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In a Nutshell: The scholars differ on the issue, most arguing the evidences suggest Abu Talib died an unbeliever.

Evidences

Sa’eed ibn al-Musayyib narrates from his father:

“When the time of the death of Abu Talib approached, Allah’s messenger (saw) went to him and found Abu Jahl ibn Hisham and Abdullah ibn Abi Umayyah ibn al-Mughira by his side. Allah’s messenger (saw) said to Abu Talib: “O uncle! Say: There is none worthy of worship besides Allah, a sentence with which I shall be a witness for you before Allah” Abu Jahl and Abdullah ibn Abi Umayyah said, “O Abu Talib! Are you going to denounce the religion of Abdul Muttalib?” Allah’s messenger (saw) kept on inviting Abu Talib to say it while they (Abu Jahl and Abdullah) kept on repeating their statement until Abu Talib said as his last statement he was on the deen of Abdul Muttalib and refused to say, there is none worthy of worship besides Allah.’ Then Allah’s messenger (saw) said, “I will keep on asking Allah’s forgiveness for you unless I am forbidden to do so.” (Bukhari, 4399; Muslim, 35)

Then the following verse was revealed:

“It is not fitting for the Prophet and those who believe that they should invoke (Allah) for forgiveness for pagans even though they be of kin, after it has become clear to them that they are companions of the fire.” (Qur’an 9:113)

Muslim reports this verse was revealed regarding Abu Talib:

“Indeed you will not be able to guide whom you wish, but Allah guides those whom He wills and He knows best those who receive guidance.” (Qur’an 28:56)

Allah’s messenger (saw) said:

“Among the inhabitants of the fire Abu Talib would have the least suffering, and he would be wearing two shoes (of Fire) which would boil his brain.” (Bukhari, Muslim, 312; Ahmed, 2636)

Imam Ali narrated:

“I said to the Messenger of Allah, O Messenger of Allah! Your uncle, old and the misguided has died. The Messenger of Allah said, go and bury him.” (Abu Dawud, Ahmad)

In another version Imam Ali narrated:

“Your uncle, the old kafir has died, what is your view? The Messenger of Allah said, wash him and bury him.” (al-Musannaf li-Ibn Abi Shaybah)

Scholarly Opinion

The scholars are of two views. The vast majority argue he did not accept Islam using the evidences above.

The mufassireen for instance agreed the verse 28:59 was revealed regarding Abu Talib.

“It was revealed regarding Abu Talib...” (Bhagawi, Ma’alim al-Tanzeel)

“Zajjaj said it is the consensus of the exegetes this verse was revealed regarding Abu Talib...” (Nasafi, Madarik al-Tanzeel)

Whilst regarding 9:113 Nasafi in his tafsir wrote,

“The Messenger of Allah intended to ask for the forgiveness of Abu Talib, so this verse was revealed that ‘it is not for the Prophet.’”

And Jalalayn noted in his tafsir,

“It was revealed because of the Messenger of Allah’s asking for forgiveness for his uncle, Abu Talib.”

The rest argue at the time of his death he was murmuring something which was not audible.

"At the time of Abu Talib's death his lips were moving. Abbas (ra) (a non-believer at that time) put his ear next to Abu Talib and informed the Prophet (saw) that he was saying the words which he, Prophet (saw) had instructed Abu Talib to say, i.e. the shahadah." (Ibn Ishaq, Seerat al-Nabi, 1:157)

In conclusion Aalusi states that:

“One should abstain from discussing or passing judgment unnecessarily on the subject of acceptance of faith or otherwise by Abu Talib, because this may hurt the Prophet (saw)’s feelings for his natural love towards his uncle.” (Ruh al-Ma’aani, 20:144)


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