Rites and Regulations in Islam
Bilal Abu Aisha
praise is due to Allah All-Mighty, the Ever-Living Who said: "Every
soul shall taste death." And may His peace and blessings be
upon His slave and final Messenger, our beloved Prophet Muhammad
who himself tasted death. The one who said: "Always remember
the destroyer of pleasures - Death." The topic between your
hands is a very important one, given that most certainly every human
being will taste death, just as the prophets, kings, rich, poor,
young, old, and nations of the past experienced. By the grace of
Allah, Islam has provided a complete set of instructions for the
dying individual, those who are present at the time of death, as
well as those responsible for burying the deceased. These regulations
and exhortations should be common knowledge among Muslims, since
death often occurs when it is least expected. This article attempts
to provide the reader with a concise compilation of rules and regulations
regarding funeral rites in accordance with authentic Islamic teachings.
to do for a dying and dead person
Gently but firmly advise and prompt the dying person to say the
Shahaadah - the declaration: Laa ilaaha illa-Allah, which means
there is no true god except Allah. This prompting in Arabic is known
as Talqeen. The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w) said: "Prompt your
dying ones to say 'Laa ilaaha illa-Allah.' Whoever last words at
the time of death was Laa ilaaha illa-Allah will enter Jannah (Paradise)
one day, irrespective of what happens to him prior to that."
The talqeen is necessary only when the dying person is unable to
utter the shahaadah.
are also encouraged to be present when non-Muslims are dying in
order to present Islam to them. This permission is conditioned by
the absence of any signs of shirk or acts of disobedience to Allah.
The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w) visited a Jewish youth who used to
serve the Prophet (s.a.w) during his fatal illness. He (s.a.w) sat
by his head and said to him: "Embrace Islam, embrace Islam."
He looked at his father as if to take his permission. His father
said: "Obey Abu Al-Qaasim (i.e. Muhammad)." He took his
advice and died immediately thereafter. The Prophet (s.a.w) said:
"All praise be to Allah who has saved him from the Fire,"
and commanded his companions to pray the funeral prayer over him.
It is recommended to supplicate and say good words aloud in the
presence the one who is dying. These positive words make the process
of dying easier, and recovery from illness more bearable. The Prophet
(s.a.w) said: "If you are in the presence of a sick or dying
person, you should say good things, for verily the Angels say 'Aameen'
to whatever you say."
practice of reciting Surat Yasin in the presence of the dying person
or dead person is based on weak prophetic reports, having no basis
in the authentic Sunnah. Neither the Prophet (s.a.w) nor his companions
did it, or recommended that it be done. Those who observe the practice
of reciting Yasin over the dead do so in light of the hadith: "Yasin
is the heart of the Qur'an. Whoever recites it seeking the pleasure
of Allah and the Hereafter will receive Allah's forgiveness. So
recite it to your dead." Concerning this hadith, Ad-Dar al-Qutni
is reported to have said: "In the chain of narrators of this
hadith there is confusion. Its text is obscure and is not correct."
Another practice which has no foundation in the practice of the
Prophet (s.a.w) and his companions, is turning the body of one who
is dying so that he or she faces the Qiblah (i.e. the Ka'bah in
Makkah). Turning the body became a custom after the time of the
Prophet's companions, but was objected to by leading scholars of
After a person's soul leaves his body, a person from amongst those
who are present should close the eyes of the dead person if they
were open at the time of death. The Prophet (s.a.w) said: "When
the soul is taken, the eyesight follows it." Also, the entire
body of the deceased should be covered, except for the one who dies
in a state of Ihraam - that is, whilst performing Hajj or 'Umrah,
in which case the head and face should not be covered.
The relatives of the deceased must hasten in paying back any debts
from whatever wealth he or she has left behind, even if it means
that all of their wealth will be exhausted. Jabir ibn 'Abdullah
reported that after a man once died, he was washed, shrouded, embalmed,
and placed where the funerals are usually placed for the prayer.
