By Editorial Staff
Pyramids or the graves of Pharaohs
Much also has been written about the greatest of all earth’s burial-places (the Pyramids of Egypt) in which the Pharaohs were laid and buried but now the Pyramids have been excavated and the mummified dead bodies of ancient Pharaohs have been transformed to the Egyptian Museum near Tahrir square in Cairo, Egypt.
The Pharaohs of Egypt intended to preserve their dead bodies, perhaps, they believed in the resurrection or returning of the souls into their dead bodies.
The treatment of the dead known as embalming was carried on by the ancient Egyptians from apparently the remotest times. They believed in the transmigration of souls, and their return in three thousand years to the same body; hence the practice.1
Burying the dead body in Judaism
Furthermore, the Jews and Christians bury their dead in the grave but Christians bury the body with the coffin. The Jews have their own ideas on the subject of the burial-places which they call “House of Life.” The family vault and putting a body to rest on a shelf are forbidden in Judaism; they do not permit to put one coffin above another in the earth. The orthodox Jews believed that the actual process of decay is a punishment of sins committed during the lifetime. We are not therefore surprised to find secret efforts often made with a view to shortening this unhappy period. The earth was placed in the coffin, and holes bored in the wood to accelerate decomposition. Perhaps as a claim to special consideration the Jews sometimes made their coffins from the boards of a table at which the poor had been fed.2
The coffin is another example of the different methods of burial in Christianity; for example, they put their dead inside the sealed coffin of wood or metal and bury the body.
After we looked at the burial traditions in different religions and civilizations in a brief manner, now we will talk in a few lines about the way of burial in Islamic jurisprudence, to clarify the difference between them in this regard.
Burial of dead body in the Glorious Qur’an
In Islam, it is obligatory for the people to bury the dead body under the earth in the grave so that no wild animals can unearth it. The burial in Islam intends to save it from the natural floods and to protect the surrounding environment from the pollution of the integrated dead bodies. There is no dispute about this issue amongst Muslims.
And this is what the verse of the Glorious Qur’an denotes:
From the earth We created you, and into it We will return you, and from it We will extract you another time.(Taha 20:55)
The blessed verse denotes that the first human being, Prophet Adam (peace be upon him), and every person was created from the earth and every person has to return to it after his death when he is buried in his grave.
And the Glorious Qur’an says: Have We not made the earth a container of the living and the dead? (Al-Murslat 77:25-26)
The nature of the Arabic text in both verses alongside the context refers to the method of disposal of the dead body of human being and burial of the body of the deceased in grave. This is the opinion of the majority of commentators and interpreters of the Glorious Qur’an.
The burial of the dead is a famous and established matter in Islam so is the issue of burning the dead in Hinduism. However, the followers of the divine religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam have the tradition of burying the dead body since distant and immemorial times.
It is not permissible that one expresses his will to burn his body after his death, because burning the body in general is forbidden in Islam. Some scholars quoted in the context of the prohibition the Hadith reported by Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah and Ahmad on the authority of `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
Breaking the bone of a dead person is equal to breaking it whilst he is alive.
Furthermore, the body of a human being is sanctified in the Shari`ah, even though it may be that of a non-Muslim.(3)
Moreover, the Glorious Qur’an says:
From what substance did He create him? From a sperm-drop He created him and destined for him. Then He eased the way for him. Then He causes him to die, then assigns to him a grave. (`Abasa 80:18-21)
The apparent meaning of the last verse testifies the meaning of burial for human dead body.
Al-Tahir ibn `Ashur (may Allah have mercy on him) says in the commentary of this verse.
“This verse bears evidence that burying the dead body of human being is an obligatory duty, and not burning it with fire, as is the tradition of the infidels of India and not to throwing it to the lions or birds in open yards surrounded by walls without a roof as is the tradition of the Persian Magis and not to throwing it in the deserts as was the practice of the Arabs during the pre-Islamic days especially with the bodies of those fighters who were killed during the fight to show pride and arrogance.”4
Burying the human dead body in Islamic jurisprudence
The inherited and applied way of disposal of the human dead body is to bury it under the earth in the grave without any box or coffin. It is recommended in Islam to put the body in the grave touching the earth directly with only the grave-clothes.
There are two ways for digging the grave in Islam; the first is to dig a small cavity in the center of the grave only as wide and as long as to be enough to put the dead body in it. Then logs equal to the width of human hands are put in line until the dead body is covered and then the excavated dust of grave is poured upon it.
The second method is similar to the first except that a side excavation is dug in the wall of the grave in the direction of Ka`bah not in the centre of the grave as is done in the first method. In both methods, the logs become barrier between the dead body and the poured dust.5
It is noteworthy that the blessed and pure body of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was buried on the same way in the city of Madinah in Saudi Arabia. Also the bodies of other Prophets and Messengers were buried in graves around al-Aqsa Mosque in Palestine. In addition to that the bodies of the Prophet’s senior companions (may Allah be pleased with them) and the bodies of our ancestors, scholars, rulers pious figures were buried the same way.
The minimum depth of the grave must be equal to the chest of a man having the medium height but the deeper the grave would be the more meritorious and praiseworthy would be in the Islamic Shari`ah.6
Environmental significance of Islamic burial
It is noteworthy that putting bricks or stone instead of log is prohibited in Islam.
Both Islamic methods of burying the dead body are environmentally friendly, healthy and helpful for the disintegration of the body and converting it into the dust very soon.
Additionally, mud bricks and logs instead of stones or cooked bricks are better and meritorious and faster in disintegrating the body parts and limbs and turning them into the dust easily and in a short period of time.
The earth has a natural quality to absorb the elements of moisture, mold and stinking of the dead body turning them into the soil as well as ground insects, sunlight, etc. helps the earth on this procedure. In addition to other qualities, the earth has the value of purifying.
It is also clear that when Islamic method of burial is compared, it is cheaper, more honorable and friendlier with nature than any other method of disposing the dead body practiced in the world.
According to the Islamic belief, the body would be resurrected on the Day of Judgment for the accountability even if the body was burnt or cremated or if a person was swallowed by a big fish or was eaten by a lion. There is nothing impossible in the power of Allah the Almighty.
1- William Eassie, C.E. Cremation of the dead; its history and bearings upon public health, Smith Elder and company, 15 Waterloo Place 1875, p. 30.
2- Funeral Customs, Bertram S. Puckle, T.WERNER LAURIE LTD. 30 NEW BRIDGE STREET, EC 4 1926, p.209.
3- Ibn `Abidin, Radd-Almuhtar, Dar `Alam Al-Kutub, Ar-Riyadh, 2003, vol. 3rd, p. 156.
4- See: al-Tahir ibn `Ashur, At-Tanweer Wat-Tahweer, Ad-Dar At-Tunisiah, Tunis, 1984, vol. 30th, p. 125.
5- See: Burhan-uddin Abul-Hasan `Ali ibn Abu-Bakr Al-Marghinani, Al-Hidayah, Idarat Al-Qur’an Wal-`Ulum Al-Islamiyyah, Karachi, Pakistan, 1996, vol.2nd, p.151.)
6- See: Al-Fatawa Al-Hindiyyah, second edition, Al-Matba`ah Al-Amiriyyah, Bulaq, Egypt, 1892, vol.1st, p.166. This collection of Fataws was prepared by a group of Indian Muslim jurists and scholars in the reign of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (may Allah have mercy on him).)