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Women and Janazahs

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This a transcript of a Jumuah khutbah delivered by Imam Rashied Omar of the Claremont Main Road Mosque on women and janazahs. 

You are obsessed by greed
and compete with each other for worldly
Until you visit the graves
(Surah Takathur, Chapter 102, Verses 1 and 2)

During the blessed month of Ramadan, janazahs or funerals are generally better
attended than at other times, because the sa’imun (the fasting worshippers)
are more conscious of death and the life hereafter, and many remember their
deceased love ones more intensely through supplications (du`a) and charity
(sadaqah). Furthermore, Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim record a famous
hadith (prophetic tradition) narrated by the companion Abu Hurayrah in which
the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be
upon him) is reported to have said:

When the month of Ramadan begins, the gates
of paradise are opened, the gates of hellfire are
locked and the devils are shackled
(Bukhari and Muslim)

The precise import and meaning of this hadith has intrigued scholars of
every age. Some scholars have deduced from this hadith that the Grace of
Almighty Allah will safeguard the one, who passes away in the sacred month
of Ramadan, and s/he will be granted salvation in the life hereafter (fatawa
mahmudiyyah 1/630). This view is illuminated by a complementary hadith
recorded by Imam Ahmad narrated by the companion Abu Hadhayfah in
which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said:

Whoever fasts a day seeking the pleasure of
Allah and happens to pass away in that state
will enter paradise (Musnad of Ahmad)

May Allah, the Creator of Death and Life, pardon all of those who pass on
during this blessed month of Ramadan, have mercy on their souls and grant
them repose and salvation in the life hereafter. Allahumma Amin.

Context of Khutbah Topic
On Thursday 29 March 2018, one month before I returned home from
my annual four-month teaching stint in the United States of America, a
dear friend and well-known anti-apartheid activist, Faiza Desai, passed
away after her arduous struggle with cancer. At her janazah (funeral) her
daughter, sister, nieces and a few other women not only attended the
masjid for the funeral prayers, but also accompanied the funeral procession
to the maqbarah (graveyard where she was placed to rest). This was an
extraordinary occurrence in our local Cape Muslim culture and generated
lots of debates about its permissibility both on social media and in e-mail
queries to me.

Coincidentally, just a few days before Faiza Desai’s passing I was
confronted with exactly the same question (mas’alah) from members of
our congregation, after a janazah course hosted by the Claremont Main
Road Masjid (CMRM) in March 2018 for women. At the CMRM janazah
course, it was suggested that it is not permissible for women to be present
at the graveyard during the janazah proceedings, although they could go
the next day.

On both occasions, which happened shortly after each other, I restrained
myself from offering my viewpoint on the issue since I wanted to take the
time to research this matter more thoroughly and offer a more substantive
legal (fiqh) opinion on the matter. I would like to take this opportunity to
answer three interrelated questions:
1. Why are most women in Cape Town not performing salat al-janaza
(ritual funeral prayers) when their beloved parents, spouses, children,
siblings, relatives, close friends or neighbours pass on?
2. Is it permissible (ja’iz) for women to accompany the funeral procession?
3. And last but not least, is it permissible (ja’iz) for women to visit

Women Praying Salat al-Janazah (Ritual Funeral Prayers)
It may be that some people erroneously believe that women are not allowed
to perform salat al-janazah. However, there is absolute consensus (ijma`)
among Muslim scholars that it is permissible (ja’iz) for women to perform
the ritual funeral prayers on the deceased.

In fact, according to sound and authentic Islamic texts it is one of the
best ways of expressing our love and compassion to a deceased loved
one. There are many prophetic traditions (ahadith) which underscore this
position. For instance, we read in Isma`il Ibn Kathir’s (d.1373) famous book
al-Bidayah wa an-Nihayah that the salat al-janazah was held for the
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) inside the home of `A’ishah, his beloved wife.
It was there that the Prophet (pbuh) breathed his last, and it was there that
he was buried. The funeral procedure was described in a report by the
companion `Abdullah Ibn `Abbas as follows:

When the body of the Prophet (pbuh) was
prepared for burial by bathing and shrouding,
it was placed on a bed. (Since the room was
too small to accommodate the throngs of
people, they entered in small groups): First
groups of men entered and performed the
Funeral Prayer; they were followed by groups
of women who likewise prayed; then children
entered and prayed (Sunan Ibn Majah)

The above report of Ibn `Abbas has also been confirmed by similar reports
from other Companions of the Prophet. These reports make it abundantly
clear that women did participate in the funeral of the Prophet (pbuh) along
with men and this was the practice during his lifetime.

