The Islamic Way of Reacting to the Death of Non-Muslim Great Men

The Islamic Way of Reacting to the Death of Non-Muslims - GSalam.NetPhoto Credit:



Alhamdulillah… All praise and thanks are due to the Almighty Allah. May His Peace and Blessings be upon the most grateful of mankind, Habibi Muhammad, his household, his companions, and upon all those who follow his guided path, till the Day of Judgement.

This article highlights Mandela and Jobs, but it’s not about Mandela and Jobs. Mandela and Jobs are just examples of non-Muslim influential figures, whose life has inspired non-Muslims and Muslims alike. The present article serves as a response to the reactions of some Muslims around the world, to the passing of Steve Jobs and most recently, Nelson Mandela. The article aims to contribute in regulating Muslims’ reactions when an iconic non-Muslim passes on. It also discusses what our reactions should be, and when we can or cannot pray for a dead person.

For the purpose of this article, a great man is anyone who has significantly contributed to the advancement of humanity, and has left decisive historical impact, in any beneficial and moral aspect, regardless of his faith.

Millions around the world, including Muslims, have heard about the death of Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013) and Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011). Everyone has reacted with grief and sorrow, though in his own way. Some Muslims even sought forgiveness for them, despite their awareness that they died as non-Muslims. Some argued why can’t we seek forgiveness for them, considering the great benefits they have lent mankind.

In the next part of this article, I will present a brief biography of Mandela and Jobs, followed by their contributions to mankind, and then continue with the remaining parts of the article, insha Allah.

At the end of your reading, I welcome your feedback, comments, and suggestions, which you believe may keep this site running effectively, for the benefit of all, insha Allah.


Nelson Mandela

As an inspiration to the oppressed and the deprived, the death of Nelson Mandela triggered unbelievable amount of grief reactions and condolences. Since the announcement of his death (5 December 2013) until his burial (15 December 2013), globally well-known figures tried, in a way or another, to prove, by posting pictures online or updating their Facebook and Twitter pages, that they had, once upon a time, met Mandela in his lifetime. As much as political leaders encountered Mandela, so did business men, celebrities and other influential figures.

Many writers have mourned Mandela in tribute write-ups. President John Mahama of Ghana’s “Mandela Taught a Continent to Forgive” was the first I read. President Moncef Marzouki of Tunisia’s “Mandela: My Spiritual Father” is stunning. Rashid al-Ghannushi, the leader of largest Islamist party in Tunisia also wrote “Mandela, the Heart of Humanity and the Symbol of Struggle against Oppression in (Arabic).” As for me, Mandela’s Passing Reminded me not, but the Prophet.

I can say Mandela is the most admired, respected and loved leader of our time. He has, despite being non-Muslim, portrayed some characters of the Prophet Muhammad, the leader, in dealing with his enemies, who had tortured him physically and psychologically, and denied him his basic human rights, and the right to fight for the rights of his people.

More than 100 world leaders attended the memorial honouring the anti-apartheid leader. Barack Obama described Mandela as “the giant of history.” Certainly, he taught us how to forgive offenders and oppressors while sticking to our principles. He also taught us how to be humble despite our possession of strength. He taught us how to remain committed with tolerance in mind. He also taught us how to unite people of different races, colours, religions as one people under one umbrella. No doubt all such characteristics have been long ago, portrayed by the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alaihi wasallam.

That was Nelson Mandela. Next, who is Steve Jobs?


Steve Jobs

The death of Steve Jobs also triggered grief and sorrow. Condolences were poured heavily on Twitter, Facebook and other social network sites (SNS). The world mourned Steve Jobs, indeed. It saddens, from Muslims’ viewpoint; the Jobs chose to die as a Buddhist.

Jobs was the co-founder of Apple, and is one of the well-known innovators, visionaries and geniuses in the world of technology. He revolutionalized computers through Apple, movies through Pixar, music through the iPod and iTunes and mobile communication through iPhone and iPad. Jobs was the first to introduce personal computers to the world. With that, Jobs changed the way people live today technologically.

