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How should we respond to the death of Mandela?

*Read; Nelson Mandela- a big loss but…!*

There can be no denying that the news of the death of Nelson Mandela has probably reached the homes of most parts of the world. He was an iconic figure, for that there can be no denying as well. Adulation and praise for his efforts and changes that he brought about are flooding the media and social media alike. Even the once upon a time haters of Mandela amongst western politicians have also joined the bandwagon of mourning his death and mentioning him with praise. The adulation for his achievements has transcended beyond race and religion alike and there should be no surprise if his name is never to be forgotten for the change and inspiration that he brought about.

As a Muslim community how should we respond to the death of such an iconic figure? The response to this issue is important since it touches upon the core fundamental beliefs of a Muslim and so, by the will of Allāh, this article will address key points that we should all be aware of.

Firstly, it is important to note that there are certain values and standards that are universally agreed upon such as justice and the evils of racism (although people might differ about the details of certain aspects of such concepts). Such values are not restricted to the faith of Islam alone but rather are shared by people of other faiths and traditions. When such people stand for such values and inspire others towards them we should not discredit and demean them for holding such noble beliefs but rather their efforts should be acknowledged and conceded. This was the way of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) and his companions since they acknowledged some of the praiseworthy traits of those who disbelieved in Islam. For example, the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) acknowledged the then Christian King of Abyssinia, Negus. He ordered some of his companions to emigrate there since they had a king that ‘did not oppress anyone’ and that ‘it was a land of ṣidq (truthfulness).’[1] The King was even described by Al Wāqidi as being an upright man (ṣāliḥ). [2] Likewise even the polytheist al Muṭ’im bin ‘Adiyy who supported the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) when he was thrown out of Ṭā’if and who tried to put an end to the boycotting of the Muslims in Makkah due to the apparent injustice was also respected by the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) for his treatment. This was to such an extent that the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) said about him after taking prisoners from the battle of Badr that: “Had al Muṭ’im ibn ‘Adiyy been alive and approached me about these filthy ones (i.e. the polytheist captives) I would have let them go for free just because of him.”[3] And then there is Ibn Jud’ān, the cousin of A’ishah who said about him: “he used to connect the ties of kinship during the days of ignorance and feed the poor (and help the needy in another narration), so will that benefit him at all?” The Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) replied: “No O A’ishah for he never said: ‘O Allāh, forgive me for my sin on the Day of Recompense.”[4]

And how can the very own uncle of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam), Abū Ṭalib be forgotten? A man who defended the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) when his own tribe deserted him and offered him shelter and refuge. However, when he was on his death bed the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) pleaded with him to pronounce the testimony of faith. The Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) even said: I shall ask Allah to forgive you unless He prohibits me to do so. He eventually died, but upon polytheism. Thereafter Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) revealed:

“It is not for the Prophet and those who have believed to ask forgiveness for the polytheists, even if they were relatives, after it has become clear to them that they are companions of Hellfire.”[5][6]

Therefore one can conclude that acknowledging good traits of non-Muslims does not necessarily contravene one’s faith nor does it oppose the belief of al Walā’ wal Barā’.

This leads on the second important observation. A cursory scan of social media has shown that many Muslims have resorted to making statements that infer supplication or invocation for Mandela such as saying R.I.P (may he/she Rest in peace). It must be made clear that is not simply a statement of a reality i.e. that he is simply resting in peace, since we do not know what the state of the deceased is unless we are informed by revelation, rather it is a form of supplication where a person wishes or asks God to make the person rest in peace.

It is therefore not permissible for a believer to mention R.I.P after hearing the death of someone who died in a state other than Islam based upon the clear verse from Surah at-Tawbah v.113.

