The following is a series of Q&A which was done by Jaffari News with Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi.
Q At the funeral procession, it is recommended to first carry the right front corner of the casket on your left shoulder then gradually move to the end corner, and then carry the left front corner on the right shoulder and then gradually move to the end corner.
Is this not inconvenient for those who are carrying the casket on the right and left corners? Instead, is it not better if four family members are available that they carry the casket?.
A. In a muslim funeral,there is no concept of four individuals or family members carrying the casket at the corners. People line up on two sides and the casket is moved on the shoulders of the people on both sides.
I have observed sometimes that a family member carries the casket on the back of his shoulders right in the front. There is no recommendation for such a thing, rather it hinders the people who have lined up on both sides to carry the coffin.
Q After the body has been placed inside the grave, I believe it is recommended to put a handful portion of earth inside the coffin and then to place some underneath the cheek of the deceased.
What is the significance of this act?.
A. The way it is normally done in the east is that when the body is placed inside the grave without a coffin, it is customary based on religious recommendation to make a sort of pillow of earth for the head of the deceased.
In Canada, depending on civil/provincial regulations, we can't bury a body without a coffin. In such places, people place some earth inside the coffin and underneath the cheek as a way of fulfilling the religious recommendation mentioned above.
Q Similarly, after the body has been placed inside the grave it is recommended to put a handful portion of earth inside the grave by pushing it by the outer side of one's hand. This recommendation for putting some earth inside the grave is not for the close family members;for them it is makruh(disliked) to put the earth inside the grave of their dear deceased kin.
Why is the dirt swept in with the back of the hand only and why are family members not supposed to sweep dirt into grave?.
A. One of the last rights of a person on a fellow mu'min is the tradition of burial;and this is symbolized by a person putting a handful of earth inside the grave. There are hadith, which say that it is better to do that by using the back of the hand.
However, for the closest family members--the blood relatives--it is not recommended - this would save him from further emotional distress.
Q After placing the body in the grave and before closing the grave, it is recommended that the 'wali'(next of kin) or someone who has been allowed by him to recite Talqin. The person reciting the 'Talqin' should hold the right shoulder of the dead body with his right hand and should place his left hand tightly on the left shoulder and draw his face close to the ear of the deceased. Then, shaking shoulders of the deceased,he should say thrice:'Isma' ifham ya...(Listen and understand,O')....mentioning the name of the deceased as the son/daughter of his/her father, then recite the'Talqin'.
This act of holding the shoulders in a diagonal state could risk dropping the body and be disrespectful as a result. Would it be okay to hold the right shoulder of the dead body with the left hand and the left shoulder with the right hand, draw the face close to the ear of the dead body, shake the body,then recite 'Talqin'?.
A. In muslim countries, the graves are dug in such a way that right at the bottom there are two levels: one is the actual grave (lahad) and one is a raised platform on which those who will place the body will stand. This makes it easy for the person to hold the shoulders of the deceased diagonally and there is no issue of dropping the body or being disrespectful.
Here in Canada,the graves are not dug that way. And so normally the coffin is placed on the ground besides the grave or on the straps over the grave, then a person sits besides the coffin to hold the shoulders of the deceased and the talqin is recited. I don't see any risk of dropping the body or being disrespectful.
Q After the graves has been filled with earth, it is recommended to put water on the grave beginning with the head and going into a whole circle and ending with the center.
What is the religious significance of this act?.
A. It is recommended for the person to face the qibla to put water on the grave starting with the head and then going around edges and back to the head - if water remains, then it is to be put in the center of the grave. What is recommended is to do it once, and it is not necessary that all the children or relatives of the deceased do that. Just one person would be sufficient to fulfill that mustahab act.
Why is it recommended? I haven't seen any explanation in the hadith; probably, it helps in the settling down of the earth that has been put back onto the grave.
Q Why is it recommended to water the grave for forty days?
Also,each time one visits the Marhum/Marhuma is it recommended to water the grave? If so what is the significance of this act?.
A. I haven't seen any recommendation of putting water on the grave for forty days or whenever one visits the grave.
Q Is it recommended that the light in the room of the Marhum/marhuma be 'switched on' for a period of 40 days?.
A. There is no such recommendation. This is only when the body is still inside the room - it should not be left dark.
Q My understanding of commemorating the 40th of our beloved is that this is the time line generally used because of the tradition governing Imam Husayn's(a.s) fortieth(Chehlum). If so, what is the significance of the 40th versus the 10th; 20th; 30th; 50th, etc?.
A. The custom of 40th among the Shi'as for their marhumeen is based on the recommendation, which is there for the ziyarat of Imam Husayan (a.s)on the day of Arba'in. There is no special recommendation for others. However,there is no harm in doing it; actually,it gives kind of a closure to the grieving process for the and an opportunity for others to pay condolence if they were not able to attend the funeral.
Q Is there a hadith which signifies that specific amaals be done on exactly the 40th night or day after the burial of the Marhum/Marhuma?.
A. As written in the previous answer, there are no special a'mal for the 40th night or day after the passing of a person.
