Fiqh-us-Sunnah Volume 004, Funerals and Dhikr, Fiqh 4.029.

Section : Washing a Dead Body.

The entire body must be washed with water, at least once, regardless of whether the deceased is a male and needed a ritual bath, or a female who was menstruating at the time (of her death). It is recommended that the body be placed on an elevated surface i.e., a table or a board. It then should be stripped of clothes, but his 'awra (private parts) should be covered. (Ash-Shafi'i says that it is better to wash the body of the deceased wearing a shirt, if it is thin enough to let water reach the body. The Prophet, peace be upon him, was washed this way, but it was done only in his case. The common practice has been to cover the 'awra and wash the body) At the washing, only people whose presence is needed may stay.

The washer, male or female, must be a trustworthy and pious person who will not broadcast what he or she might see except what is good.

Ibn Majah reports that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: "Trustworthy persons should wash your dead." A washer must utter his or her intention to wash the body of a specific person. Then he should begin by lightly pressing the stomach of the deceased so as to expel, if possible, any remnants from it, and then wash the body of all impurities. The washer should use a wash cloth or wrap his or her hand with it, because touching the private parts of the dead is haram (forbidden). Then he or she should wash the deceased as in wudu (ablution) for the salah (obligatory prayers). The Prophet, peace be upon him, is reported to have said: "Begin washing the dead by washing organs on the right, and those parts that are washed in ablution." This is in order to crystalize the mark of the believer's parts of the body always washed during wudu that will shine forth brightly on the Day of Judgement. Then beginning from its right side, the body should be washed with soap and water, three times. If soap is not available, then washing with ordinary water will suffice. If the washer feels that three washes are not enough to cleanse the body properly, then he may wash it five or seven times. According to a sahih hadith, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: "Wash the dead body an odd number of times, that is, three, five, or seven, or more if you feel it is necessary." (Ibn Abd al-Barr observes: "I know about no one who recommended more than seven washes." Ahmad and Ibn al-Munzhir disliked to exceed beyond seven)

Ibn al-Munzhir said: "The Prophet instructed the female washers to wash the dead body more than seven times in case they felt it was necessary to do so, but it must be an odd number of times. If the deceased is a female, then her hair should be loosened, washed, redone, and placed behind her back. According to a hadith narrated by Umm 'Atiyyah the hair of the Prophet's daughter was done in three plaits. I asked: 'Did they loosen her hair and then redo them in three braids?' She said: 'Yes'." Muslim reports this in these words: "We braided her hair in three braids, on both sides and in front (of her)." In his Sahih, Ibn Hibban says: "They did so in compliance with the order of the Prophet: 'Do her hair in three plaits'."

After having washed the body, it should be dried with a clean cloth lest the shroud should get wet. Then some perfume should be applied to it. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: "When you apply perfume (to the dead), apply it an odd number of times after washing it." This is reported by AlBaihaqi, Al-Hakim and Ibn Hibban, of whom the last two consider it a sound hadith.

Abu Wa'il said: "Ali had some musk, and he requested that it be applied to his body upon his death. This was of what was left from the perfume used on the body of the Prophet upon his death."

The majority of scholars are of the opinion that clipping a deceased's finger nails, trimming his mustache, shaving the hair under his arms or from his private parts is makruh (disliked). Ibn Hazm, however, considers it permissible.

The scholars are agreed that the body of the deceased be rewashed if the stomach excrete something (i.e., urine or stool) after it had been washed and prior to being shrouded. They differ, however, whether in such a case the entire body should be rewashed. Some hold that the body must be washed again in such a case. Others are of the opinion that there is no need to wash the whole body again, while still others hold that at least wudu (ablution) must be repeated in such a case. Some others hold that in such a case the entire washing must be repeated.

The opinions of most scholars concerning washing of the dead are based on the hadith transmitted by the group on the authority of Umm 'Atiyyah who said: "The Prophet came to our house when his daughter died, and said: 'Wash her three times, five times, or more than that if you consider it necessary, with water and sidr (lotus tree leaves), and after the last wash apply some camphor to the body, and inform me after you have done so.' So when we finished washing we informed him. He gave us a cloth that he wore around his waist, and told us to wrap her in it as a first sheet of shroud."

The reason for using camphor, as mentioned by some scholars, is its pleasant smell, since burial is a time when angels are present. Besides, it is cool and has a soothing effect, especially when the body stiffens, and helps keep various insects away from the body, thus preventing its early decomposition. In case camphor is not available, any other substance that has these or some of these properties may be used instead.

Related Hadith(s)