His achievements have benefitted anyone who holds in his hands a computer, a tablets or a mobile phone, regardless of the purpose for which he uses such inventions.


The Prophet’s Example during Loss of Souls

The Prophet, salla Allahu ‘alaihi wasallam, tried all he could, to persuade his dear uncle, Abu Talib, to accept Islam. All he (Abu Talib) had to do, was to utter the ‘Shahaadatain’, and the Prophet, salla Allahu ‘alaihi wasallam, would intercede with that before Allah, on the Day of Judgement in his favour. Unfortunately, that wish was not granted for the Prophet. At Allah’s own Hikmah (wisdom), Abu Talib couldn’t utter the ‘Shahadatain’, although he was the Prophet’s backbone who supported his cause, and defended him against the oppression of Abu Jahl, Abu Lahab, and the entire Quraish. In short, Abu Talib is that man, who stood by the Prophet, in his most difficult times, and his presence deterred the non-believers from causing more harm to Islam and the Muslims of his time.

After the death of Abu Talib, the Prophet, salla Allahu alaihi wasallam, grieved deeply, to the extent, that Allah Himself, had to remind him, that guidance is granted only by Him, not by anyone else; not even the Prophets.

إِنَّكَ لَا تَهْدِي مَنْ أَحْبَبْتَ وَلَـٰكِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَهْدِي مَن يَشَاءُ، وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِالْمُهْتَدِينَ

It means, “You cannot guide whoever you please: it is Allah who guides whom He wills. He best knows those who would accept guidance.” [Qur’an, 28:56].

The moral of this incident is the difference in the absence of ‘Shahadah’ has unabled the Prophet, salla Allahu ‘alaihi wasallam, from seeking forgiveness for his dear uncle. However, he showed his sorrow for the state of disbelief, in which he died.

On a separate account, later in Madinah, the Prophet, salla Allah ‘alaihi wasallam, stood, to show respect for a Jew, whose body was carried pass the Prophet’s sitting place.

This is understood in the narration of Ibn Abu Laila, which states that:

أَنَّ قَيْسَ بْنَ سَعْدٍ وَسَهْلَ بْنَ حُنَيْفٍ كَانَا بِالْقَادِسِيَّةِ فَمَرَّتْ بِهِمَا جَنَازَةٌ فَقَامَا فَقِيلَ لَهُمَا إِنَّهَا مِنْ أَهْلِ الْأَرْضِ فَقَالَا إِنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ مَرَّتْ بِهِ جَنَازَةٌ فَقَامَ فَقِيلَ إِنَّهُ يَهُودِيٌّ فَقَالَ أَلَيْسَتْ نَفْسًا؟

It means, “Qais Ibn Sa’d and Sahl Ibn Hunaif were in Al-Qadisiyyah when a funeral passed by them, so they stood up and it was said to them, “It is one of the local people [indicating to: Non-Muslim].” They both said: A funeral passed by the Messenger of Allah, salla Allahu ‘alaihi wasallam, and he stood up. It was said to him, “It is a Jew.” So the Prophet said, “Was he not a soul?”

Such was the kind of respect the Prophet, salla Allahu ‘alaihi wasallam, displayed for a Jewish dead man. It’s a lesson for us to follow his footsteps in times of loss of life, regardless. If any ordinary individual could get this kind of recognition, just for being human being, what more of those who have been beneficial to the reader and writer of these lines?


In the Footsteps of the Prophet

We are required to show respect to any passing soul, except for the souls of those who have declared war against Islam or the innocent souls, regardless of whether or not they are Muslims. The difference is that we can seek forgiveness for Muslims, but not for non- Muslims. This is no matter how good the non-Muslim was in his lifetime, or no matter how worse the Muslim was. This is also regardless of how close or far we are from the deceased person, in relationship.

