It is vital that we all make encounters with episodes of death, so we may be prepared to experience it personally ourselves when our appointed time arrives. This can be achieved by performing the ceremonial washing (ghusl) of the dead body, or being nearby someone when they are close to dying. Even being with a mourning family by comforting them through soothing words will prove spiritually beneficial; such actions help soften the heart. But there is nothing which can match the emotional and spiritual experiences one undergoes while being inside a graveyard, or seeing someone be buried in front of them.
Traditionally speaking, there is a difference of opinion (ikhtilāf) regarding the range of activities which women are permitted to participate in during the funeral, especially with regard to visiting the graveyard and witnessing the burial. This matter does deserve detailed treatment, as it encompasses several categories, with some matters being unanimously permitted, and others being unanimously prohibited. First and foremost, the performance of the funeral prayer (ṣalāh al-janāzah) is unanimously permitted for women, even in traditional Islamic law. This ruling applies in all circumstances, regardless of whether the prayer is done inside the masjid or outside. This ultimately then means that women who perform the funeral prayer will earn the same reward known as the qīrāṭ, which is equivalent to the size of Mount Uḥud.
This is something which can be confirmed for women who partake in the prayer. On the other hand, wailing (niyāḥah) is absolutely prohibited for both genders, and actually harms the dead. In the time of the Prophet ﷺ wailing was prohibited for both men and women. In the past Days of Ignorance (jāhiliyyah), after the death of a person people wailed loudly, slapped their cheeks, tore their clothes, and shouted words indicating their grief and displeasure. There were even professional wailers who were hired and asked to perform these activities after the death of a person. The Prophet put an end to this practice by prohibiting it, and in fact cursed the people who wailed upon the death of someone. So far, two different practices have been evaluated, which have universal rulings for both genders.
The first is the funeral prayer, which is permitted—and in fact encouraged—for both genders. On the other hand, wailing is absolutely prohibited for everyone. There are then some actions which fall in between these two categories, such as following the funeral procession and visiting the graveyard. As for visiting graves, there is a narration which mentions that ʿĀ’ishah i was returning from the Baqi graveyard. At this point, someone asked her, “Where are you coming from, O Mother of the Believers (umm al-mu’minīn)?” She mentioned that she had just visited the grave of her brother ʿAbd al-Raḥmān h. The person then asked in surprise: “Was it not the case that the Prophet prohibited that?” ʿ
Ā’ishah said: ِ“Yes, the Prophet used to prohibit us, then he commanded us to visit them.”
In this legally noteworthy ḥadīth, ʿĀ’ishah i was indicating that the original ruling of prohibition of visiting the graves applied to both men and women. During the time of this original prohibition there was a particular emphasis on women, since they were known to often wail while being at the grave as well. But after the Prophet commanded his Companions to visit the graves, this did not shift the ruling to mere permissibility, but recommendation as well. This new ruling also applied to women as long as they properly observed the ḥijāb, did not frequently visit the graves, and abstained from wailing and mourning excessively. This view of permissibility is in fact adopted by a large group of scholars, who base their position on ʿĀ’ishah’s narration. Some of the scholars drew a distinction between following the funeral procession, as opposed to going to the graveyard alone.
This differentiation is primarily based on a number of narrations, some of which are of contested authenticity. However, there is an authentic narration from Umm ʿAṭiyyah i, in which she said they were forbidden to follow the funeral processions (janā’ iz), but this was not strictly enforced upon them. However, there is some ambiguity on when this ruling was implemented, for it may have been applied when visiting graves was prohibited as a whole or after the initial prohibition was abrogated. For this reason, the scholars concluded that following the funeral procession is disliked for women, which also seems to be the apparent import of Umm ʿAṭiyyah’s report as well.
The scholars differed on their lines of reasoning for why this ruling is justified. Some of them said that it is the practices of wailing and mourning which are frowned upon. Obviously, following the funeral procession is very likely to induce such reactions, as the woman is exposed to a tasking and distressing environment, as opposed to merely visiting the graveyard afterwards. Other scholars held the view that the ruling revolves around these different reactionary elements themselves; if a woman abstains from them, then she is permitted to accompany the funeral procession and witness the burial.
One of the main pieces of evidence cited by the scholars on this issue is a famous incident where the Prophet came upon a woman that was weeping over her lost child. After approaching her, the Prophet told her to observe patience. The woman responded harshly by saying: “What do you know about my tragedy (muṣībah)?” The Prophet did not say anything in response, and merely walked away. Some of the people then asked the woman if she knew who she just addressed. She asked them to reveal his identity. They then told her that it was the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم .She then immediately went to the Prophet and apologised to him for her error. In response to her statement, the Prophet said:
“True patience is at the first stroke of calamity.”
Some of the scholars mentioned that the Prophet made no remark concerning her presence or grief. Instead, through this remark the Prophet was indicating the importance of observing patience for anyone who goes through such difficult moments. Merely upholding the basic legal requirements is not enough. Instead, during such moments Muslims must ensure they derive the full spiritual and religious benefits available.
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