Imam an-Nawawi (Rahimahullah) said in his book about invocations: “Chapter: What a Muslim should say to a dhimmi [non-Muslim citizen] when he treats the Muslim kindly: Know that it is not permissible to make du’ā for him (i.e. the disbeliever) for forgiveness and the likes [7] of that which should not be said for the disbelievers. However, it is permissible to make du’ā for his guidance and general health since it was narrated in the book of Ibn Sunni that Anas (RadiAllahu ‘anhu) said: ‘The Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) requested some water from a Jew who then gave him the water. The Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) then said: “May Allāh (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) beautify your face.” It was said that that man never had any white hair until he died.” [8]

Some people might find the above points extremely insensitive, distasteful or even extreme, especially after the death of Mandela, however it is important that we do not allow our emotions to contravene our faith and its rulings. The topic of invocations and supplications is a serious matter in our faith to the extent that the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) said: “Supplication is worship.”

The third point that needs to be raised is that a believer should always connect his thoughts and emotions to the afterlife, and so when he views the worldly life he looks through the lens of the afterlife and realises that true success lies in the success in the Afterlife. There is no true success unless that success leads to success with Allah, and thus Allāh (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) says: “It is the party of Allāh that are the successful ones.” [9] Anything less is only transient and will only have its benefit last for as long as the earth remains, which are only passing moments that will soon pass us by.

The believer who has the afterlife as his goal only sees success by achieving success in this world followed by success in the Afterlife:

“And those whose scales are heavy [with good deeds] – it is they who are the successful.” [10]

It is unanimously agreed though by all Muslim scholars that in order for our deeds to count in there Hereafter one must have faith in Islam:

“So whoever does righteous deeds while he is a believer – no denial will there be for his effort, and indeed We, of it, are recorders.” [11]

“But whoever desires the Hereafter and exerts the effort due to it while he is a believer – it is those whose effort is ever appreciated [by Allah].” [12]

“Say, [O Muhammad], “Shall we [believers] inform you of the greatest losers as to [their] deeds? [They are] those whose effort is lost in worldly life, while they think that they are doing well in work.” Those are the ones who disbelieve in the verses of their Lord and in [their] meeting Him, so their deeds have become worthless; and We will not assign to them on the Day of Resurrection any importance.” [13]

“And We will regard what they have done of deeds and make them as dust dispersed” [14]

The biggest lesson we can learn from Mandela’s life is that no matter how much good you may do and achieve in this life, it will be to no avail if you choose not to believe in the greatest good; to dedicate your life to your creator and spend your life in submission to him.

Before concluding it has come to my attention that many people have been quoting an important ḥadīth out of context. It is only for the love of portraying the truth as it should be, are we seeking to correct this misunderstanding, and not simply for the sake of finding the faults of others. The ḥadīth is as follows: Sahl bin Hunaif and Qais bin Sa`d were sitting in the city of Al-Qādisiyyah. A funeral procession passed in front of them and they stood up. They were told that funeral procession was of one of the inhabitants of the land i.e. of a non-believer, under the protection of Muslims. They said, “A funeral procession passed in front of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) and he stood up. When he was told that it was the coffin of a Jew, he said, “Is it not a living being (soul)?”[15]

This narration has been cited by some to prove that showing deep respect and reverence for the deceased is something that is encouraged equally for the disbelievers and believers alike. That is not to say that they should be disrespected or treated unjustly, however, to cite this ḥadith to state that a disbeliever deserves this level of veneration is not accurate.

To clarify, the version of an-Nasā’i states: “A funeral passed by us and the Messenger of Allah stood up and we stood with him. I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, it is a Jewish funeral.’ He said: ‘Death is something terrifying, so if you see a funeral, stand up,”‘ [16]

Likewise the version of Ibn Mājah states: “A funeral has passed by the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) and he stood up and said: ‘Stand up out of recognition of the enormity of death.’” [17]

From the above two versions it is clear that the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) stood not out of veneration for the dead, but rather for death itself. Likewise, Ibn Ḥajar mentions in Fatḥ that in the version of the incident, as recorded by al Ḥākim, the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) said: “We stood out of respect for the Angels (i.e. those that were associated with taking the life of the person)…also in another version the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) said: ‘you are only standing out of reverence for the Angels that take the souls of people’ and the version of Ibn Ḥibbān reads: ‘out of awe for Allāh, the one who takes the souls of people.’…” [18]

Likewise Badr ad-Dīn al ‘Ayni (Rahimahullah [d.855]) said regarding the saying: “Is it not a soul?” ‘He stood due to the difficulty and enormity of death and its remembrance. Thus if he stood up, it made his remembrance of death more affective.” [19]

Al Munāwi (Rahimahullah [d.1031h]) also stated: “He stood out of respect and honour for the one who took the soul or the angels of punishment that were present or due to the difficulty of death and its remembrance and not for the deceased himself. Therefore, his standing was due to the greatness of the matter of death and to honour the decision and command of Allāh.” [20]

Many scholars even said that the practice of standing up for the deceased has been abrogated since it was reported that the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) sat down afterwards when other processions passed by him!