Q After a person has passed away can their soul 'meet' with other souls of other deceased individuals? Would my mother and father now be able to communicate again? Does a deceased individual know about who has passed way on this earth?.
A. The situation of the barzakh (between death and the day of resurrection)is very complex; there is no simple answer to such questions. What I can briefly say is the situation of the souls depends on their levels. If two individual are in the same category or on the same status, they might be able to communicate.
Q Is it true that the soul of the deceased visits households of their children every Thursday?.
A. Again it depends on their status: souls of same believers will be able to visit their family once a week; some will be able to visit once every two weeks, etc.
Q Do we believe that the Marhum/Marhuma can communicate with family members and others death, via dreams?.
A. Such things could be possible; but it is very rare. And if it happens, it is about their own situations and not about those who are alive. The living people can do things to improve the situations of the dead by giving in charity on their behalf or fulfilling their missed obligations. But the dead cannot do anything about the living.
Q Prophet(s.a.w) once said that the most difficult night for a dead person is the night of his burial, therefore have mercy on your dead people by giving charity in their name. If you cannot give charity in their name,then one person should recite two rak'at namaz(referring to Namaz-e Wahshat).
Does this mean that this namaaz is to be recited only once by the wali of the deceased or someone who has been assigned by the wali to do this namaaz? Instead, is it not preferable for the entire congregation to recite'Namaaz-e-Washaat'on the night of the burial, especially since it is the most difficult night for a dead person instead of'Namaaz-e-Hadya-e Mayyit'?.
A. The recommendation of Namaz-e Wahshat is only for the wali, not for others. So this custom of the whole congregation doing it is not based on the sunnat. What is sunnet is sunnat only on basis of the recommendation of the Ma'sum(a.s). If people want to follow a sunnat, then others should be doing Namaaz-hadya-e mayyit.
Q Is it recommendation to put flowers, plant rose bushes etc on the grave of the deceased or is it preferable not to do so?.
A. There is no recommendation to put flowers nor is there any prohibition.
Q s it permissible for a pregnant woman to visit the cemetery? If the woman is not 'paak', is it permissible for her to visit the cemetery or is it advisable for her not to do so?.
A. There is no problem for a pregnant woman or a woman who is in her periods to visit the cemetery. What is makruh is that a najis person-man or woman-should not be in the room where the body has been placed.
Q One of the disciplines of visiting the cemetery states that, 'Worldly talks, jokes and laughs should be avoided'. During the summer months when majlis' are held at the cemetery, socialization does occur as friends and family meet each otheer and tabarruk is served. Should this be avoided or is it okay?.
A. Visiting the cemetery is recommended for two purposes:
-For increasing the thawab of those who are buried there when visitors recite fateha.
-For making the visitors realize the eventuality of death and prepare themselves for the journey to the hereafter.
Keeping that purpose in mind, we should not be joking and laughing in the cemetery.
Q It is generally believed that after the death of a person, he/she feels some pain if we touch the body. Is this true?.
A. The person does not feel any physical pain as such, since the body is no longer alive. It is the soul that feels pain if the body is handled disrespectfully. This \"pain\" can be described as the way one feels when one sees one's child being hurt by someone else. Therefore, it is very important to handle the body with great respect after death.
Q After death, can a person donate his or her organs to a patient for medical research?.
A. You can donate some of your organs (whether minor or major)after death, provided you have expressed your intention clearly in your will. Skin grafting and donating blood would be considered donation of a minor organ whilst kidneys would be classified as a major organ.
Q What is the effect on the dead person if the body is kept in the mortuary or if a postmortem is carried out?.
A. The term 'respect' comes into play again. The body should not be kept in the mortuary unnecessarily. If a post mortem is absolutely necessary, then it may be performed.
Q After death, we normally close the eyelids and mouth of the deceased and straighten the hands and legs. We also ensure that the body is facing the Qibla until ghusl is performed. Is this part of our religious obligation or is it a tradition?.
A. Soon after a person dies,all believers are either required or strongly urged to do the following:
-close the eyelids of the dead person.
-close the mouth of the dead person.
-Tie the two jaws so that the mouth does not open.
-straighten his/her arms and place them on the two sides of his body.
-straighten his/her legs.
-cover the dead body.
-switch on the light in the room where the dead body is kept.
-Arrange the funeral as soon as possible.
-Inform the mu'umeen to attend the funeral.
Q Before burial, it is normal for family and close friends to view the deceased. What are the rules governing the viewing of the body e.g. Mahram and Namahram?.
A. The same rules that apply during 'life' also apply in 'death'. Only the face should be kept open, therefore if a na-mahram views the body, he or she should do so without any bad intentions.
Q What is the position regarding burial of a person who dies in a foreign country where there are no family members of the deceased. Our community is often divided in such cases, since family members prefer that all burial ceremonies be attended by the kith and kin of the deceased. This naturally delays burial by a few days. Also, in some places like Toronto, burials devastated by the loss of their loved one. What should be done to alleviate this grief, with are not possible during week ends due to public cemetery restrictions thereby causing delays..
