SOME MUSLIMS LABOUR under the mistaken notion that given the enormity of disbelief in Allah’s final Prophet ﷺ and Revelation, one must not speak well of a non-Muslim (kafir) when they pass away on disbelief. Islamic teachings do not, however, require or insist upon such an uncharitable approach.
Many non-Muslims died during the lifetime of our Prophet ﷺ. About some he ﷺ spoke more about their virtues than he did their actual disbelief. Mut‘im b. ‘Adi, a respected Makkan idolater, was one such person. The Prophet ﷺ was ever grateful for the support and protection Mut‘im offered him during the trying years of early Islam in Makkah. When his son Jubayr came to the Prophet asking him to release some of those taken prisoners during the Battle of Badr, the Prophet ﷺ said about his non-Muslim father: ‘Had Mut‘im b. ‘Adi been alive and spoken to me about the captives, I would have released them all to him.’1
The Prophet ﷺ would, occasionally, reveal how certain non-Muslims – known for their virtuous behaviour, but rejection of iman and tawhid, or Abrahamic monotheism – would perish in the Afterlife. The Lady ‘A’ishah once asked the Prophet ﷺ about ‘Abd Allah b. Jud‘an, saying: ‘O Messenger of Allah, in the time of pre-Islamic Ignorance, Ibn Jud‘an would keep ties of kinship and feed the poor. Will any of this benefit him? The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘It will not! For he never ever said: My Lord, forgive me my sins on the Day of Judgement.’2
Of course, no one receive Revelation today to know with certainty what specific individual does or does not perish; other than the general Islamic maxim stated in the rigorously authentic hadith: ‘No one will enter Paradise except a Muslim.’3 Who is blessed to be included among the saved and the sanctified, or what truth-seekers will be given an amnesty for not uttering the shahadah in this world, must be left to the Highest and Most Just Judgement.
As for most non-Muslims who died, the Prophet ﷺ generally remained silent about them: They are a people who have passed away; theirs is what they earned and yours is what you earn. And you will not be asked about what they did. [Q.2:141]
So given that prophetic silence was the usual precedence in such matters, surely it befits us to do the same if we have nothing good to say. There is no need to cuss or curse, as there is no need for false flattery. And there is no need to imagine that such a life lived in kufr was anywhere as significant in Allah’s sight than the passing away of his awliya and ‘ulama. (Regrettably, most of us Muslims have chosen to live our lives uninterested in who the awliya or ‘ulama of Allah are and how we might be inspired by them, let alone care about when or how they passed away.)
Islam recognises hubb tib’i – ‘natural love’ or ‘instinctive affection’ – so whoever feels a loss at the passing away of a non-Muslim (famous or otherwise) feels it; whoever doesn’t, doesn’t.
Moreover, the lives of non-Muslims, just like Muslims, are not all alike. Some have lived a principled and moral life, others have not. Some have been sympathetic to Muslims and to Islam as a whole, others have not. Some have worked for bringing justice to Muslim causes, others have done the opposite. Some have brought benefit to wider society in ways they thought best, others have not.
The shari’ah of course sees that condolences can be in order, and that true and consoling words may indeed be offered to friends and family of the non-Muslim deceased, wherever or whenever occasioned.
Beyond that, it is unbefitting for a believer to get caught up in any collective hysteria, or media manipulation of emotions – especially if the non-Muslim was a person of social or cultural prominence; for: They are a people who have passed away; theirs is what they earned and yours is what you earn. [Q.2:141]
If anything, we might wish to invest more energy in praying for right guidance, sound judgement and wise counsel for the living among the non-Muslims, especially if they have an influential role in society. Seeking to invite, or hoping for allies, is surely better than making enemies.
1. Al-Bukhari, no.4024.
2. Muslim, no.365.
3. Al-Bukhari, no.4203; Muslim, no.111.