Muslim World

A Look at The Muslim’s Burial

A Look at The Muslim’s Burial

Muslims take pride in belonging to a belief system that speaks to all aspects of our lives. From the etiquette of dealing with a newborn to the rulings on different types of transactions, even how to socially distance during congregational prayers or hold Eid prayer at home during a pandemic. One part of this all-encompassing system called Islam, is how to deal with the body of a person who passes on from this life. Muslims are required to wash the body of a deceased Muslim after their passing and this may be something most of us are never exposed to, until one of our loved ones passes away. It helps to be familiar with this process before it falls on our shoulders unexpectedly.

No doubt, washing the body of the deceased is a great service to your community and a sobering activity for your own spiritual state. It is one of the few times one can see death up close. The Prophet encouraged us to remember death often. This helps us to keep the end goal in mind, which is to leave this world in a state of submission to Allah, pleasing to Him and pleased with Him.

How to wash the body of a deceased Muslim:

Some Things To Note

1. Washing the dead body is a communal obligation, what scholars have termed fard kifayah so that if someone in the community is fulfilling it, then no one is sinful for it not being done. However, if this obligation is left unattended to, either because no one has learned how to do it or is not performing it for the deceased among the community, then everyone in that community is sinful until it is performed.

2.Who is allowed to wash?

   ~You are allowed to stipulate who should wash your body when you pass

     ~Generally 1-3 people of the same gender should wash the body of the deceased

  1. When should it be done?

   ~As soon as possible. Rules and regulations aside, it is best to wash and bury the body of the deceased sooner rather than later.

4.One must be gentle and respectful with the body of the deceased

   ~Aisha رضي الله عنها reported in Abu Dawud (3207): “Breaking the bones of a dead person is just like breaking his bones while he was alive.”

Before You Begin

1.Where is it done?

   ~There are Muslim funeral homes with the appropriate facilities, but generally speaking it should be a small room where it would be private and doable

2.Special care should be taken to not expose the ‘awrah (navel to the knee) of the deceased 

   ~One or two people should hold a towel over the ‘awrah of the deceased while the remaining people undress the deceased

   ~A disposable towel should always be placed over the ‘awrah

3.Wear thick gloves or something appropriate to cover your hands

   ~This is to first avoid touching waste

   ~Second, this is so you feel as little of the body as possible so as to minimize uncomfortability

Handling the Body 

  1. A cloth or band should be used to keep the mouth of the deceased closed

   ~This is to make sure nothing gets inside

   ~It should be tied softly, so as not to leave a mark after untying

2.The joints should be loosened by rotating them gently a few times. Care should be taken not to expose the ‘awrah or apply excessive force

The Washing

  1. First, the body should be sat up and the stomach pressed gently a few times to force any of the remaining waste from the stomach and intestines

2.Then the private parts should be washed as thoroughly as possible without being rough with the body of the deceased

   ~One person can hold the towel in place while the other uses the appropriate tools, like a hand held bidet, to spray and wipe the privates thoroughly but gently

3.Next, the wudu should be performed on the deceased, like one would normally perform the wudu

   ~Each part can be washed once or 3 times. If there is something on the body that requires more cleaning, it can be cleaned more than 3 times.

   ~Exceptions for performing the typical, complete wudu is to not rinse the nose or mouth like one would normally do while performing wudu

4.After the wudu, the rest of the body should be washed with some sort of gentle soap, starting with the right side.

   ~It is preferable to wash the body an odd number of times

   ~The last time the body is washed it can be scented, as per the sunnah

     ~Camphor was used in the past because it would leave a nice scent and repel insects from eating the body for some time, delaying the inevitable decay

   ~If some filth comes out of the deceased during the washing you may redo the washing or just wash the area where it came from

     ~Recognize that the deceased body will not be as clean or purified of dirt and filth as one would normally aim for while alive

The Grooming

1.If the nails are overgrown, they should be cut gently. For men, an overgrown mustache should be trimmed or shaved carefully.

   ~The skin of the deceased is less pliable than the living so shaving or handling roughly can tear the skin. If the mustache or nails are not overgrown then they should be left alone

2.The hair of the male can be left uncombed because the hair and skin of the scalp is brittle. For the female, you gently tie or braid the hair

   ~Umm Atiyyah رضي الله عنها Sahih Bukhari (345): “We braided Zaynab’s hair in 3 braids and made them fall at her back.”

3.It is recommended to make ghusl (take a shower) after washing the body of the deceased

The Shrouding

1.The man is shrouded with 3 pieces of plain cloth while the woman is shrouded in 5 pieces of plain cloth if resources permit

   ~It is strongly recommended to use white cloth

   ~There is no need to use fancy or extravagant cloth, and it is generally discouraged

2.Before beginning to wrap the shrouding, some cloth should be used to wrap the private orifices of the deceased

   ~Not trying to be facetious, but imagine the wrapping of a sumo wrestler, but not as intricate

3.You should begin wrapping the shroud from the right. After the first cloth is wrapped, the disposable towel covering the ‘awrah of the deceased should be removed

   ~Recognize that the ‘awrah might become exposed at times during the whole process, but the utmost effort should be made to keep it covered to protect the privacy of the deceased. And one should never tell others what they saw of the deceased body, especially from the ‘awrah

4.After all 3 or 5 layers are wrapped, twist the ends together at the top of the head and the feet, and loosely tie a piece of cloth or rope around the middle to hold the shroud in place. 

I hope that this has been a clarifying look at what happens with the body of a deceased Muslim. The whole process may seem so removed from the spiritual reality that the deceased person’s soul has moved on from this world and their reckoning has already begun. This is the same sentiment when sometimes we see the earthly and somewhat messy process of a burial at the cemetery. This is a fitting analogy of the nature of this life. Whatever occurs in this ‘world’ will be tainted and weighed down by its imperfect character. All good in this life will have some imperfection in it. The bad we may experience in this life is not all encompassing. And all of it is temporary.

May Allahسُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى grant us a good ending in this life, blessed ease in the barzakh (the realm after death souls enter before Judgment Day) and raise us in the ranks of the righteous on the Day of Accounting.