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Burying a non-Muslim in a Muslim Cemetery and Vice Versa

By

Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

(October, 2004)


 

Question

 

Can a Muslim husband and his non-Muslim wife be buried next to each other in a Muslim cemetery?

 

Answer by Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

 

This is a special case of a more general question: Can a Muslim and a non-Muslim be buried in the same cemetery? The common view is that it is prohibited to bury a Muslim in a non-Muslim cemetery and vice versa except when it is unavoidable. However, this view is not duly supported by the word of God and the sunnah of his Messenger (salla allahalayhi wa sallam)[1].

 

To be sure, it is a very natural human sentiment that we should want to be buried with those who share our faith in the one true God and his beloved Messenger (salla allahalayhi wa sallam). Furthermore, there are many regulations or traditional practices in Islam for burial related to the type of grave, its simplicity, putting head in the direction of the Qiblah etc, which makes it desirable that Muslims have a separate burial area. It is therefore not surprising that whenever possible Muslims have buried their dead in cemeteries reserved exclusively for them.


But to declare something prohibited or haram we need clear evidence in the Qur`an and the Hadith and no such evidence exists.

 

The Qur`an contains no prohibition of burial of Muslims and non-Muslims together and the same is true of the books of Hadith. One hadith that has been quoted in this connection, e.g., by Ibn Hazm, is the following:

 

Sahl bin Bakkar related to us: Al-Aswad bin Shayban related to us from Khalid bin Sumayr al-Sadusi from Bashir bin Nahik from Bashir (bin al-Khasasiyah), mawla of the Messenger of God (salla allahalayhi wa sallam) – whose name in the time of jahiliyyah was Zahm bin Ma‘bad:

 

He migrated to the Messenger of God (salla allahalayhi wa sallam). He asked: What is your name? He replied: Zahm. He said: No, you are Bashir (henceforth). He said: When I was walking along with the Messenger of God (salla allahalayhi wa sallam) he passed by the graves of the Mushriks. He said three times: They preceded abundant good. Then he passed by the graves of the Muslims. He said: They got abundant good. The Messenger of God (salla allahalayhi wa sallam) suddenly saw a man walking in shoes between the graves. He said: O one with the shoes! Woe to you! Take off your shoes. So the man looked about and recognizing the Messenger of God (salla allahalayhi wa sallam), he took them off and threw them away. (Abu Da`ud 2811[2]; Nasa`i 2021, Ibn Majah 1557; Ahmad 19856, 20947[3])

 

This gharib[4] hadith does suggest that the graves of Muslims and non-Mushriks were separate. But note the following points:

 

First, scholars do not agree on the reliability of this hadith[5].

 

Second, the hadith can establish only that separation of burial places for Muslims and Mushriks is sunnah and not that it is fard, for there is no explicit command of the Prophet (salla allahalayhi wa sallam). It is interesting that the Prophet (salla allahalayhi wa sallam) explicitly commanded not to walk between the graves but the scholars generally have not accepted the prohibition of this action[6], whereas the Prophet (salla allahalayhi wa sallam) nowhere commands that the Muslim and non-Muslim cemeteries be separate and yet scholars have made such separation obligatory.

 

Third, the hadith talks only of the Mushriks and not of the People of the Book who have been distinguished in the Qur`an from the Mushriks.

 

Fourth, some other ahadith suggest individual graves rather than separate cemeteries[7].

 

We also find the following tradition:

Al-Bayhaqi reports from the Companion Wathilah bin al-Asqa‘ that he buried a Christian woman bearing the child of a Muslim in a cemetery that belonged to neither Muslims nor Christians. (Quoted from Fiqh al-Sunnah[8], Vol. I, p. 300)

Again, this tradition cannot establish obligation, since it may be the personal ijtihad of a single Companion[9] and the tradition is not brought forth by many muhaddithun.

Apart from the absence of any commandment of God and his Messenger (salla allahalayhi wa sallam), the reasons given by scholars for the obligation of separate burial of Muslims and non-Muslims are not strong. One reason given is that Muslims have their own way of burying the dead and preparing graves. But it is possible to respect these rules even if we bury a Muslim close to the grave of a non-Muslim. 

Another reason for obligatory separation of Muslim and non-Muslim burial spaces is mentioned in the following comment in Fiqh al-Sunnah on the tradition about Wathilah bin al-Asqa‘ mentioned earlier:

“Ahmad supports this opinion because he says that the [Christian] woman being a disbeliever, cannot be buried in a cemetery of Muslims, for they would suffer because of her punishment, nor can she be buried in a Christian cemetery because her fetus, which is a Muslim, would suffer by their punishment.

But in the Unseen world in which the reward and punishment of the dead takes place, time and space do not have our usual meaning. Suppose we have separate Muslim and non-Muslim cemeteries at a distance of 100 meters from each other. Would the punishment of the non-Muslims buried in their cemetery not affect the Muslims buried in theirs? If God can protect a Muslim from the effect of the punishment of the non-Muslims from a distance of 100 meters he can also protect them from a distance of 1 meter or half a meter or even a centimeter. Also, how do we know that long time ago the site of a separate Muslim cemetery was not the site of a non-Muslim cemetery?

