Curse the graves of the unbelievers?

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

It is not befitting of a Muslim to curse the dead, to disrespect funerals, or to otherwise offend the living with hurtful words about those who have passed away, regardless of the religion of the deceased. Islam teaches us to be kind, merciful, and considerate of other people’s feelings, and even more so when it comes to an event as emotionally painful as someone losing their life.

That said, some inauthentic narrations attributed to the Prophet (s) have been cited by anti-Muslim activists, as well as some wayward Muslims, to promote hatred between Muslims and others. We will find that these traditions are flimsy at best, not to mention that they contradict other established principles.

It is alleged that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

إِذَا مَرَرْتُمْ بِقُبُورِنَا وَقُبُورِكُمْ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ فَأَخْبِرُوهُمْ أَنَّهُمْ فِي النَّارِ

If you pass by our graves and your graves from the people of ignorance, then inform them that they are in Hellfire.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān 847

This tradition is “very weak” (da’if jiddan) according to Shu’ayb al-Aran’ut in his verification of Sahih Ibn Hibban:

إسناده ضعيف جداً الحارث بن سريج قال ابن معين ليس شيء وقال النسائي ليس بثقة وقال ابن عدي ضعيف يسرق الحديث

Its chain is very weak due to the narrator Al-Harith ibn Surayj. Ibn Ma’in said he is nothing. Al-Nasa’i said he is not reliable. Ibn ‘Adi said he is weak and dishonest in narrating.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān 3/127

A similar tradition from a different group of narrators is likewise suspect:

حَيْثُمَا مَرَرْتَ بِقَبْرِ كَافِرٍ فَبَشِّرْهُ بِالنَّارِ

Whenever you pass by the grave of an unbeliever, then give him glad tidings of Hellfire.

Source: Sunan Ibn Mājah 1573

The chain of this narration was judged to be disconnected (mursal) by Ibn Abi Hatim in ‘Ilal al-Hadith 5/692-693 and Al-Daraqutni in al-‘Ilal 4/334. Any disconnected narration is by definition weak and cannot be used by itself to established a rule in Islam. It was also stated by Ibn Kathir in al-Bidayah wal-Nihayah 3/427 that the tradition was “unusual” (gharib). The other scholars who authenticated these traditions made an error.

Perhaps the strongest indication that these traditions are inauthentic is that the vast majority of scholars did not act upon them or incorporate them into their books of jurisprudence. It is authentically established that it is permissible to visit the graves of non-Muslims and to weep for them.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, visited the grave of his mother and he wept and made others around him weep. The Prophet said:

اسْتَأْذَنْتُ رَبِّي فِي أَنْ أَسْتَغْفِرَ لَهَا فَلَمْ يُؤْذَنْ لِي وَاسْتَأْذَنْتُهُ فِي أَنْ أَزُورَ قَبْرَهَا فَأُذِنَ لِي فَزُورُوا الْقُبُورَ فَإِنَّهَا تُذَكِّرُ الْمَوْتَ

I asked my Lord for permission to seek forgiveness for her and He did not give me permission, then I asked my Lord for permission to visit her grave and He gave me permission, so visit the graveyards. Verily, it is a reminder of death.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 976, Grade: Sahih

Many scholars understood from this tradition that the mother of the Prophet (s) died as an idolater, and for that reason he was not allowed to ask for her forgiveness. Some dispute this interpretation, but nevertheless it was interpreted by many as permission to visit the graves of non-Muslims.

The extent of the juristic discussion around visiting of the graves of non-Muslims was whether it was permissible at all and what types of statements are permissible in the presence of the grave.

According to the Encyclopedia of Islamic Law published in Kuwait:

ذَكَرَ الشَّافِعِيَّةُ وَالْحَنَابِلَةُ أَنَّ زِيَارَة قَبْرِ الْكَافِرِ جَائِزَةٌ وَقَال الْمَاوَرْدِيُّ تَحْرُمُ زِيَارَةُ قَبْرِ الْكَافِرِ قَال الْحَنَابِلَةُ وَلاَ يُسَلِّمُ مَنْ زَارَ قَبْرَ كَافِرٍ عَلَيْهِ وَلاَ يَدْعُو لَهُ بِالْمَغْفِرَةِ

The Shafi’i and Hanbali scholars mentioned that it is permissible to visit the grave of an unbeliever. Al-Mawardi said it is forbidden to visit the grave of an unbeliever. The Hanbali scholars said one does not greet the grave of the unbeliever with peace, nor supplicate for him to be forgiven.

Source: al-Mawsū’ah al-Fiqhīyah al-Kuwatīyah 24/89

It is customary for a Muslim to greet the grave of another Muslim with peace and to supplicate to Allah for their forgiveness. In respect of the Islamic tradition, this is not done in the presence of non-Muslim graves. But this does not preclude us from expressing sadness, saying other kind words, comforting others, or at least maintaining a respectful silence. Not one of the founding Muslim jurists prescribed, recommended, or even permitted a Muslim to give “glad tidings” of Hellfire to a non-Muslim at their grave.

Moreover, the established texts and corresponding rules in Islam contradict the the two weak narrations under discussion. It is generally not permissible to speak badly about the dead, especially if this is insensitive to others. If anything is said about the deceased, it should only be about their good qualities.