The Prophet (s.a.w) was invited to perform the funeral prayer. He
came in, took a few steps, stopped and asked: "Perhaps your
friend owes some debt?" He was told: "Yes, two dinars."
So he moved back and said: "You pray for your friend."
Abu Qatadah (r.a) said: "O Messenger of Allah, I will take
care of the two dinars."
The Prophet (s.a.w) prayed the
funeral prayer for him. The following day, the Prophet (s.a.w) met
Abu Qatadah and asked him: "What happened with the two dinars?"
He replied, "O Allah's Messenger, he only died yesterday."
On the next day, he (s.a.w) asked him the same and was informed
that they had been paid off. So the Prophet (s.a.w) said: "It
is now only that his skin has cooled down (i.e. from the punishment."
This hadith indicates that paying the deceased's debts benefit him
and Mourning over the Dead
scholars agree that weeping for the dead is permissible, whereas
crying out loud and wailing are not. The Prophet (s.a.w) said: "The
one who is wailed for is tortured on account of it." Abu Musa
is reported to have said: "I declare my disavowal of all that
Allah's Messenger disavowed. The Messenger of Allah disavowed publicly
a woman who mourns loudly, one who shaves her head, and the one
who tears her clothes in mourning." It is permissible for a
woman to mourn for a period of three days over the death of a near
relative. The Islamic term for mourning is Hidaad. Mourning for
more than three days is not permitted except in the case of her
husband's death. The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w) said: "It is
not permissible for a woman who believes in Allah and the Last Day
to mourn over a dead person more than three days, except for her
husband, where she mourns for four months and ten days." A
women whose husband has must observe what is known as the 'Iddah
- The waiting period before she may remarry, which is four month
and ten days. During this period a widow is not permitted to use
any adornment, such as jewelry, kohl (eye-makeup), silk, perfume,
or henna dye on her hands and feet. A widow during her 'iddah is
permitted to leave her home to fulfill her economic and social needs.
If for example she works to sustain her family, she may continue
to leave her home daily for the period of work. Apart from leaving
the house for necessities and social visits to relatives and friends,
a widow during her 'iddah should pass the night in her own home
until her term lapses, that is, she is not to sleep outside of her
condolences to the relatives and friends of the deceased is an important
act of kindness, which was displayed by the Prophet (s.a.w). When
consoling a Muslim, it is important to remind the bereaved of the
triviality of this life, that everything belongs to Allah, and that
one should submit patiently to the decrees of Allah. It is also
beneficent to make him hopeful of Allah's mercy toward the beloved
one that he lost, and that by the will of Allah he or she will be
united with the deceased on a Day after which there is no parting.
What better words to say to the desolated then those taught by Allah's
final Messenger (s.a.w): "Innaa lillaahi maa akhathaa wa lillaahi
maa A'taa, wa kullu shay-in 'indahoo li ajalin musammaa." This
means: "To Allah belongs what He took, and to Him belongs what
He gave. Everything is recorded with Him for an appointed term."
Offering condolences is not limited to three days, and could be
extended for as long as there is a need for it. The Messenger of
Allah (s.a.w) consoled Ja'far's family after three days had passed.
A very common practice is gathering to offer condolences to the
deceased's family and relatives in the graveyard, house, or mosque.
