Every so often the Muslim ummah witnesses the death of tyrants and people of evil. Whether the death of Gaddafi a few years ago, or the recent death of Islam Karimov, the butcher of Uzbekistan, or the death of a number of soldiers of invading or oppressive forces in the Muslim lands, these pieces of news often bring relief and joy, especially to those who have experienced directly their evil and oppression. Some Muslims, however, ask “is this allowed?” or “should we really celebrate the death of anyone”? This brief piece looks at some interesting historical, scholarly and jurisprudential points on this issue, clarifying that not only is this permissible, but that many learned people made a point of thanking Allah and being joyful at the progenitors of evil.
It is a given that the death of sincere Muslims, martyrs, scholars and callers to Islām (Du’aat) is a cause for sadness and loss. This is recognised in the Prophetic (ﷺ) tradition and in Qur’anic verses, though Islam encourages us not to “grieve” or prolong sadness by being cognisant of the Divine Decree of Allah and the ultimate purpose of life.
On the other hand are the deaths of people who are engaged in or encourage evil. Some people think – given the seriousness of death and the gravity of the punishment of the grave and of hellfire – that rejoicing at even the death of oppressors and evil people is problematic given the magnitude of what potentially awaits them. They contend that “Allah will take care of them; why should we rejoice?” At times, people conflate multiple issues and argue that to be joyous at the death of such people implies that we know about their final destination (hell or heaven) whereas this is a matter that is purely in Allah’s knowledge.
This conflation is misplaced and leads to problematic conclusions which run contrary to how many scholars and the early Muslims treated the death of the agents of evil.
It may indeed be impermissible for us to definitively assert the final abode of any one – save for those regarding whom there is textual evidence (those who die upon kufr without having attested imaan, for instance) – but this does not mean we cannot rejoice at what is apparent of the end of their evil. One can (and should) affirm that the final judgement is for Allah while being relieved and happy at Allah’s removal of the evil of their ideas, deeds and person.
It was in this vein that early Muslims would feel relief and happiness, to the point of celebrating and offering shukr, at the death of such people. We mention below some interesting examples and anecdotes in this regard.
A saying from the Prophet ﷺ
Abu Qatāda b. Rib’i reported that the Messenger ﷺ said (as recorded in both Muslim and Bukhari):
…(the death of) a wicked person relieves the people, the land, the trees, (and) the animals from him.
How could it be conceivable that this is not a cause for joy, giving of shukr and even celebration?
It is in light of this narration, and the more general understanding Islam gives us about the people of evil, that the companions and those who came after them would give shukr at the passing of the oppressive and transgressors.
Incidents from the great Companions’ lives
Sa’id Ibn Mansur reported in his Sunan that Abu Bakr (رضي الله عنه) prostrated out of joy and thankfulness when he heard the news that Musaylimah the Imposter had been killed.
Imam Ahmed records in his Musnad that ‘Ali ibn Abi Taalib (رضي الله عنه) prostrated when he found out that Dhu’l Thadiyah, one of the prominent figures among the Khawarij, had been killed.
The death of tyrants is a cause for giving shukr to Allah
While the prostration of shukr (thankfulness) (as opposed to the 2 raka’at of shukr) is not agreed upon between the schools of Islamic jurisprudence, the writings in reference to either the prostration or the 2 raka’at for gratitude are instructive. The famous Shafi’i fiqh manual Umdaatul Salik (Reliance of the Traveler) states:
Whenever a manifest blessing appears in one’s life, such as the birth of a child, wealth, or prestige, it is recommended to prostrate out of thanks to Allah. Likewise when an affliction is averted such as being saved from drowning, regaining health, or the reappearance of someone lost or the death of a tyrant, or when one sees someone Allah has afflicted with disobedience or illness, although in the latter case one should prostrate in private so as not to sadden the person.”
There is probably no lesser form of expression of one’s relief and happiness than prostrating out of thanks to the Creator. The expression of happiness verbally is surely of a lesser form of expression, and one that was frequently engaged in by the pious and scholars, as we turn to now.
