The respectful treatment of a dead body is a universally recognized principle. The Islamic tradition is to respect the dead bodies of both Muslims and non-Muslims. The body should not be abused, the face should not be disfigured and it should be given a dignified burial.
According to a valid tradition, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stood up when the dead body of a non-Muslim was being carried by. Jabir bin Abdullah, a companion of the Prophet reported: “Once while we were with the Prophet (pbuh), a funeral procession was passing by. He stood up for it and we went forward to carry it. But then we learned that the deceased was a Jew. We told the Prophet (pbuh) that it was the body of a Jew. The Prophet said, ‘Death is frightening. Whenever you see a funeral, stand up.’” (Abu Dawood)
According to Islamic tradition, ritual washing and burial should not be delayed unnecessarily.
The body should be buried under the soil on the land. Throwing a body into the sea is not permitted except in exceptional circumstances, such as if the death occurs while the person is on a voyage and land is too far away or there is a possibility of the decomposition of the body if kept until landfall. Only in such cases can the body be thrown into the sea after the stipulated funeral washing and prayers.
The funeral prayer for a believer is an obligatory duty for other living members of the society. At least some of the believers, if not all, should conduct the Salat Al-Janazah (funeral prayer).
According to a Hadith recorded by Bukhari and Muslim, it is one of the duties of a Muslim to accompany a dead believer’s body when it is being carried for burial.
The funeral prayer must be offered without examining the degree of a believer’s piety. Even a Muslim guilty of grave sins and crimes deserves the same treatment — his funeral prayers should be offered and all funeral rites performed.
Even though the prayers are mostly offered while the dead body is placed in front of worshippers, there is also a precedent that the Prophet (pbuh) prayed for the Abyssinian King Najashi after his death while his body was in Africa at the time.
Before the prayers, the dead body has to be washed and shrouded. However, the bodies of martyrs do not need to be washed.
If the deceased has passed away while still in debt, the heirs should try to pay the debts off as quickly as possible, preferably before the burial. If this is not possible, suitable and mutually agreeable payment arrangements should be made with the creditors.
Unnecessary funeral expenses should be avoided. Such expenses do not benefit the deceased. Quite the contrary, they may cause financial hardship and embarrassment to the bereaved family. More importantly, they are in line with the specific instructions of the Prophet (pbuh) that Muslim burials should be simple and inexpensive.
“Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him) reported (that) Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) prohibited plastering a grave (with chalk), sitting on it, building over it, adding to its height, or writing on it.” (Muslim, Abu Dawood and Al-Nasai).
The funeral and burial expenses should be borne by the immediate survivors of the deceased, and should be paid out of the assets of the deceased. In the absence of such survivors, the closest relatives present at the funeral should bear the expenses. If this is not an option then one or more members of the local Muslim community may assume this responsibility.
It is expressly prohibited by the Prophet (pbuh) to indulge in demonstrative or loud expressions of grief at any time during the funeral or the burial.
“Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said: ‘Two of the people’s practices are acts of disbelief: dishonoring the kinship relations, and wailing over the dead.’” (Muslim and Al-Bayhaqi).
To offer condolences to the bereaved family is a Sunnah of the Prophet. It is also recommended to offer prayers for the deceased at the time of condolence and to provide food for the bereaved family for three days after the funeral. “Abdullah bin Jafar (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (pbuh) allowed the family of Jafar three days for mourning, then came to them and said: ‘Do not weep over my brother after this day.’” (Abu Dawood and Al-Nasai).