This is a heretical action that has no basis in Islam. Jarir ibn
Abdullah al-Bajali said: "We (the companions of the Prophet)
considered gathering for visiting the deceased's family, and preparing
food after burying them, both acts of wailing." Imaam ash-Shafi
said: "I dislike gatherings, even if there is no wailing or
crying. For it only renews the family's feelings of sorrow and puts
burdens on their food supplies." Some Muslims also commemorate
the first, third, seventh, twentieth, or fortieth day following
someone's death. This has absolutely no basis from the Qur'an or
are a number of rites that Muslims must hasten to perform as soon
as a person dies. The Prophet (s.a.w) said: "Hasten the funeral
rites." Preparing the body for burial is a Fard Kifaayah -
A communal obligation on Muslims. Washing the dead body prior to
shrouding and burial is obligatory, according to numerous recorded
instructions given by the Prophet (s.a.w). Preparing the deceased
begins with the washing of the body. As a general rule, males should
take the responsibility of washing males, and females should wash
females. The only exception to this rule is in the case of husband
and wife, or small children. The evidence given that it is permitted
for a husband to wash his wife and vice versa is the hadith collected
by Ibn Majah and others. Aisha (r.a) reported that when the Prophet
(s.a.w) returned from a funeral at al-Baqee', she was suffering
from a headache and said: "Oh my head." The Prophet (s.a.w)
replied: "No, it is I who am in pain from whatever hurts you.
If you were to die before me, I would wash you
when Abu Bakr (r.a) died, it was his wife Asmaa' along with his
son Abdur-Rahmaan who washed him.
who take on the responsibility of washing the dead should be the
most knowledgeable of the procedures, preferably from amongst the
immediate family members and relatives. If relatives are unavailable,
it is recommended that those who wash the body be among the pious.
Washing a dead person is a meritorious deed that Muslims should
be encouraged to take part in. The Prophet (s.a.w) said: "He
who washes a Muslim and conceals what he sees (i.e. bad odors, appearance,
and anything loathsome), Allah grants him forgiveness forty times
(or for forty major sins)
" For this reward to be considered,
a Muslim should only seek Allah's pleasure, and not thanks, pay,
or any other worldly reward. Taking a bath after washing the body
is an important hygienic measure introduced in Islam. However, there
is difference of opinion amongst the scholars whether it is wajib
(mandatory) or not to perform ghusl (ritual bath). The correct opinion
and Allah knows best is that is not compulsory. This is based on
the hadith: "You are not to take a bath after washing your
deceased, because he is not najis (filthy). It is sufficient that
you wash your hands."
the body should be carefully laid on its back on a washing table.
A large towel should be placed over the 'awrah (private parts, between
the navel and the knee) of the deceased. Next, the clothing of the
deceased should be removed, cutting whatever is not easy to slide
off. The joints should be loosened, and slight pressure may be applied
to the abdomen to expel any impurities that are close to exiting.
The private parts of the deceased should be washed very well. A
rag or cloth should be used to wash the body and the washing should
begin with the places on the side of the body washed during wudu'
(ablution). After completing the wudu, the hair should be thoroughly
washed. Any tied or braided hair should be undone. Next, the body
should be washed a minimum of three times and the water should have
some cleaning agent in it, such as soap or disinfectant. The final
washing should have some perfume in it, such as camphor or the like.
There is no harm in washing the body more than three times if there
is a need to do so, however the total number of complete washes
should be odd. Umm 'Ateeyah said: "Allah's Messenger (s.a.w)
came to us while we were washing his daughter and said, 'Wash her
three, or five, or more times, using water with lote-tree leaves,
and put camphor in the last washing.'" The body should then
be dried and the hair combed. The body is now ready for shrouding.
the case of a martyr, their body should not be washed at all. Concerning
the martyrs, the Prophet (s.a.w) said: "Do not wash them, for
verily every wound will emit musk on the Day of Judgement."
The following practices are amongst common innovations related to
washing: Clipping of the nails and shaving of armpit or pubic hair,
pressing hard on the stomach to expel impurities, stuffing cotton
into the throat, nose and anus of the deceased (This is only permissible
if the body has a continuous leak.), saying a specific phrase for
every part of the body that is washed, and the present people making
a loud thikr while the body is washed. We seek refuge with Allah
Kafan - Shroud
next procedure after washing is the obligatory act of shrouding
the entire body. It is allowable for the deceased to be wrapped
with one or two sheets. The preferable number is generally considered
to be three, given that the Prophet (s.a.w) was shrouded in three.
