Here are some rules in brief concerning the dying person, washing of the
corpse and its shrouding, and burial procedure. (1)
It’s a matter of obligatory precaution that one should move
the dying person in the direction of the qiblah during the last moments
of his life. This is to be done by placing him on his back with his feet
pointing towards the qiblah as though if he sits up, his face would be
facing in that direction.
It is recommended to read and ask the dying person to repeat the testament of belief (shahada) concerning the Oneness of God and the faith in Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and the Imams (a.s.).
It is recommended to close the eyes of the dead person, their mouth,
stretch their arms along their sides, straighten their legs, cover the body
with a sheet of cloth, recite the Qur’an, and light up the room in which they
lived. It is disliked to leave the corpse alone.
Ablution (Ghusl) for the Corpse
After getting rid of the impure (najis) elements that
are on the body of the dead person (e.g., blood, semen, etc.), the corpse has
to be given three ablutions as follows:
First wash it with sidr water. That is, water to which a little of sidr has been added. (2)
The second wash is with camphour water. That is, water to which a little bit of camphour has been added.
The third wash is with pure water.
If sidr is not
available, then it is precautionarily obligatory to wash the corpse with pure
water instead. Similarly, if camphour is not available, it is precautionarily
obligatory to wash it with pure water instead. Then it should be washed the
third time with pure water. In such a case, after the three washings, one
tayammum should be performed on the corpse.
It is necessary that the ablution given to the corpse be of the
tartibi kind: that is, the body should be washed in proper
sequence with the head and the neck first, then the right side of the
body, and then the left side.
The person washing the corpse must be of the same gender as the
dead person. So, a male should wash a male corpse, and a female should wash a
female corpse. However, husband and wife are allowed to perform ablution to
one another; although it is better that the washing be done with the body
covered with a sheet of cloth.
If a person of the same gender is not available, then, based on obligatory precaution, those of the opposite gender who are mahram to the deceased can perform it. Mahram means those relations with whom marriage is forbidden because of blood relationship or nursing (suckling) relationship or marriage, like brother and sister [or son-in-law and mother-in-law]. However, it is better that the washing be done with the body covered with a sheet of cloth. Unity of gender is not required when giving ablution to a corpse of a child that had not reached the age of discerning the right and wrong. (3)
Based on obligatory precaution, the person performing ablution must be a
mu’min. If neither a mu’min of the same gender as the deceased
is available nor a mahram [even of the opposite gender], it is
permissible that a Muslim of the same gender can wash the deceased.
If even a Muslim is not available, then the deceased can be washed by an Ahlul Kitab person [that is, a Jew, a Christian or a Zoroastrian] of the same gender with the condition that the person should first wash himself and then perform ablution to the corpse. If even an Ahlul Kitab person of the same gender is not available, the duty of performing ablution to the corpse is lifted, and the deceased should be buried without it.
Tahnit and Shrouding
After giving the ablution, it is wajib to do
tahnit. Tahnit means to rub camphour powder (which has maintained its
fragrance) on the seven parts of the body that touch the ground in a posture
of sajdah: the forehead, the palms, the knees, and feet toes. It is
preferable to start tahnit with the forehead and end with the
After tahnit, the deceased has to be shrouded in three pieces of
cloth as follows:
The mi’zar: a piece of cloth [like an apron] that must cover the body between the navel and the knees, based on obligatory precaution.
The qamis: a piece of cloth [like a shirt] that must cover the body from the shoulders to mid shank, based on obligatory precaution.
The izar: a large sheet of cloth that must cover the entire
body. Based on obligatory precaution, it must be long and wide enough so
that the top and the bottom parts could be tied [with a string], and the
front parts overlap.
It is obligatory to say prayer over a deceased Muslim’s body
of six years and over. Based on obligatory precaution, prayer should also be
said over the body of a child who could do the salat even if he or she
had not yet reached the age of six.
The way to conduct prayer on the deceased:
The person praying should recite five takbirs (say “Allahu Akbar”). However, it is preferable that after each takbir he says the following:
After the first takbir, he should say the shahadatayn (declaration of faith in God and Prophet Muhammad).
After the second takbir, he should say the salawat on Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and his progeny (a.s.).
After the third takbir, he should say a prayer for the believing men and women.
After the fourth takbir, he should say a prayer for the deceased.
He should say the fifth takbir and end the salat.
It is necessary to bury the deceased after the salat.
Burial is intended to protect the body from wild animals and its smell is
contained within so that no one is annoyed by it. The body should be placed on
its right side with the face towards the qiblah.
It is not permissible to bury a deceased Muslim in the graveyard of
non-Muslims, except if a section of that graveyard is specifically reserved
for Muslims. Similarly, no non-Muslim can be buried in the graveyard of
When it is neither possible to get a grave for a deceased Muslim in the
graveyard of Muslims, nor transfer the body to a Muslim country for burial in
a Muslim graveyard, that deceased Muslim may be buried in the graveyard of
It has been narrated from the Prophet (s.a.w.) that he said, “No time comes upon the dead person more difficult than the first night [of burial]. Therefore have mercy on your dead ones by giving charity [on their behalf]. If one does not have anything [to give in charity], one of you should pray two rak‘ah for them: in the first rak‘ah, after al-Hamd, recite ayatu ’l-kursi; and in the second rak‘ah, after al-Hamd, recite surah al-Qadr ten times. After salam, say: ‘Allah humma salli ‘ala Muhammadin wa ali Muhammad, wab‘ath thawabaha ila qabri fulan;’ (4) and name the deceased person [instead of fulan].” (5)
1. For further details, see Sayyid as-Sistani, Minhaju 's-Saliheen, vol. 1, p. 95 ff.; as-Sistani, al-Masa'ilu 'l-Muntakhaba, p. 50 ff.
2. Translator's Note: Sidr is name of a lotus tree; "sidr water" means the water to which sidr leaves have been added.
3. Translator's Note: The age of discerning right and wrong (tamyiz) is different from the age of maturity (bulûgh). The latter is 9 for girls and 15 for boys but the former could be at five or six.
4. "O Allah, send Your blessings upon Muhammad and the Family of Muhammad, and send the reward of this prayer to the grave of x."
5. Sayyid as-Sistani, al-Masa'ilu 'l-Muntakhaba, p. 63.