Alhamdulillah… All praises and thanks are due to the Almighty Allah, Lord of the worlds. May His Peace and Blessings be upon Habibi Muhammad, his household, his companions, and all those who follow his guided path, till the Day of Judgement.
The present article comes in response to a question which sought to understand the Islamic guidance regarding praying for a non-Muslim. After responding to the sender of the question, I found it useful to articulate it. This is because Muslims today interact with non-Muslims more than they’ve done, any other time in the past.
At the end of the article, I appreciate your comments, feedback, suggestions and questions. I also ask of you, that you kindly share it with your loved ones, if you find it beneficial.
Now, let’s take a look at the significance of Du’a followed by the meaning of praying for someone.
Du’a (prayer) is the spiritual connector between God and His creatures. Every creature invokes Him for help and protection, although God may have different definitions to different people or religions. We mostly make Du’a unconsciously, especially when we encounter an unexpected danger. But the most effective Du’a is the one made consciously and purposefully. Since invocation is natural in human behaviour, it’s made as part of all deeds. In Islam, for instance, everything we do is connected with Du’a.
Praying for someone means to invoke Allah to grant him pleasant provisions and tidings, either in this life, in the Hereafter or both. The person, for whom we pray, may be a Muslim or a non-Muslim. He or she can be alive or a deceased.
Islam encourages us to pray for our Muslim brothers and sisters unconditionally. In fact, the one who prays for his Muslim brother or sister in his or her absences is also granted the same amount of bounties he is able to secure for them, through his or her Du’a.
As a result of such a great virtue of Du’a, we often say the following ‑ among other forms of Du’a ‑ when we pray for our Muslim brothers and sisters:
رَبِّ اغْفِرْ لِي وَلِوَالِدَيَّ وَلِمَن دَخَلَ بَيْتِيَ مُؤْمِنًا وَلِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ
“My Lord, forgive me and my parents and whoever enters my house a believer and the believing men and believing women. ” [Nouh, 71:28].
رَبَّنَا اغْفِرْ لَنَا وَلإِخْوَانِنَا الَّذِينَ سَبَقُونَا بِالإِيمَانِ وَلا تَجْعَلْ فِي قُلُوبِنَا غِلا لِّلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا رَبَّنَا إِنَّكَ رَؤُوفٌ رَّحِيمٌ
“Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in faith and put not in our hearts [any] resentment toward those who have believed. Our Lord, indeed You are Kind and Merciful.” [Al-Hashr, 59:10].
By now, we’ve agreed that a Muslim deserves our prayers, whether or not upon his request, and whether he is present or absent, alive or dead. As for our non-Muslim brothers and sisters, there are conditions we have to observe. I’ll discuss that later, insha Allah… So keep reading
Let’s seek to understand the difference between Ta’ziyah and Du’a.
Ta’ziyah is an Arabic word which means condolence. We pay Ta’ziyah (condolence) to the living people among our family members, friends, neighbours and associates, when they lose their loved ones to death. That is to console them and lessen their grief for the loss of their loved ones. The people we pay Ta’ziyah can be Muslims, as well as non-Muslims.
On the other hand, Du’a is to invoke Allah; seeking His bounties or seeking refuge in Him. In Du’a, we can ask for benefits for ourselves, as well as we can ask for others.
The difference? Paying Ta’ziyah can be accompanied with Du’a for the deceased person and his family. It can also be without saying any form of Du’a, but rather only words of condolences. Usually, our Ta’ziyah to the family of a Muslim deceased should include Du’a for him, whether or not the family members are Muslims. But when the deceased is a non-Muslim, we can’t include Du’a for him, even if his family members are Muslims.. See my article “The Islamic Way of Reacting the Passing of non-Muslim Great Men” for further reading.
A non-Muslim is anyone who submits himself to a religion other than Islam. He may believe in the Supreme Being (God) but associates with Him other deities, such as believing that He has a partner, son, or associates who share with Him His sovereignty. A non-Muslim may believe in the oneness of God but rejects the prophecy of the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alaihi wasallam. In simpler words, a non-Muslim is anyone who has willingly failed to testify the oneness of Allah and the prophecy of Muhammad, and has failed to commit himself to the basic obligatory practices of Islam.
The fundamental mission of Islam is to invite mankind to the desired path to God. Enjoining people to Islam demands that we care for them, and love for them what we love for ourselves.
It is permissible for a Muslim to pray for a non-Muslim, whether or not the person (non-Muslim) has asked for it. The permissibility, however, applies only if the person is alive. We can pray for him; to be guided to Islam. If he’s sick, we can pray for his good health and recovery. We can also pray for his worldly welfare. This is subjected to him being in good terms with Muslims; not at war, in a way or another.
The Jews used to purposefully join the gathering of the Prophet. They would sneeze during the conversation with the Prophet, hoping that he would pray for them. Instead of saying “May Allah have mercy upon you” as it’s said to a Muslim when he sneezes, The Prophet would say, “May Allah guide you and rectify your condition.” We understand this from the Hadeeth of Abi Baradah, radhiya Allah ‘anhu, on the authority of his father, reported by Imam Ahmad, that:
كَانَتِ اليَهُودُ يَتَعَاطَسُونَ عِنْدَ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ رَجَاءَ أَنْ يَقُولَ لَهُمْ: يَرْحَمُكُمُ اللَّهُ. فَكَانَ يَقُولُ لَهُمْ: يَهْدِيكُمُ اللَّهُ وَيُصْلِحُ بَالَكُمْ
It means, “The Jews used to sneeze in the presence of the Prophet, hoping that he would say to them “May Allah have mercy upon you.” Instead, he would say, “May Allah guide you and rectify your condition.”
