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IslamiCity > Articles > Praying for Non-Muslims: An Islamic Perspective
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Feelings and communications of Muslims often seem to be self-centered as a community ..
Audio Praying for Non-Muslims: An Islamic Perspective

Praying for Non-Muslims: An Islamic Perspective
6/23/2005 - Religious Social - Article Ref: IC0506-2721
Number of comments: 11
Opinion Summary: Agree:6  Disagree:2  Neutral:3
By: Mohammad Omar Farooq
IslamiCity* -

As a Muslim, I feel in tune with the humanity (an-Nas), because the Quran unequivocally informs that the Muslims must recognize and appreciate their humanity orientation. We are "... created/evolved for the humanity ..." [Quran - 3:110]. Therefore, being inclusive in my orientation toward the humanity has been natural to me as a Muslim. Indeed, I have been particular in drawing attention of others toward this humanity-orientation, which should be reflected in our prayers and supplications as well. However, a few things provoked or motivated me to take a closer look at this issue of praying for non-Muslims from an Islamic perspective.

Last year I was invited by a Midwestern community to make presentations to two of their local mosques. I was gratified that the presentation "Seeking common grounds and building bridges" was well received. During the question/answer session, apparently, one peripheral subtopic became the focus of the session.

In the presentation, I emphasized the point that the feelings and communications of Muslims often seem to be self-centered as a community. We are bothered only when the sufferings, atrocities or hardships visit upon us, but we show little care in being in tune with the pain and agony of the rest of the humanity. One of the things I have observed is the lack of any inclusion of the humanity in our prayers. I urged that our prayers (dua) should be inclusive.

One participant raised the issue whether such prayer would be Islamic and consistent with the Sunnah (the Prophetic practice). It revealed a fundamental gap in many Muslims' understanding of this matter here. 

Recently, the world watched the unfolding of the one of the worst human disasters before their eyes. Since the advent of cables, satellites, instant feeds, internet and so on, the disaster appeared unprecedentedly dramatic. Actually, there has been much worse natural disasters during the last half century, but due to technological and other factors, it could not play out like the way it is possible now in a "smaller world."

Indonesia was the hardest hit by this tsunami. Most of those who died in Indonesia were Muslims. It was not surprising that some of the Muslim relief organizations, who already have charitable and development works in those area, were the first to respond. The same ethos was not observed in the response of the governments of the rich Arab Muslim-majority countries. However, even though severely constrained in the post-9-11 environment, parallel to the rest of the world, major Muslim organizations in the USA (and elsewhere) came forward to express their horror and sorrow at the disaster and made the call to all to make a difference in the tsunami devastated areas. Several of these Islamic organizations also organized funeral prayers for the deceased Muslims in absentia and also urged Muslims to be inclusive in their prayer (supplication) in regard to the non-Muslim victims.

In a widely circulated statement, Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) mentioned:

"(Washington, D.C., 12/27/04). ... CAIR today asked members of the American Muslim community and all people of conscience worldwide to offer humanitarian assistance and pray for the victims in Sunday's tsunamis in southern Asia.

The Washington-based Islamic civil rights and advocacy group also expressed condolences to the families of the victims.

"We are deeply saddened by the news of the tragedy in southern Asia," said CAIR Chairman Omar Ahmad. "We extend our sincerest condolences to the families of those killed and pray for the speedy recovery of those injured as a result of the earthquake. CAIR is working on identifying relief organizations that will provide aid to the affected areas."

In a separate statement, ISNA mentioned:

"ISNA joins the Muslim American community in mourning the loss of life in Southern Asia resulting from the earthquake of December 26, 2004. We urge the Muslim community to pray for those affected by the disaster ...." 

Of course, some Muslim communities, especially in the affected areas, went much further. In one such community in Tamil Nadu, India, the local mosque opened up to accommodate, shelter and serve the victims, who were primarily non-Muslims.

