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Do Muslims Practice Cremation?

Losing your loved ones is one of the hardest things that we have to experience in life. And in every religious tradition, there are certain rules or rituals that we've performed when someone dies. What does Islam have to say about cremations? This comes up because during COVID, there was a push amongst some countries to cremate bodies thinking that it might be safer. And then also there are some Eastern countries where cremation is very common.

Every culture and religion have their traditions and some of these traditions have changed over time. The Catholic church in 1963 finally gave permission for a cremation to be done too.

The Anglican church before that had already made some changes to accommodate there. So 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. And among Jews and Christians before Muslims, there was already the idea that the bones of people will be clothed with flesh.

And God would resurrect them at the final unfolding of things. So the idea of burial was already a given, and then the 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. And you know, some of them thought, well, that seems like a good idea. It saves a lot of travel and expense and, you know, trying to transport a body and so on. And they thought it's a good idea too. And then modern methods of cremation have made it easier for the process to be conducted. So, many people are attracted to that. The religions have evolved this way.

Islam has not come to accommodate cremation because the idea of burial is quite rooted in the Quran itself.

There is a Quranic verse that says: "From it we created you. To it we return you. And from it one more time, we're going to resurrect you." God is speaking about our condition. We came from the earth. We gonna be put back into the earth and then God would resurrect us from the earth one more time. So the idea of burial is so central to that thinking. Though, to be fair, the verse does not say that necessarily Muslims should be buried. And of course, circumstances are varied in the way people leave this world. Somebody may be blown to bits, God forbid, or eaten by sharks.

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 and shape and body in the last things to be experienced. To be more sure, there is nothing in the Quran that says specifically that Muslims must be buried. When people discuss issues, they take extreme sides. It's either for or against. It's either totally this way or totally that way. And they bend versus of the Quran to make it mean what they want conclude. We can't do that with the book of God. We have to be fair in showing what it actually says. And to be clear about what it does not say. So it does not say that this is necessary, but that's the presumption of the Quran.

In the Islamic tradition, burial has become the practice. For Muslims it is important to follow the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. He showed burial rights as part of what it means to be a Muslim. In fact, burial rights have become very definitive in the Islamic tradition in a way.

When anthropologists are looking to see when did humans become humans, they're looking at the fact that Neanderthals buried their dead. That means that Neanderthals had something like religion, which classifies them as human beings. So it's deep rooted in that way. It's also deep-rooted in the Islamic tradition for Muslim scholars to think about a person to be buried, those last rights are almost definitive for what are we dealing with? Are we dealing with a Muslim person, or we're dealing with a non-Muslim person.

Let's say, it's a Muslim populace. And 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 to this deceased person. If one such person could not be found to claim this body, the Muslims would you give him as decent the burial that they could. But without Islamic rituals. So, the Islamic rituals come to be so closely associated with the faith of the person.

The way in which the body is going to be laid in the grave is 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. To go from this to cremation is a large jump. It means wiping away this whole body of tradition.

That's why Muslims are hesitant, but again, to be fair and without being polemical about it, we need to say clearly that there is nothing that I know of in the Islamic tradition that says that this must be done in this way. Because when we talk about following the prophet Muhammad, peace, be upon him, we were talking about doing what is called Sunnah. And there are things in our religion, which are called fard, they are obligatory, there are musts, mandatory. And then the things which are called Sunnah , those which comply with the traditions left by our prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. There are of a lower grade of imperative. They're still important and Muslims should not do away with those easily. But, there could be circumstances that would arise that would, you know, allow for some scope here of flexibility. We need to make that clear.

What about the case for somebody whose loved one was forcibly cremated? Or there was a reason why he was cremated by some sort of government authority. And then they're thinking, "Oh", you know, "something is wrong here". Or they're worried that their loved one might not be resurrected properly, or God may not look favorably upon the loved one.

Although we pay all this attention to the burial practices and those practices are connected with the idea of the resurrection and the final outcome for this person and so on. The ultimate judgment is with God and God is fair and just and balanced. God is not going to hold us responsible for that, which is out of our control.

We're dealing with a merciful and fair and just God, and the families should not remain depressed over this. Of course, it's not the best outcome that we would have hoped for. We would have liked a nice funeral, according to all Islamic rights.

We think about the fire of hell and that's the place we don't want to go. And that's the place we don't want our families to go to. And cremation sounds like that.

It almost seems like you're giving your relative a foretaste of the hell experience. And, you know, this should be something that is of concern to both Muslims and Christians. But nonetheless, it is of concern to Muslims. You don'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. Well, then that's the best we can do. And that should not lead to depression, but it should lead to resignation in the most merciful and just God in dealing with our relatives. We know 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. A compensation for that in the life here after. So we should not take anything negative as being the final verdict on a person's life.

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