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To Cope with Death Upon a Passing


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.

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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.

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Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters and Qalam Institute. He teaches Islamic seminars across the US including Khateeb Workshop and Fiqh of Social Media. He has served in varying administrative capacities for multiple national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow his work at



  1. Amad

    April 10, 2007 at 12:09 PM

    Interesting thoughts Omar. I am torn too when non-Muslim friends have deaths in families and you feel the natural sadness for them. The discussion from Sh. Salman Oudah regarding loyalties (Between Natural and Religious Loyalty — wala wal bara’a) did clarify a lot of misconceptions for me in dealing with human emotions without compromising wala wal bara’a.

    But then the question of not being able to attend the funeral of my friend’s infant daughter at a church, for instance, was a difficult thing to explain or make excuses for. So, I hope that this is another area that the scholars and people of knowledge can clarify to the question of participation.

  2. Umm Layth

    April 10, 2007 at 1:40 PM

    Jazaaka Allaahu khairan for sharing your thoughts

    On January 22nd, my husband’s step father died of a heart attack at 38 years of age. It was unexpected and very hard. Every single thing you mentioned about the worry of these non-Muslims when their dead die is so on the dot. We experienced so much and wanted to say so much but couldn’t. We saw people brainwash themselves with statements like, ‘He’s in the heaven with God now’, ‘He’s fishing now’, ‘He’s with the angels’ etc.. etc… And this is coming from Christians themselves who are supposed to know that there is an afterlife and that our bodies do stay in the grave and our souls do sleep while we await the final reckoning. But it is as if during these trials, they just don’t care to remember.

    We had our son around because that was his ‘papa’ and it was hard. People would try and tell him things but alhamdulillaah I brainwashed him before and so he was able to say no it’s not true.

    What amazes me even more now is the worry of some of his family members to buy the most expensive headstone and beautify the outside of what doesn’t matter. Again, these are Christians. A people who one day were strong in their beliefs that what matter is praying for the dead and not beautifying the material world around the body that no longer matters. What matters now is the soul and every piece of ‘beauty’ that is placed will be destroyed. It’s crazy. It was difficult. We shed tears after tears and most of these tears came from seeing how these people didn’t care much about the person in the grave.

    As you mentioned, the prayers for the dead came later. The prayers for the family came first. The reminders for the family were first on the line and the funny stories to share of the dead were the most important thing. But subhaanallaah what about this man and what about his deeds? Even my mother in law, whom I do love naturally, may ALlaah guide her to Islaam, aameen has uttered many times, “I’m angry that he left me…” and what amazes me more is that she knows better than most of these other Christians. She realizes that her husband is not playing with angels or fishing in heaven but still her worry is herself and not his fate. But then again, they brainwash themselves with thinking that every loved one is going to heaven and forget that Allaah will bring every one of us to account.

    It was hard. It was hard to explain we didn’t want to be at the funeral and much more difficult for my husband because his mother needed the support of her sons. She had the family of her ex-husband giving her evil looks because they blamed her for his death (they had taken off work that day to have fun and this occured) and so my husband found himself in the middle.

    Alhamdulillaah atleast with every part that lead to the funeral and even at the funeral (which I myself didn’t want to attend and didn’t), they agreed to use the term God and not Eesa for respect for us but by Allaah that is something I never want to have to deal with again.

  3. AmatulWadood

    April 10, 2007 at 7:10 PM

    La huwla wa la quwwata ila billah.

    I’ve always noticed the eulogizing that nonmuslims do but have never thought about it so thoroughly until this post. SubhanAllah. It is absolute heedlessness. may Allah protect us from ghaflah. ameen

    I remember in high school when one of our classmates died, everyone would wear t-shirts with their picture or wear all black, and other things like that, which I never really understood. It seems to me like the hereafter doesn’t even cross their minds.
    And not to mention the extensive viewings of the body/casket…like when the pope died or other famous figures.

    Umm Layth, may Allah grant you patience and guide your family to Islam. ameen. I can’t even imagine the difficulty of what you went through, or any muslim who suffers with the death of nonmuslim family members. wa lillahil hamd. In difficult times like yours, I feel as though Allah azza wa jal increases the emaan of the believers and makes their foothold firm. And by turning to the seerah, a believer can always find an answer to their problems. Rasul Allah salAllahu alayhi wa sallam is the best model; and we find he went through the same difficulty as ibnabeeomar mentioned, alayhi salaatu wa sallam.

