Q&A: Praying for Non-Muslims

Does Islam allow Muslims to pray for non-Muslims who have died?

A reader recently emailed us the above question as he wants to perform funeral prayers for a close non-Muslim friend who has passed away.
There are three aspects to this;

  • Ritual funeral rites as performed for a Muslim.
  • General Supplication and
  • Condolences and sympathy being shown to the family of the deceased and respect for the deceased’s body.

The general view of Muslims who are not Lahore-Ahmadis is that a Muslim is not permitted to offer condolences to the family of the deceased and offer them sympathy let alone supplication or ritual prayer.

So far a specific ritual funeral prayer is concerned it is reserved for Muslims only. And this is common to all religions. You do not find ritual funeral prayers reserved for Jews being conducted for a Muslim.

That leaves the question of supplication being made to Allah for a non-Muslim deceased. The general opinion is that this is not permissible.

The prohibition on supplication is based on verse 4 of Chapter 60 (Al Mumtahanah) and Chapter 9 (Surah Tauba) verse 114. It is argued that the Holy Prophet Ibraheem prayed to Allah for his father (60:4) but when he found that his father was an enemy of Allah he disassociated himself from his father (9:114).

We disagree with this opinion but only Allah knows best. Our argument is that the Holy Quran is very specific on this point. It only says that Hazrat Ibraheem disassociated himself from his father and not that he stopped praying for him. His father was alive at the time so the question of a general supplication for his soul did not arise. We are required to pray for the guidance of all mankind. The Holy Prophet (s) prayed for Abu Jehal, the most inveterate enemy of Islam, to be guided to Islam. So how can it be that the Holy Prophet Ibraheem stopped praying for guidance of his own father. Our point is that this verse with the question of supplication for a deceased non-Muslim.

Even if we accept that the verse 9:114 is about supplication for a deceased non-Muslim we have to consider other words. It says that Hazrat Ibraheem found that his father was an enemy of Allah. Most non-Muslims are neutral. It is not for us to judge what their intention or motivation was – that is for Allah to decide. In fact, the Holy Prophet (s) informs us that some people appear to be headed to Hellfire but actually go to Paradise, and some people appear to be headed to Paradise but actually go to Hellfire.

In Chapter 5 verse 118 (Al Maidah) the Holy Quran tells us that Jesus said it is for Allah to decide whether He forgives or punishes His servants

Sahl ibn Sa’d reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

Verily, a man may seem to the people as if he were practicing the deeds of the people of Paradise but in reality he is among the people of Hellfire, and another might seem to the people as if he were practicing the deeds of the people of Hellfire but in reality he is among the people of Paradise.

Sahih Bukhari 2742 a Sahih hadith

But the most concrete example is that of the Holy Prophet (s) himself who, when he heard that Najashi, the Christian king of Ethiopia, who had given Muslim asylum had died turned to Muslims and said that their brother had died and they should say a special prayer for him. Some even say that a ritual Muslim funeral prayer was said for him.

So far as general respect and condolences are concerned, Hazrat Aisha reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

Do not abuse the dead, for verily they have reached what they put forward.

Sahih Bukhari 1329, Grade: a Sahih hadith

Rather, a Muslim should always be respectful of the dead no matter what religion to which they adhered, just as the Holy Prophet (s) who stood as a sign of respect for a Jewish funeral.

Ibn Abu Laila reported: A funeral passed by the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, and he stood up. It was said to him, “It is a Jew.” The Holy Prophet (s) said:

Was he not a soul?

Sahih Bukhari 1250, Grade: a Muttafaqun Alayhi

We also know from accounts of battles that the Holy Prophet strictly forbade mutilation of bodies of the enemy soldiers and in fact made arrangements for them to be buried with respect.

We can sum up the discussion as follows. We are not allowed to say the ritual funeral prayers of a deceased non-Muslim. We are permitted to say general prayers and make supplications for those deceased non-Muslims who did not actively oppose Islam. We should always pay our condolences to the family of the deceased regardless of whether he opposed Islam or not and we should always have respect for the deceased and his body.

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