Islam wants Muslims to have a humanity-orientation.  It is very unfortunate that Muslims have made the use of the word "Ummah" exclusive for themselves. Thus, one observes Muslims regularly talking about or referring to the Ummah, meaning only the Muslims. However, the Quran also uses "ummah" for the humanity. "Mankind (an-Nas) was one single nation (ummah) ..." [Quran - 2:213] Due to such exclusive use of the word, many Muslims don't seem to be in tune with the humanity.

Therefore, both the increasingly inclusive approach on the parts of Muslims and opening up to the humanity like it was done by one mosque in Tamil Nadu are very encouraging. However, these days it seems whatever the Muslims do, some people are dissatisfied or disgruntled. If some Muslims say that they are against democracy, then they are regarded as uncivilized and undemocratic. If some of them like democracy, or consider democracy to be compatible with Islam or even required by Islam, immediately some secularist critics would charge that to support democracy is to go against Islam. Similar is the case with the inclusivist approach among Muslims. If they are not inclusive, they are criticized that these people are self-centered, caring only about their fellow Muslims. If they do call for inclusion of non-Muslims in their prayers and humanitarian efforts, they are criticized by some so-called rationalists/secularists that such inclusiveness is against the teachings of the Quran.

For example, one such atheist cited the following verses from the Quran to make the point that praying for non-Muslims is prohibited by the Quran.

"Nor do thou ever pray for any of them that dies, nor stand at his grave; for they rejected Allah and His Messenger, and died in a state of perverse rebellion. [Quran - 9:84] 

"It is not fitting, for the Prophet and those who believe, that they should pray for forgiveness for Pagans, even though they be of kin, after it is clear to them that they are companions of the Fire. [Quran - 9:113]

He posed the following question: "If it was NOT fitting for the Prophet himself to invoke (Allah) for forgiveness of pagans, by what 'due diligence' and reliance on nothing but 'facts' did Dr. Farooq conclude CAIR's call for prayer included non-Muslims, while it was still an 'Islamic' prayer?"

It also seems that such challenge has caused some Muslims to be at a loss, as a moderator of one of the online forums, where the above question was posed, mentioned: "I always, thought it is okay to pray for non-Muslims. M. raised a fair question. ... As a believer and as a Muslim, whenever I pray, I pray for all. That is my teaching from my parents and from religious teachers. Even the Imam from local mosque once related that only God can decide about the ultimate fate of all human beings - irrespective of their religious affiliations." He sought some clarification from me in response.

Both the questions posed by my atheist friend and the unsettled feelings of some of my fellow Muslims necessitate that we further probe into the relevant issues. I should mention here that Muslims should always continuously scrutinize their understanding and beliefs in a self-critical manner. Also, instead of just adhering to a faith, in the form of a tradition and culture, which is primarily received from our parents, elders and those to whom we turn to for religious knowledge, it is vitally important that we approach Islam and the life with an urge for acquiring the relevant critical knowledge and understanding.

Let us now examine the issue whether such inclusive approach to prayers (supplications) is unislamic and inconsistent with the Quranic teachings and prophetic legacy. A few pertinent observations, however, before we proceed. These observations may not be of importance to those who are atheists and thus deny any divine power or revelation. Also, in studying such matters, one should keep in mind the following. (a) No Quranic verse should be taken in isolation from the totality of the Quran. (b) The contexts of the revelation (shaan-e-nuzul) must be taken into account in interpreting any specific verse.

Verse 9: 80 and 9:113 from Surah at-Taubah:

Verse 9:80 relates to the Munafiqeen (hypocrites), who undermined Muslims by working and conspiring with the Mushrikeen (pagan/polytheists). The Munafiqeen were particularly dangerous, because they were insiders to the Muslim community. Verse 9:113 relates to the Mushrikeen. Both the cases and their contexts are presented below.

It is important to keep in mind the general background of Surah at-Taubah, which deals with the issue of the relationship between Muslims and those Mushrikeen from among the Makkan Quraish and the treacherous hypocrites from among the Madinians and the desired attitude of Muslims toward them. These Mushrikeen and Munafiqeen have not only conspired against the nascent community of Muslims, but they had a bloody campaign to militarily vanquish the community. They used all the cunnings, machinations, and power to resist and overcome the emergence of this nascent community.

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