Moreover, there are a number of additional authentic reports that ‘A’ishah
and other wives of the Prophet (pbuh) performed the salat al-janazah on
the bier of Sa`ad ibn Abi Waqqas. In a narration of Imam Muslim, Abbad b.
‘Abdullah ibn Zubair reported on the authority of ‘A’isha that when Sa’d b.
Abu Waqqas died, the wives of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) sent message
to bring his bier into the masjid so that they should offer salat al-janazah for

They (the participants of the funeral) did accordingly, and it was placed
in front of their apartments and they offered prayer for him. It was brought
out of the door known as bab al-jana’iz. Subsequently the news reached the
wives of the Prophet that the people bad criticised this (i. e. offering of funeral
prayer in the masjid) saying that it was not desirable to take the bier inside
the masjid. This was conveyed to ‘A’isha. She responded by saying: How
hastily the people criticise that about which they know little. They criticise us
for carrying the bier in the masjid. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) offered the
funeral prayer of Suhail b. Baida’ in the innermost part of the masjid

Given this unequivocal and strong evidence that it is clearly permissible for
women to perform salat al-janazah. The question arises why don’t they
perform it? And why are they not encouraged to do so? It is palpable
that what is preventing women from doing so, are patriarchal local cultural
traditions which are inconsistent with the authentic teachings of Islam.
Many women have internalized this cultural patriarchy and therefore engage
in feasting and social activities at funerals while the men folk perform the
solemn acts of salat al-janaza and the burial.

Women Participation in the Funeral Procession
The majority of Muslim jurists hold that it is not haram (prohibited) but makruh
(disliked) for women to participate in the funeral procession. The evidence for
their position is based on a few conflicting ahadith reports. These disparate
ahadith evidences have led to divergent positions among the various
schools of Islamic law. The Hanafi School takes the most severe position and
regards women following funeral processions as makruh tahrimi i.e. strongly
disapproved. In contradistinction, the renowned Shafi’i scholar and hadith
expert, Imam al-Nawawi, argues that women following funeral processions
is mildly disliked (makruh tanzihi), and that it is not something important
that should be forbidden. Even more affirming, Imam Malik believes that it is
lawful for women, especially elderly women, to join the funeral procession.

This was also the opinion of Ahl Al Madina (inhabitants of Al Medina in the
era of Malik). The evidence for the lawfulness is the hadith narrated by Ibn
Abu Shaibah from Abu Huraira that “the Prophet was attending a funeral
when `Umar saw a woman and shouted at her. The Prophet (pbuh) told
him to leave her ….” [Ibn Majah and Al Nasa’i]. Because of the contested
nature of the evidences some classical scholars such as Abdurrahman alAwza`i
(d.774) and Ishaq ibn Rahwah (d.853) assumed that it is permissible
for women to participate in the funeral procession and thus argued that if
women are present then the men should walk in front of the bier to allow
women to walk behind the bier. (al-Mawsu`at al-Fiqhiyya Jana-iz, Volume
17, pps. 13-15, Kuwait Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs).
Last but not least, Muhammad ibn Hazm (d.1064) one of the leading
scholars of the Zahiri law school (madh-hab), contends that it is permissible
for women to accompany funeral processions. He argues as follows:

We do not disprove of women attending a funeral procession,
nor do we prevent them from doing so. The hadith traditions
reported on this subject which disapprove of women attending
funeral processions are not authentic. They are either mursal
i.e. not reported by a companion of the Prophet or majhul
(unknown narrators) and cannot be presented as an argument.

The famous late eighteenth and early nineteenth century hadith expert
(muhaddith) Muhammad al-Shawkani (d.1834), usefully reconciles
the disparate prophetic traditions as follows. After citing the renowned
Qur’anic commentator and legal expert Abu `Abdullah al-Qurtubi (d.1273)
who argued as follows:

If one can be assured that the woman’s following of a funeral
bier will not result in the loss of the husband’s rights, or the
indecent exposure of the woman in public, and undue wailing,
then there is no impediment to permit a woman to do so.
Shawkani then goes on to present in his own view and says the following:

“This statement by Qurtubi ought to be the standard position since it
reconciles between the conflicting ahadith. (Fiqh al-Sunnah, Funerals and
Dhikr, As-Sayyid Sabiq)

Women and Visiting the Graveyard (Maqbarah)
Here again there is no consensus (ijma`) among Muslim scholars, with
the majority, especially the Maliki law school, holding the view that it is
permissible for women to visit graveyards if they observe Islamic etiquette
(al-Fiqh `ala Madhahib al-`Arba`ah, Shaykh `Abdurrahman al-Juzayri).
An inspirational and empowering hadith recorded in the collection of Imam
Tirmidhi informs us that the beloved wife of the Prophet, ‘A’ishah said that
the Prophet (pbuh) not only gave her permission to visit graves but he
taught her exactly how to do so and what to recite at the maqbrah. When
`A’isha visited Makkah from Madinah, she asked, “Where is the grave
of my brother?” Then she went to the grave and prayed for her brother
`Abdurrahman ibn Abubakr, a month after his death. When `Abd Allah ibn
Mulayka saw `A’isha visiting the grave of her brother he said to her: “Did not the Prophet (pbuh) forbid this [visitation of graves]?” She replied: “Yes, he had forbidden it. Then he ordered to visit them.” (reported by Al-Hakim and Al-Bayhaqi) Ibn `Abd al-Barr mentions that Imam Ahmad adduces this
report as proof that women are permitted to visit the graves.

