It’s always difficult to know what to say to a friend when someone close to them dies. It can be even trickier when someone practices a faith unfamiliar to us.
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If you have Muslim friends, you may not know much about their faith. And when you need to express condolences, you may feel unsure about the best way of communicating them. Here’s a guide to help you feel more comfortable with the Islamic etiquette and customs surrounding condolences.
Note: No matter what a family's culture and traditions are, planning or attending a funeral is hard. If you'd like some help and guidance through the process, check out our post-loss checklist.
When someone who is Muslim passes away, there's a traditional mourning period for three days afterward. Family and friends may pay condolence visits with gifts like fruit baskets or a dried fruit and nut basket like this one, baked goods like a cookie platter or gourmet breads or muffins, or meals that can be reheated.
This is similar to customs for other religions. However, any food offerings you bring should be halal out of respect for Islamic dietary restrictions.
While food is a practical gift, it also has significance during the grieving process. It’s considered inappropriate for the family of the deceased to prepare food for anyone coming to express condolences.
The unnecessary burden of cooking for guests makes it more difficult for them to transcend their grief. Bringing food means one less thing for them to think about.
While it is customary in both Christian and secular funerals to send sympathy notes with flowers to the family or funeral home, the Islamic tradition is a bit different. Sympathy cards or notes are welcomed. They are considered to be a highly favored act of kindness, particularly handwritten notes which talk about the good deeds and positive attributes of the deceased.
Notes may be presented at any time. They're especially well-received during the traditional three-day mourning period. However, because people who follow Islam believe in moderation when it comes to adornments of the home, ornate or elaborate displays of flowers for the home and gravesite are generally considered inappropriate.
Other ways to express support can include donations made in the name of the deceased to religious projects, charitable organizations, or individuals in need.
A financial gift given with pure motives is considered beneficial to the recipient and the deceased. If you’re uncertain about the most appropriate place to donate, you could contact the imam or other religious leaders at the deceased’s mosque.
If your friend is local to you, a personal visit (or even multiple) tends to be appreciated more than just a note or phone call. Connection is highly valued in Islamic mourning traditions. Making a connection with the grieving friends and family is seen as a way to share grief.
If you plan to attend the funeral, be sure to read up on customs for Muslim funerals. This way, you can dress appropriately and know what to expect.
Overall, know that in Islam emphasis is placed on being patient and trusting in Allah. When mourning, Muslims are discouraged from complaining and showing resentment towards Allah.
When you express condolences during the three days of mourning, you should express sympathy but try to minimize speaking about how much pain the family must be in. Instead, talk about all the positive things the deceased accomplished in their lives, and commend the family for their patience during this mourning period.
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There are many popular quotations used in Islam to express condolences or messages of support from people who are grieving. Many of these are from Hadith (also spelled Hadīt), which is a record of the traditions or sayings of Prophet Muhammed.
It is considered to be a major source of religious law and is second only to the Qurʾān (the holy book of Islam) as an authoritative source. Here are some things you may say to express your condolences.
“Surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return.”
This is one of the most standard expressions said by one Muslim to another. It is used during deaths or other times of tragedy as a reminder that Allah gives people everything they have.
In addition to the setback you’re facing, he has also granted people many positive things like careers, homes, intelligence, and family. This is something to be remembered.
“May Almighty Allah dwell him in Jannatul Firdaus.”
Jannatul Firdaus literally translates to the most beautiful paradise or the highest level of heaven. This simple message is meant to convey that you hope the deceased will reside in paradise.
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“So lose not heart nor despair.”
This quote from the Sahih Muslim book (considered to be one of the most authentic collections of hadith) was spoken to Umm Salama, a wife of Prophet Muhammed.
It's specifically intended to be a condolence message to a spouse.
“May Allah give you patience.”
Allah is the Arabic word for God. If you want to express your condolences but worry about saying the wrong thing, this simple phrase is an elegant way to say something comforting and appropriate.
“May Allah give them an easy and pleasant journey and shower blessings on their grave.”
This saying emphasizes the message of positivity in Islam and the notion that even in death, people can receive beneficial wishes.
“I pray the love of Allah enfolds you during your difficult times and He helps you heal with the passage of time.”
Though the language may seem quite formal, the message here is simple: times are challenging now, but they will get better. In the meantime, remember that Allah gives you many positive things.
“I wish to extend my condolences on the death of your mother. I pray for her soul to rest in peace and for you to regain your strength.”
This is another phrase you can use if you aren’t Muslim and worry about choosing the right words. It wishes benefit to the deceased and gently reminds the bereaved not to dwell in negativity.
The words are subtle, such that a person of any faith can utter them without discomfort.
“I wish I could say something to help ease your pain. May the Almighty give you patience and ease to pass through these trials.”
This phrase is another that reminds the grieving family that even though they’re in pain now, with patience, there will be healing.
Expressing Condolences to a Muslim Friend
Islamic traditions around expressing condolences are beautiful to witness and participate in firsthand.
Even if you feel nervous about expressing condolences because the faith is mostly unfamiliar to you, just remember to stay positive and focus on the patience of the bereaved. Spending time with them and speaking positively about the deceased is an act of kindness during the period of mourning. Now that you know what to say, try sending a small token of sympathy, whether its a card or an item from our list of the best sympathy gift ideas.
Have other suggestions to share? Let us know your ideas on to express your condolences.