Scholars’ responses to the death of oppressive Muslims (tyrants and others)
While the discussion on this issue in our community usually happens in reference to the death of non-Muslims or outright tyrants, it is interesting to consider reported incidents even in regards to Muslims who were oppressive. That is, they were believers while engaging in evil.
One of the teachers of Imam Abu Hanifah, Hammād ibn Sulayman, is reported to have said in Imam Al Dhahabi’s Siyar a’lam al Nubalaa’ (The Lives of Noble People) (4/542) and by Ibn Sa’d in his Tabaqat (6/280):
I delivered the good news to Ibrāhīm Al-Nakha’i (the well known scholar and tabi’i who met many companions of the Prophet ﷺ including Anas ibn Malik and A’ishah) surrounding the death of al Hajjaj ibn Yusuf (the Umayyad general who killed ʿAbdullāh b. Az Zubair), who then prostrated in thanks to Allāh, weeping out of joy.”
Hammād ibn Sulayman is also reported to have said:
When Tawus Ibn Kaysan (another prominent tabi’i who is said to have met dozens of companions) became sure of al Hajjaj’s death, he recited the verse: “so the roots of the people who did wrong were cut off. And all the praises and thanks be to Allāh, the Lord of all that exists” [Al-Qur’ān, 6:45].
Al Ḥasan al Basri (one of the most prominent tabi’een) further fell into thankful prostration whilst hiding, as did ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al ʿAzīz, the “5th rightly guided Caliph“.
How scholars and the pious responded to death of innovators
Bishr Ibn al-Harith was a student of the famous tabi’i and ascetic Fudayl ibn Iyad. When Bishr al Muraysi (d. 218AH) – a famous follower of the Mu’tazilī doctrine and a strong supporter of its heretical teachings – passed away, Bishr (who was in the markets at the time) exclaimed joyfully:
were it not to draw attention it would be an occasion of gratitude and prostration (to Allāh). All praise is due to Allāh, the One who caused him to die!
This incident is reported in both Tareekh Baghdad (7/66) and Lisaan al Mizaab (2/308).
In Al Sunnah of Al Khalal it is recorded that Imām Aḥmad ibn Hanbal was once asked:
If one feels happy at what is happening (of calamity and death) to the friends of Ibn Abī Du’ād (an ardent Mu’tazili), is this feeling sinful?
Imam Ahmed replied:
And who does not rejoice at this?!
SubhanAllah! One of the foremost figures of Islamic scholarship and history replied that to not rejoice at the calamity and death experienced by people of innovation was odd.
In Imam Al Dhahabi’s Siyar a’lam al Nubalaa’, it is also reported that Salamah b. Shabīb said:
I was with Imam ‘Abdul Razzaq when we received the news that ʿAbdul Majīd (a divisive innovator from the Murji’i sect and the son of Abū ‘Azīz b. Abī Ruwād, the leader from the Murji’ah) had died so the Imam said: “all praise is due to Allāh that he had relieved the Ummah of Muḥammad from ‘Abdul Majīd!”
In the famous Shafi’i scholar Imam Ibn Hajr al-Asqalani’s Lisaan al Mizaab it states that when the news of the demise of Wahb al Qurashy – a misguided individual who would misguide others – came to Abdulraḥmān ibn Mahdy, he said:
All praise is due to Allāh for having rid the Muslims from him.
In ‘Al Bidayah wal Nihaya’, Imam Ibn Kathīr comments regarding one of the head innovators after his death:
Allāh relieved the Muslims from him, in this year during the month of Dhul Hijjah. He was buried in his own home, then transferred to the burial ground of Quraish, so to Allāh belongs praise. When he died, all of Ahlul Sunnah rejoiced, every single one of them showed their gratitude to Allāh!
It is worth pondering over the fact that these were people of innovation, not kufr. They were neither disbelievers, nor tyrants who oppressed people by hand or authority. Rather, they were those who spread false teaching.
What does that tell us about those who disbelieve and oppress Muslims (the armies, heads and other figures from among the ranks of the kuffar today), or the nominally “Muslim” rulers today who are such ardent agents of evil?