In another prophetic tradition Anas reported that: “The Prophet (pbuh) saw
a woman crying by the grave of her son, and said to her, ‘Fear Allah, and
be patient.’ She replied, ‘What do you care about my tragedy?’ When he
went away, someone told her, ‘Indeed, that was the Messenger of Allah
(pbuh).’ The woman felt extremely sorry and she immediately went to the
Prophet’s house, where she did not find any guards. She called out: ‘O
Messenger of Allah! I did not recognize you.’ The Prophet (pbuh) said,
‘Verily patience is needed at the time of the first affliction’.’’ (Bukhari and
Muslim) This supports the argument in favor of the permissibility of women
visiting graves, for the Prophet, peace be upon him, saw her at the grave
and did not show his disapproval of it.

On the basis of the evidence, renowned classical hadith specialists such
as Al-Bayhaqi, Ibn Hajar and al-Nawawi, conclude that it is permitted for
women to visit maqbarahs or graveyards as long as the proper Islamic
eitiquette is observed.

In light of the foregoing legal opinion on the question of women’s participation
in janazahs, I would like to conclude with some concrete advice as to how
we may change and transform a culture of exclusion.

First, it is critical to recognize that because it is a cultural challenge, not a
fiqh (Islamic legal) restriction and impediment, it will require deliberate, but
gradual interventions.

Second, there is a great need for education of both women as well as
men about the diversity of legal opinions among the different legal schools
(madhahib) on the question of women’s participation in the janazah
and how expert scholars of hadith have reconciled conflicting prophetic
traditions on the topic.

Third, we should be robust in encouraging women to perform salat aljanazah
since this is not something which is controversial in the shari`ah.
Women could be encouraged to perform the funeral prayers either at home
or at the masjid and ensure that there are facilities for women to do so.

Fourth, since it is not haram (prohibited) for women to follow the funeral
procession or attend the maqbarah for the burial, it is the prerogative of the
family of the deceased if they are so inclined, to encourage women in the
family to both participate in the funeral procession as well as to attend the
burial at the graveside. Those who feel less inclined to this fiqhi position
have a choice not to join the funeral procession or attend the graveside for
the burial if women are present. If, however, they decide to attend while
women are present they should respect the prerogative of the family who
have made the decision, and not intervene or spread controversy (fitnah).

Last but not least, those of us who advocate for greater women’s
participation in janazahs should do so with the prophetic methodology
of tadrij (gradualism), great patience (sabr) and respect for family and
community members who may not yet be ready to embrace this cultural
change (adab-al-ikhtilaf). We should maintain such a dignified position
even in the face of great intolerance and intimidation by those who wish to
impose their views on us, despite knowing that there is no ijma`consensus
among Muslim scholars on this issue.

In conclusion, according to the teachings of Islam it is a social obligation
(fard kifaya) to show our last respects to deceased human beings by
participating in their funeral proceedings, even if the deceased individual was
not an acquaintance. Moreover, in order to encourage greater participation
in funeral rites the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught that the one who
attends the funeral rites until after the deceased is buried will have a greater
reward than the one who only performs the funeral prayers (Bukhari and
Muslim). Islam, furthermore, teaches that our participation in funeral rites is
not only a means of displaying our last respects to the deceased but is also
an opportunity to remind ourselves of our own mortality, thus encouraging
virtuous living. Such teachings are certainly not limited to men, since the
latter are by no means in more need of this reminder than women.

An instructive Qur’anic verse which clearly establishes the full equality and
dignity that Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, wills for both females
and males is verse 35 of Surah al-Ahzab, chapter 33. This verse is the lens
and hermeneutical key through which all other verses pertaining to gender
relations in the Qur’an should be interpreted. The verse affirms that there is no
place or context that we should tolerate where women should be made to feel
lesser human beings, or where the dignity of women is violated or undermined,
or where women are marginalised and excluded because of their gender.

Let us pray that this Ramadan will be the beginning of renewed commitment
to the gender jihad – i.e. the struggle for equal dignity and inclusion of men
and women, not only in fully participating in funeral rites but in every sphere
of our religious and social lives. May Allah grant all those of our deceased
loved ones and friends salvation in the hereafter.

O Allah, pardon them, have mercy on their souls and grant them
paradise. Allahumma Amin.

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  1. Shukran Jazeelan for this thorough explanation, especially with the lack on online information regarding women attending the funeral procession to the maqbarah, and more so from local South African sources. May Allah reward you and allow you to continue the platform of serving our communities insha-Allah Ameen.

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