Allah, subhanahu wata’aalaa, instructed the Prophet and the Believers not to seek forgiveness for the non-Believers, who have passed on, regardless:

مَا كَانَ لِلنَّبِيِّ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَن يَسْتَغْفِرُوا لِلْمُشْرِكِينَ وَلَوْ كَانُوا أُولِي قُرْبَىٰ مِن بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُمْ أَنَّهُمْ أَصْحَابُ الْجَحِيمِ

It means, “It is not proper for the Prophet and those who believe to seek forgiveness for polytheists, even though they are close relatives, after it has become clear to them that they have earned the punishment of Hell.” [Qur’an, 9:113].

Yes, we can be sad, grief, and may be obliged to send condolences, but not to seek forgiveness (pray) for them. When it comes to that, God is in-charge. After all, no matter how much we love someone, whether or not he’s a Muslim, we can’t love him more than Allah loves him.

What is applicable to Mandela and Jobs applies to any other non-Muslim, who has impacted morally and positively to mankind. It also applies to our non-Muslim relatives, neihgbours, friends, and colleagues.

It’s important for us, mankind, to remember; the primary objective of our existence on this earth is to submissively worship the Creator, the One God.

وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ

It means, “And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” [Qur’an, 51:56].

Thus, the greatest achievement one can attain is to succeed in seeking the righteous path, which leads him to the Almighty One. Success and greatness in any aspect other than that, becomes null, in the Sight of God.

وَقَدِمْنَا إِلَىٰ مَا عَمِلُوا مِنْ عَمَلٍ فَجَعَلْنَاهُ هَبَاءً مَّنثُورًا

It means, “And We will regard what they have done of deeds and make them as dust dispersed.” [Qur’an, 25:23].


The Use of RIP

According to Wikipedia, R.I.P. is an abbreviation for the Latin words “requiescat in pace” or its English equivalent “rest in peace”. It’s an expression wishing eternal rest and peace to someone who has died. The expression typically appears on gravestones. It’s used by Christians, specifically the Catholic Church.

The Qur’an is clear when it disallowed Muslims from seeking forgiveness for non-Muslims when they die. Here, there isn’t any difference between seeking forgiveness for a dead person (which we are not allowed to do for non-Muslims) and wishing eternal rest and peace for the him.

In other words, R.I.P. is said and used by Christians as part of burial rituals for their dead ones. Islam did not bar us from attending funerals of non-Muslim, just like it doesn’t bar us from attending their weddings, but that permission is subject to the condition that we stick to the basic teaching of Islam. One of such teachings is that we can’t (not we don’t) seek forgiveness for them.

There are many ways we can express our condolences to family members of the dead. RIP is not a mandatory phrase of expression for such purpose.

Here are examples of what others (non-Muslims) have said, instead of RIP, and didn’t include prayer of any kind, and the message of condolences was sent across clearly (you can find more of them here):

  • “I am so sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you and your family.” -(Author Unknown)
  • “Although it’s difficult today to see beyond the sorrow, may looking back in memory help comfort you tomorrow.” -(Author Unknown)
  • “He is not alone…and neither are you.” -(Author Unknown)
  • “I was deeply saddened to hear of your loss. My thoughts are with you.” -(Author Unknown)
  • “If I can help you at this time of sadness, I’m here.” -(Author Unknown)


Who Could be Next?

Likewise Mandela and Jobs, other non-Muslims have greatly inspired millions around the world. Some of the living ones among them, today, are Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, Barack Obama, and others. It’s our responsibility as Muslims, to invite them to Islam, through our possible means, and to pray that, they, others and we all die as Muslims. Good ending is certainly guaranteed to those who die as true Muslims, insha Allah.

True glory and success are that which links one with his Creator, and entitles him for the eternal happiness in the Hereafter.

For that, Allah commands us to fear Him truly, and ensure we die as Muslims. He says in Surah Aali Imran, 3:102:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ حَقَّ تُقَاتِهِ وَلَا تَمُوتُنَّ إِلَّا وَأَنتُم مُّسْلِمُونَ

It means, “Believers, fear Allah as is His due, and when death comes, be in a state of complete submission to Him.”



