Question # 464: As Salaamu alaikum. I’m feeling deeply disturbed by something I heard about and then read about. I was wondering if you could help me understand better. I’m so mentally exhausted thinking about how for the victims of this virus in Italy, their bodies are being taken to the crematorium right away. Do we lose our religious rights of our bodies if we get the covid-19? I don’t know that every Italian would agree to cremation. Are there victims who are Muslims whose rights we, as their brothers and sisters in Islam, need to defend?
bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,
Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,
All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).
First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.
Shorter Answer: Cremation is definitely haram in Islam whether a dead person is a Muslim or non-Muslim. However, if the person dies because of a highly contagious disease (e.g., Coronavirus: COVID-19), the case is dealt with according to one of two situations:
- If the effects of this disease disappear immediately following the death of the inflicted person so that the danger of contagion is removed then the funeral should be performed as prescribed by Shari’ah.
- If the disease can be transmitted even after the death of the person then it is no longer mandatory to wash that person’s body or enshroud it for burial. However, if there is a fear of contagion by touching, washing or even smelling, then all possible ways of burial like taking and burying the dead person with a tool or device should be undertaken. Furthermore, if there is no other way to complete the funeral rites of the corpse except by burning it, then it becomes lawful to do so. Burning, in this case, is considered as a dire necessity and dire necessity makes it lawful to commit some forbidden acts; however, such matters should be decided by trustworthy authorized competent doctors like from WHO.
Long Answer: Cremation is definitely haram in Islam whether a dead person is a Muslim or non-Muslim since such an action constitutes a form of insult and aggression. [Likewise, it is haram to break a dead person’s bones, to sit on his/her tomb or to walk on it.]
‘Aishah (رضي الله عنها) said that Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Breaking a dead person’s bone is as breaking it in his life” (Abu Dawood; graded saheeh by Al-Albani). [This means that there is no difference between harming a human being, dead or living.] It is reported that when Ali Ibn Abu Talib (رضي الله عنه) burnt al-Sabaeyah (a group of people who claimed godhood of Ali ) depending on his interpretive judgment, Ibn Abbas (رضي الله عنه) censured such action and told Ali: ‘If I were in your position I would have killed them, not burnt them due to the Prophetic disapproval of such an action in his saying do not torture with fire since it is a Divine way of torture, and I would have killed them for the Prophetic saying “Whoever changes his religion (renegade) you have to kill him”.
Narrated Abu Huraira (رضي الله عنه) that Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) sent us in a mission (i.e., an army-unit) and said, “If you find so-and-so and so-and-so, burn both of them with fire.” When we intended to depart, Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said, “I have ordered you to burn so-and-so and so-and-so, and it is none but Allah Who punishes with fire, so, if you find them, kill them (i.e., don’t burn them).” (Al-Bukhari)
Thus, it is a duty to bury a dead Muslim in the cemetery of Muslims and to bury the non-Muslim in the cemetery of non-Muslims.
[Furthermore,] …Islam has a particular Sunnah in making Ghusl for the dead person and enshrouding them and it is known that this is a special grace bestowed by Allah on His human slaves. It distinguishes this slave from other creatures… [Consequently,] leaving the corpse without burial is unlawful even if it is a corpse of a peaceful disbeliever. Burning it is much more dangerous.
Now, if the person dies because of a plague or of a similar highly contagious disease, the case is dealt with according to one of two situations:
- If the effects of this disease disappear immediately following the death of the inflicted person so that the danger of contagion is removed then the funeral should be done as prescribed by Shari’ah. This condition can be verified by trustworthy competent doctors.
- If the disease can be transmitted even after the death of the person then it is no longer mandatory to wash that person’s body or enshroud it for burial. The Fuqaha (scholars of Islam) state that when there is hardship in carrying out funerals such as a great number of dead people at the same time or the emergence of a deadly contagious disease, then the dead people can be buried without washing or enshrouding, and even in mass graves and only one funeral prayer is done for them.
Now, if there is a fear of contagion by touching, washing or even smelling, then all possible ways of burial like taking the dead person with a tool or device and burying him should be done, provided one is certain to not become infected by the disease by inhaling or touching. If there is no other way to be rid of the corpse except by burning it, then it becomes lawful to do so, as Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says in the Qur’an: “So keep your duty to Allah and fear Him as much as you can; …” (Soorah At-Taghabun, 64:16). Burning, in this case, is considered as a dire necessity and dire necessity makes it lawful to commit some forbidden acts, as Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says in the Qur’an: “… But if one is forced by necessity without wilful disobedience nor transgressing due limits, then there is no sin on him. Truly, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Soorah al-Baqarah, 2: 173). In such matters, one should return to trustworthy competent doctors who should the only authority to decide whether this is a real necessity or not. The WHO doctors are probably the authority in this matter. We remind Muslims here that studying medicine is a communal obligation. So, there should be Muslim doctors who could decide on such Islamic matters. Allah knows best.
(The above reply is based on various answers provided by Islamweb.net, a web site belonging to the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in the State of Qatar on the topic)
Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.