“As-Salaat-ul Janaaza ‘alaa-l Ghaa’ibeen” Or Funeral Prayer in Absentia
We pray that Allah, The Most High, will have mercy, forgive, guide and protect us from the harm of the disease plaguing the human population called COVID-19. In a response to requests to provide some additional information related to the rights of those who may, unfortunately, succumb to the disease, we are republishing several sources of scholarly information that we hope will be useful and beneficial.
The following is reprinted quotations from the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA); Fatwa 8734; titled “The Rights of the Muslims Who Die with COVID-19 on the Muslim Community”; Scholar: AMJA Resident Fatwa Committee dated March 23, 2020.
“The ritual washing of the dead is one of the communal obligations based on the prophetic command and the unanimous agreement of Muslims. It is, therefore, inappropriate to bury a believer without the ritual wash.
“All capable Muslims of his neighborhood will incur a sin if they fail to perform that obligation. This is the case in all communal obligations: if they are performed by some, all will be relieved of the burden, and if they are not, all will be liable.”
“The default regarding those who die with COVID-19, as far as we have learned from the experts at the time of writing this fatwa, is that there is no likely harm in washing them while following the precautions advised by the public health agencies.
As we deal with the patients infected with coronavirus while taking the necessary precautions, so should we deal with the dead while observing the same precautions, because of the possibility of transmission, even though that is more likely from the living.
Based on this, if the relevant authorities did not prevent their washing, and the specialists did not warn of its likely harm, then we must not fail to perform this obligation, even by pouring water on the body without touching it at all.
This is the right of the casualties of this epidemic on the Muslim community: to wash them and fulfill their rights before their burial. If the relevant authorities banned washing them, or the specialists warned of its likely harm, then we do tayammum (dry ablution) instead, and if that too was banned, then the obligation is lifted altogether.
If washing was permitted, but the washer was required to self-quarantine, as some have relayed to AMJA to be the case in certain places, and no one steps forward to do this from the deceased’s family or others, then the obligation is lifted because of this hardship.
Hoping for the reward of the martyr for people who die in such epidemics does not mean that they may not be washed, because those rulings apply only to the martyrs of the battlefield.
Shrouding is another obligation on the dead, so if it is not possible according to the way prescribed in the Sunnah, then they may be shrouded in the hospital gowns, and if the body was received in a bag that is not to be opened, then the bag will suffice in covering their nakedness. The funeral prayer will be offered, and they will be buried.
The funeral prayer (janaaza) is one of the rights of our dead, and it is a communal obligation: if one person performed it, the rest will not be liable, and if there were more than one person, they pray in congregation behind the imam, while keeping the recommended distance between each of them. This will not invalidate their prayer.
Whoever wants to pray at the grave afterward or perform the absentee prayer, they may do that (the performance is the same as salaat-ul janaaza). All of this would be permissible and accepted by the All-Hearing, All-Knowing, Most Generous and Gracious Lord.
It is permissible, if requested by the family, to live stream the prayer and burial and any part that does not involve showing the nakedness of the deceased or violating their dignity.
Some of these online platforms offer private live streaming that can be watched by the family only and those close to the deceased, to bring solace to their hearts and ease the pain of their inability to be present.
It is needless to mention here that the burning of bodies (cremation) has nothing to do with Islamic teachings, and has nothing to do with the heavenly messages.
These are the rights of the dead Muslims on us: we become exempt from fulfilling them only in the case of a valid excuse. Whenever they are not performed, this will not harm the dead in any way, for they are returning to the Just, the Generous, the Most Merciful.
May Allah guide all to that which makes Him pleased, and He knows best.”