Splendid Pearls

Rest in Peace: What does it even mean?

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‘Rest in Peace’ comes from the Latin epitaph ‘Requiescat in pace’. It is an idiomatic expression wishing eternal rest and peace to someone who has died [1][2].

Brief History

The phrase has only been commonly found on gravestones, in its English form, since the 18th century; generally on gravestones belonging to Roman Catholics.

Being a translation of the Latin words ‘Requiescat in pace’, it has however existed for longer than that. Those words appear several times in the Requiem Mass and form part of the Roman Catholic burial liturgy, this being the reason that so often it has been found inscribed upon Roman Catholic gravestones. ‘Requiescat in pace’ — translated as, Rest in peace — was an offered prayer to God, in the hope that the soul of the deceased person would find peace in the next life.

Simply a prayer for the dead [3].


Theologically, the eternal rest and peace here is referring to the ‘afterlife’ — which rules out the atheists, as they don’t believe in life after death.

The Judaism, Christianity, and Islam clearly state that physical death is not the end, there is an afterlife; there exists Heaven and Hell. However, “eternal peace” is understood differently in each religion.

In Judaism

Kaddish — the prayer extolling God that is said by mourners – is recited for Jews and may certainly be recited for non-Jews. “Rest in Peace (RIP)” is included in that – an act of kindness [4]. This is in line with their creed, in which they do not believe in eternal punishment.

In Christianity

“Rest in Peace (RIP)” has been traditionally associated with purely Roman Catholic epitaphs.

It was used only for those who died as ‘Roman Catholic’ but it is now common for Christians to also use it for non-Christians. This is because they believe (based on their scripture) that eternal bliss is for the believers and eternal-damnation for the non-believers. “About God’s children, they can say with confidence, ‘Rest in peace’”.

However, Christians are to refrain from using it, as only God knows what’s in a person’s heart and whether the person in his last moments cried out to Jesus for forgiveness or not [5].

In Islam

“Rest in Peace (RIP)”, was never used by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ or any of His Companions or the subsequent generations.

When the Prophet’s ﷺ son Ibrahim passed away, He ﷺ cried and said: “the eyes shed tears and the heart feels sorrow, but we will only say what pleases our Lord.” So we do not say anything that displeases our Lord.

The Sunni scholars are of the view that one is not allowed to pray for the unbelievers, as they will reside in the fire of hell and their actions in this world are void. This is because such actions were neither intended to seek the pleasure of God, nor for the hereafter [6].

God says in the Quran: “As for those who desire the life of this world and its finery – We will give them full payment in it (this world) for their actions. They will not be deprived of their due.” [7]


The dominant opinion in Sunni legal orthodoxy is that a Muslim should not pray for a non-Muslim after their death.

The Prophet ﷺ said:

“None of you believes until he wants for his brother what he would want for himself.” [8]

This Prophetic tradition is the last of the four traditions that constitute the famous “sum of good etiquettes” – The first three being: to speak less, to mind one’s own business and not to get angry [9].

Imam Nawawi said in explanation of the above Prophetic tradition:

“It is better for that [saying of the Prophet ﷺ] to be interpreted in the sense of universal brotherhood, so that it includes the non-Muslim and the Muslim. Thus, he wants for his non-Muslim brother what he would want for himself…” [10]

Our theology might be different, but that doesn’t make anyone less of a human being.

Personally, I find it insensitive when some Muslims make dismissive comments upon hearing the death of a non-Muslim. Some even backbite/slander the deceased. That’s not from our tradition [11].

I believe the best thing for us to do, as Muslims, is to refrain from praying for the non-Muslim deceased and avoid commenting on the matter altogether. It’s a sensitive topic for the family of the deceased; both Muslim and non-Muslim relatives.


  1. Definition of rest in peace from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus©. Cambridge University Press.
  2. Wikipedia. Rest in Peace. [Online] Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Rest_in_peace&oldid=584219496. [Accessed December 6, 2013]
  3. Andrew McDonald. Should Christians use the phrase Rest in Peace, April 2013. [Online] Available form: http://protestant-standard.blogspot.co.uk.  [Accessed December 6, 2013]
  4. Rabbi Paul Citrin. Jewish Burial and Mourning Practice for non-Jewish relatives, 2000. [Online] Available from: http://www.interfaithfamily.com. [Accessed December 6, 2013]
  5. Got Questions Ministries. Is it biblical to say ‘rest in peace’ (RIP) in regard to someone who has died. [Online] Available from: http://www.gotquestions.org. [Accessed December 6, 2013]
  6. W. Charkawi. ‘Some of the Rulings Upon An Unbeliever’. In: The Beneficial Message & Definitive Proof in The Study of Theology, pp. 306
  7. Qur’ān 11:15
  8. Related by Bukhārī, Muslim, Ahmad and others.
  9. Ibn Abī Zayd al-Qayrawānī, as related by Imām an-Nawawī in his Minhāj of Hadīth (2:210)
  10. Nawawī, Sharh Arba’īn, 123. And Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti. The meaning of universal brotherhood by Imam an-Nawawi. [Online] Available from http://qa.sunnipath.com. [Accessed December 6, 2013]
  11.  Ify Okoye. How Muslims don’t express condolences. Available from: http://ifyokoye.com [Accessed December 6, 2013]
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