How to Wash and Bury Muslims During COVID-19?

22 September, 2020
Q The number of people dying in America due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is increasing day by day. It is quite possible that hundreds of thousands may lose their lives. There are many concerns regarding washing the dead bodies, burial shroud, funeral prayers and burials. What are we supposed to do as Muslims during these tough times of restricted social mobility, lockdowns and masjid closures?

Answer

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. 

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.


In this fatwa:

1- The Islamic Shariah is flexible enough to accommodate various situations. It allows a variety of options enabling us to comply with official guidelines.

2- The advice of medical professionals, State and Federal authorities will take precedent over ordinary religious protocols.        

3- Mass Janazahs and burials are permitted.

4- Currently, CDC allows Ghusl with standard precautions.

5- Tayyammum can be done over untouchable corpse.

6- One can be buried without Ghusl and shroud, if required.


In responding to your question, Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah, a member of the Executive Committee of the Fiqh Council of North America and the Religious Director of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, states;

Islamic Guidance Regarding Pandemics

Let me assure the community from the outset that there is sufficient guidance in our books of Fiqh regarding almost all possible scenarios presented by this terrifying Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

There were a number of wars during the life of Prophet (peace be upon him) in which multiple Companions of the Prophet received martyrdom in one day. For instance, seventy Companions of the Prophet died in the Battle of Uhud.

There was shortage of shroud cloth in the City of Madinah and dearth of manpower. Consequently, the Prophet placed two corpses in one shroud and three bodies in one grave.

There was no need for ritual washing as the martyrs were and are exempt from that. Likewise, during the epidemic of Amwas in the 18th year of Hijrah (639 CE), thousands of people died in Syria. Many notable Companions were among the dead. Mass funeral prayers, mass burials and mass graves were arranged due to scarcity of volunteers.

The same happened during multiple other disasters in the past. As a result, the Muslim jurists have discussed, analyzed and established rules for almost all possible scenarios of a pandemic. We can find solutions for the current problems from within the established legal protocols.

Ritual Bath or Ghusl

The default rule is washing the dead body with water and soap. Umm Attiyyah narrated: Allah’s Messenger came to us and we were giving a bath to his (dead) daughter and said; “Wash her three, five or more times with water and Sidr and sprinkle camphor on her at the end; and when you finish, notify me.”

So, when we finished, we informed him and he gave us his waist-sheet and told us to shroud her in it.

Ayyub said that Hafsah narrated to him a narration similar to that of Muhammad in which it was said that the bath was to be given for an odd number of times, and the numbers 3, 5 or 7 were mentioned.

It was also said that they were to start with the right side and with the parts which were washed in ablution, and that Um Atiyyah also mentioned; “We combed her hair and divided them in three braids.” (Al-Bukhari)

How to Wash the Dead Body

1- The original Islamic ruling as mentioned above stands during the COVID-19 pandemic as long as the State or Federal authorities do not require the otherwise.

Currently, at the time of this article’s composition, no specific restrictions other than the standard precautions are placed by the CDC on washing the dead body of those confirmed or suspected of carrying Coronavirus.

The CDC guidelines state that;

“If washing the body or shrouding are important religious or cultural practices, families are encouraged to work with their community cultural and religious leaders and funeral home staff on how to reduce their exposure as much as possible. At a minimum, people conducting these activities should wear disposable gloves. If splashing of fluids is expected, additional personal protective equipment (PPE) may be required (such as disposable gown, face shield or goggles and facemask).”

It further states:

“Cleaning should be conducted in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., concentration, application method and contact time, etc.)

Products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claims… are expected to be effective against COVID-19 based on data for harder to kill viruses. After removal of PPE, perform hand hygiene by washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. Soap and water should be used if the hands are visibly soiled.”

Therefore, ritual washing of confirmed or suspected victims of COVID-19 per CDC guidelines is permitted with proper precautions. It is Islamically required that we wash our dead bodies with proper Islamic protocols.

I will request the Muslim health professionals especially the physicians to volunteer for washing the deceased as they are trained to handle PPE and other preventive measures more than other volunteers. It will suffice to have one or two professionals present.

Some states, cities or medical examiners may place extra restrictions on ritual washing or corpse handling. Those instructions and guidelines must be followed. Those handling the infected corpse can adopt extra precautionary measures such as use of hard gloves, impenetrable Isolation gowns or Medical gowns along with facemasks or even Coveralls to avert dangers of viral transmission via body fluids, aerosol generation or water splash. Protection of a real life will take precedent over respect for a dead body or ritual adherences.

📚 Read Also: Can We Offer Funeral Prayers for Coronavirus Victims Away From Them?

It is not recommended to keep the corpse refrigerated for one, two or three days to eliminate the danger of virus transmission. Currently, there is no scientific or medical consensus as to whether or not COVID-19 dies by refrigeration and how many days does it take to actually die. Therefore, it is important that we do not get bog down in these controversial theories and wash the corpse and bury it as soon as possible.

Tayyammum instead of Washing

2- If the corpse is given in an unsealed bag and the washing is prohibited by the medical or state authorities then Tayyammum can be performed instead of washing. The body handler shall put on nonsterile rubber gloves, rub hands against a dusty or sandy surface and then rub the face and arms of the corpse with dusty hands.

This symbolic cleansing is elaborated in the Quran in lieu of ablution and is a valid Shar`i alternate in times of emergencies. If touching the body is also prohibited, then water can be poured all over the bag as a gesture of purification without touching the body. The so used water and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as glove, gown and facemask shall be disposed of as medical waste with proper precautions.

3- In the worst case scenario when the body bag is totally sealed and touching or washing the body is clearly prohibited, then the body can be entombed without ritual washing, Tayyammum and burial shroud.

The mandated hospital disinfection of the corpse will be considered as ritual washing and the bag will stand for the shroud. The funeral prayer will be offered over the sealed bag and the body will be lowered into the grave as it is.

If required, the Janazah prayer can be offered after the burial on the grave. The person is a martyr and a few compromises in routinely held rituals will not impact his/her status in Jannah, insha’Allah.

Conclusion

The Islamic Shariah is flexible enough to accommodate various situations. It allows a variety of options enabling us to comply with official guidelines. The bottom line is that we are required to obey the medical, State and Federal guidelines. The advice of medical professionals, State and Federal authorities will take precedent over ordinary religious protocols due to extraordinary circumstances.        

Almighty Allah knows best.

Source: http://fiqhcouncil.org/