"I am often told by the Wahabis that our Khattam Sharif done on Thursdays or sending prayers to someone who has died is Bidah (an innovation) especially the food aspect. I have faith and believe this to be correct but do not have the knowledge to prove this with evidence from our beloved Prophet Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam or the Holy Qur'an."
To reach a final conclusion on the state of Khattam or any other related practice, in respect to the Shariah of Islam, we must first of all divide it into its basic parts. Its like, for example, if for the very first time we are required to know whether we can or can't drink a cup of tea. We will first of all find that it is made up of a teabag, water and maybe milk and sugar. When all these ingredients are placed in a cup it is called a cup of tea, and all the ingredients are permitted and halal so the whole cup of tea will be halal. But if one of the ingredients was haram, for example the teabag was stolen or an intoxicating drug was added then the cup of tea would become totally haram.
In short, if we are to find the reality of anything we must first of all divide it into its smallest components and then pass judgment on each of them. If there is any Bidah or illegal component then the whole practice will be condemned and rejected. On the other hand, if all the components are permitted then it will be a justified practice in terms of the Shariah.
Let us now investigate what happens in a modern periodic Khattam. The week prior to the Khattam is spent reciting the Holy Qur'an and sending blessings upon the blessed Prophet Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam. Secondly, on the Thursday, or any other day for that matter, food is prepared. We will discuss the day of the Khattam later in the article, Insha Allah. Thirdly, a scholar or Imam and other guests are invited, mainly neighbours and relatives. Fourthly, the scholar recites over the food. Fifthly, the scholar supplicates to Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala that the blessings of the holy Qur'an recited over the past week to be presented to the named deceased person. And finally, the guests and the scholar eat some of the pre-prepared food.
The above is also true for Giyarwee, the only difference being that the named person whom the holy Qur'an is recited for is Hadrat Gauth ul-'Azam. And the same procedure is also true for Urs, where the named person is any other Friend of Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala. In addition, in these two events scholars teach and lecture Muslims about Islam. So let us now investigate each of these parts in the light of the Holy Qur'an and the Ahadith of the blessed Prophet Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam to see if we can practice each of these acts - or if they are simply an innovation in Islam.
Reciting for the deceased:
The question that arises here is that can virtue be transferred and given to another person? For example, if I recite a Surah of the blessed Qur'an, I will receive a certain amount of virtue. Now, does Islam allow me to pass on this virtue to another person? Or if I build a Masjid on behalf of a friend, will the virtue benefit him? This concept of transferring virtue and deeds is termed Ithale Thawab in Arabic - so is it Islamic or not?
For this we would like you to consider the following Ahadith. Hadrat Abu Hurrairah Radi Allahu anhu reported that the Noble Prophet (Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam) Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam said, "When a man dies merit ceases further to occur from his actions except three things: The ever reoccurring charity (like building a Masjid or a well), the knowledge from which benefit is derived and pious offspring who invoke blessings upon him." [Bukhari]
Secondly, Hadrat Anas Radi Allahu anhu reports: He asked, "O Messenger of Allah! We give charity for our deceased and we perform Hajj on their behalf and we supplicate for them, do all these deeds reach them?" He Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam replied, "Yes, they do receive them and they become happy with them like anyone of you is happy when a tray of gifts is given to him." [Raddul Mukhtar]
Thirdly, Hadrat Anas Radi Allahu anhu says: "I heard the blessed Messenger Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam saying, "My people are a blessed nation whose repentance is accepted. They were buried in their graves with their sins and will leave the graves free from them. They have been purified from all their sins through the asking for forgiveness of other believers." [Tibrani]
Preparation of food:
The preparation of food is also part of the Ithale Thawab, and it is prepared for the guests - if any. This food doesn't need to be present at the Ithale Thawab but it is virtuous to prepare food for guests. Hadrat Abu Shuraih Radi Allahu anhu relates that he heard the Noble Prophet (Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam) Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam say, "One who believes in Allah and the Day of Judgment should honour his guest according to his right. He was asked, "O Messenger of Allah! What is his right?" He said, "A day and a night (of food feasting) and hospitality for (up to) three days. Thereafter it is charity."
So it is made clear that the host should provide the guests with food, as this is an additional act of virtue and the food is not essential for the supplication to take place. But this does not mean that it is best not to have the food present when supplicating because in many other Ahadith the blessed Prophet Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam has supplicated on food.
Taking this into consideration the scholar and Imam should supplicate upon the food that may Allah the Almighty grant the hosts blessings in all their income and in particular may He never keep them hungry.