One further point that needs to be mentioned is that we as believers have no business in trying to determine the fate of any person in the hereafter. We believe that if a person died upon disbelief then he deserves eternity in the Hellfire. However, that is a general principle and cannot be used to state that particular individuals will be in the Hellfire unless we have revelation from Allāh regarding that person, like Abu Jahl. It is thus important to stress that it is for Allāh (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) to deal with these matters in the Afterlife. As for the believers, then they judge by what is apparent and treat people accordingly to that.

To conclude, it must be stressed that the purpose of this article was not to be pedantic about using the phrase R.I.P or about the use of the hadith about standing up for the deceased, rather the main point behind the article is that we as Muslims should have a holistic view towards matters and not restrict them to the worldly realm alone. Unfortunately, this narrow way of looking at matters has even managed to creep into the way we understand certain shar’i  based concepts such as Islamic political theory and other important concepts like maṣlaḥah (public welfare) and other matters. We can only formulate a sound understanding of the religion once we connect our understanding of all matters to the afterlife and allow our belief in the afterlife to guide us to how we think, behave and act.

And Allāh (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) knows best.

Note; Read; Nelson Mandela- a big loss but…!

[1] See Sīrah Ibn Hishām 1/321. Published by Muṣṭafā al Bābi al Ḥalabi, Cairo.

[2] See al Maghāzi of al Wāqidi, introduction, p.21. Published by Dār al ‘A’lami, Beirut.

[3] aīḥ al Bukhāri, 4024.

[4] Musnad al Imām Aḥmad, 24621.

[5] al-Quran 9:113

[6] Note that although the verse above is from a Madani chapter of the Qur’ān and the death of Abū Ṭālib took place in Makkah, this does not make the use of the verse invalid to refer to the incident of the death of Abū Ṭālib since when scholars of tafsīr mention that verse xyz was revealed for xyz reason it can either mean that the verse was explicitly revealed for that particular reason or that the meaning of the verse applies to that particular incident. Hence, you will find most scholars of tafsīr refer to this incident to explain the meaning of the verse.

[7] Ibn ‘Alān commented on what he meant by ‘and the likes’ by saying: “such as asking for His mercy to descend on him or that he enters jannah or that Allāh be pleased with him.” Al Futūāt ar-Rabbāniyyah 6/262, Dār Iyā’ at-Turāth al ‘Arabi.

[8] Ibid

[9] Surah al Mujādalah, v.22

[10] al-Quran 23:102

[11] al-Quran 19:24

[12] al-Quran 17:19

[13] al-Quran 18:103-105

[14] al-Quran 25:23

[15] Al Bukhari.

[16] An-Nasai:1922

[17] Ibn Majah 1610

[18] Fatḥ al Bāri, 3/180, Dār al Ma’rifah.

[19] ‘Umdatul Qāri’ 8/111, Dār Iyā’ at-Turāth.

[20] Fayḍ al Qadīr 1/359, Maktabah at-Tijāriyyah al Kubrā.


About Sheikh Alomgir Ali

Ustdah Alomgir has a BA in Arabic & English language and has studied Arabic and Islamic studies in Cairo. He is currently pursuing a degree in Shariah at al Azhar University in Cairo. He has translated a number of books and holds weekly Tafseer classes in London and is a regular Khateeb in a number of mosques in London. He also taught Arabic and Islamic studies at the Tayyibun Institute in London and is currently an instructor for the Sabeel retreats and seminars.


  1. @irshadh Err I think their filters were the principles of the shariah. What are yours? Liberal relativist modernity!

