Anas ibn Malik reports that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was sitting with a number of his companions when a funeral passed by. Those who were with him praised the dead person, and the Prophet said: “He has secured it.” Sometime later another funeral passed by and the same companions spoke negatively of the deceased. The Prophet said: “He has secured it.” Umar asked the Prophet: “What is it that was secured?” The Prophet said: “You praised the first one and he secured heaven, while you spoke negatively of the second and he secured his position in hell. You are God’s witnesses on earth.” (Related by Al-Bukhari).

Other reports of this incident clarify that the Prophet and a few of his companions were together when the two funerals passed by. In each case, the Prophet asked who the deceased was. They named the first person and said that he was a man who loved God and the Prophet and was keen to obey God’s orders and steer away from sin. They added that he was a very good and pious person with no doubt about the strength of his faith. When the second funeral went through and they named the deceased, they added that he was a man of bad manners, abusive, and negligent of his religious duties. Commenting on both cases, the Prophet used the same words, “He has secured it.”

The Prophet’s companions were amazed at this. Hence they asked what was secured by both persons. The Prophet told them that the one who received their unqualified praises secured heaven, while the others of whom they were very critical secured hell. Scholars give various explanations of this Hadith, with some of them saying that it is limited to the Prophet’s companions who were all very pious and would not praise or criticize anyone unless they were certain that he well deserved their praise or criticism. The majority of scholars, however, maintain that this Hadith has universal application. When several people, who are known to be pious and truthful, testify that a deceased person was good in character and behavior, God-fearing and kind to other people, God accepts their testimony, forgives that person his sins, and admits him to heaven.

What this means is that the person concerned tried throughout the best part of his life to implement Islamic teachings and values. When a person does that, his behavior is certain to be reflected on others who deal with him. It will be known to many people. They are bound to praise him when they learn of his death. They are considered God’s witnesses. He accepts what they say and deals with the deceased accordingly. The reverse is also true. Normally people tend to overlook a person’s misdeeds when he has died, preferring not to mention them. If, nevertheless, several people point out that the deceased was of bad character, ill-behaved, and defiant of God’s commandments, God accepts their testimony.

This Hadith encourages us to be good to others in whatever way we can. It tells us that observing Islamic teachings in all our dealings with other people will secure our admittance to heaven because such people will say what they know of our good character when we die. Their praise will be accepted by God as sound testimony and his ruling on our destiny will be based on that. This is what the Prophet’s words mean: “You are God’s witnesses on earth.” ‘You’ in this statement refers to all people.
-By Adil Salahi