  4. inexplicabletimelessness

    April 10, 2007 at 7:38 PM

    As salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullah

    Here is a fatwa from Islam-qa about “Attending the funeral of a non-Muslim neighbor”

    Attending the funeral of a non-Muslim neighbour

    Attending a non-Muslim neighbor’s funeral:
    According to one hadith of the Prophet(pbuh)ralated by Tabarani regarding the rights neighbors it says: “The rights of the neighbor is that, when he is sick you visit him; when he dies, you go to his funeral;……..”
    Since this hadith is talking about neighbors and the neighbor can be a non-muslim, so is it permissible for the Muslim to attend a non-Muslim’s funeral? Please shed light on this issue in accordance with the Qur’an and the Hadith.
    Also this issue is very important for the new Muslims whose parents have not accepted Islam. Is it permissible to attend a funeral for the non-Muslim parents?
    May Allah (swt) bless you. Ameen


    Praise be to Allaah.

    It is permissible for a Muslim to attend a kaafir’s funeral if the kaafir is a relative, such as a mother, father, brother or other relative, but it is not permissible to join in the prayers or any other rites of their religion.

    Zakariya al-Ansaari (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: “He may (i.e., it is allowed for the Muslim and is not makrooh) attend the funeral of a kaafir relative, because of the report narrated by Abu Dawood from ‘Ali who said, ‘When Abu Taalib died, I came to the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and said, ‘Your uncle, the misguided old man, has died.’ He said, ‘Go and bury him.’” (Reported by al-Nisaa’i, 190). Al-Adhraa’i said: “It is possible that this includes permission to attend the funeral of a wife or slave…”

    As for visiting graves, in al-Majmoo’ it says: “The correct view is that this is permissible, and most scholars said this, because of the hadeeth narrated by Muslim in which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: ‘I asked my Lord for permission to ask for forgiveness for my mother, and He did not give me permission; I asked Him for permission to visit her grave, and He gave me permission.’ It was reported that he also said: “Visit the graves, for they remind you of death.” (Asnaa al-Mataalib Sharh Rawd al-Taalib, part 1, Fasl: Mashiy al-Mashee’ li’l-Janaazah).

    One of the differences between going to a Muslim’s funeral and going to a kaafir’s funeral is what was mentioned by al-Mirdaawi (may Allaah have mercy on him) in his book al-Insaaf, where he says in a footnote: “ ‘Those who are walking should walk in front of it [the coffin]’ means that this is better, and this is the madhhab, and this is the opinion of most of the scholars [of that madhhab]. The author of al-Ri’aayah said: “He may walk wherever he wishes.” Al-Musannif said in al-Kaafi: “Wherever he walks, it is OK… and his saying, ‘The riders [should travel] behind’ means that this is better. So there is no dispute in this matter. If he is riding, it is makrooh for him to ride in front.” This is what al-Majd said. What was meant by “the riders [should travel] behind” is that this is how it should be done in the case of a Muslim’s funeral, but if it is a kaafir’s funeral, then the rider may go in front, as mentioned previously.” (al-Insaaf, part 2, Kitaab al-Janaa’iz).

    This is provided that attending the funeral does not involve doing anything haraam, such as listening to musical instruments and so on; in that case attending the funeral is haraam. And Allaah knows best.

    Islam Q&A
    Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid

  5. Hafsa

    April 10, 2007 at 9:06 PM

    The Holy Prophet’s Message of Condolence

    Hazrath Mu’az has reported that the holy Prophet (Pbuh) sent him the following message of condolence on the death of his son:

    “In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. From Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, to Mu’az bin Jabal. Peace be on you! First of all, I glorify Allah besides Whom there is no god; then I pray that Allah may bestow upon you a great reward for this bereavement, and grant you patience and fortitude and give you and us the courage to be grateful to Him for His favours. The fact is that our lives and, our near and dear ones are sacred gifts to us from Allah, who has given these in our charge only temporarily. He allowed you to benefit from the gifts for as long as He willed and withdrew them as and when. He willed, and in return for this (apparent loss), He will bless you with high rewards of His special favours, mercy and guidance provided you display fortitude for His sake and for the sake of the benefits of the Hereafter. Therefore, I counsel you to have patience: let not your wailings bring your rewards of the, Hereafter to nought and you to remorse. Be assured that no amount of lamentation and wailing has ever brought a dead back, nor can it help do away with grief and sorrow. Allah’s Will is always done and has rather already been done”!
    source: Islamic Voice (India)

  6. abu abdillah

    April 11, 2007 at 2:53 PM

    assalamu alaikum,

    Kind along the same lines, what do you guys usually do around christmas and the holiday times?

    it gets a little odd sometimes in the workplace because we really cant wish them happy holidays and attend their parties and lunches and celebrations.

    just wondering if you have any tips and suggestions on how you have handled these times in the past.

    also what do you do when there are office parties and the like?

    jazakAllah khair,

    abu abdillah

  7. Yasir Qadhi

    April 11, 2007 at 3:41 PM

    Realize also that the fact the dead are not prayed for has something to do with Protestant theology – mainline protestants believe that once the person has died, his/her fate is decided already. So there’s no point praying over a dead person; his deeds have come to an end and Judgment has already been executed.

    I’m not justifying some other aspects mentioned in your article; all I’m saying is that this point explains one aspect of the above.

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