Making Dhikr in Circles


What is the ruling of gathering in circles to make invocations (dhikr)?


Gathering to make invocations in circles is a sunna that is established by evidences in the Shari’ah. God ordained it in the Qur’an saying, {Restrain yourself along with those who cry unto their Lord at morning and evening, seeking His Countenance} (al-Kahf,18:28), and the Prophet said, “God Most High has angels that travel the roads seeking out those who make invocations. When they find a group of people invoking God they call out to each other, “Come to that which you seek!” and they encircle them with their wings up to the sky…And God says [to the angels], “You are My witnesses, I have forgiven them.” The angels say, “So and so is not one of them, he only came for a personal need.” To which God replies, “The one who sits with them does not suffer.”

According to Mu`awiyah, the Prophet (s) encountered a gathering of his companions and asked them, “What has brought you together here?” They replied, “We have gathered to invoke and praise [God] for guiding us to Islam and blessing us.”…He said, “Jibril came and told me that God is boasting to the angels about you.” In his book Riyad al-Salihin al-Nawawi placed the first hadith under the chapter heading, “Circles of Invocation.”

Invocation has many meanings in the terminology of the Shari`ah. These meanings include: the mere mentioning of God’s Essence, Attributes, Actions, or Rulings; the recitation of the Qur’an; supplicating and beseeching Him; and praising Him through His sanctity, exaltation, unity, praise, thanks, and glorification. There is no evidence to support those who claim that the sessions of religious study are what are intended here by circles of invocation.

Al-San’ani mentions the hadith narrated by Muslim on the authority of Abu Hurayrah that says, “The Messenger of God said, ‘No group of people gathers to invoke God except that angels surround them, mercy descends upon them, and God mentions them to those in His presence.” Then he [al-San’ani] says: This hadith indicates the virtues of gathering for the purpose of invocation. Al-Bukhari narrates that, “Angels travel the roads seeking out those who make invocations. When they find a group of people invoking God they call out to each other, ‘Come to that which you seek!’ and they encircle them with their wings up to the sky…” So one of the virtues of gatherings for the purpose of invocation is that the angels are in attendance after having sought them out. That which is meant by invocation is the glorification and praise [of God], the recitation of the Qur’an, and similar acts of worship.

In the hadith narrated by al-Bazzar God Most High asks the angels, “What are my servants doing?” even though he knows better than they, and they reply, “They glorify Your divinity, recite Your Book, pray for Your prophet, and ask of you concerning their worldly lives and their afterlives.”

The literal meaning of invocation is the invocation of the tongue, and whoever pronounces it is rewarded. Being conscious of the meaning [of the invocation] is not a condition, rather it is a condition not to intend other than God. Adding the invocation of the heart to the invocation of the tongue is more complete, adding to that a consciousness of the meaning of the invocation along with what it comprises of glorification of God and negating all shortcomings on His behalf is even more complete, if this occurs during a mandatory act of righteousness, like prayer, jihad, and the like, it is even more complete, and if it is done sincerely for God, it is the most complete.

Let it be known based on that which has preceded that gathering together to invoke God by reciting the Qur’an, studying religious knowledge, or pronouncing God’s Glorification [by saying subhan Allah], His Oneness [by saying la ilaha illa Allah], and His Praise [by saying al-hamdu lillah] is one of the sunnas that our Lord encouraged us to perform in the Qur’an, and it is the correct and incontrovertible sunna of His Prophet And God is Most High and Knows best.

Shaykh Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt

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