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Islam and cremation

“Allah hath chosen the Faith for you;
then die not except in the state of submission (to Allah).”
[Surah Al-Baqara verse 132]

Wa Ba’d:

And in verse 36 of Surah Al Rahman we are asked the question:

“Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?”

“Will ye deny?” that is, fail to acknowledge either in word or thought or in your conduct. If you misuse Almighty Allah’s Gifts or ignore them, that is equivalent to ingratitude or denial or refusal to profit by Almighty Allah’s Infinite Grace. In verses 36, 40, 42, and 45, of Surah Al Rahman the refrain applies with an ironical meaning. It is as if it was said:

“You used to laugh at Revelation, and the warnings which were given
for your own benefit in order to draw you to repentance and Allah’s
Mercy; what do you find now? Is not all that was said to you true?
To reject Allah’s Law is in itself to deny Allah’s Mercies.”

O Beloved People of Imaan! In Islam, funeral rites and practices have been prescribed by Divine Law, in accordance with the dictates of Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala. According to this law beginning from Nabee Adam Alayhis Salaam right up to our Beloved Nabee Sallallahoo Alayhi Wasallam, the burying of our dead has been the prescribed method of conveying the deceased to their graves. There is absolutely no mention whatsoever in any of the earlier revealed heavenly Scriptures that cremation was sanctioned or acceptable in any of the previous dispensations from Almighty Allah Rabbul Ala’meen.

Cremating a body is strictly forbidden in Islam and stresses that the human body must be treated with respect and dignity by following the specific rites for the treatment of the body after death. The Wisdom is that Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala has forbidden us to use fire on His creation. As for the rest of His Commands, orders, and prohibitions He does not need to explain Himself. In fact, Christianity and Judaism regard cremation as a pagan belief. As Muslims, we must never ever lose sight of the fact that Almighty Allah Rabbul Ala’meen commands us with words of Wisdom in the Most Holy and Noble Qur’an:

“Whatever the Nabee Sallallahoo Alayhi Wasallam instructs
you to do, you do it. And whatever he commands you to stay
away from, you avoid.”

Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala informs us in verses 152 & 153 of Surah Al-Baqara:

“Remember Me and then I shall remember you;
Be thankful to Me and do not deny Me. Believers,
seek help in patience and prayer.”

In the above verses, Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala is reminding us that whereas other groups had clung to the outward form of their religion but ignored its essence and true spirit, and drained it of its authentic universal meaning, the Muslim Ummah should look into the heart and the essence of their Din with sincerity and true faith. From time to time references to narrow-minded or rebellious attitudes by certain groups of people serve as a timely, if oblique, warnings to the Muslims themselves as we learn from verse 211 of Surah Al-Baqara:

“To whosoever tampers with Almighty Allah’s boon
after it has been bestowed on him Allah would mete
out a severe chastisement.”

The above verse concludes with a warning to those who take advantage of Almighty Allah’s cause to transgress the limits, for the punishment is equally true. This is the position of those who do not fear their Creator and Maker for they have rejected His Signs. In the end, it doesn’t matter what name, fame, or earthly wealth you have achieved in life if you are spiritually dead when death overtakes you. Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala declares in verse 70 of Surah Al Isra that He has honoured the children of Bani Adam. Burning a human being is a blatant disregard of the honour owed to them as per Divine Will.

It is forbidden to burn anything endowed with a soul including green vegetation. In Islam, human beings enjoy that sacrosanctity in absolute terms and retain it even after the parting of the soul. Burning is a punishment and in Islam it is considered the exclusive prerogative of Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala to punish with fire as the Nabee Sallallahoo Alayhi Wasallam said. To those who have gone astray Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala informs His Beloved Nebee – Rahmatul Liel Ala’meen in verse 52 of Surah Al Rum:

“O Messenger! You cannot make these people whose hearts are
dead hear through the word of truth, nor can you convey your
summons to these deniers who turn away their faces.”

There are people today who with their argumentative and fanciful interpretations consider cremation to be acceptable. They find themselves prostrating before their inner idol; passion and desire rule every dimension of their beings. Self-worship is a dangerous sickness that with its different manifestations in the individual and social life of man entails the most tragic misfortunes and disorders. It creates a powerful barrier between man and truth and results in the breakdown of man’s capacities of perception and the binding of his inner being. We learn from verse 23 of Surah Al Jathiyah:

“Do you see the one who takes his own desires as his god?
Allah has made him go astray, despite his possession of
knowledge; He has placed a seal on his ears and his heart
and drawn a curtain of darkness over his eyes. Who other
than Allah can guide him? Will you then not take heed?”

Some branches of Christianity oppose cremation, including some minority Protestant groups and Orthodox. Most notably, the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches forbid cremation. In Orthodoxy, cremation is a rejection of the dogma of the general resurrection, and as such is viewed harshly. The Orthodox Jews have maintained a stricter line on cremation, and disapprove of it as Halakha (Jewish Law) forbids it. This Halakha concern is grounded in the upholding of bodily resurrection as a core belief in traditional Judaism, as opposed to other ancient trends such as the Sadducees, who denied it. Conservative Jewish groups also oppose cremation.

Christianity frowned upon cremation, both influenced by the tenets of Judaism, and in an attempt to abolish Graeco-Roman pagan rituals. Throughout parts of Europe during the Middle Ages, cremation was forbidden by law, and even punishable by death if combined with heathen rites. Cremation was sometimes used by authorities as part of punishment for heretics, and this did not only include burning at the stake. The ancient Egyptians developed an intricate transmigration of soul theology, which prohibited cremation, and this was adopted widely among other Semitic peoples. The Babylonians, according to Herodotus, embalmed their dead. Early Persians practiced cremation, but this became prohibited during the Zaroastrian Period.

