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Funeral: An Islamic perspective on what’s prohibited

Islam 28 Dec 2020
Opinion
Funeral
Muslim cemetery. Fes, old Moroccan capital © Vladimir Melnik | Dreamstime.com

The funeral is one of the events of human life. The practice of cremation has been practiced in Hindu culture and other ancient pagan cultures for many centuries. That is the rule of burning the corpse to ashes. Islamic teachings never supported it. Rather it supports the burial of corpses instead. Such is the Islamic funeral.

The Quran says,

“He (Allah) is the One Who created death and life.” (Al-Quran-67: 2)

As the seed is sown, so is the yield. In the same way, those who do good deeds in this world will have a good start in the Hereafter. Repeatedly the Qur’an focuses on “those who believe and do good deeds”; So when faith is fulfilled, external activities will also be good.

From many hadiths, we know the depth of the grave, its size, and its height from the ground. We also know the detailed rules for bathing and shrouding the dead. These are the rules regarding the funeral.

Funeral rules

One thing to note is that according to Islamic teachings, the body of the dead should be washed three times: the first time with water and the juice of plum leaves, the second time with water and camphor, and the third time with pure water.

Allah says,

“I have created all living things from water” (Al-Quran 21:30).

So washing the body of a believer to give water while traveling to a new horizon is consistent with his being.

The Quran narrates the story of Abel and Cain, where Cain unjustly killed Abel and for this reason, he was called “one of the losers”.

Cain was worried about how to hide his brother’s body. At that time Allah sent a bird which taught him how to bury.

He then buried his brother’s body. It was the first burial in the history of mankind.

Guidance of Hadith on funeral

It is narrated in a hadith of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that,

“it is not permissible to mutilate a dead dog unjustly.”

From this hadith, Muslim scholars have stated that since it is forbidden in Islam to mutilate even a dead dog, it is undoubtedly forbidden to mutilate even the best of human beings after death.

Theologians say that another important issue, in this case, is related to the belief in the resurrection on the Day of Resurrection. Because the Islamic belief is that all corpses will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment.

Religious circles claim that the practice of burial is as respectful as the living body. Corpses also suffer when they are injured. Therefore, Islam has honored the dead as well as the living by burying them and this is not a mere doctrine but a provision revealed by Allah.

Why is cremation forbidden?

Not surprisingly cremation has sometimes been considered an atheistic or secular ritual. It could be used to support the affirmation of being against any illusion of survival after death and it may be a “coherent conclusion” of a profane life carried out outside lofty spiritual boundaries and the religious system.

Consequently, it may express the negation of the existence of God, the rejection of the eternal life, or more simply, it could manifest a detachment from “clergies and holy meanings” considering them the usurpers of a “free” sense of life devoid of sanctity. However, according to holy perspectives, the body cannot be treated as a cumbersome object reducible to nothing by a voluntary act. The burial of the deceased expresses the sweetness of the progressive return of the body to the earth from which it came, starting in this way a new phase of the journey towards the Lord of the worlds in a new and totally different abode.

However, It may be argued that nowhere in the Qur’an is there a clear prohibition on cremation, and there is not even a hint of it.

Prophet’s words

But in this case, we get clear guidance from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). He has always buried the dead in graves, except that it has never happened. And the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has been described in the Quran as a ‘good example’ and an ‘exemplary’, is what suffices him for his happiness and everlasting joy.

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) performed the bathing, burial, and prayer for the dead by the command of Allah Himself. And this is how the Companions taught. Since “he does not speak in the pursuit of instinct. The Quran is a revelation that is revealed to him.”(Al-Quran-53: 3-4). Thus, it is a self-evident ritual and a strong traditional form that Muslims have been defending for centuries.