There are narrations that speak of doing Zikr in group(s). One such is as follows:
يَقُولُ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى: أَنَا عِنْدَ ظَنِّ عَبْدِي بِي، وَأَنَا مَعَهُ إِذَا ذَكَرَنِي، فَإِنْ ذَكَرَنِي فِي نَفْسِهِ، ذَكَرْتُهُ فِي نَفْسِي، وَإِنْ ذَكَرَنِي فِي مَلَإٍ، ذَكَرْتُهُ فِي مَلَإٍ خَيْرٍ مِنْهُمْ، وَإِنْ تَقَرَّبَ إِلَيَّ بِشِبْرٍ، تَقَرَّبْتُ إِلَيْهِ ذِرَاعًا، وَإِنْ تَقَرَّبَ إِلَيَّ ذِرَاعًا، تَقَرَّبْتُ إِلَيْهِ بَاعًا(1) وَإِنْ أَتَانِي يَمْشِي، أَتَيْتُهُ هَرْوَلَةً”
Allah the Almighty said: I am as My servant thinks I am. I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assembly better than it. And if he draws near to Me an arm’s length, I draw near to him a cubit, and if he draws near to Me a cubit, I draw near to him a fathom. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed. Another possible rendering of the Arabic is: “I am as My servant expects Me to be”.
There are many more narrations; however, this is sufficient to get the idea that there is such a thing as group Zikr. Now what exactly is it? Group Zikr of Rasoolullah (ﷺ) was teaching to the Sahaba and mentioning the greatness of Allah (ﷻ) to the people.
All the Hadiths that mention group Zikr do not speak of Zikr in unison but speak of mentioning Allah (ﷻ) in groups. You have guests at home and you’re chatting in the living room and there you narrate to them how Allah (ﷻ) blessed you on a certain occasion, then you would be doing group Zikr. However, if all of you start saying Allahu Allahu in one voice, then that would not fall under group Zikr but under the category of an innovation.
Another example of permitted group Zikr is that you’re sitting with five of your friends in a park and you praise Allah (ﷻ) for His greatness and a friend of yours also does the same and recalls an incident where Allah (ﷻ) helped him out of nowhere and you and the remaining friend all say ma-sha’ALLAH and/or Subhan Allah and then pray that Allah (ﷻ) keep all of you under His protection. Alternatively, you may be sitting in the park with your friends and the greenery reminded you of paradise and you ask Allah (ﷻ) for it; topic of a death of an old friend comes up and one of you makes du’a to Allah (ﷻ) to keep him safe from the fire and you pray that Allah (ﷻ) keeps you and your friends away from the fire as well. This understanding is in perfect harmony with the Hadith below (found in both Bukhari and Muslim:
عن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ”إن لله تعالى ملائكة يطوفون في الطرق يلتمسون أهل الذكر، فإذا وجدوا قومًا يذكرون الله عز وجل، تنادوا: هلموا إلى حاجتكم، فيحفونهم بأجنحتهم إلى السماء الدنيا، فيسألهم ربهم – وهو أعلم: ما يقول عبادي؟ قال: يقولون: يسبحونك، ويكبرونك، ويحمدونك، ويمجدونك، فيقول: هل رأوني؟ فيقولون: لا لا والله ما رأوك، فيقول: كيف لو رأوني؟! قال: يقولون: لو رأوك كانوا أشد لك عبادة، وأشد لك تمجيدًا، وأكثر لك تسبيحًا فيقول: فماذا يسألون؟ قال: يقولون: يسألونك الجنة. قال: يقول: وهل رأوها؟ قال: يقولون: لا والله يا رب ما رأوها. قال: يقول: فكيف لو رأوها؟! قال: يقولون: لو أنهم رأوها كانوا أشد عليها حرصًا، وأشد لها طلبًا، وأعظم فيها رغبة. قال: فمم يتعوذون؟ قال يقولون: يتعوذون من النار، قال: فيقول: وهل رأوها؟ قال: يقولون: ولا والله ما رأوها. فيقول: كيف لو رأوها؟! قال: يقولون: لو رأوها كانوا أشد فرارًا، وأشد لها مخافة. قال: يقول: فأشهدكم أني قد غفرت لهم، قال: يقول ملك من الملائكة: فيهم فلان ليس منهم، إنما جاء لحاجة، قال: هم الجلساء لا يشقى بهم جليسهم” ((متفق عليه)).
وفي رواية لمسلم عن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: ”إن لله ملائكة سيارة فضلا يتتبعون مجالس الذكر، فإذا وجدوا مجلسًا فيه ذكر، قعدوا معهم، وحف بعضهم بعضًا بأجنحتهم حتى يملئوا ما بينهم وما بين السماء الدنيا، فإذا تفرقوا عرجوا وصعدوا إلى السماء، فيسألهم الله عز وجل – وهو أعلم: من أين جئتم؟ فيقولون: جئنا من عند عباد لك في الأرض: يسبحونك، ويكبرونك، ويهللونك، ويحمدونك، ويسألونك. قال: وماذا يسألوني؟ قالوا: يسألونك جنتك. قال: وهل رأوا جنتي؟ قالوا: لا، أي رب. قال: فكيف لو رأوا جنتي؟! قالوا: ويستجيرونك. قال: ومم يستجيروني؟ قالوا: من نارك يا رب. قال: وهل رأوا ناري؟ قالوا: لا، قال: فكيف لو رأوا ناري؟ قالوا: ويستغفرونك، فيقول: قد غفرت لهم، وأعطيتهم ما سألوا، وأجرتهم ما استجاروا. قال: فيقولون: رب فيهم فلان عبد خطاء إنما مر، فجلس معهم، فيقول: وله غفرت، هم القوم لا يشقى بهم جليسهم”.
