Since the death of one of the suspected bombers pertaining to the Boston marathon tragedy, a number of Muslims online have declared that the deceased is not entitled to a funeral prayer (Salaah Al-Janaazah) because he was not a true Muslim. Moreover, a Sunni imam declared that he would not perform the funeral prayer for him and that “there was no room for him as a Muslim.” However, Islamic jurisprudence has positions on whether or not such as person deserves a funeral prayer by the Muslim community.
Within the four Sunni schools of thought (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i & Hanbali), it is a community obligation (Fard Kifaayah) to perform funeral prayers upon every Muslims, be (s)he one who is pious (Birr) or is a reprobate (Faajir). Moreover, the funeral prayer must be given unless (s)he apostates from Islam. In the Sunni interpretation of Islam, committing grave sins from homosexual intercourse, engaging in usury to alcohol consumption does not make one a non-Muslim. The same holds true for a murderer.
Hence according to mainstream Sunni theology, the suspect died as a Muslim and thus is entitled to a funeral prayer; for him not to be given one would be a community sin. The status of him dying a believer (Mu’min) is another matter.
The same holds true in two of the Shi’i schools of thought (Musta’li Isma’ili/Bohra & Ja’fari) and the Ibadi school that the funeral prayer is held for the reprobate, not just the pious.
Thus those who hold the position that follow “Sunni Islam” or one of the other three schools mentioned who say the deceased was not entitled to a funeral prayer predominately fall into two categories:
1) They lack knowledge of the classical Islamic tradition of what scholars have ruled based upon the Qur’an & Sunnah within a legal framework. In other words, they used their own independent rationale.
2) They lack moral courage and have taken on an opinion knowing their school of thought’s jurisprudence yet chose to abandon it out of fear or anxiety of public opinion.
Both of these positions are problematic for difference reasons.
The first is dangerous in the sense that laymen, knowing that they have little to no formal religious training, are comfortable to make such statements on issues that scholars who memorized the Qur’an, hundreds of prophetic traditions (aahadeeth) and developed or studied legal theory made. Osama bin Laden was not trained in Islamic jurisprudence either yet gave his own verdicts, which had detrimental and deadly consequences. This is a bad principle though persons who do this are not on the level of being dangerous such as bin Laden. In a good (hasan) narration, it’s reported that Prophet Muhammad (prayers and peace be upon him and his family) said, “Whoever gives a religious opinion without knowledge, he is cursed by the angels.”
The second is also dangerous, for the one who lacks moral courage sells their faith for a cheap price seeking to be accepted by public opinion. They in turn can sell the community down the river too. Lut (peace be upon him) did not accept same gender sexual relations just because the majority of people in Sodom believed it to be okay. Muslims are to factor in societal sensitivities yet not subvert Islamic directives with the hopes of being accepted by the status quo. This is an exercise in futility for the Qur’an states, “Never will all of the Jews nor all of the Christians be pleased with you until you follow their way.”
The only school of thought, which has a definitive ruling of not giving the funeral prayer for one who clearly dies committing acts of treachery, murder or oppression is the Zaydi school of thought. Also unlike the other schools who say that one can pray behind every imam even a reprobate, be one praying with the intention of following him (Sunnis) or praying in congregation behind him with intention of leading one’s self, which is a form of dissimulation (taqiyyah), followers of the Zaydi school are prohibited from such. But again, followers of the Zaydi school of thought probably do not constitute one percent of American Muslims. I highly doubt that most of the online comments came from Zaydis; the imam is definitely not Zaydi.
In all of the drama that is going on now, I’m reminded of a talk that Dr. Sherman Abd Al-Hakim Jackson gave at the ISNA Diversity Forum in summer of 2012 in Dearborn, Michigan. He stated what he feared for American Muslims was a lack of moral courage, that we would turn into a community that will sacrifice principles for the perceived possibility of acceptance, even but for the short term. I concur and see this weakness manifested in other stances that some American Muslims take, including a few imams, which are clearly outside of imperative directives within the Qur’an and prophetic tradition.
May the Almighty protect us from criminals among and outside of us, and may He strengthen us to have greater moral courage. Ameen.
*Additional note as of 4/26/13 at 3:10 p.m.
I neglected to mention that in the Maliki school of thought, there is an opinion that the imam cannot pray upon a reprobate, but that prayer upon him/her is still a community obligation. A family member or general community member should pray on the reprobate as a sign to the Muslims that such behavior in which he/she died under is not acceptable behavior to the Muslims. This is, however, different from saying that the person is not a Muslim or that he/she does not deserve a funeral prayer.