Reciting the Qur`an during condolences gatherings
What is the ruling for holding condolences gatherings for three days after the death of a person, receiving those who come to offer their condolences, and employing the services of a reciter? Currently, there is an ongoing controversy on the permissibility of these practices; those who oppose it maintain that it is a misguiding innovation. They base their opinion on the fact that these practices did not occur during the time of Prophet Mohammed [pbuh] or at the time of his Companions. They add that that the reciter at these gatherings is blameworthy and his fees are unlawful. Please clarify the ruling.
Islam is a religion of love and compassion; it seeks to strengthen [social] ties and communication and encourages Muslims to offer consolations to the bereaved. Nu'man ibn Bashir, may Allah be pleased with them both, narrated that the prophet said: "The believers, in their love, mutual kindness, and close ties are like one body. When any part of it complains, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness and fever" [Muslim and Bukhari].
Islam encourages Muslims to console one another in times of grief to reduce the pain of sorrow. The prophet [pbuh] promised a great reward for it, and said: "Whosoever consoles a person afflicted with grief receives his selfsame reward" [Al-Tirmidhi and ibn Majah] and, "Whosoever consoles someone going through a difficult time, Allah will clothe him with the robes of honor on the day of Judgment" [Reported by ibn Majah].
Consoling the family of the deceased
• It is desirable to console all the relatives of the deceased — old and young, males and females.
• Men should not console young females or those from whom one fears temptation.
• Condolences are not to be offered beyond three days after the death except if one is absent or learns of the death after this time.
Holding condolences gatherings
Holding condolences gatherings and erecting marquees for this purpose are among our customs and traditions; they do not contravene Islamic law since they are a means of implementing the Allah's command of consoling the grief stricken. It is established in Islamic law that the means take the same rulings as their goals as long as the means are not unlawful in themselves. There is no harm in erecting marquees for this purpose under the following conditions:
• They should be free of extravagance.
• They should not be done out of arrogance.
• They should be erected to accommodate the guests who come to offer their condolences and who cannot be accommodated otherwise.
The permissibility of soliciting the services of a reciter
It is permissible to solicit the services of a reciter and there is no harm in it. His fees are permissible because they are not reciting the Quran but are a compensation for the time he took away from his means of livelihood and interests. The fees must not be deducted from the estate of the deceased and must not be paid out of arrogance. The attendees must be attentive and listen to his recitation.
If the fees of the reciter are only paid out to him out of arrogance and pride—which is quite common—it is then considered excessiveness and prohibited by Islamic law. The prohibition is greater if the minors of the relatives of the deceased are made to share in the payment of these fees or if the family of the deceased is in need of the money. It is not permissible to spend from the estate of the deceased or from someone else's money except of his own free will.
There is no doubt that the family of the deceased needs someone to console them, lighten their burden by enjoining steadfastness, prepare food for them, and offer them money if they were in need. The reason is that the family of the deceased may be too burdened with their misfortune and the consequent preparations and exhaustion. This is precisely the meaning of the words of the prophet [pbuh] when he said: "Prepare food for the family of Ja'far for there has come to them that which will occupy them" [Reported by abu Dawud, ibn Majah, and al-Bayhaqi from a hadith narrated by 'Abdullah ibn Ja'far, may Allah be pleased with them].
The etiquette of attending condolences gatherings
A person attending such gatherings must sit and offer his condolences to the bereaved lest they think he does not want to sit among them.
Erecting marquees, and soliciting the services of reciters are permissible in themselves as long as they do not entail excessiveness, arrogance or taking another's property without right, in which case they are prohibited.
Allah Almighty knows best.