The hadith qudsi already quoted, “Those that remember Me in a gathering,” makes gatherings of collective, loud dhikr the gateway to realizing Allah’s promise “Remember Me, and I shall remember you.” It is no wonder that such gatherings receive the highest praise and blessing from Allah and His Prophet, Peace be upon him, according to many excellent and authentic hadiths.
In Bukhari and Muslim: The Prophet said that Allah has angels roaming the roads to find the people of dhikr, i.e. those who say La Ilaha Illallah and similar expressions, and when they find a group of people (qawm) reciting dhikr, they call each other and encompass them in layers until the first heaven — the location of which is in Allah’s knowledge. (This is to say, an unlimited number of angels are going to be over that group. He didn’t say: “when they find one person.” Therefore it is a must to be in a group to get this particular reward.) Allah asks His angels, and He knows already (but he asks in order to assure it and make it understandable for us) “What are my servants saying?” (He did not say “servant,” but `ibadi, “servants” in the plural.) The angels say: “They are praising You (tasbih) and magnifying Your Name (takbir) and glorifying You (tahmid), and giving You the best Attributes (tamjid).” (Can you say that all this is a lecture or a study group? Can you say that this is silent? Rather, this is saying “Alhamdulillah” and all kinds of other dhikr.) Allah says: “Have they seen Me?” The angels answer: “O our Lord! They did not see You.” He says: “(They are praising Me without seeing Me,) what if they see Me!” The angels answer: “O our Lord, if they saw You, they are going to do more and more worship, more and more tasbih, more and more takbir, more and more tamjid!” He says: “What are they asking?” Angels say: “They are asking Your Paradise!” He says: “Did they see Paradise?” They say: “O our Lord, no, they have not seen it.” He says: “And how will they be if they see it?” They say: “If they see Paradise, they are going to be more attached and attracted to it!” He says: “What are they fearing and running away from?” (When we are saying, “Ya Ghaffar (O Forgiver), Ya Sattar (O Concealer),” it means that we are fearing Him because of our sins. We are asking Him to hide our sins and forgive us.) They say: “They are fearing and running away from hellfire.” He says: “And have they seen hellfire?” They say: “O our Lord, no, they did not see hellfire.” He says: “And how will they be if they see fire and hell?” They say: “If they see your fire, they are going to be running from it more and more, and be even more afraid of it.” (Now listen to this carefully:) And Allah says: “I am making you witness (and does Allah need witnesses? He needs no witness since He said: “Allah is sufficient as witness.” Why make the angels witnesses? Does Allah change His word? “Making you witness” here means, “Assuring you”) that I have forgiven them.” (Why has Allah forgiven them? Because, as the beginning of the hadith states, they are a group of people reciting the Names of Allah and remembering Him with His dhikr.) One of the angels says: “O my Lord, someone was there who did not belong to that group, but came for some other need.” (That person came for some other purpose than dhikr, to ask someone for something.) Allah says: “Those are such a group that anyone who sits with them — no matter for what reason — that person will also have his sins forgiven.”
The late Imam Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad (d. 1416/1995) said in his book Miftah al-janna (cf. transl. Mostafa Badawi, Key to the Garden, Quilliam Press p. 107-108):
This hadith indicates what merit lies in gathering for dhikr, and in everyone present doing it aloud and in unison, because of the phrases: “They are invoking You” in the plural, and “They are the people who sit,” meaning those who assemble for remembrance and do it in unison, something which can only be done aloud, since someone whose dhikr is silent has no need to seek out a session in someone else’s company.
This is further indicated by the hadith qudsi which runs: “Allah says: I am to my servant as he expects of Me, I am with him when he remembers Me. If he remembers Me in his heart, I remember him to Myself, and if he remembers me in an assembly, I mention him in an assembly better than his…” (Bukhari and Muslim) Thus, silent dhikr is differentiated fron dhikr said outloud by His saying: “remembers Me within himself,” meaning: “silently,” and “in an assembly,” meaning “aloud.”
Dhikr in a gathering can only be done aloud and in unison. The above hadith thus constitutes proof that dhikr done outloud in a gathering is an exalted kind of dhikr which is mentioned at the Highest Assembly (al-mala’ al-a`la) by our Majestic Lord and the angels who are near to Him, “who extol Him night and day, and never tire” (21:20).