Abu Hurairah reported: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Allah, the Exalted, has teams of angels who go about on the roads seeking those who remember Allah. When they find some people remembering Allah they call to one another and say, ‘Come to what you are looking for;’ and they surround them with their wings till the space between them and the lowest sky is fully covered. Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, asks them (although He is best informed about everything): ‘What are my slave saying?’ They say: ‘They are glorifying Your Tasbih, Tahmid, Takbir, Tamjid, (i.e., they were declaring Your Perfectness, praising, remembering the Greatness and Majesty of Allah).’ He asks: ‘Have they seen Me?’ They reply, ‘No, indeed, they have not seen You.’ He asks: ‘How would they act if they were to see Me?’ Thereupon they reply: ‘If they were to see You, they would engage more earnestly in worshipping and glorifying You and would extol You more.’ He would say: ‘What do they beg of Me?’ They say, ‘They beg You for Your Jannah.’ Allah says, ‘Have they seen My Jannah?’ They say, ‘No, our Rabb.’ He says: ‘How would they act if they were to see My Jannah?’ They reply, ‘Were they to see it, they would more intensely eager for it.’ They (the angels) say, ‘They seek Your Protection.’ He asks, ‘Against what do they seek My Protection?’ They (the angels) say, ‘Our Rubb, from the fire of Hell.’ (He, the Rabb) says, ‘Have they seen the fire of Hell?’ They say, ‘No. By Your Honour, they have not seen it.’ He says: ‘How would they act if they were to see My Fire?’ They say: ‘If they were to see it, they would more earnest in being away from it and fearing it. They beg of Your forgiveness.’ He says: ‘I call you to witness that I hereby grant pardon to them and confer upon them what they ask for; and grant them protection against what they seek protection from.’ One of the angels says: ‘Our Rabb, there is amongst them such and such slave who does not belong to the assembly of those who are participating in Your remembrance. He passed by them and sat down with them.’ He says: ‘I also grant him pardon because they are the people by virtue of whom their associates will not be unfortunate’.”
These are all occasions where there is a group and they are glorifying Allah (ﷻ), praising Him, proclaiming His Oneness, asking of Him and seeking refuge with Him as well as asking Him for the garden and protection from the fire. Such a gathering may not be organised and a person passing by may also join and benefit from it.
As stated earlier, group Zikr of Rasoolullah (ﷺ) was teaching to the Sahaba and mentioning the greatness of Allah (ﷻ) to the people. Tafsir classes, Hadith classes and so on are also among the allowed forms of group zikr.
Imam Shatibi states:
If there is a text that encourages people to recite particular phrases of dhikr, and some people commit themselves to gathering to recite dhikr in unison, or at a certain time that is singled out from all other times, then we should note that although these phrases were referred to in a shar‘i text by way of encouraging people to say them, there is nothing in that to indicate this particular way and time of doing it. Rather in that text there may be something to indicate the contrary, because adhering to something that is not binding in Islam may give the impression that this is part of the religion, especially if it is done by leading figures who are regarded as setting examples in places where people gather, such as the mosque.
Therefore the early generation did not commit to doing such things and it is more appropriate for them to have done those actions if they were prescribed in Islam. But dhikr in general is something that is Islamically prescribed in many situations, unlike other acts of worship, and this du‘aa’ is dhikr or remembrance of Allah, yet the salaf did not adhere to a particular manner of doing it or limit it to specific times, such that this dhikr is connected to those particular times, unless there is evidence for a particular time, such as morning or evening. And they did not say it out loud unless the shar‘i text indicated that it should be said out loud, such as the dhikr on the two Eids and the like. With regard to dhikrs other than that, they persisted in hiding it and said it privately (not out loud). Hence when the Sahaabah raised their voices in du‘aa’, the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said to them: “Be easy with yourselves (and lower your voices), for you are not calling on one who is deaf or absent,” and so on. And they did not recite out loud or in unison.
Everyone who goes against this principle has gone against the fact that the text is general in meaning and does not restrict it to a particular time, because the one who does that has restricted it on the basis of his own opinion and has gone against those who had better knowledge of Islam than him, namely the righteous early generations (the salaf – may Allah be pleased with them).
A counter presented by those seeking to introduce new practices is as follows:
Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim from Abu Ma’bad, the freed slave of Ibn ‘Abbas, that Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) told him that people used to raise their voices in zikr when they finished an obligatory prayer at the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Ibn ‘Abbas said: I used to know when they had finished (the prayer) by that, when I heard it.
This Ḥadith is used to show that making Zikr after tasbīh is Mustahab. For this reason both Bukhari and Muslim mentioned it under the title making Zikr after prayer without mentioning raising the voice. There is an agreement according to the four schools that it is recommended to read it quietly. Imam Shafi’i regarded that the loud Zikr in this Hadith was for a short period of time for learning purposes but not that it was done all the time as a norm. This explains why both Imam Muslim and Bukhari did not add raising the voice in their chapter heading which this Ḥadith falls under. They were only using it to show and prove that Zikr after prayer was recommended. This is also explained by Imam Nawwawi in his commentary on Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim.
Indeed, Allah knows best.