    • Should our filter not be the Prophet and the Qur’an? If the Prophet stood up for a funeral, should I follow his example or should I follow a later ruling (one among many differing rulings) telling me not to stand up? You are welcome to act in whatever way you feel is right, I will act according to my conscience, according to what I feel is right. To you your way, to me mine. Salaam.

      • ‘Saheeh al-Jaami as-Sagheer

        (The Small Collection of the Sayings of the Prophet [sal’lal’lahu alay’hi



        Al-Imaam as-Suyooti (may Allaah have mercy on him) originally had a
        collection of hadeeth called ‘al-Jaami’ as-Sagheer min Hadeeth al-Basheer an-
        Nadheer’ (The Small Collection of the Sayings of the Giver of Glad Tidings, the
        Warner). The authenticated version of that collection is by Shaykh al-Albaani,
        and it is called ‘Saheeh al-Jaami as-Sagheer wa Ziyaadatuh’.

        #3 165: “Whenever you pass by the grave of a disbeliever, give him the tidings of the

        Therefore, if I pass by Mandela’s grave, I can give him the tidings of the fire.


      • @irshad would you pray to Jerusalem. Even though that was abrogated?

  2. Err I think their filters were the principles of the shariah. What are yours? Liberal relativist modernity!

  3. Excellent article, jazakh Allah khairan ustadh.
    We should be sad when one dies upon kufr. May Allah make us die sincere believers upon Islam.

  4. What you said doesn’t exist in Islamic understanding. They all belongs to you purely.

  5. subhanAllah, we must be very careful about commenting on issues with our desires leading the way…charlotte, if Allah Subhana wa T’ala tells us, as the brother referenced in the article, that it is impermissible to supplicate for the kuffar after death (surah 9:113), then the matter should be clear…saying RIP is NOT the custom of the muslim, as we have guidance as to what to say at the time of death {And give glad tidings to As-Sabireen (the patient) – who, when afflicted with calamity, say: “Truly, to Allaah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return”} [Surah al-Baqarah (2): 155-156]…saying RIP has christian origins and we are not to imitate the kuffar…and we have guidance to that which is much better for us!

    @ Liberator, i am glad you addressed this additional issues, masha’Allah…it is needed to be aware of…additionally, since “the world” is planning for a 12 or 13 day memorial service for nelson mandela (even his body is being paraded through the streets), and even muslims are plagued with falling into error saying RIP, or doubting his kufr (when it has been apparent by his actions), i am glad that Islam21C is attempting to clarify this matter…no one is saying there cannot be sadness at the death of someone, but muslims, understand your deen and the limitations therein…do not transgress and potentially fall into kufr…

  6. RIP means we hope that he is resting in peace…and anyone should be able to utter such a phrase..noone is judging him in any other way other than he died..and like any human being..of whatever colour, shade, culture or belief…despite whatever they have done..we hope that they will rest in peace, somehow, because no human can judge since we do not know…we just wish them a peaceful onward journey………

  7. The plain meaning of the the hadiths you quote about respecting a funeral procession indicates that there are multiple, layered reasons for displaying a level of respect to the dead – even the non-Muslim dead. The reasons in the hadiths quoted are:
    1. because it is a living soul
    2. because of the enormity of death
    3. because of remembrance
    4. because of respect for the angels that accompany the souls

    This shows the multi-faceted significance of death and the respect accorded to the soul that has passed away.

    • Please reread the commentaries of the hadith that I mentioned, in particular what al Munawi said. Also, please remember that most scholars considered the practice to have been abrogated.

      • The commentaries are just that – commentaries from individuals who are interpreting through their own particular filters. Take these hadith on their own merits – it is not necessary to squeeze the meanings into a single narrow interpretation. They do not have to be appropriated to fit a particular school, ideology, or theological viewpoint. There is more depth to them than that.

        • Oh dear irshadh. How very silly. You argue that our history of scholarship are interpreting according to cultural filters lol. I suspect you are doing that old boy.