The preferable colour of the shroud is white. The Messenger of Allah
(s.a.w) said: "Wear white clothes, for verily it is among the
best of your garments, and shroud your dead in it also." It
is not permissible to be extravagant in shrouding the dead. The
sheets should be ordinary cloth, and the number of sheets should
not exceed three. It is recommended that the shroud be perfumed
with incense, except in the case of a person who died in a state
of ihraam. The clothing of one killed on the battlefield is not
to be removed. It is recommended to shroud the martyr with one or
two sheets over their clothes as the Prophet (s.a.w) did for Hamzah
performance of the funeral prayer over a Muslim, known in Arabic
as Salaat-ul Janaazah, is a communal obligation - Fard Kifaayah.
If someone is buried without it being performed, the whole community
incurs a sin for not having fulfilled this obligation. A child born
dead or aborted dead after four month, or one that dies before puberty,
does not have to have a funeral prayer. This is in light with the
hadith of Aishah who said: "The Prophet's son Ibraaheem died
when he was eighteen months old, and the Prophet (s.a.w) did not
make (funeral) salaat for him." Although it is not obligatory
in this case, it is still recommended as it was done by the Prophet
(s.a.w) on other occasions. Likewise in the case of those killed
on the battlefield, such individuals may be buried without the performance
of Salat-ul Janazaah, as was the case with the martyrs of the battle
of Uhud. However, the funeral prayer may be performed for martyrs,
given that the Prophet (s.a.w) did perform it over those who died
in battle on other occasions. The funeral prayer should also be
held for those known to be corrupt, such as drug addicts, alcoholics,
adulterers, and the like. In their case it is preferred that the
scholars and the pious not take part in the funeral prayer as a
punishment for them and deterrent for others like them. It was the
practice of the Prophet (s.a.w) not to pray for those who committed
major sins, allowing others to partake in it.
is preferable to pray the funeral prayer outside of the mosque,
in a place designated for that, known as the Musallah. This was
the most common practice of the Prophet (s.a.w). The funeral prayer
may be carried out in the mosque, however praying it outside the
mosque was the predominant practice of the Prophet (s.a.w). It is
permissible to pray Janaazah (but not other prayers) in a graveyard,
either away from the graves, or in an area designated for that.
It is also permissible to perform the funeral prayer over a grave,
after burial, in two situations: If the dead person was buried before
performing the prayer; or if he was buried before giving chance
to the Muslims to perform the prayer. This was done by the Prophet
(s.a.w) over a black woman who used to clean the mosque.
reward and benefits for offering the funeral prayer is very great
for both the deceased and the one who performs it. Allah's Messenger
(s.a.w) said: "Whoever follows a funeral procession and offers
the prayer for the deceased, will gain one Qeeraat of reward. And
whoever follows it and remains with it until the body is buried,
will get two Qeeraats of reward, the least of which is equal in
weight to Mount Uhud." And he (s.a.w) also said: "Whenever
a Muslim man dies, and forty men pray over his janaazah, none of
them joining anything with Allah in worship, Allah grants them intercession
for him." The only way the Prophet (s.a.w) and his companions
offered the funeral prayer was in congregation. It is preferable
that those behind the Imaam form at least three rows, even though
the rows may not be complete, as this is the Sunnah. The Imaam should
stand facing the Qiblah behind the head of the dead man and behind
the middle of the dead woman.
Imaam begins the prayer with takbir. It is possible to do either
four, five, six, seven, or even nine takbirs, as all of them have
been recorded in authentic hadiths and acts of the companions. With
the uttering of takbir, it is permissible to either raise one hands
with each takbir, or to do so only for the first takbir based on
different sound narrations. After each takbir, the hands should
be placed on the chest, as one would do in regular prayer. After
the first takbir, Surat al-Faatihah should be recited. It is also
permissible to recite another small chapter after it. The recitation
should be done in a quiet voice. After the second takbir, the prayer
for the Prophet (s.a.w) should be made, similar to that said before
one ends their salaat. After each of the remaining two or more takbirs,
sincere prayers (du'a) should be made for the dead and their relatives.
