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Washing the Corpse


Washing a corpse, before burial, is also a part of the religious customs and traditions promoted by the previous prophets of God. Although it suffices to thoroughly pour water over the dead body, yet in view of the extraordinary importance of cleanliness and physical cleansing, the corpse should be washed as thoroughly as possible. The Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have said:


“Wash her[1] with water and jujube leaves three, five or even more times, if you would. And the last time you wash her, mix some camphor in the water as well.” (Bukhari)


According to another narrative, the Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have said:


“Wash her in odd numbers, three, five or seven times. Start with her right side and wash those parts first, which are washed during ablution for prayers.” (Bukhari)


Shrouding the Corpse


Shrouding the corpse, after washing it, is also a part of the Abrahamic tradition of religion[2]. Even though the corpse may be shrouded simply in a single sheet of cloth, yet as a show of honor and regard for the dead, it is highly recommended that this shrouding be done with special care. According to a narrative ascribed to Ayesha (may God be pleased with her), the Prophet (peace be upon him) was shrouded in three sheets of white cotton and there was no shirt or head covering on him, when he was laid to rest[3]. The Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have said:


“When one of you shrouds his dead brother, he should shroud him in the best of manners.” (Muslim)


Burying the Dead


The method adopted and promoted by the prophets of God, for laying the dead to rest is burial in the ground in a grave, which is dug specially for this purpose[4]. The details of the method of burial or the exact architecture of the grave have not been determined by the Prophet (peace be upon him). Any method may, therefore, be adopted for the purpose. The grave may be a straight pit covered with blocks, to avoid direct contact of dirt with the corpse or it may be an angled pit[5]. The corpse may or may not be placed in a coffin, before burial. The Prophet (peace be upon him), however, expressed his dislike toward construction of a mausoleum over the grave and making a permanent structures and writing inscriptions over it[6]. It has also been reported in a few narratives that after laying the dead to rest, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would put three handfuls of dust in the grave, at the side of the corpse's head[7]. It has also been reported that while laying the dead in the grave, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would say: “Bismillahi wa `alaa Sunnati Rasoolillahi" [8]. The Prophet (peace be upon him) is also reported to have directed others to say these words[9]. It has also been reported in a few narratives that after the burial, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would ask the Muslims to pray for the forgiveness and salvation of their dead brother. In one of the narratives, the Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have said:


“Ask forgiveness for your brother and pray for his steadfastness, as now he is faced with his accountability.” (Abu Dawud)


End Notes:


[1] It was the corpse of his baby daughter.


[2] Washing and shrouding a Muslim's corpse, under normal circumstances, is an obligation upon the relatives of the dead or, in their absence, of the Muslim community, in general. However, if due to some extraordinary circumstances, it becomes difficult or cumbersome to wash and shroud the corpse, then the body may be buried without washing or shrouding. This principle of providing ease under difficult circumstances is common to all directives of Islam.


[3] Reported in Bukhari, Kitaab Al-Janaayiz.


[4] As in the case of laving or washing the corpse and shrouding it, this method of laying the dead to rest in a grave is also recommended and prescribed under normal circumstances. Thus, in case of death in the open seas, there may be no other option but to set the body adrift in the waters.


[5] In such a grave, there is a side ways cleft at its bottom. The corpse is laid to rest in the cleft, which saves it from direct contact with the dirt put over it.


[6] As reported in Muslim, Kitaab al-Janaayiz; and Ibn Maajah, Kitaab al-Janaayiz.


[7] As reported in Ibn Maajah, Kitaab al-Janaayiz.


[8] In the name of the one God and according to the ways of the Prophet of God. As reported in Abu Dawood, Kitaab al-Janaayiz.


[9] Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Vol. 2, Pg. 27, 40, 59 and 69.





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