If the person is at war with Muslims, we have the option to pray (for him) that Allah opens his heart to accept the truth, and eventually stop causing harm to Muslims. We can also pray against him, as a result of his transgressions.
In the early days of Islam, the Prophet, salla Allahu ‘alaihi wasallam, wished Islam for one of the two notorious enemies of Islam. They were Abu Jahl, and Sayyiduna Umar Ibn Al-Khattab. To that effect, the Prophet said, in a Hadeeth narrated by Abdullah Ibn Umar:
اللَّهُمَّ أَعِزَّ الإِسْلامَ بِأَحَبِّ هَذَيْنِ الرَّجُلَيْنِ إِلَيْكَ، بِأَبِي جَهْلٍ أَوْ بِعُمَرَ بْنِ الخَطَّابِ. فَكَانَ أَحَبَّهُمَا إِلَى اللَّهِ عُمَرُ بْنُ الخَطَّاب
It means, “O Allah, raise Islam with the most loved of the two men to you; Abu Jahl, or Umar Ibn Al-Khattab. And Umar Ibn Al-Khattab happened to be the most loved to Allah.”
This happened at the time, that both men were fierce enemies of Islam. On a different account, when Sayyidina Abu Hurairah, radhiya Allah ‘anhu, embraced Islam, his mother “went mad” about it. She hurt him, and did all she could to get him out of Islam. Abu Hurairah took the risk and invited her to Islam. Whenever he invited her to Islam, she would go to the extent of insulting the Prophet, salla Allahu ‘alaihi wasallam. Abu Hurairah, radhiya Allahu ‘anhu, ‑ without giving up hope on his mum ‑ asked the Prophet to pray to Allah, that He guides his mum. The Prophet did; he said:
اللهُمَّ اهْدِ أُمَّ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ
It means,”O Allah! Grant guidance to Abu Hurairah’s mother.”
Eventually, Abu Hurairah’s mum also converted to Islam… Alhamdulillah.
The above stories demonstrate scenarios where we can pray for non-Muslims, whether or not we are at war with them. The other option is to pray against him (non-Muslim, who is at war with Muslims), for the harm he causes for Islam, but not for what he has not done against Islam.
The Prophet prayed against Abu Jahl, against Quraish and against other non-believers. But notably, most of his curse (du’a against them) was gentle in nature, although effective in results. He did not ask God to perish them. He rather said some things like:
اللَّهُمَّ عَلَيْكَ بِقُرَيْشٍ، اللَّهُمَّ عَلَيْكَ بِقُرَيْشٍ، اللَّهُمَّ عَلَيْكَ بِقُرَيْشٍ
It means, “O Allah! Handle Quraish… O Allah! Handle Quraish… O Allah! Handle Quraish.”
The same words are mostly what the Prophet used against those who were the masterminds of oppressions and transgressions against the Prophet and his followers. Those words mean “O Allah! it is up to You to decide on what to do with the transgressors. If You choose to punish them, I am fine with that. If You choose to forgive them, I am OK with that.”
So far… so good! Muslims have to treat non-Muslims the same way they treat their fellow Muslims in the context of Du’a. While doing that, Muslims are obliged to invite those next to them among non-Muslims to Islam, without compulsion. If they accept Islam, that will be our greatest achievement, and their greatest gift from God. If they choose to reject Islam, it will be a loss for us, but their greatest loss. The greatest loss is losing the Hereafter, no matter how much of this material world one has gained.
This is to say, if a person chooses to die as a non-Muslim, we are not allowed to seek forgiveness for him. In fact, we are prohibited from doing so, even if the person is a relative or a dear friend to us. It’s understandable; that we have had enough prayers seeking guidance (Hidayah) for the person during his lifetime, hoping to be able to pray for him after his death. But in the end, God decides, and His Wisdom prevails.
Allah, subhanahu wata’aalaa, instructed the Prophet and the Believers not to seek forgiveness for the non-Believers, who have passed on, regardless of their relationship with them:
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].
This is a clear instruction. And this is the only reason why we can’t seek forgiveness for anyone who dies as a non-Muslim.
It’s really sad. And for that, we have to put in more effort in inviting our loved ones to Islam. We should go o the Jannah (Heaven) together; hands in hands.
God answers to whom He wishes. Satan called upon Him to allow him live till the day of Resurrection, and his wish was granted. This means, the du’a of the non-Muslim may be answered, but we only seek du’a from Muslims and especially from those whom we perceive to be more pious and righteous.
Seeking Du’a from someone means you are confident in his piety (genuine God-consciousness). That’s why we are unlikely to seek Du’a from someone whom we know to be practicing Sihr (black magic), crimes and other immoral activities. This is the case among us, Muslims who possess the right belief. What more of whom we believe to be in the falsehood of belief?
Also, seeking du’a from the non-Muslim may give him the impression that you endorse his religion, which is certainly not your intention. A non-Muslim, if he is to pray for you, may also not invoke the One God, but possibly other deities.
When someone approaches you to invoke God for him, it means (1) he has developed faith in your religion; and (2) he trusts you, and perceives you as a pious. This is one of the opportunities one can invest to invite others to Islam.
This article is about Muslim praying for non-Muslims. But you’ve come to know that Islam teaches us to accept all with open arms. Islam has taught us to harmonize with all other religions, in the context of our respective locations. But openness doesn’t necessarily mean compromising the principles of Islam. Harmony ends where the limits of Islam end.
I would like to hear from you. I welcome your comments, feedback, suggestions and questions. Remember to share this piece with your loved ones.
Allah knows best.