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Can Women Visit Graves and Offer Funeral Prayers?

Shaikh Bin Baz, a noted Islamic scholar, justified the practice of forbidding Muslim women from visiting graves or accompanying the funeral procession in the following words. "Because they (women) may present a temptation to men and even to themselves, and because they have little patience and get too upset. So by His mercy and kindness towards them, Allah forbade them to visit graves. It is also a form of kindness towards the men because if they were all to gather at the grave, this might cause fitnah. So by His mercy, Allah forbade women to visit graves."

In simple words, women are a source of temptation, and they lack patience; thus, they should not visit cemeteries or come near graves. Nor should they accompany the funeral procession. Are women temptations? and do they lack patience? Does Allah say so? Did the Prophet believe in this? Or is this the way patriarchal societies have always found?

If women are a source of temptation, so are men. So why specify women only. If women can be impatient, so can be men, why point out to women only. Both have proven through human history that they are capable of committing errors. The Qur'an says that humans have a tendency either to fall prey to evil or to practice goodness. It further explains that those who accept divine guidance, be men or women, follow the path of virtue, and prevent evil taking place in any aspect of their life. Was not the purpose of faith to educate people correctly in their behavioral issues and treat each other with respect and dignity? Was not the purpose of faith to empower men and women to regulate their energy for higher objectives of life positively? Is the goal of religion only to preserve the faith of men to ensure that they remain uncontaminated with everything that may prompt them to deviate from their path? Should others always be quarantined? If this is the case, then why limit this analysis to graveyards only?

In a world where homosexuality is fast becoming a norm and prevalent in all societies, including those that claim to be Muslims, the temptation may come from men for men or women for women. The only thing that would prevent such an attraction is the recognition that the priority has to be given to divine guidance rather than to one's desires. So why not prevent men from visiting the graves or have male-only gatherings? Why not prevent men from gathering for prayers in a male-only mosque? Why not stop all the female-only meetings under the pretext that their presence may tempt other women? Why not stop sending girls to all-girls' institutions?.

Such an argument does not hold any strength, no matter who makes it. If people are empowered to control their behavior, they can overcome any adversarial situation.

It is an absurd argument that has been imposed on Allah and His messenger by scholars who view everything through the Freudian lances where everything revolves around sex and sexual desires of men. This analysis defeats the very purpose of religion as it is a perversion. It merely says that men would never change as they would always follow their sexual desires if they find them close to a woman. Men constantly live close to women. Mothers, sisters, daughters, yet everyone treats these relations as sacred. If men can respect these relations within the confines of a family, they can extend the same to others under the guidance of their faith.

Such an argument belittles human beings and their capacity to overcome their weaknesses. It repeats the age-old adage that has shaped the thinking of most men in our human history that women are seductresses or a source of evil or the daughters of Shaitan (devil), an idea that the faith came to demolish.

Blaming women for disrupting the iman of men goes against the instructions of the Qur'an. The Qur'an categorically explains the following in its 33rd Chapter: "There are no differences between men and women; except in certain biological conditions. In a society governed by Islamic ethics, both men and women should possess the following potentials and qualities:

1. They should submit to the Divine Laws;

2. This obedience should exhibit complete conviction in them;

3. They should utilize their developed potentialities according to Divine guidance;

4. They should be faithful to the covenant which they have made with Allah ;

5. They should be steadfast when facing adversities, troubles or difficulties ;

6. They should be prompt in rendering services to humanity

7. They should be ready to sacrifice all their assets for the sake of the Divine Order;

8. They should abstain themselves from all that the Divine Laws prohibit them from doing;

9. They should guard their purity adequately;

10. In short, throughout their lives, they should act upon the Divine Laws at every step.

11. People with this behavior should avoid all deviations, and both will get their rewards from the divine. (Qur'an, 33:35)

Such a behavior ought is essential in all aspects of life and every sector of society. It should be practiced at home, in cemeteries, at the grocery store, or graves.

