By Sh Allie Khalfe, 2021-04-29
I was recently asked my view on performing salatul janazah over someone who committed suicide after being informed that a number of Imams refused to perform the prayer over the deceased.
Here are a few points to consider:
1. Suicide is defined as the act of killing oneself intentionally. There are two types, active and passive. Active suicide involves taking active steps to carry out the suicide while passive suicide occurs when one makes no effort to remain alive. This could happen by refusing to eat and starving oneself to death.
2. Taking ones life is clearly prohibited in the Quran. Allah says, “Do not kill yourselves…” (4:29-30) If we read this verse until the end we find the words, “Allah is to you ever Merciful.” This is very important for us to understand because the Quran opens with the two attributes (Al-Rahman; Al-Rahim) “The All Merciful; the Ever Merciful” and thereafter singles out our Prophet ﷺ as (Rahmatan lil-‘alamin) “A mercy to all creation.” (21:107) This is the very foundation, heart and soul of the discourse of these twin sources of barakah, the Quran and Sunnah.
3. There is also not a single verse in the Quran stating that one who commits suicide falls out of the fold of Islam. One who commits suicide is therefore sinful yet remains Muslim.
4. It is reported that the Prophet ﷺ did not perform salatul janazah over an individual who committed suicide. (see Sahih Muslim and many other hadith works). These citations cannot be taken on face value but must go through the doors of the jurists (fuqaha), those who connected the dots for us and allowed us to get a more holistic interpretation of the legal rulings (ahkam) of the Quran and Sunnah. In Usul al-Fiqh we learn that the (Nawāhī) “Prohibitions” in the Quran have around 25 different shades of meaning and only a handful are actual prohibitions. Most are for deterrents, recommendations or to show how detested an act is. Thus we find that the vast majority interpreted these narrations as warnings, and not impermissibility of performing the funeral prayer over a person who committed suicide.
5. Salatul Janazah over a Muslim who committed suicide is a duty upon the Muslims. This duty is referred to as (Fard Kifāyah) “A Communal Obligation”. If some Muslims fulfil this duty then the rest are not burdened with it. If no one carries it out then all the Muslims in the area are sinful. It is however recommended that only a few well known scholars attend such a funeral. 6. Looking at the Madhahib we find both the Hanafis and Shafi’is ruling that one who committed suicide is a sinful believer (mu’min ‘āsī). Though sinful, he must be washed, shrouded, prayed over, and buried with the believers. Imam Nawawi, for example, said: “One who kills himself is like other (Muslims) and should be washed and prayed over.” (Minhāj al-Tālibin). Regardless, suicide is a major sin as indicated in many hadiths. The Prophet (a.s) said, “Whosoever kills himself with anything in this world will be tortured with it on the Day of Judgment.”
7. Now statistics indicate that more than 90% of suicide cases are mental health related. If one looks into medical archives on the main reasons for suicide then the following comes up: mental disorder due to mental illnesses, such as depression, personality disorder, schizophrenia, some physical illnesses, such as neurological disorders and so forth. I had a very learned teacher who once told me that she experienced such severe pains that thoughts of suicide entered her mind. We find in Surah Mariam, for example, that Sayyidah Mariam, after experiencing intense labour pains, said: “Alas! I wish I had died before this, and was a thing long forgotten!” (19:23)
8. We do not know “exactly” what occurs in the mind of someone who commits suicide at the time of the act. Someone may have lost their mind and gone insane minutes before taking their life. This brings up some doubt with regards to the sanity of the person and an insane person, as we all know, is not mukallaf during the period of insanity. So we leave the ultimate ending of this person to Allah in the Life to Come. We should not behave hard heartedly rebuking the person and pass judgments about their faith as this goes against the spirit of Islam. We know that our Prophet (a.s) stood up for a funeral and when informed that it was a Jew, he replied: “Is it not a soul?” This teaches us that all life is sacred, dead or alive.
9. Just like the Quran prohibits suicide, it also prohibits us from judging, investigating and spying on people, dead or alive. In sharp contrast, it calls us to respect the privacy of each individual. Allah says: “O believers! Avoid many suspicions, for indeed, some suspicions are sinful. And do not spy, nor backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of their dead brother? You would despise that!” (49:12). It is bad enough to spy and hold suspicions without sound evidence when it comes to the living. How lowly is it then if we hold such thoughts over those who have passed on?
10. In conclusion I would like to share an indecent that occurred in Istanbul during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II over 100 years ago:
"An old man from among the Muslims died and the Muslims left him on the side of the road. They refused to bury him because he was always seen with a bottle of alcohol in his hand and frequenting the homes of prostitutes. Two men passed by and felt sorry for him. They found his mother and informed her that her son had died. She burst into tears and said: "My son told me that I should not worry for God would send pure hearts to take care of him, bathe him and bury him." She thanked the two men and said further: "I'm sure you didn't believe the tongues of the people and their bad mouthing him. My son would work late nights. With the extra money he would buy the bottles of the alcoholics and empty them in the streets just to save his people from drinking. My son paid those prostitutes but used the time to remind them that it was never too late to change. So outwardly he was rejected by people but inwardly he was accepted by God."
So leave the judgement of those who passed on to God Almighty, for what apparently seems bad to some of us may very well have ascended the seven heavens and reached the mighty throne of the Almighty.
May Allah forgive those who passed on and shower them and us with His Eternal Mercy.
Allah knows best!
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