Every phonecall cuts like a knife.
When you’ve lost a loved one, the last thing you want to do is answer the phone or be around someone, but then again the one thing you want most is some normality, so you pick up the phone and open the door. Clarity of mind is something sought after, not something to be expected at this time. Some people call you not knowing, and wonder why or how you can be so despondent or stand-offish to them. Others would call and say with the sensitivity of a schizophrenic Sorry for your loss, but hey you know what can I say Silence from some may be safe, but not sound in the hurting heart. There are though those that actually console, ask real questions, make dua, and most importantly let you know they are there for you. Not that they are in fact physically there, but the sentiment and the short visits are what counts.
Pain subsides in the cool words of condolences, like a thick salve spread over an open wound on a hot summer’s day is then covered with fresh cotton. You know the pain is there, that it will take time to heal, and that there will always be a scar. But the temporary relief is so soothing. Sadly, there is a shortage of medicament these days.
When a relative dies, the last thing a survivor wants to hear is someone decide their fate (explicitly or implied). Even worse is when someone expects you to play Quincy MD, Colombo, and Perry Mason combined, expounding on all reasons for the death in reply to their so-well-phrased question of But, why!? I understand of course that the shock for some people is too much, but it is certainly not more than that experienced by those closest to the deceased.
Im not sure of the causes of human insensitivity. After much deliberation it seems to be due to one main cause: the fact that we are all human. For many of us, death is a thing too far off to recognize, even when he presents himself at our doorsteps, barges in on us, or comes like a thief in the night.
Is It Not A Soul?
Every human soul is due respect, regardless of the faith that it lives by or passed away on. Bukhari narrates from Abdul-Rahman ibn Abi Layla that Sahl ibn Hanif and Qays ibn Saad were sitting in the town of Qadisiyyah when a funeral procession passed, upon which they stood in respect. Someone said to them It was a procession of the people of this land (i.e. Non-Muslims). They replied to this saying A Jewish funeral procession once passed Gods Messenger, upon which he stood. Someone said to him: Its a Jewish funeral procession. He replied: Is it not a soul?
In a similar narration from Jabir found in Muslim he said Death comes by surprise; when you see a funeral then stand.
Several people I’ve spoken say quite simply they dont know what to do at the time of death, dont know what to say (or what not to), or even if they should do or say anything at all. Regaining equilibrium is something essential to coping. Small visits and kind words count; not a hands-off approach, but not a fully hands-on one either.
Gods Messenger – as narrated in Bukhari – said God helps his servant as long as he is helpful to his brother. As such Gods Messenger would console Muslims during their troubled times.Al-Aswad b. Abdullah narrates that Gods Messenger said Whoever gives condolences to an afflicted person will be given a like reward.
How To Offer Condolences
There is no one way to offer condolences, any which way they are given is acceptable. Some scholars preferred the following when giving condolences:
When consoling a Muslim upon the death of a Muslim:
أعظم الله أجرك ، وأحسن عزاءك ، وغفر لميّتك
May God make your reward great, ease your pain, and forgive the deceased.
When consoling a Muslim on the loss of a non-Muslim:
أعظم الله أجرك ، وأحسن عزاءك
May God make your reward great and ease your pain.
When consoling a non-Muslim on the loss of a non-Muslim:
أخلف الله عليك
May God reward your loss.
The best manner in which one console someone is to say:
إنّ لله ما أخذ، ولله ما أعطى ، ولكل شيء أجل مسمّى ، فلتصبر ولتحتسب.
“To God belongs what he took, and to him belongs what he gave, and he has set for everything an appointed time. So have patience and seek reward.”
Imam al-Nawawi commenting on this last phrase, which is from a hadith, he said “This is the best phrase one can use for condolences.” This last phrase is general and can be used for all those who have lost someone. (If the Arabic doesn’t appear above click here.)
Who Specifically Should We Console?
There are ways in which early Muslims expressed condolences. AbdulRazzaq al-San’ani narrates that Al-Hasan would pass by the deceased’s family and say to them “May God make your reward great. May God forgive your companion.” AbdulRazzaq was then asked by his students “Who specifically should we console?” He replied “Every sorrowful person, because a person may be more affected by the loss of his friend or brother than even the deceased’s own family.”
Many Muslims can become over conscientious and feel awkward when giving condolences, and especially if they did not share the faith of the deceased. Ask yourself a simple question: “Is it not a soul?” Condolences for non-Muslims are not only permissible, but may be recommended, this being the stronger and more supported view. Sending condolences upon the death of a non-Muslim is the same as visiting him when sick, the Prophet having visited his Jewish neighbor and consoled while his son was dying (as is narrated in the Sahih).
Building off of this, we find several condolences upon the death of non-Muslim friends, neighbors and relatives narrated from early Muslims. For instance, al-Ajlah would say to those surviving “I advise you to fear God and be patient.” Ibrahim would say “May God grant you many children, much wealth, and a long life.” Al-Hasan would say “May nothing but good come to you.”Abdullah b. Battah would say “May God grant you in your time of need the best thing he would grant anyone of your faith.”
Who Specifically Should We Console?
There are ways in which early Muslims expressed condolences. AbdulRazzaq al-Sanani narrates that Al-Hasan would pass by the deceaseds family and say to them May God make your reward great. May God forgive your companion. AbdulRazzaq was then asked by his students Who specifically should we console? He replied Every sorrowful person, because a person may be more affected by the loss of his friend or brother than even the deceaseds own family.
Many Muslims can become over conscientious and feel awkward when giving condolences, and especially if they did not share the faith of the deceased. Ask yourself a simple question: Is it not a soul? Condolences for non-Muslims are not only permissible, but may be recommended, this being the stronger and more supported view. Sending condolences upon the death of a non-Muslim is the same as visiting him when sick, the Prophet having visited his Jewish neighbor and consoled while his son was dying (as is narrated in the Sahih).
Building off of this, we find several condolences upon the death of non-Muslim friends, neighbors and relatives narrated from early Muslims. For instance, al-Ajlah would say to those surviving I advise you to fear God and be patient. Ibrahim would say May God grant you many children, much wealth, and a long life. Al-Hasan would say May nothing but good come to you.Abdullah b. Battah would say May God grant you in your time of need the best thing he would grant anyone of your faith.
Help To Lessen Other’s Sorrow
We all miss those weve lost, and though we cannot bring them back, we can help those still with us to cope. A man once came to Al-Hasan al-Basri expressing his sorrow at the loss of his son. Al-Hasan said to him: Did your son ever travel, leaving you behind? The man said: Yes, he was travelling more than he was ever around. At this Al-Hasan said to him: Then consider him travelling, because hes never left you alone in a time in which your reward was greater than it is now. The man said: Abu Said, you’ve lessened the sorrow of my sons departure.
والله الموفــّق وصلى الله على نبينا محمد،
كتبه: جو برادفورد
May God Almighty give us strength, and may He grace our Prophet Muhammad.
To learn more about this topic and other similar to it, see my course “Preparing for the Next Life.”
 Many scholars of the past disliked (to the extent that some declared it an innovation) to sit with the deceaseds family for extended periods of time. They viewed this as not only an invasion of privacy, but as a cause for more sorrow, negating the reason why condolences are recommended to be given in the first place. See al-Nawawi below.
 Musannaf Abdulrazzaq 3/395
 Tirmidhi #1073. This hadith however contains some weakness; there is however narrations of similar meaning that support it.
 al-Adhkar P. 162
 Musannaf Abdulrazzaq 3/395
 Jami al-Khallal P. 223
 al-Mughni 2/545
 al-Adhkar P. 163