Washing the Dead



Can you advise us of the steps one should perform when washing a dead body?


Here is the details from Reliance of the Traveler, a Shafi`i Fiqh Manual, by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, translated by Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller:

Washing the Dead

Who Should Wash the Body

Male: his Muslim male relatives beginning with father; father’s father; son; son’s son; brother; father’s brother; son of the father’s brother; other males related to the deceased through father or son; any men related to the deceased; men not related to the deceased; the deceased‘s wife and finally his unmarriageable female relatives (mahram).‏

Female: her female relatives such as her daughter or mother; other women; her husband; and then a member of her unmarriageable male relatives (mahram). It is recommended that the washer be trustworthy.

How to Wash the Body

It is obligatory for the washer to keep the nakedness of the deceased covered while washing.
It is Sunnah that no one be present except the washer and an assistant.
It is preferable that the body be washed while clothed in an ankle-length shirt into which the washer inserts his hand from the sleeve or a tear in the seam, pouring water over the garment and washing the body under it. It is obligatory that the body be covered from navel to knees.
It is best to wash the body under a roof, and that cold water be used, except when necessary (or to heat it, such as to clean away filth that could not otherwise be removed, or when the weather is cold, since the deceased suffers from it just as a living person would).‏
It is unlawful to look at the nakedness of the deceased or touch it, except with a cloth or other material.  It is recommended not to look at or directly touch the other parts of the body save with a cloth.‏
It is recommended to:
1-    force out waste from the stomach;
2-    clean the private parts of filth;
3-    give the body ablution (wudu) like the ablution of a living person, turning the head when rinsing the mouth and nostrils so that no water reaches the stomach;
4-    make the intention of performing the purificatory bath (ghusl), and then to wash the head, beard, and body each three times with water infused with sidr (lote) tree leaves, taking care each time to press the hand on the stomach in a downward stroke, leaning on it to force its contents out, but gently. The hair and beard should be gently combed with a wide-toothed comb so as not to pull any out. Any hair which comes out should be placed in the shroud.‏

It is Sunnah:
1-    that the place of washing be on an incline so the head is highest and the water flows down away from it;
2-    that incense be burned in a burner;
3-    to put one’s right hand on the shoulder of the deceased with the thumb on the nape of the neck so that the head does not loll, and brace the back up against one’s right knee;
4-    to have the helper pour abundant water during the process to obviate offensive odors from waste leaving the body;
5-    to stroke the stomach firmly and effectively with one’s left hand;
6-    and when finished, to lay the deceased down again on his back with the feet towards the direction of prayer (qiblah).

If the body is not clean after three times, wash it an additional odd number of washings. It is Sunnah to add a little camphor to the water.

The obligatory minimum for this purificatory bath (ghusl) is that water reach all external parts of the body and it is obligatory to remove any filth (najasa), if present.  The body should be dried with a cloth afterwards. If anything leaves the body after washing, only the affected area need be washed.

Shrouding the Body

Male: recommended he be wrapped in three washed (not new) white shrouds, without an ankle-length shirt or turban, each shroud covering the whole body (unless the deceased was in a state of ihram, in which case the head of the male or face of the female must be left uncovered).

Female: recommended she be dressed in a wraparound, headcover, and a shift, and that she be wrapped in two shrouds like those used for men in being white and washed, each of which covers her entire body.

The obligatory minimum for shrouding a man or woman is to completely cover their  nakedness. For a man it is obligatory to cover the navel, the knees, and what lies between them, and for a woman, her entire body.

It is recommended:
1-    to scent the shrouds with incense from aloes;
2-    to sprinkle them with hunut (an aromatic compound of camphor, reed perfume, and red and white sandalwood) and camphor;
3-    to place cotton and hunut on the seven apertures of the head and on the eight places that touch the ground in prostration;
4-    and it is commendable to perfume the entire body.
If a person dies while in a state of ihram, the conditions of iħrām remain on the body (no sewed cloth for men, no perfume).‏


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