It is reported on the authority of Hadrat Abu Hurrairah Radi Allahu anhu that on the day of the battle of Tabuk the Muslims were hard pressed by hunger and they asked the Messenger of Allah (sal-lal-lahu alai hi wa sallam): "O Messenger of Allah! Grant us permission to slaughter our camels and eat them and use their fat. He granted them permission. On this Hadrat Umar Radi Allahu anhu came and said, "O Messenger of Allah! If it is to be done, we shall suffer from lack of transportation. I wish that you should gather whatever has been left and supplicate to Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala to bless it, that He will bestow His blessings upon it.
The Messenger Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam agreed and called for his leather table-cover and had it spread out and asked people to bring their left over provisions. They started fulfilling the command. One brought a handful of dates, a second brought a piece of bread and thus some provisions were collected on the table-cover. The Messenger Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam invoked blessings and said, "Now take it up in your vessels. Everyone filled his vessel with food" [Muslim] So it is obvious to see that supplicating upon food for Barqah and blessings is an act of the Messenger Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam. So in the case of Khattam, the food is placed before the Imam who then proceeds to supplicate for the deceased person as well as for the hosts and the food they prepared.
It must be noted that Ithale Thawab can be handled individually but many Khattams involve calling an Imam. What is the nature of this practice? And is it Islamically permitted? Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala has said in the blessed Qur'an: "And help each other (in matters of) virtue and piety." [Surah Al-Maidah - 5:2] And who can help us more than those who are acquainted with the religion, the ones whom we accept to lead us in prayer. The blessed Prophet Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam has time and time again encourage us to keep their company. Hadrat Abu Sa'eed Khudri Radi Allahu anhu relates that the Noble Prophet (Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam) Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam said, "Only keep company with a believer, and let your food be eaten only by the righteous." [Abu Daud and Tirmazi]
We are ordered to keep the company of the most righteous and that is possible not only if we visit them, but also by inviting them to visit us. We can better our own practice by inviting them to help us in our internal affairs such as Khattam and in the process we can also ask them any other query we have about Islam. And only such scholars and Imams are rightful to eat our food.
Reciting Qur'an over the food:
It may still be argued that in the Ahadith mentioned above supplicating over the food is permitted but reciting the Holy Qur'an over it still remains doubtful. And the Imam who attends the Khattam proceeds to recite the Holy Qur'an over the food before supplicating. Is this a valid practice in Islam or an evil innovation invented by the mislead?
Every Muslim, child or adult, knows that by reciting Bismillah (With the Name of Allah the Most Merciful the Most Compassionate), we receive blessings in the food we eat. In fact, the blessed Prophet Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam has encouraged us to recite the Bismillah before a meal. [Abu Daud and Tirmazi]
It is also universally accepted that the Bismillah is a part of the holy Qur'an. So when such a small part of the Holy Qur'an gives blessings in food, naturally the more the blessed Qur'an is recited over the food the more increase in the blessings. Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala says: "And we reveal in the Qur'an that which is a healing and a mercy to those who believe though it causes nothing to the unjust but loss after loss." [Surah Al-Israa - 17:82]
Supplicating to Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala:
The scholar then supplicates to Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala so that the virtue of the recited Qur'an is presented to the deceased person. The acceptance of this practice has been discussed earlier but let us now see how this gift of virtue and blessings is presented to the deceased.
Hadrat Anas Radi Allahu anhu reports that he heard the blessed Prophet Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam saying, "When a donation is made for a dead person it is presented to him by Jibraeel on a tray of light. He then stands at the edge of the grave and says to him, 'O dweller of the deep grave this is a gift sent to you by your family, accept it.' And it will be given to him. He will rejoice because of it and his neighbours who have not received anything will be sad." [Sharh us-Sudoor]
Transferring virtue or Ithale Thawab is accepted but why designate them to a particular day? Many Muslims who wish to send blessings to their relatives organize gatherings on the third day, a week and the fortieth day after their death. And then after that it is done annually. Or it is done weekly, for example on a Thursday. Why is this?
One should not for a moment think that if they perform Ithale Thawab on any other day other than these days, the blessings would not reach the person. No, they will reach the deceased person no matter however, whenever or wherever it is done. The reason the third day after death is commonly chosen is that the blessed Prophet Salla Allahu ta'ala 'alayhi wa Sallam has said that mourning for a loved one should not exceed three days. So it is only relevant that this day is chosen to present the deceased relative with a gift of blessings on the final day of mourning. The fortieth day is also significant in Islamic terms as many noble events took this period of time. And weekly, in particular Thursdays are relevant because Hadrat Abdullah Bin Masud Radi Allahu anhu chose Thursdays to do virtuous deeds (A'amaale Khair). But again these days are not exclusive to Ithale Thawab and Khattam, but these practices can occur any time irrespective of the day.