I read a fatwa saying that it is not permissible to congratulate non-Muslims on their religious festivals and celebrations, but I want to know what is the ruling on congratulating them on personal occasions such as marriage or the return of a travelling loved one?
Praise be to Allah
Congratulating disbelievers on their religious festivals is undoubtedly prohibited. We have explained this previously in several fatwas and warned against it.
With regard to their personal occasions, such as marriage, success at school, getting a new job, recovering from sickness, having a child, returning from a journey, and the like, these are matters concerning which the scholars differed and there are three opinions – all of which were narrated from Imam Ahmad. Some of them say that it is permissible, some say that it is disallowed, and some say that it is permissible on condition that it serves a shar‘i purpose, such as softening their hearts towards Islam or calling them to the faith.
The latter is the most likely of the views to be correct, and it is the view favoured by Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him).
Ibn Muflih al-Hanbali (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
It is prohibited to visit them when they are sick, offer congratulations to them and offer condolences to them… It was narrated from him – i.e., from Imam Ahmad – that it is permissible to do these things; and it was narrated from him that it is permissible when there is an interest to be served, such as if there is the hope that he may become Muslim. This view was favoured by our shaykh – i.e., Ibn Taymiyah – and a similar view was favoured by al-Aajurri. This is the view of the scholars, that (a disbeliever who is sick) should be visited and Islam should be presented to him. Abu Dawood narrated that if one’s intention is to call him to Islam, then yes (one may visit him).
Al-Furoo‘ wa Naseehat al-Furoo‘ (10/334).
However we should point out that there are other conditions which must be met in order to say that this is permissible. They include the following:
The environment for offering congratulations or visiting should be free of evils, such as free mixing, music, or haraam food and drink. Unfortunately the Muslims’ celebrations are usually not free of evils, so how about those of non-Muslims?
Please see the answer to question no. 3325
The phrases used to offer congratulations must be free of anything that is contrary to Islamic teaching, such as initiating the greeting or praying for honour or a long life for him.
Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
Chapter on congratulating (non-Muslims) on the occasion of marriage, birth of a child, return of absent loved one, recovery, escaping calamity, and so on. There are different reports concerning that from Ahmad. On one occasion he permitted it, and on another occasion he disallowed it. The discussion concerning that is like the discussion concerning offering condolences and visiting the sick, and there is no difference between them. But one should beware of falling into what the ignorant fall into of using phrases which are indicative of approving of their religion, such as saying “May God give you strength in adhering to your religion” or “May God honour you”? – unless one says: “May God honour you with Islam,” and the like. This has to do with congratulating them on matters that people have in common.
Ahkaam Ahl adh-Dhimmah (1/441)
One should not offer congratulations to that disbeliever – or to a Muslim either – if he is returning from a journey for sinful purposes, or from waging war against the Muslims, or from doing a haraam job, such as working in a bank, or judging between people on the basis of something other than sharee‘ah.
Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
Whoever congratulates a person for committing a sin, following innovation or disbelieving, has exposed himself to the wrath and anger of Allah. The pious scholars used to avoid offering congratulations to the wrongdoers for being appointed to positions of authority, or offering congratulations to the ignorant on being appointed to positions as judges, teachers and muftis, so as to avoid the wrath of Allah or for fear of losing honour before Allah. If a person finds himself compelled to do that, for fear of evil that he expects from them, so he goes to them but does not say anything but good things, and prays for them to be guided aright, there is nothing wrong with that.
Ahkaam Ahl adh-Dhimmah (1/441, 442)
One should avoid congratulating the leaders of disbelief, such as priests and rabbis and other leaders of disbelief, because there is no hope of them becoming Muslim, and because congratulating them and joining them comes under the heading of supporting them and humiliating the Muslim, unless there is the hope of a specific individual among them becoming Muslim. In that case it is permissible, as in the case of the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) visiting his paternal uncle Abu Taalib.
Shaykh Muhammad ibn Saalih al-‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) said, when he was asked about offering congratulations to a priest on his arrival:
With regard to the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) going to the Jew who was sick, in that case the Jew was a boy who used to serve the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him). So when he fell sick, the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) went to visit him in order to tell him about Islam. He told him about Islam and he became Muslim. What comparison can there be between one whom he visited in order to tell him about Islam and a person who visits a priest in order to congratulate him upon his safe arrival and raise his morale? No one could make such an analogy except one who is ignorant or is following whims and desires.
Majmoo‘ Fataawa ash-Shaykh al-‘Uthaymeen (3/47)
The most correct view concerning this issue is that it is permissible to offer congratulations, subject to the conditions that we have mentioned above. However to be on the safe side one should avoid them completely and keep away from mixing with them.
And Allah knows best.