There are different invocations narrated by the Prophet (s.a.w)
found in books of supplication one can choose from to say. After
the final takbir comes the tasleem - giving greetings of salaam,
as one does in regular prayer (salaat) to conclude their prayer.
One may do so by making tasleem to both the right and left sides,
or the right side only, as both have been authentically transmitted.
a Muslim dies in a land where there are no Muslims to pray the funeral
prayer over him, then in this case it is permissible to perform
the prayer for him in another land. This is known as salat-ul Ghaa-ib
- The prayer of an absent person. This is what the Prophet (s.a.w)
did when news reached him about the death of an-Najaashi, the ruler
of Abyssinia at that time, and a Muslim who concealed his faith.
Some scholars took this action of the Prophet (s.a.w) as a sunnah
and permission for Muslims to pray for everyone who dies afar. This
is the opinion of Shafi and Ahmad. Other scholars took this incident
as a special case only applicable to the Prophet (s.a.w) and no
one else. This is the opinion of Abu Hanifah and Maalik. The correct
opinion and Allah knows best, is that if the funeral prayer was
not performed in the land where the person died, it is permissible
to pray salat-ul Ghaib. The Prophet (s.a.w) prayed for an-Najaashi
because it is appears that the prayer was not performed for him,
given that he died amongst the disbelievers.
is recommended to visit the graves for the purpose of getting admonishment
and remembering the hereafter. The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w) said:
"I forbade you from visiting graves, but now you may visit
them, for in visiting them there is a reminder of the hereafter."
It is totally forbidden to associate the visit with anything that
would anger Allah (s.w.t), such as supplicating to the dead, invoking
their assistance, wailing, or other types of shirk and sinful actions.
Difference of opinion exists amongst Muslim scholars concerning
the permissibility of women visiting graves. The soundest opinion
and Allah knows best is that they are allowed to visit the graves.
This is the opinion of Imam Malik, some Hanafi scholars, al-Hafiz
ibn Hajar, al-'Ayni, and according to one report from Ahmad. This
view is based on several reports including the above-mentioned hadith,
whereby the Prophet's (s.a.w) statement recommending to visit the
graves is addressed to both males and females. It is also centered
on the hadith of 'Abdullah ibn Abi Mulaikah who said: "Once,
'Aishah returned after visiting the graveyard. I asked, 'O Mother
of the Believers, where have you been?' She said: 'I went out to
visit the grave of my brother Abdur-Rahmaan.' I asked her: 'Didn't
the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w) prohibit visiting graves?' She said:
'Yes, he did forbid visiting graves during the early days, but later
on he ordered us to visit them.'" Another hadith that supports
this view is the hadith in which Aishah (r.a) asks the Prophet (s.a.w)
about what to say when she visits the graveyard. The Prophet (s.a.w)
replies with a supplication to say, and does not advise her otherwise.
Also in the hadith collected by Bukhari and Muslim, the Prophet
(s.a.w) passed by a woman crying by the grave of her son. He advised
her to fear Allah and be patient
Had it been forbidden for
women to visit graves, Allah's Messenger (s.a.w) would have told
her that, as it is not from the character of the Prophet (s.a.w)
to keep silent about prohibited actions. Although it is allowed
for women to visit graves, it is not recommended that they visit
frequently. The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w) said: "Allah (or
Allah's Messenger) curses the women who frequently (visit) the graves."
Muslims are allowed to visit the graves of disbelievers for reflection,
however they are not allowed to participate in the funeral rites
ask Allah Most High to grant us with authentic beneficial knowledge,
and to bestow upon us the understanding of His deen. We ask Him
to give us the strength and support to remember Him, praise Him,
and to perfect our worship - Aameen.