The argument that temptation is the main reason for women's exclusion from visiting the gravesite is not logical. If temptation is the main reason for isolation, then this should be in every aspect of life, in grocery stores, in mosques, in public gatherings, in wedding and social groups, on planes, in trains and buses. The same scholars who advocate such seclusion do not get upset when women serve them food or beverages in hotels or airplanes or even in their homes where some work as their maids.

Women have proved a higher level of patience in almost all situations. Right from giving birth to a child to accepting all adversarial conditions confidently, their patience is well established and evident. It's a woman who decides to leave her relatives and family to live with a total stranger in marital relations. She suffers without compromising her dignity. And she is the one who accepts the challenge of raising the future generation of Islam through her dedication by nurturing and taking care of her children patiently.

The Prophet praised a female companion for showing exemplary behavior upon the death of her son. The Prophet said: "Narrated by Anas bin Mãlik: One of the sons of Abu Talha (became sick and) died and Abu Talha was not at home. When his wife saw that he was dead, she prepared him (washed and shrouded) and placed him somewhere in the house. When Abu Talha came, he asked, "How is the boy?" She said, "The child is quiet, and I hope he is at peace." Abu Talha thought that she had spoken the truth. Abu Talha passed the night and, in the morning, took a bath, and when he intended to go out, she told him that his son was dead. Abu Talha offered the (morning) salãt (prayer) with the Prophet and informed him of what had happened to them. Allah's messenger said, "May Allah bless you both concerning your night." (That is, may Allah bless you with good offspring). A man from the Ansãr said, 'They (i.e., Abu Talha and his wife) had nine sons, and all of them became reciters of the Qur'an (by heart)."

It was the patience of a woman that brought such endless blessings to the entire family and the community. Yet the scholars claim that she does not have the strength to endure suffering. Thus blaming a woman for lack of patience is also an absurd idea.

Omar, the second Caliph, showed an emotional outburst at the death of the dearest one, as recorded in our books of ahadith. He refused to accept the news of the demise of the Prophet. Omar was ready to fight everyone who had held this belief. Thus we read: "When Omar ibn al Khattab (r) heard that the Prophet had passed away, he was so distraught that he drew his sword and declared: 'Some hypocrites are pretending that the Prophet of God - may God's peace and blessing be upon him — has died. By God, I swear that he did not die; that he has gone to join his Lord, just as other Prophets went before. Moses was absent from his people for forty nights and returned to them after they had declared him dead. By God, the Prophet of God will return just as Moses returned. Any man who dares perpetrate a false rumor such as Muhammad's death shall have his arms and legs cut off by this hand." People listened to Omar (r), too stupefied to believe that the man who had transformed Arabia from the backwaters of history to the forefront of the historical process, was dead. The situation was grave, indeed. It was only after the speech of Abu Bakr that he calmed down.

Sometimes a few other arguments are also presented to justify the prohibition for women.

  1. The dead can see the visitors naked in the cemetery. In this case, no one should visit the graveyard because seeing a naked person, whether male or female, violates Islam's principles. Robots should do the burial with no human intervention. If the dead can see everyone naked, why should we bury men and women in the same graveyard, sometimes next to each other?

  2. Jinn or ghosts can possess women, especially if they visit the site during their menstrual cycle. These are the beliefs of the pagans, and there is no theological proof for that belief.

The narrations that many scholars quote in support of their self-designed prohibition for women are cultural and not theological. Some of them are weak, others unauthentic. The authenticity should come from their reference to the Quran, common sense, and logic.

The narrations attributed to the Prophet refer to a particular historical reality. Islam initially came to a tribal society where everyone believed in contradicting esoteric ideas. People followed polytheism and practiced culture built on idol worship and class distinctions. They had cultural and tribal customs that often defied common sense and logic. For instance, it was a common practice on the part of the elite to hire women to wail and mourn for their dead. They paid omen to beat their chests, slap their faces, unfurl their hair, and lay down over the grave to make their mourning visible. The tribal society encouraged women to wail and cry over the graves of those known to them or their families. Umm Attiya asked specific permission from the Prophet to reciprocate the wailing and crying over the death, (whenever it takes place) in the family of her friends who had wailed and grieved at the demise of her family member. The Prophet granted her permission.

