Wa `alaykum As-Salamu waRahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
In this fatwa:
In his answer to your question, Mufti Muhammad Ibn Adam Al-Kawthari, Director and researcher at the Institute of Islamic Jurisprudence (Darul Iftaa, www.daruliftaa.com), Member of the Al-Qalam Shari`ah Scholars Panel, and advisor on Islamic Banking, states:
Among the ‘signs’ [and not a categorical proof] of a believer’s righteousness, goodness and acceptance with Allah is that a large number of Muslims participate in his or her funeral prayer (janazah). This is due to two reasons:
Firstly, the funeral prayer is in reality a supplication (du`aa’) unto Allah Most High for the deceased. As such, the greater the number of those supplicating and seeking forgiveness for a deceased, the more likely that it will be accepted.
`A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) relates that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “If a group of Muslims numbering a hundred pray over a dead person, all of them interceding for him, their intercession for him will be accepted.” (Muslim)
Malik ibn Hubayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) relates that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “If a believer dies and a group of Muslims comprising three rows pray over him, he is forgiven.” (Abu Dawud, Ahmad and At-Tirmidhi)
`Abdullah ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) relates that he heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) say, “If a believer dies and a group of Muslims numbering forty – who do not associate any partner with Allah – pray over him, then Allah will accept their intercession for him.” (Muslim)
As such, a large number of Muslims praying over the deceased, supplicating for him, interceding for him and asking Allah to forgive him – with sincerity – is an indication of forgiveness and Allah’s mercy on the deceased.
When believers beseech and supplicate their Merciful Lord, it is hoped that He Most High will answer their prayers. The likelihood of prayers being accepted is greater when more people supplicate and pray, especially if it includes scholars and pious servants of Allah.
Secondly, the presence of a large gathering at a funeral prayer is normally because those in attendance hold the deceased in high esteem and consider him or her to be righteous. When believers praise the deceased, it is an indication of his acceptance with Allah Most High.
Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) relates that a funeral procession passed by and they [the companions] praised the deceased. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “It has become necessary.” Then another passed and they spoke ill of the deceased. He (peace be upon him) said, “It has become necessary.” `Umar ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) asked, “What has become necessary?” He replied, “You praised this one, and so the Garden is necessary for him; and you spoke ill of this one, so the Fire is necessary for him. You are the witnesses of Allah on the earth.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Abu Al-Aswad says, “I came to Madinah during an epidemic. I was sitting with `Umar ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) when a funeral passed by and the deceased was praised. `Umar said, ‘It has become necessary.’ Then another passed by and they praised the deceased. `Umar said, ‘It has become necessary.’ Then a third passed by and they spoke ill of the deceased. `Umar said, ‘It has become necessary.’” Abu Al-Aswad says, “I asked, ‘what has become necessary, Amir al-Mu’minin?’ He said, ‘I say as the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Any Muslim to whose goodness four people testify, will be admitted by Allah to the Garden.” We said, “And if three do?” He said, “Three as well.” We said, “And two?” He said, “Two also.” Then we did not ask him about one.’” (Al-Bukhari)
Imam An-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) comments in explanation of this hadith, “When Allah Most High inspires the people, or majority of them, to praise a believer who has died, then that is an indication of him being amongst the people of Paradise (Jannah)…” (Al-Minhaj sharh Sahih Muslim)
Based on this, when several people – especially scholars and those who are known to be pious and truthful – praise a deceased person and testify that he was righteous, God-fearing and good in character and behavior, Allah Most High accepts their testimony, forgives that person and admits him to heaven.
Often, the praise is due to what people have witnessed in their interaction with the deceased during his lifetime. When a person lives a righteous life, his behavior is certain to be reflected on others who deal with him. They are bound to praise him when they learn of his death. Thus, they are considered as Allah’s witnesses, and He accepts what they say and deals with the deceased accordingly.
Moreover, when an individual obeys Allah and becomes beloved to Him, Allah instills the love for him in the hearts of the masses; He Most High says: “Surely, those who believe and do righteous deeds, for them the All-Merciful will create love.” (Ta-Ha 19:96)
Having said that, it should be noted that the participation of a large number of Muslims in a deceased’s funeral prayers and their praise for him is indeed a sign of his righteousness; however, it must not be taken as categorical proof. Only Allah Most High knows of the absolute reality.
Moreover, it is wrong to think that less people attending the funeral prayer of a deceased is a sign of his non-righteousness. There have been countless pious servants of Allah –such as `Uthman ibn `Affan (may Allah be pleased with him) – whose funeral prayers were attended by a handful of people, yet they were amongst the most beloved servants of Allah.
Almighty Allah knows best.