Aisha reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

لَا تَسُبُّوا الْأَمْوَاتَ فَإِنَّهُمْ قَدْ أَفْضَوْا إِلَى مَا قَدَّمُوا

Do not abuse the dead, for they have reached what they put forward.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 1329, Grade: Sahih

Al-Mughirah ibn Shu’bah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

لَا تَسُبُّوا الْأَمْوَاتَ فَتُؤْذُوا الْأَحْيَاءَ

Do not abuse the dead and thus hurt the living.

Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 1982, Grade: Sahih

Ibn Umar reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

اذْكُرُوا مَحَاسِنَ مَوْتَاكُمْ وَكُفُّوا عَنْ مَسَاوِيهِمْ

Mention what is good about your dead and refrain from speaking about their evil.

Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 1019, Grade: Sahih

The Prophet (s) would also respect the funerals of non-Muslims by standing while the bier was passing by. He would not say anything disrespectful to hurt the feelings of those who lost a loved one.

Qays ibn Sa’d reported: A funeral passed by the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, and he stood up. It was said to him, “It is a Jew.” The Prophet said:

أَلَيْسَتْ نَفْسًا

Was he not a soul?

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 1250, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi

Some scholars derived from this and other narrations that it is recommended to stand for funerals, even for non-Muslims.

Al-Nawawi writes:

وَقَالَ أَحْمَدُ وَإِسْحَاقُ وَابْنُ حَبِيبٍ وَابْنُ الْمَاجِشُونِ الْمَالِكِيَّانِ هُوَ مُخَيَّرٌ

Ahmad, Ishaq, Ibn Habib, and Ibn Majishun, the two Maliki scholars, said standing is preferred.

Source: Sharḥ al-Nawawī ‘alá Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 958

Under no circumstances at all should a Muslim taunt or curse specific people by name, whether they are dead or alive.

Abdullah ibn Mas’ud reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

لَيْسَ الْمُؤْمِنُ بِالطَّعَّانِ وَلَا اللَّعَّانِ وَلَا الْفَاحِشِ وَلَا الْبَذِيءِ

The believer does not taunt others, he does not curse others, he does not use profanity, and he does not abuse others.

Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 1977, Grade: Sahih

Lastly, to “inform” a non-Muslim in their grave that they are in Hellfire is nonsensical because it is an established belief in Islam not to judge the ultimate fate of any specific person not proven so by revelation. Allah knows best who is in Paradise or Hellfire, and our opinions and judgments do nothing to change their fate.

Ibn Taymiyyah writes:

الْمَنْصُوصُ عَنْ أَحْمَدَ الَّذِي قَرَّرَهُ الْخَلَّالُ اللَّعْنُ الْمُطْلَقُ الْعَامُّ لَا الْمُعَيَّنُ كَمَا قُلْنَا فِي نُصُوصِ الْوَعِيدِ وَالْوَعْدِ وَكَمَا نَقُولُ فِي الشَّهَادَةِ بِالْجَنَّةِ وَالنَّارِ فَإِنَّا نَشْهَدُ بِأَنَّ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ فِي الْجَنَّةِ وَأَنَّ الْكَافِرِينَ فِي النَّارِ وَنَشْهَدُ بِالْجَنَّةِ وَالنَّارِ لِمَنْ شَهِدَ لَهُ الْكِتَابُ وَالسُّنَّةُ وَلَا نَشْهَدُ بِذَلِكَ لِمُعَيَّنٍ إِلَّا مَنْ شَهِدَ لَهُ النَّصُّ أَوْ شَهِدَ لَهُ الِاسْتِفَاضَةُ عَلَى قَوْلٍ

It is explicit from Ahmad, which was confirmed by Al-Khalal, that unconditional cursing can only be done in a generalized way and not against a specific person. As we say regarding the texts warning of Hellfire and promising Paradise, and as we say regarding witnessing if one is in Paradise or Hellfire. For we bear witness that the believers are in Paradise and the unbelievers are in Hellfire, and we bear witness to Paradise and Hellfire for whomever it was testified by the Book and Sunnah. Yet we cannot testify that for any specific person unless it is testified by a divine text, or it is witnessed by an overwhelming abundance of their statements.

Source: al-Ādāb al-Shar’īyah 1/272

Hence, a Muslim may curse unbelief, sin, and injustice in general terms but without cursing a specific person or group of people. In the same way, a Muslim knows that believers go to Paradise and unbelievers go to Hellfire in general, but that the ultimate decision belongs to Allah in the Unseen; we cannot make that judgment about any specific person and to do so is to presume about Allah.

This principle is all the more important for us the more we learn about subtle mental illnesses that compel people to do abnormal or evil things. On the outside they might appear to be unbelievers and evil doers, while on the inside they might suffer from a sociopathic or psychopathic disorder through no fault of their own. Perhaps Allah will excuse them for their bad behavior by an excuse we could never imagine!

In sum, the two traditions about “giving glad tidings” and “informing” non-Muslims in their graves that they are in Hellfire are weak and inauthentic. Most scholars did not act upon them and they contradict numerous other points of Islamic etiquette in terms of respecting funerals and human death. On the slim chance that they are authentic, they must only be interpreted as applying to a specific group of people known to the Prophet (s) to be in Hellfire and they have no other application beyond that.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.