 

Moreover, since Allah has clearly declared that apart from shirk every sin may be forgiven (4:116), there is the possibility that Jews and Christians who do not commit shirk -- for example, by taking the Prophet  Jesus (alayhi al-salam) as God or worshipping his mother Mary (alayha al-salam) -- and lead good lives may not be punished in their graves[10]. At the same time there is the possibility that a Muslim buried in a Muslim cemetery may have committed a serious sin, e.g. rejecting the Shari‘ah, for which he may be punished in his grave. This again shows the unsoundness of the argument that the punishment of the non-Muslims in their graves will disturb the peace of the Muslims buried near them.

 

The truth is that what happens to us in our graves or in the hereafter depends entirely on our beliefs and actions and not on who may be buried next to us.

 

Finally, God permits Muslims to marry those women of the People of the Book who do not commit shirk[11]. So if Muslim men are allowed to share beds and beget and raise children with these non-Muslim women, why should they be prohibited from being buried next to their husbands if they and their husbands so choose?

 

We conclude: it is understandable and desirable that as a rule Muslims have their separate cemeteries. But it is not haram to bury a non-Muslim in a Muslim cemetery (or vice versa). This is all the more true of a Jew or a Christian who worships the one true Lord and Sustainer of the Universe and does not commit shirk by deifying the Prophet Jesus or praying to his mother Mary (may salam be upon both of them).

 

It should be noted that the burial of non-Muslims in a Muslim cemetery should be done with the knowledge of the Muslims who buy graves there. For, otherwise, it may be a violation of the understanding with which they purchased graves in the cemetery.


And Allah knows best!

 



[1] The third source of Islamic rules is ijma‘. In this connection, we are guided by the views of those scholars who consider as binding only the ijma‘ established the time of the Companions in an explicit way and not, for example, by the silence of our sources binding. For the question at hand we have no evidence of such an ijma‘ among the Companions. It is not clear if and when an ijma‘ among the scholars developed. The first scholar to address the matter seems to be Imam al-Nawawi (d. 676) who says: “our companions are agreed that it is not permissible for a non-Muslim to be buried in a Muslim cemetery and vice versa.” But this statement is not a claim of ijma‘, since Imam al-Nawawi talks only of his companions.

 

[2] Numbering of ahadith is according to the Hadith Encyclopedia, Version 2.1, Harf Information Technology, 2000.

.

 

[3]  The two narrations in Musnad Ahmad (19856, 20947) mention only the part about the man walking with shoes between the graves. This raises some doubts as to the authenticity of the part about the graves of Muslims and Mushriks, which is crucial for the question at hand.

 

[4] A hadith is gharib if in some early generation it is narrated by only one known narrator. All narrations of the hadith under consideration in the Hadith Encyclopedia come form al-Aswad bin Shayban (d. 165) from Khalid bin Sumayr al-Sadusi from Bashir bin Nahik from Bashir bin al-Khasasiyah. This means that in each of the first four generations the knowledge of this hadith was limited to only one or a very few number of narrators, which clearly raises doubts about its authenticity.

 

[5] In Ta‘liqat the following comment by Ibn al-Qayyim is noted: “People have differed about these two ahadith (Abu Da`ud 2811 and 2812); a group has declared the hadith of Bashir (2811) weak.” See also notes 3 and 4 above.

 

[6] See the commentary in ‘Awn al-Ma‘bud on Abu Da`ud 2811 and 2812. The latter hadith reads:

 

Muhammad bin Sulayman al-Anbari related to us: ‘Abd al-Wahhab, that is, Ibn ‘Ata` related to us from Sa‘id from Qatadah from Anas from the Prophet (salla allahalayhi wa sallam) that he said:

 

When a servant (of Allah) is placed in his grave and his associates depart from him, he hears the stepping of their shoes. (Abu Da`ud 2812; Bukhari 1252, 1285, Muslim 5115, 5116, Nasa`i 2022, 2023, 2024; Ahmad 11823, 12964)

 

In this hadith -- much more widely accepted that the previous one, the wearing of shoes during walk between the graves seems to be accepted, although as noted in ‘Awn al-Ma‘bud, “hearing the stepping sounds of the shoes by the dead does not necessitate walk on a grave or between the graves and so there is no contradiction”.

 

[7] For example, Ibn Majah (1562): “Whenever the Prophet (salla allahalayhi wa sallam) passed by the grave of a Mushrik he gave him the news of Fire.” This suggests individual graves and not cemeteries.

 

 

[8] Al-Sayyid Sabiq, Fiqh al-Sunnah, Bayrut (Dar al-Jil) and al-Qahirah (al-Fath li al-A‘lam al-‘Arabi), 1995.

 

[9] Scholars do not consider the view of a single or small number of Companions as binding. For example, according to the view of ‘Umar bin al-Khattab, pregnancy can be a proof of adultery, but this is rejected by a vast majority of scholars.

 

[10] Their rejection of the prophet-hood of Muhammad (may Allah bless and honor him evermore) in this case becomes a forgivable sin, especially if this rejection is not based on obstinacy but on an honest misjudgment.

 

[11] It is another common misunderstanding that Muslim men can marry Christian women without any regard to their beliefs. But the Qur`an in the clearest terms:

 

a) prohibits marriage with mushrik women (2:221);

b) describes those Christians who believe in the Trinity of God and the divinity of Jesus as Mushriks (5:72-73);

c) says that paradise is prohibited for such Christians (5:72).

 

 From this it should be clear that marriage with Christians who take Jesus as God is haram in Islam.

 

 


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