Although Nelson Mandela was born 37 years before Steve Jobs, and he died 2 years after the latter, both historical icons lived in the same era. Many people have contributed to mankind more than they have done. But both men have achieved acceptance, respect and love from many around the world more than others have achieved, despite their tremendous success. Such qualities are gifts given by God. Those who possess such acceptance are hardworking and determined by default, but not any hardworking individual can necessarily achieve what they have achieved. Hardworking with good intentions and connection with Allah makes a good and productive Muslim. And this is what every Muslim should strive to be. Achieving fame in the sight of fellow humans should not be at the expense of God’s acceptance.

Ageing is not necessarily essential for greatness. But living effectively is. Imam Al-Nawawi lived for merely 40 years, but he remains alive amongst us.

Allah knows best. I would like to hear from you.

Allahu Hafiz 🙂


  • araby

    MasyaAllah such a precise text to address the current trend thats showing on FB and twitter abt muslims supplicating for forgiveness on behalf of non muslims. Theres alot to learn from you habibi 🙂

    • Araby,
      Thanks for passing by. Let’s together help to spread the awareness.
      Looking forward to hear from you soon, Habibi.
      Allahu Hafiz 🙂

  • Mandy Vee Toree

    YES, theres so much to learn. thank you Mallam Salaam. i’m sharing this with my friends.

    • Salam Sis. Mandy,
      I’m pleased that you found this piece useful. I truly appreciate your sharing.
      May Allah please you and be pleased with you. Ameen.
      Allahu Hafiz 🙂

  • No comparison

    Steve Jobs was not a man of good character, however popular. He treated people poorly and stole to become successful. Neither is Zuckerberg who also did the same.
    Mandela went to prison for over 30 years and fought against injustice and racism, which are Haram. You cannot equate these men. Mandela has done much more good deeds for mankind.

    • You are right. As much as we can’t deny the good and sacrifice of Mandela, we can’t ignore or undermine the impact of Jobs on our lives today. Perhaps, we know some of the flaws of Jobs. I’m sure, if we’re to know the compromise of Mandela, our jaws will drop. Let’s focus on the strengths now, for they are dead.

  • Saade

    Thank you for this useful tips, truly appreciated. Though in all honesty I can put Mandela n jobs in the same category. Mandela has done far more good than him. May you remain blessed, Amin.

    • Jazakallahu khayran, for passing by.
      I’m glad you found this piece useful.

  • Raja G

    Dear Sir Baba Salam – Asslam – O Alikum – loved the way you explained a very critical challenging issue we face- I have a question – If a person visits a non muslim after his death for condolence – is it allowed to say sorry to non muslim specially a Qadayani – Ahemdi – I have got a situation a person is saying General Zia is nauz billa a Qadayani as he went to home of dead ahemdi and said condolences – although that guy does not able to prove that Zia ever recited fateah and attended the janaza – but he is continously attacking Zia as Kafar – I pasted below hadith and informed him that a muslim is not allowed to say any muslim a Kafar – this act can make him kafar – Imam Bukhari related in his Sahih v. 4, p. 124 #6103, 6104 on the authority of Ibn ‘Umar and Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet Muhammad (sallaAllahu alayhie wa sallam) said, “If a man says to his brother, ‘O kafir,’ then it returns to one of them.” Likewise, Imam Muslim narrated similar hadiths in his Sahih v. 2, p. 237-38 on the authority of Ibn ‘Umar and Abu Dharr.
    In Rawdah v. 10, p. 65, Imam Nawawi cited from Mutawalli, “And if one says to a Muslim, ‘O kafir,’ in without interpretation, it is kufr; because, it is calling Islam kufr.” – what are limitations or what is allowed for Muslim to say condolence to Kafar or Ahmedi – thanks sir