Umm' Atiyyah said: "When the verse: ...pledge, that they will not associate anything in worship with Allah", "...and that they will not disobey you in Ma'râf was revealed, that included (refraining from) wailing. I said: 'O Messenger of Allah, except for the family of so-and-so, they used to help me (in wailing) during the Jâhiliiah (pre-Islamic period) so I have to help them now. The Messenger of Allah said: 'except for the family of so-and-so." (A/-Muwatta)

The Prophet was concerned with reforming a society that had no respect for genuine feelings at the time of death. He wanted to abolish the practice of hiring people to shed artificial tears over death and wanted to eliminate the practice of wailing and crying to show off. He was not opposed to the idea of mourning the dead.

He cried over the death of his daughters and son. He said at the demise of his son, And Ibn' Umar reported, "The Prophet said, 'The eyes shed tears, and the heart grieves."

At his death, men and women cried, and none of his companions and wives prevented them from doing so. The Prophet himself cried at the grave of his mother in the company of his wives and other women. They witnessed the Prophet visiting the graves with his wives and other women and crying there. Inspired by the Prophet, Syeda Ayesha visited the grave of her brother. When someone told her that the Prophet forbade that, she responded that the prohibition was temporary as the Prophet allowed women to visit the grave later.

Abdullãh bin Al Mulaikah said: "Abdur-Rahmãn bin Abu Bakr died in Al-Hubshi "111 He said: "He was carried to Makkah and buried there. So when 'Aishah arrived, she went to the grave of 'Abdur- Rahman bin Abi Bakr and she said: "We were like two drinking companions of Jadhimah for such a long time that they would say: 'They will never part.'

Then she said: "By Allah! Had I been present, I would have ensured that your burial is at the place where you died, and if I had attended (the burial), I would not be visiting you." In other words, the mothers of the believers acknowledged that women were allowed to visit the graves.

Abu Hurairah says, "Indeed the Messenger of Allah cursed the women who visit the graves." One should not ignore the tribal context when analyzing this narration. It is not a general rule as the Prophet is referring to those who were crossing the limits set by the faith. Some of the people of knowledge thought that this was before the Prophet permitted visiting the graves. Then when he allowed it, both men and women were included with the permission.

The purpose of visiting the graves is to understand the finite nature of this life and this world and to prepare oneself to face Allah.

Syeda Ayesha and other wives of the Prophet spent their lives staying closer to his grave. The Prophet's grave is in the quarter of Syeda Aisha, and there is no record to suggest that she moved out of her quarter.

We read in several ahadith that Syeda Ayesha was present during the burial of the Prophet. She and other wives sprinkled the dust on the grave, recited the Qur'an in the vicinity of the grave, and offered prayers near the grave.

The mother of the believer said that had we known what we know now, the Prophet's wives would have given him a funeral bath. "'Aishah used to say: 'If I had known beforehand what I know now, no one but his wives would have washed him." (Abu Dawood) It clarifies the misconception that a wife cannot see the face of her husband after his death.

One of the wives of Syed Hasan Ibn Ali pitched a tent at his gravesite as reported in the Bukhari "When Al-Hasan bin A]-Hasan bin 'Ali expired, his wife pitched a tent on his grave, and it remained there for one year."

Crying for the dead was not prohibited. What was forbidden was excessive mourning crossing all limits and putting up a show.

One of the hadith recorded in Sahih Bukhari says, "Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullãh: When my father martyred, I lifted the sheet from his face and wept, and the people forbade me to do so, but the Prophet did not forbid me. Then my aunt Fatima began weeping, and the Prophet said, "It is all the same whether you weep or not. The angels were shading him continuously with their wings till you shifted him (from the field)." The incident took place in a graveyard where women were present, and the Prophet was there.

