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Do Muslims Practice Cremation?

Losing your loved ones is one of the hardest things that we must experience in life. In every religious tradition, there are certain rules or rituals that a person performed when someone dies. What is the Islamic perspective on cremations? This question arises because, during COVID, there was a push amongst some countries to cremate bodies thinking that it might be safer. Also, there are some Eastern countries, where cremation is very common. For example, in Japan, it's common to cremate bodies. Muslims who are living there have challenges trying to bury their bodies. There are some countries, for example, Sri Lanka, that was forcing Muslims to commit cremations. What are the Islamic burial rituals and cremation?

The Sri Lankan experience weighed heavily on the minds of Muslims worldwide because that was global news. In addition, there was this a heart-wrenching story about a baby who was cremated by force and the family was devastated by the whole experience. Consequently, that led to rethinking the Sri Lankan laws. They have relented.

Every culture and religion has its traditions and some of these traditions have changed over time. In 1963, The Catholic Church gave permission for a cremation to be done too. It took a long time.

The Anglican Church had already made some changes to accommodate there. The basic presupposition among Christians was that as the Lord Jesus was put in a tomb, then Christians would be buried in the same way. Among Jews and Christians before Muslims, there was the idea that the bones of people will be clothed with flesh.

God would resurrect them at the final unfolding of things.

The idea of burial was given, and cremation came secondarily. Especially as people from the Christian world, interacted with religions of the East, where cremation is very common as in India, for example. Some of them thought that seems like a good idea. It saves a lot of travel and expense and trying to transport a body. They thought it was a good idea too. Modern methods of cremation have made it easier for the process to be conducted. Many people are attracted. Religions have evolved this way. Islam has not come to accommodate cremation because the idea of burial is quite rooted in the Quran and in Islamic tradition.

The Quran states, “From the Earth we created you, into it we shall return you, and from it, we shall raise you a second time.” Quran [20:55]. The idea of burial is so central to that thinking. The verse does not say that Muslims should be buried. Circumstances are varied in the way people leave this world. God forbid, somebody may be blown to bits or eaten by sharks. Hence, the body might not be there but that does not affect and does not prevent God from resurrecting the person. Giving the person a new form, shape, and body in the last things to be experienced.

The Quran didn’t state exactly that Muslims must be buried. Sometimes when people discuss issues, they take extreme sides. It's either for or against. Sometimes people bend verses of the Quran to make them mean what they want to conclude. One can't do that with the book of God. We must be fair in showing what it says. In addition, people need to be clear about what it does not say. It does not say that this is necessary, but that's the presumption of the Quran. It's the norm.

For Muslims, it is important to follow Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He showed burial rights as part of what it means to be a Muslim. Burial rights have become very definitive in the Islamic tradition.

When anthropologists are looking to see, when did humans become humans. Neanderthals buried their dead. This means that Neanderthals had religion, which classifies them as human beings. It's deep-rooted. Also, it’s deep-rooted in the Islamic tradition. Muslim scholars think about a person to be buried; those last rights are almost definitive. Are we dealing with a Muslim or a non-Muslim person?

For instance, it's a Muslim populace. There happens to be a non-Muslim who was traveling through that land and died there. The Muslims would want to hand this body over to the relatives of that person to be given a burial according to the rights that are important to them and the deceased person. If one person could not be found to claim this body, then Muslims would give him a decent burial. However, the burial won’t have Islamic rituals. The Islamic rituals are closely associated with the faith of the person. The way that the body is going to be laid in the grave. This is all connected with the idea of the resurrection and the judgment of the person that in Islamic tradition is set to begin even within the tomb itself.

This cremation is a large jump. It means wiping away this whole body of tradition which is the reason that Muslims are hesitant. To be fair and without being polemical, this must be done in this way. The Sunnah is following the actions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Fajr is a term meaning obligatory. Sunnah is complying with the traditions left by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). There is a lower grade of imperative. They're important and Muslims should not do away with them easily. Yet, there could be circumstances that would arise that would allow for some scope here of flexibility.

What advice would you have for somebody whose loved one, for example, was forcibly cremated? Or there was a reason why he was cremated by some sort of government authority. They're worried that their loved one might not be resurrected properly, or God may not look favorably upon the loved one.

Although one pays all this attention to the burial practices and those practices relate to the idea of the resurrection and the outcome for this person. The ultimate judgment is with God. God is fair, just, and balanced. God is not going to hold us responsible for that, which is out of our control. About a year ago, when COVID spread, there was some concern about whether the persons who died of COVID needed to be cremated to safeguard others.

For example, Mufti Menk gave a verdict saying that in that circumstance, there is some flexibility. It’s not something that's so absolutely required in the faith. It is something important to us, but there is some flexibility if there is a need. It turned out that there was no such need. The Sri Lankan rule was just an overreaction. Thankfully, it has been nullified. However, if such circumstances happen and a body needs to be cremated, whether to prevent the spread of disease or some other reason, then it's not the end of the world for that person. Because we're dealing with a merciful, fair, and just God, the families should not remain depressed over this. It's not the best outcome that one would have hoped for. One would have liked a nice funeral, according to all Islamic rights.

One thinks about the fire of hell and that's the place one doesn’t want to go. That's the place one doesn’t want our families to go to. It almost seems like one is giving his or her relative a foretaste of the hell experience. This should be a concern to Muslims and Christians. Nonetheless, it is a concern to Muslims. One doesn’t want to go there, but if it so happens that that's the way to deal safely with the body to prevent others from having a hellish experience here on earth. Then, that's the best that one can do. That should not lead to depression, but it should lead to resignation in the most merciful and just God in dealing with our relatives. One knows that God is not going to hold the person responsible.

If somebody has suffered some inconvenience or negativity in this world, God is going to give them a recompense. Compensation in the life hereafter. One should not take anything negative as being the final verdict on a person's life.

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