          • I believe in paying primary attention to the words of our beloved Prophet and to the Qur’an – interpretations of scholars are, of course, always worthwhile and important to read. But what they did is interpret to the best of their abilities – and their abilities were significant. But they are human, they are affected by their times just as we are affected by our times. All of us have filters – no one escapes them except the one who “is on clear evidence from His Lord.” (11:17) To me that means the Prophet and the words of the Qur’an stand above all interpretations, interpretations which vary depending on the scholar, the school, and the times.

            “Every party has a position and an opinion in accordance with what they think draws them near to God….Because of the differences in their positions, they pursue it and aspire towards it, “rejoicing in what is with them” (30:32) and mocking what someone else comes with.”

        • Alright Irshaad, lets take the hadith as they are. Check out this one:

          ‘Saheeh al-Jaami as-Sagheer

          (The Small Collection of the Sayings of the Prophet [sal’lal’lahu alay’hi



          Al-Imaam as-Suyooti (may Allaah have mercy on him) originally had a
          collection of hadeeth called ‘al-Jaami’ as-Sagheer min Hadeeth al-Basheer an-
          Nadheer’ (The Small Collection of the Sayings of the Giver of Glad Tidings, the
          Warner). The authenticated version of that collection is by Shaykh al-Albaani,
          and it is called ‘Saheeh al-Jaami as-Sagheer wa Ziyaadatuh’.

          #3 165: “Whenever you pass by the grave of a disbeliever, give him the tidings of the

          Therefore, if I pass by Mandela’s grave, I can give him the tidings of the fire.

  8. What is the purpose of all the Islam21c attention on the matter? If it is to remind people about the ruling that it is not permissible to invoke forgiveness or God’s mercy on the unbelieving people, then yes, that is the ruling. However I feel you are trying to do more than that, and I’m not really comfortable with it. Anyone who knows a good, non-Muslim (which to you looks like an oxymoron, right?) individual, will know the sadness of their passing. Someone who shuts themselves off completely will not know.

    That’s what this is about. People who knew Madiba feel the loss of a person who did much good in the world. Thus, they are right to feel sympathy and loss. I’m not saying they should invoke forgiveness or such. You are telling people not to feel sympathy, not to feel loss, because he wasn’t a believer.

    • It states in the article: “To conclude, it must be stressed that the purpose of this article was not to be pedantic about using the phrase R.I.P or about the use of the hadith about standing up for the deceased, rather the main point behind the article is that we as Muslims should have a holistic view towards matters and not restrict them to the worldly realm alone…”

      This article was not written to suggest that we should not have any sympathy for someone passing away. The real question should be what we really should be sad about; whether he died as a believer in Allah or not, since that would be the greatest loss if he did die as a disbeliever which seems to be apparent.

  9. Asalamalaykum

    There is something else that is missing from here that I feel should be mentioned regarding Mandela. Yes he died a kaffir as we have no record of him ever testifying the shahada. This is not simply a case of ‘we do not know what is in his heart’, it is a practical, legal point. If those so enamored by him make the point about reserving judgement, then they should be equally vociferous about calling for his Janazah as its a fard on the muslim community to bury a deceased muslim. But the truth is, he died a disbeliever.

    Putting that to one side, even his ‘good works’ are up for debate. What exactly is it that he did that was good?

    Call an end to ‘apartheid’? A state based on discrimination? Yes this agrees with Islam as it rejects discrimination based on race and ethnicity. However, his condemnation of discrimination did not just end there. He would equally have been critical of a state that ‘discriminated’ on the basis of religion. In fact, the concept of ‘dhimmi’ would have been abhorrent to him even though it is a requirement in Islam.

    He called for ‘freedom’ which includes the freedom to pursue personal pleasure at the expense of committing haram. Afterall, he championed LGBT rights. Is this considered a ‘good’?

    He idolised democracy. A system of shirk which takes a sifaat of Allah(swt) and places it in the hands of humans, ie the right to legislate. Is there good in this?

    With all this in mind, he is not even in the same category as Abu Talib or Abdullah ibn Judaan.

    “As for those who disbelieve, their deeds are like a mirage in a desert. The thirsty one thinks it to be water, until he comes up to it, he finds it to be nothing, but he finds Allah with him, Who will pay him his due (Hell). And Allah is Swift in taking account ” An Noor 39

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