Funeral Rites for Muslims who have died of Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19

Respected ‘Ulamā/’Alimaat,

Please see the COVID-19 CCMT Advisory Committee statement regarding Funeral Rites for Muslims who have died of Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19 below. You can also access the PDF here.

17 April, 2020 – 23 Sha’ban, 1441
“It is indeed true that We have granted honor to the children of Adam and We carried him on land and sea, provided him with pure sustenance, and granted him great superiority over many of Our creation.” [Qur’an 17:70]
In the Islamic faith and many other religions, death is not the end of life, but a transition point between the mortal world and the everlasting abode. The Islamic faith upholds the God-given honor to the human body even beyond this point of transition. It is for this reason; the Islamic faith requires that the body of the deceased be held in great respect with gentleness and care. Any form of abuse is forbidden. The post-death rituals have been established in Islam to maintain this God-given dignity. In addition, the departing soul is conscious of how the physical body is treated and prepared for burial.

Numerous masjids and Islamic centers that offer funeral services are now facing an unprecedented challenge: how to implement the Islamic post-death rituals for a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 death.  
The Jami’yyatul Ulama (CCMT) recognizes that the situations surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic are fluid. In this context, the following are a set of Fiqh guidelines that can be adhered to by the funeral directors and their masjids.
Please note that these guidelines are based on the works of world-renowned Islamic jurists, consultations with expert Muslim doctors and infectious disease specialists, public health advice, and World Health Organization guidelines stated before Wednesday, April 8, 2020.
Due to the continually changing circumstances this is an evolving document.

The COVID-19 CCMT Advisory Committee states the following:
The post-death rituals consist of bathing (ghusl), shrouding (kafn), funeral prayer (Salat al-Janazah) and Burial (dafn).

Masjid funeral directors should have a team of Muslim volunteers that are trained to apply standard precautions including PPE[1] when handling a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 death.  The handling of the body commences from pick-up to burial. Throughout this period, only trained personnel are to be involved.

Bathing (Ghusl)
Bathing the deceased is a mark of honor for the deceased and their Islamic right. This is a communal obligation (fardh ‘ala al-kifayah). If a few members from the Muslim community discharge this obligation, then the Muslim community will be absolved. If they fail to uphold this responsibility, all will be accountable in the court of Allah. As long as there is no legal prohibition against bathing the deceased, Muslims are obliged to fulfill this final right of the deceased. To date, there is no evidence of persons having become infected from exposure to the bodies of persons who died from COVID-19,[2] but the safety of all volunteers is paramount. A bare minimum number of trained individuals should be involved in the bathing of the deceased, and they must all be using appropriate PPE.[3] If the standard Sunnah method cannot be adopted, then pouring water over the body once is sufficient. Under the directive of medical professionals, no shower head or water spraying apparatus should be used in washing or pouring water over the body. Water should be manually poured using a utensil.
Every attempt should be made to purchase and keep sufficient numbers of PPE to maintain the highest level of hygiene in the bathing area and to minimize risks.

Tayammum
If ghusl is not possible due to a valid reason such as the appropriate PPE not being available, or the lack of adequate facilities, tayammum should be performed on the face and arm (hand to elbow) of the deceased using gloves. The glove that has touched the soil or dust must touch the skin of the deceased. Where necessary, tayammum can also be performed by the opposite gender. However, if they are non-mahram, gloves or cloth must be used to avoid direct skin contact.
We understand that many health institutions are using body bags, although it is not a legal requirement. It is therefore strongly advised, where it is known that ghusl is not possible, or it is uncertain, to undertake tayammum immediately after death or before the body is sealed in the body bag. Following this, if ghusl becomes possible, ghusl should also be done.
No Ghusl or Tayammum
If ghusl or tayammum is not possible and the body is sealed in the body bag, Salat al-Janazah will be performed, and the body will be buried without ghusl or tayammum.
In this scenario, water will not be poured over the body bag, nor will tayammum or masah be done over the body bag. This is because the substitute for ghusl is tayammum. If tayammum directly on the body is not possible, there is no further substitute for this. We have not come across any basis for pouring water or performing tayammum or masah over the body bag because it does not reach the actual body. Further, the body bag is totally separate from the body. The texts of jurists indicate that ghusl and tayammum on the deceased are only valid if it reaches the body. Therefore, if ghusl or tayammum is not possible directly on the body, the body will be buried without any further action on the body bag.

Shrouding (Kafn)
After bathing the deceased, All Muslims, regardless of socio-economic status, are shrouded in clean, new, white cloth. If ghusl is taking place or the body bag is not used, the deceased will be shrouded in the usual way.
If ghusl is not taking place, it is our understanding that the deceased has some form of clothing or body shroud when inserted into a body bag. Therefore, if the body bag is not transparent or translucent (semi-transparent), it is not necessary to apply any further shroud. It is, however, recommended to cover the entire bag with one piece of white cloth, because white is Sunnah for the shroud. If the body bag is translucent, then this would be necessary.
Some health institutions may be covering the whole body of the deceased with a white cloth before inserting into the body bag. This is in addition to the clothes the deceased is wearing. In this scenario, there is no need to cover the body bag with a further white shroud.

Funeral Prayer (Salat al-Janazah)
The funeral prayer is also a communal obligation. During this prayer, the attendees seek forgiveness and mercy from Allah for the deceased. This obligation can be discharged with two people, and it can be done in the cemetery prior to lowering the body into the grave.

Burial (Dafn)
In Islam, burning any creature living or dead is prohibited. Cremation is strictly forbidden in all circumstances and a major sin. It is a common myth that persons who have died of a communicable disease should be cremated, but this is not true. Cremation is a matter of cultural choice and available resources.[4]  The Islamic practice is to bury the deceased in the earth respectfully.  

Appendix 1
PPE for handling of dead bodies in the context of COVID-19

  1. Hand hygiene before and after
  2. Disposable gloves
  3. Respirator N-95 or similar
  4. Long-sleeve gown
  5. Face shield
  6. Rubber gloves
  7. Apron

Further Reading

  1. Burial of Covid-19 bodies and Ghusl by Yusuf Shabbir 7 Shaʿbān 1441 / 1 April 2020
    Approved by: Mufti Shabbir Ahmad and Mufti Muhammad Tahir. It can be viewed in its entirety here: https://islamicportal.co.uk/burial-of-covid-19-bodies-and-ghusl/
  2. Infection Prevention and Control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19 – WHO Publication. Can be accessed here: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/331538/WHO-COVID-19-lPC_DBMgmt-2020.1-eng.pdf

[1] See Appendix 1
[2] WHO/2019-nCoV/lPC_DBMgmt/2020.1
[3] See Appendix 1
[4] WHO/2019-nCoV/lPC_DBMgmt/2020.1

2020-04-17T18:12:24+00:00