The Prophet did not prevent women from visiting the graves, as is evident from this hadith. "Narrated by Anas bin Malik reported that the Prophet passed by a woman sitting and weeping beside a grave. He did not ask her to leave gravesite. He did not rebuke her. He did not curse her. Rather, he advised her and told her, 'Fear Allah and be patient.' "(Sahih Bukhari).

Umm' Atiya says that the Prophet discouraged us from accompanying the funeral procession but not strictly. Umm Atiya is talking about a funeral procession and not about visiting the gravesites or graves.

Some scholars quote a hadith that says that the graves' punishment increases for those whose relatives weep and wail after his or her death. The companions of the Prophet challenged its authenticity. Syeda Ayesha said as reported in Bukhari by Ibn' Abbãs, who said, "When 'Umar died, I told that to 'Ayesha, and she said, 'May Allah be Merciful to 'Umar. By Allah, Allah's Messenger did not say. "The Qur'an is sufficient for you (to clear up this point as Allah has stated: '...No bearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another...'" (6:164)

Allah and the Prophet did not prevent women initially because they were weak or impatient or source of temptation. Reform the society and the practices that had turned death into a display of pomp and status was the reason. How can the decision be based on gender when the Prophet in several ahadith emphasized the importance of visiting graves and following funeral processions? Those who say that the Prophet meant to imply that only men would receive the rewards for visiting graves are adding their interpretations influenced by a patriarchal system where everything revolved around the interests of men. Sulaiman bin Buraidah narrated from his father that the Messenger of Allah said: "I had prohibited you from visiting the graves. But Prophet Muhammad was permitted to visit the grave of his mother: so visit them, for they will remind you of the Hereafter." (Tirmidhi)

What is prohibited is very clear. Neither men nor women should use the occasion to exhibit their physical features to attract others. In our times' people do not do that. People should dress appropriately. In our time in funerals, men and women are dress properly. Their behavior is per the ethics of Islam. The burials, in general, show commitment by people to Islamic ethics. They lower their gaze. They remember their death and use the occasion to remind themselves that they would return to the same place on the shoulders of someone else one day. There is no restriction on men and women visiting the graves provided they abide by the code of Islamic dress and conduct, as can be deduced from the above narrations that give blanket permission to Muslims to visit the graves. However, if men or women violate Islamic morals, make loud lamentations, and prostrate themselves before the graves, they cross the limitations.

The practice of denying visitation rights to women is prevalent in South Asia and many Arab countries. Depending on which school of thought one belongs to, prohibition has varying degrees. In the United States, there is now a systematic campaign on the part of many imams to propagate that women cannot participate in the funeral even if it is the funeral of their sons, daughters, fathers, brothers, or husbands. It is un-Islamic. As stated above, there is no divine prohibition to support this claim.

One cannot use God and His Prophet to reduce Muslim women to second class status. It is institutionalized inequality. Before we talk about discrimination against Muslims by non-Muslims, we must talk about misogynist biases of Muslim clergy or so-called scholars against Muslim women. It is sheer injustice and making a mockery of faith.

Syeda Ayesha and all the wives of the Prophet participated in the funeral prayers of the Prophet. They stayed around the grave and sprinkled the dust. Syeda Ayesha stayed around the grave twenty-four hours for several years. All the wives of the Prophet were nearby of their husband's grave. They would visit his grave daily until they left the world.

Syed Hasan bin Ali's wife pitched her tent close to her husband's grave for almost one year, and no one could make her remove it even though the ProphetProphet's companions were alive. Syeda Fatima, bint Muhammad (PBUH), visited the grave of her father regularly.

We have to speak up for the rights of women fearlessly. We have to stand up for Islamic rights and refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of this theology. Be assured; women are as honored Muslims as the so-called scholars are. If we did not speak, they would continue to impose their tribal and cultural dictates upon the community. We all have a stake in religion. Each one of us is responsible individually before Allah. We have to make our choice and let it be known. It is the jihad for equality and decency.

They say women cannot come to the graveyards because they are a source of temptation. They are perverts, and if they cannot think of women beyond an object of sex and as a decent human creation of Allah, they should stop visiting the graves, not women.


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© Aslam Abdullah