After the passing of a co-worker, I was struck by the response to death that everyone around me had. Normally, death brings a reminder to us. It reminds us of the day when all desires will be destroyed, when we will be buried under the ground, unable to do anymore good deeds or seek forgiveness for our bad ones. It reminds us of the suddenness of death, and its unexpectedness. When someone around us dies, our primary concern is to prepare the body for burial, and make the janaza. We are optimistic at the site of many in attendance, hoping it is a sign that Allah is pleased with them. We are concerned with how they will answer the questions in the grave, and we do our best to supplicate for their forgiveness (may Allah(swt) forgive all of us) because we know that one day we will be in that position with people praying over us. Muslims in general are not ones who eulogize the dead, but instead we hope that they are remembered by a sadaqah jariyah they set up, or they are remembered in our dua’s for them, as we know this is what will insha’Allah benefit them after death.
Dealing with the death of a Non-Muslim in the work environment showed me a completely opposite reaction though. I noticed that even upon the announcement of death, they immediately begin euologizing. Remember the fond memories you have, and the funny stories. The concern is not with the fate of the one who has passed, but how to make their passing easier and more bearable for those alive by focusing on ‘positive’ things and trying to smile. It is assumed that one is in a “better place” and moved on. They then bring in grief counsellors, talk about the problems, and try to come to grips with an bring closure to the situation in their own way. After a few days there will be a memorial service, and then funeral. Some may even have a party celebrating the life of the individual. All of a sudden, everyone remembers to pray, and keep the family in their prayers, and giving their prayers to those around that person for strength, praying for “God’s Will to be done.” This makes you wish earnestly that these people use this fitrah to come to Islam. When times are difficult, they know they must turn to their Creator and pray to Him alone, and they know that they themselves are helpless. But this feeling is fading, and goes away quickly afterwards.
All of this, it seems, is meant to disguise the harsh reality that every soul will face death. It also seems like a trick of Shaytaan to divert the focus to the living, and celebration, as opposed to pondering what happens to the soul after it passes.
I also want to add that when a non-Muslim known to us, or near or dear to us, passes away, it adds a lot of internal conflicts and struggles. Did I present Islam to this person properly? Did I take any of their rights from them in this life that they can take me to account for in the Hereafter? But most of all it is a realization that someone died without the blessing of Islam and knowing what that entails.
The following ayah immediately comes to mind when thinking about the sadness of the situation,
Verily, there has come unto you a Messenger (Muhammad SAW) from amongst yourselves (i.e. whom you know well). It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty. He (Muhammad SAW) is anxious over you (to be rightly guided, to repent to Allah, and beg Him to pardon and forgive your sins, in order that you may enter Paradise and be saved from the punishment of the Hell-fire), for the believers (he SAW is) full of pity, kind, and merciful.
It also reminds us that our affairs are ultimately in the Hands of Allah, and He guides whom He wills. Think of the story of Abu Talib and how it must have affected the Prophet (saw) that he rejected Islam on the deathbed. SubhanAllah, whatever we encounter, he (saw) was tested with that which was more difficult.
Lastly, (and I prefer that this not turn into a fiqh debate or argument) the following questions arise: Is it allowed to attend the wake/memorial? What is the exact ruling on attending a funeral in a church? These issues arise, and they are difficult to deal with in the workplace, especially because whatever you choose to do reflects directly upon your being Muslim.