The affinity is clearly evident between those who do dhikr in the transcendent world, who have been created with an inherently obedient and remembering nature, namely the angels, and those who do dhikr in the dense world, whose natures contain lassitude and distraction; namely, human beings. The reward of the latter for their dhikr is that they be elevated to a rank similar to that of the Highest Assembly, which is sufficient honor and favor for anyone.
Allah has bestowed a special distinction upon those who remember Him. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “The single-hearted (al-mufarridun) have surpassed all.” They asked, “Who are these single-hearted people, O Prophet of Allah?” He replied, “Those men and women who remember Allah unceasingly.” (Muslim)
The mountain has overtaken the people because the mountain is reciting dhikr also. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya in Madarij al-salikin explains that the term mufarridun has two meanings here: either the muwahidun, the people engaged in tawhid who declare Allah’s Oneness as a group (i.e. not necessarily alone), or those whom he calls ahad furada, the same people as (single) individuals sitting alone (in isolation). From this example it is evident that in the explanation of Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya, sittings of dhikr can be in a group, and can be all alone. In another explanation of mufarridun also cited by Ibn Qayyim, the meaning is ‘those that tremble from reciting dhikrullah, entranced with it perpetually, not caring what people say or do about them.’ This is because the Prophet said: udhkur Allaha hatta yaqulu majnun “Remember / mention Allah as much as you want, until people say that you are crazy and foolish” (Narrated by Ahmad in his Musnad, Ibn Hibban in his Sahih, and al-Hakim who declared it sahih); that is: do not care about them!
The mufarridun are the people who are really alive. Abu Musa reported, “The likeness of the one who remembers his Lord and the one who does not remember Him is like that of a living to a dead person.” (Bukhari)
Ibn `Umar reported that the Prophet said: “When you pass by the gardens of Paradise, avail yourselves of them.” The Companions asked: “What are the gardens of Paradise, O Messenger of Allah?” He replied: “The circles of dhikr. There are roaming angels of Allah who go about looking for the circles of dhikr, and when they find them they surround them closely.” Tirmidhi narrated it (hasan gharib) and Ahmad.
Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri and Abu Huraira reported that the Prophet, peace by upon him, said, “When any group of men remember Allah, angels surround them and mercy covers them, tranquility descends upon them, and Allah mentions them to those who are with Him.” Narrated by Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Ibn Majah, and Bayhaqi.
Muslim, Ahmad, and Tirmidhi narrate from Mu`awiya that the Prophet went out to a circle of his Companions and asked: “What made you sit here?” They said: “We are sitting here in order to remember / mention Allah (nadhkurullaha) and to glorify Him (wa nahmaduhu) because He guided us to the path of Islam and he conferred favours upon us.” Thereupon he adjured them by Allah and asked if that was the only purpose of their sitting there. They said: “By Allah, we are sitting here for this purpose only.” At this the Prophet said: “I am not asking you to take an oath because of any misapprehension against you, but only because Gabriel came to me and informed me that Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, was telling the angels that He is proud of you!” Note that the hadith stated jalasna — we sat — in the plural, not singular. It referred to an association of people in a group, not one person.
Shahr ibn Hawshab relates that one day Abu al-Darda’ entered the Masjid of Bayt al-Maqdis (Jerusalem) and saw people gathered around their admonisher (mudhakkir) who was reminding them, and they were raising their voices, weeping, and maiking invocations. Abu al-Darda’ said: “My father’s life and my mother’s be sacrificed for those who moan over their state before the Day of Moaning!” Then he said: “O Ibn Hawshab, let us hurry and sit with those people. I heard the Prophet say: If you see the groves of Paradise, graze in them, and we said: O Messenger of Allah, what are the groves of Paradise? He said: The circles of remembrance, by the One in Whose hand is my soul, no people gather for the remembrance of Allah Almighty except the angels surround them closely, and mercy covers them, and Allah mentions them in His presence, and when they desire to get up and leave, a herald calls them saying: Rise forgiven, your evil deeds have been changed into good deeds!” Then Abu al-Darda’ made towards them and sat with them eagerly. The hafiz Ibn al-Jawzi relates it with his chain of transmission in the chapter entitled: “Mention of those of the elite who used to attend the gatherings of story-tellers” of his book al-Qussas wa al-mudhakkirin (The Story-tellers and the Admonishers) ed. Muhammad Basyuni Zaghlul (Beirut: dar al-kutub al-`ilmiyya, 1406/1986) p. 31.
The above shows evidence for the permissibility of loud dhikr, group dhikr, and the understanding of dhikr as including admonishment and the recounting of stories that benefit the soul. And Allah knows best.