It is a given that the death of sincere Muslims, martyrs, scholars and callers to Islam (Du'aat) is a cause for sadness and loss. This is recognised in the Prophetic 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 iman, 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.
Abu Qatada b. Rib'i reported the Messenger said (in Muslim and Bukhari): ...(the death of) a wicked person relieves the people, the land, the trees, (and) the animals from him.
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 (ra) 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 (ra) prostrated when he found out that Dhu'l Thadiyah, one of the prominent figures among the Khawarij, had been killed.
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 Hanifa, Hammad ibn Suleiman, is reported to have said in Imam 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 Ibrahim Al-Nakha'i (the well known scholar and tabi'i who met many companions of the Prophet (saw) including Anas ibn Malik and A'isha ) surrounding the death of al Hajjaj ibn Yusuf (the Umayyad general who killed Abdullah b. Az Zubair), who then prostrated in thanks to Allah, weeping out of joy."
Hammad ibn Suleiman 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 Allah, the Lord of all that exists" (Qur'an 6:45).
Hasan al Basri (one of the most prominent tabi'een) further fell into thankful prostration whilst hiding, as did Umar bin Abd al-Aziz, the "5th rightly guided Caliph"
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