A. The funeral should be arranged as soon as possible. However it is a matter of personal choice whether the body should be brought back to the country of residence, so that the next of kin may attend the funeral. If the deceased has specified the place of burial in his or her 'Wasiat', then this should take precedence over personal preferences. With regard to burials being delayed over the weekend due to the cemetery being closed, unfortunately, there is no other option until we have alternative arrangements.
Q After the death of my father in Dar es salaam,I discovered that the site of the grave was dug approximately only 4 feet, whereas the graves in Toronto are dug much deeper. Are there any rules governing the depth of the grave?.
A. There are no specific rules, however the height of the person to the shoulders is usually considered as a sufficient depth.
Q Upon my father's death, his desire to be buried in the grave of his late mother was fulfilled. I was also informed that in some places, due to a short age of burial sites, the graves ar re-used for future burials after many years. What are the rules governing this?.
A. The grave can be re-used and 40 years is the general period considered for a body to decompose.
Q I understand that after the burial of a person, he/she undergoes various tests which include questions on the names of the Panjatan, names of the Imams etc. Therefore at the time of death, we prepare the person by reciting some duas. What specific duas are recommended?.
A. At the time of death it is recommended to say by yourself or repeat after someone else,the declaration of faith and statement of Faraj.
The declaration of faith is that in which you confirm your belief in Allah(SWT), Prophet Muhammed (s.a.w), the twelve Imams(a.s), the holy Qur'an and the day of judgement. The translation of the dua is as follows:
I have accepted Allah (SWT)as the lord, Muhammad(s.a.w)as the Prophet, Islam as the Religion, the Quran as the book of God, the Kabah as the Qiblah.
And I accept 'Ali as the waliu of Allah and my Iman; and Hasan, Husayan, Ali ibn Husayn, Muhammad ibn Ali, Ja'far ibn Muhammad, Musa ibn Ja'far, Ali ibn Musa, Muhammad ibn Ali, Hasan Ibn Ali and al-hujjat ibn al-Hasan(a.s) as Imams, leaders and guides - I declare my disassociation with their enemies.
And I believe that surely the hour of Doom will come in which there is no doubt,and that Allah (SWT) will resurrect all those who are in their graves. And I believe that the reckoning of our deeds is the truth; the Paradise is the truth; and that the Hell is the truth.
The translation of the statement of Faraj is as follows:
There is no God but Allah, the Gentle, the kind; There is no God but Allah, the High, the Great. All praise be to Allah, the lord of the seven heavens and the Lord of the seven earths, and whatever is in them and whatever is above them and whatever is below them; And he is the lord of the Great Throne. And all praise be to Allah, the lord of the universe.
It is also recommended to recite two surahs, Yasin and as-Safat near the dying person, this will relieve the pangs of death.
Q The importance of Namaz-e-Washaat is also emphasized on the night of burial, with the belief that it sheds light to the deceased in the grave. Other sources have also said that the night before the burial, if Namaaz-e-Shaab is recited, it provides additional relief to the deceased. Is this correct?.
A. Namaaz-e-Washaat should be recited on the first night following the burial. There is no information on the importance of Namaaz-e-shaab to the deceased before the burial.
Q Following the death of my father, I used to attend the graveyard to recite Sura-Yasin at the most peaceful time of the day when there was no one else around. Yet, I am told that it is Makruh for woman the visit the graveyard. Is this true?.
A. It is Makruh for woman to attend the funcral or actual burial ceremony but it is okay after burial has taken place.
Q The phrase 'Time is a great healer' does not mean much when family members are grieving. What are recommended acts we can do after?.
A. There are no specific duas, but it is desirable (Mustahab) to pray Salatul Walidayn, a two rakat salat, between maghrib and Isha prayers, in order to offer it as a gift (hadiyya) to parents. Continuous recitation of the Holy Qur'an is also advisable.
Q Following the death of a loved one, majalis are normally held for forty days for the thawab of the marhum. What is the significance of forty days? Some sources have also said that the soul of the bereaved comes to the house for the forty days and therefore an incense stick (agarbathi) should be kept lit in the room of the bereaved. Is this true and can you shed further light on the issue of having incense sticks when majalis are held?.
A. The process of grief is usually a family issue with no religious implications. The 'forty day' time line is generally used, similer to the tradition governing Imam Husayn's (a.s.) fortieth (Chehlum).
Q Can you briefly comment on the concept of reciting the Holy Qur'an for the thawab of the marhum, especially during the forty days following death?.
A. The Holy Quran can be recited at all times and there are no specific rules governing the forty day period. Distributing duas (wakf for the marhum), offering Sadka, donating towards a hospital or school, feeding our mumineen in memory of the deceased, etc. are other charitable methods that provide spiritual benefit to the marhum.
Q When we see the dead in our dreams, is there any significance to the messages imparted in the dreams? If we see one in good/bad state does this imply anything?.
A. Each dream has its own significance of communication. There is no general statement for all dreams.
Q Traditionally, after the death of a husband, the wife would not work outside the home or leave home for at least four months. Many women still follow this. Is there any religious implication to this?.
A. Yes the rules governing this are that women should not wear any bright clothes(attraction) nor should they go out for social purposes during this period. Working outside home to earn a living is permissible.