There are two main ways that I generally hear the word "sorry" being used. The first is as an apology for doing something hurtful, damaging, or mistakenly. Examples of this are, "I'm sorry I hurt your feelings." "I'm sorry I hit you." "I'm sorry I broke your toy." This I call the "sad sorry," as it expresses, or is supposed to express, regret over doing something. The "sad sorry" is the one that can be avoided the majority of the time by thought before action, self control in the face of strong emotion, and consideration and respect of others and their property. The sad sorry is the fourth element required for tawbah (repentance) to be accepted. The first three are knowing what you have done is wrong and why, truly feeling regret and sorrow in your heart about doing such a wrong, and resolving never to do such a wrong again, followed by the fourth element, to apologize or remedy the wrong with the person(s) involved.
The second type of "sorry" is to show regret or commiseration with someone else over something that has befallen them. Examples of this are," I'm sorry to hear that your father died." "I'm sorry to hear that you've been so sick." "I'm sorry to hear that you lost your job." "I'm sorry that happened; it's just not fair." This I call the "bad sorry," as it expresses displeasure, disagreement, or nonacceptance of Allah's Decree. The "bad sorry" is extremely dangerous, as it negates at-tawheed. To believe that there is something better, more appropriate, or fairer than what Allah has willed, or to imagine that something has happened outside of Allah's will and control, is denying His Lordship, Names, and Attributes. This can possibly remove one from Islam, because if it isn't at-tawheed, then it is shirk.
General culture, not Islamic culture, has conditioned many to automatically say "sorry" as a commiserating response to anyone who faces a test or trial. However it goes against all that we know as Muslims, because if Allah LOVES you, He tests you. What befalls you was decreed and written in Al Lawh Al Mahfoodth literally thousands of years before you were created. We plan and Allah plans, but Allah's plan is the one that prevails and the one that is perfect.
Such is our misguidance, that should someone say they have terminal cancer and their brother or sister in Islam responds with, al hamdul'Illah or mashaa'Allah, they will be infuriated and offended. They think, "Where is the sympathy? Where is the anger at how unfair this is to me?" However, to acknowledge that it is from Allah and that He has written it, and so it is accepted as His Qadr, is not only correct, but rewarded. It is important that we remind ourselves of that fact constantly in the face of all the tests and enormous trials members of our Ummah are put to. It is also da'wah, because in saying,"Al hamdul'Illahi 'ala kully haal," (All praises are due to Allah in every situation) and, "Qadr Allahi wa maa shaa fa'al," (It is preordained by Allah and He does as He wills) one reminds the other of the correct outlook and how they should respond and think if they want their test to be a blessing of expiation, elevation in rank in Jennah, or a life-saving lesson. Some of you will recall when I wrote about my miscarriages (13 total up to March 2012, mashaa'Allah) that whenever someone said they were sorry, I would say don't be sorry for it is Allah's special plan for me and there is nothing but gain and benefit in it for me.
Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu ‘alayhe wa sallam) said:
وإن أصابك شيء فلا تقل لو أني فعلت كذا لكان كذا وكذا لكن قل قدر الله وما شاء فعل…
So rather, in these situations, say, "Qadr Allahi wa maa shaa fa'al," and if the person is not in a good frame of mind about their test, remind them of the blessings in it. Give examples of times when they, or you, or someone else you mutually know has gone through a test and been rewarded with something far better afterwards. Remind them of the trials and hardships of our beloved Prophet, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and the prophets Nuh, Ibraheem, Lut, and Ayoob alayhum as salaam, which put our small tests in perspective. Do a reality check and ask, "Are you upset with Allah's Decree?" Encourage others and remind yourself to embrace ALL that Allah sends you, to trust and know with certainty that it is for your own good and best end, and give thanks for it seeking the lessons, benefit, and rewards that it brings.“…And if something (bad) befalls you, do not say, ‘Had I only done such-and-such, then such-and-such would have happened, rather say: Qadrullaahi, wa maa shaa’ fa’ala (This is from the Qadr of Allaah, and He does whatever He wills).” [Muslim]
May our words acknowledge, honor, and thank our Creator, and may our hearts love Him for ALL He sends us - ameen.