perspective on this issue, the following must be kept in mind:
1. Reading the Qur’an, unless someone has made a fixed ritual, is considered highly rewarded: Qur’an is the source of guidance, mercy, illumination and healing for the faithful at all times, and as such, gathering for the Qur’an is a richly rewarded act of devotion. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “When people gather on the Qur’an to read and study it, the angels will descend upon them, and Allah’s mercy will engulf them.” He also said, “Read the Qur’an so long as your hearts are united on understanding it. … When you start dissenting, rise up and disperse.”
2. We are also ordered and encouraged to befriend and accompany people who are pious and knowledgeable. This is because we stand to gain spiritually by being with those who are pious and knowledgeable. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “A person follows the way of his friend or the company he keeps; therefore let everyone know who he is keeping as a friend or companion.” Based on this and similar traditions, scholars have said that it is important to keep company of the pious and knowledgeable as much as possible. If, therefore, people gather in the presence of a pious or knowledgeable person in order to benefit from his/her piety and knowledge, then it is indeed a spiritually rewarding act. Imam Al-Ghazzali explains this point by pointing out that a person’s character is deeply influenced by those he/she keeps as friends and companions.
3. As for the issue of offering du`a’ for the deceased, we are exhorted in the Qur’an and the Sunnah to pray for those who have passed away: (And those who came after them say: “Our Lord! Forgive us and our brethren who were before us in the faith, and do not place in our hearts any rancor toward those who believe. Our Lord! You are Kind, Compassionate) (Al-Hashr 59:10). We also read in the Hadith that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) told us that one of the duties we owe towards our parents after their death is, “to praying for them and invoke Allah’s mercy on them.”
4. Coming to the precedent of reading the Qur’an and making a du`a’ afterwards, there are precedents for it in the practice of the righteous predecessors, as we know some of them used to gather their family members in reading the Qur’an after which they used to offer collective supplications. The Qur’an being the word of Allah, it is perfectly all right to invoke Allah’s mercy after reading the same. Therefore, it cannot be considered as an innovation.
5. In light of the above, if they are calling a pious or knowledgeable person in order to be inspired, spiritually and morally, then that is indeed a highly desirable thing to do; there cannot be anything un-Islamic about it; rather it is perfectly Islamic and edifying to do. If, on the other hand, people have the wrong belief that this person is an intermediary before Allah and that they approach him through him then that is akin to shirk (associating other partners with Allah); it must therefore be shunned and opposed. But I don’t think that that is the case with people calling a scholar or a hafiz to preside over their functions. We must not rush to call each and every thing as shirk or bid`ah. In this way, we will be choking our religious life, and Islam thus will be reduced to a set of traffic symbols of “stop” and “go.”
6. Finally, when people gather there is nothing wrong with their eating together, for the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) encouraged us to eat together as there is greater barakah in doing so. Therefore, I see no reason to condemn it unless it involves the practice of offering food to the deceased or saints, etc. which can undoubtedly be described as practices tainted with shirk.
In conclusion: Collective reading of the Qur’an and offering du`a’ following the same is a noble act; to invite knowledgeable people to preside over such functions is also a noble act so long one does not make a permanent ritual out of it, thus considering it as an integral practice of religion that must be enforced. Since we stand to benefit spiritually and morally from accompanying and gathering around those who are pious and knowledgeable, it cannot be considered to be tainted with shirk as long as one does not have the intention of taking them as intermediaries before Allah. When pronouncing judgment on such matters, it is always important to keep in mind the Prophetic dictum, “Actions are reckoned by intentions; everyone is rewarded according to his intentions.”