Belief in the Day of Reckoning and in the existence of an absolute perfection whose scrutinizing gaze encompasses all things and before whom the deeds of all men are present, even if they be as inconsequential as an atom – this belief creates a powerful influence in the depths of man’s being that no other force can equal. Belief in Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala and His Commands not only prevents man from fearing the difficulties of life but also transforms those difficulties into means of developments and ascent towards the lofty goals of life. Thus we learn from verses 48 and 49 of Surah Al-An’am:

“We send the Messengers only to give good news and to warn:
so those who believe and mend (their lives) – upon them shall
be no fear, nor shall they grieve. But those who reject Our Signs
– them shall punishment touch, for they ceased not from transgression.”

It must be noted that the teaching and laws of Islam came to honour the Children of Adam as we learn from verse 70 of Surah Al Isra:

“We have honoured the children of Bani Adam”

Our Beloved Nabee Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Rahmatul Liel Ala’meen Sallallahoo Alayhi Wasallam was the one who conveyed to us the Laws of our Glorious Creator and Sustainer. As the Law-Giver, he taught us what Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala has prescribed concerning the dead, what we are permitted to do in their case and what we are not permitted to do. Hence the teachings of Islam are different from the teachings of other nations; i.e. treating our deceased with the utmost respect and dignity in accordance with the Holy Sharia’h of Islam.

Almighty Allah Tabaraqa Wata’ala has prescribed that when a Muslim dies, we should wash and cleanse him, then shroud him in white cloth. We then offer Salatul Janaza (the Funeral Prayers) and pray for mercy and forgiveness for him. Thereafter we proceed to the cemetery where he is buried in the ground and covered with the very same earth that he was created from. Almighty Allah Rabbul Ala’meen reminds us in verse 2 of Surah Al An’am:

“He it is Who created you from clay, and then decreed a stated term
(for you). And there is in His Presence another determined term;
yet you doubt within yourselves.”

Since Islam regards this world as the tillage of the Aghirah [Hereafter], it is acceptable that man should regard it as a means. Through choosing the correct path and acting virtuously man is in fact preparing his own life in the Aghirah. But if man regards the world not as a passage leading to a higher, eternal life but as an aim and goal in itself, his meaningless attachment will deprive him of happiness and prevent him from growing towards perfection. With his own hand, man sows in this life the seed of his life in the Aghirah; he determines himself the fate that will be his in the next world. To express it differently, his eternal life is formed from the materials he himself provides in advance.

Were the salvation and misguidance of man to be dependent on Almighty Allah’s Will, no trace of misguidance or corruption would exist upon earth; all would follow the Path of Salvation and Truth whether they wished or not. The view of Islam, is that man does not possess such absolute free will that he is able to act outside the framework of Almighty Allah’s Will and Desire, which cover the entire universe in the form of fixed laws and norms. The Most Holy and Noble Qur’an makes this very clear in verse 3 of Surah Al Insan [or Surah Ad-Dahr]:

“We have shown man the Path of Truth and the path
of falsehood; he may choose either the Path of Guidance
and offer his gratitude, or choose the path of ingratitude.”

As mentioned earlier, man’s body is formed of clay, and after passing beneath the wheels of change and transformation, it changes back into clay; i.e., it returns to its original form. Quite apart from all the foregoing, we may ask why Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala should not be able to recreate the form of man which came into being out of scattered particles of clay and was then again turned into earth. The Most Noble and Holy Qur’an makes repeated reference to this matter, saying for example – in verse 55 of Surah Ta Ha:

“From the (earth) did We create you, and into it shall We
return you, and from it shall We bring you out once again.”

The Most Holy and Noble Qur’an wishes man to realize that although the restoration of life to the dead appears impossible when measured against the capacities of man, it is something straightforward when measured against the infinite power of Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala Who first breathed life into the inanimate form of man. Man may well ask himself how the breath of life may be inhaled anew into the particles of his body once they have been buried in the recesses of the earth, and how lifeless matter may be brought back to life although its constituent elements have been dispersed. The Most Noble and Holy Qur’an reminds us in verses 3 and 4 of Surah Al Qiyamah (The Resurrection) of Almighty Allah’s unlimited ability to restore all the minute qualities and precise details of a human being’s limbs with the following words:

“Does man think that We cannot assemble his decayed bones?
Nay, We are able even to restore in perfect order the very tips of
his fingers.”

Man has not been cast into the world as the product of a series of unconscious factors, but rather for a certain purpose: to traverse the stages of the path leading to perfection, by means of his own choice and devotion, and to attain his true and absolute object of worship. It was the Grace of Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala that caused the rays of the spirit to shine on lowly and worthless matter in order for the form of man to come into being, to enter the world, and finally to return back to his Most Exalted Creator and Maker. So, remember dear people of Imaan, Almighty Allah Rabuul Ala’meen is the beginning and origin of man and also his purpose and destination.

And all Praise is ultimately Almighty Allah’s, at the beginning and the end, and may His benedictions and everlasting Blessings be upon His Beloved Nabee Muhammad Ibn Abdullah – Rahmatul Liel Ala’meen Sallallahoo Alayhi Wasallam. The Wisdom and Plan of Allah are beyond all Praise: And Mercy and Truth proceed from Him, and there is no other – none – besides Him.
And Allah knows best.
Baarak Allaahu Feekum wa sal-Allaahu wa-salam ‘alaa
Nabiyyinaa Muhammad Sallallahoo Alayhim Wasallam

Was Salamualakum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuhoo

Abdul Hamid Lachporia

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