The Islamic Ruling Regarding Muslim Women Following Funeral Processions
by Shaykh Luqman Ahmad
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Al-humdu lillahi Rabbil aalameen, wa salaatu wa salaam alaa Rasoolilllah, wa alaa aalihi wa sah’bihi wa sallam
A short time ago there was a death in our area and after the janaazah prayer, the women were told to stay away from following the funeral procession to the burial site. Among those present were the wife and female children of the deceased. The announcement was disheartening to them, and to others who then asked me what my opinion on the matter was. Al-humdu lillah we were able to redress the issue and allowed them to accompany us to the grave yard to offer their du’aa and to pay their last respects to their husband and father, and they did so without any wailing, any misconduct and without losing control of themselves in any way. However, I became aware that this is a prevalent understanding of many Muslims in the United States that women are not allowed to accompany the funeral procession to the grave site under any circumstances. Thus, we release the following statement in order to clarify the question. Wal Allahul Musta’aan wa bihi tawfiq.
Women following the funeral procession and going to the grave site
This issue is both a matter of urf (local custom) and fiqh (Islamic law). The part of it that deals with urf , is; what is the local custom amongst Muslims in America is with regard to women’s role and behavior at funerals, and whether or not that behavior is permissible based upon the Quran, the sunna and the analysis of our scholars. The other part of the matter is the definitive understanding of this issue by our Prophet (SAWS), his companions, the Salaf of our ummah and the people of knowledge. Wa Allahul Musta’aan, wa bihi tawfiq.
The objective of understanding the religion and the proper practice thereof is not served when we apply a ruling to a condition that does not exist. When people say: women following the funeral procession, and going to the grave site, what is meant here in the United States and elsewhere is when after the janaazah prayer is over, they follow the burial procession to the grave site, and stand and be witnesses to the body of the deceased being lowered into the ground and put to rest while they make du’aa, and stand quietly, and allow the men to do the actual lowering and speaking if any. This is the practice as it occurs here in the United States and therefore this is what the ruling needs to apply to.
The reason women were prohibited from the graves
The prohibition and disliked nature of women attending the gravesites is not simply a matter of a female presence at the grave; it is a matter of unlawful and unislamic behavior, some of which would harm the deceased and add to their punishment, as mentioned in the hadith; “Indeed the deceased will be tortured for those who wail over him.” This understanding is also taken from the hadith; “There are four things from the affair of the days of ignorance that my nation will not abandon; boasting about one’s status, criticizing people’s lineage, seeking rain from the stars, and wailing over the dead. And if the wailing woman does not repent before she dies, she will be made to stand on the Day of Judgment wearing a garment of tar and a mangy coat of armor.” In the days of jaahiliyyah (ignorance), before the guidance of Islam, the women during that time used to tear their clothes and beat their cheeks and make unlawful utterances upon the death of someone, and the Prophet (SAWS) used to disavow such behavior; “They are not from us; those who beat their cheeks, tear open their garments, and call out with cries from the days of ignorance.”,
Understanding of the scholars regarding this prohibition
The textual prohibition of women going to the graves is found in the hadith of Umm Atiyyah; :”We have been forbidden to accompany funeral processions but it wasn’t strict upon us”  In explaining this hadith, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalaani says: “The phrase ‘but it wasn’t strict upon us’ [wa lam yu’zam alainaa] means; he didn’t make it a firm prevention for us like he made other things that were prohibited. So it’s as if she [Umm Atiyyah] said; he disliked for us to follow the funeral procession without making it prohibited”. In this respect, Imam al-Qurtubi said: “the apparent wording of Umm Atiyyah indicates that the nahiy [prohibition] here is nahiy tanzeeh[prohibitively disliked]. The hadith is also a daleel (proof) that there are degrees in prohibition and that not all statements of prohibition from the Prophet (SAWS) have the same meaning. Imam al-Qurtubi goes on to state: This is the position of the majority of people of knowledge, and Imam Malik leans towards it being permissible outright, which was the position of the people of Medina.
The permissibility of women attending the gravesite is further supported by what was related by Ibn Abi Shayba in the hadith of Abu Hurraira that the Messenger of Allah was at a funeral and Umar saw a woman (following the funeral procession). He yelled at her, but the Prophet (SAWS) said to him: “Leave her alone, `Umar! Verily her eyes shed tears, the soul feels the pangs, and the promised hour is near.” According to Abu Hasan ad-Dawudi the meaning of the Prophet’s statement “and it wasn’t strict upon us” is so that we do not go to the family of the dead, console them, and invoke blessing upon their deceased and then not follow the funeral procession. The majority if not all of the hadith regarding the prohibition of women attending funeral processions, except for the hadith I mentioned from Sahih al-Bukhaari, are weak. However what it prohibited, is unlawful behavior such as wailing, tearing the clothing, jumping into caskets, cursing Allah’s decree, beating one’s self, and like behavior.
The Islamic ruling regarding women attending the funeral procession and visiting the graves
Following the body of the deceased to the grave yard is a right of the dead upon the living according to the hadith: “the right of a Muslim over a Muslim are six” and at the end of the hadith is the phrase; “and when he dies, follow him”. This is the agreed upon position of Ahlus sunna past and present. The ruling of whether or not women should be allowed to accompany the funeral procession to the gravesite is predicated upon whether or not unislamic behavior will occur as a result of their grieving. What constitutes normal behavior occurring during funerals varies from country to country and sometimes even from region to region. Because of the tumultuous conditions in many parts of the Muslim world, many deaths of Muslims are a result of bombings, terror, war, retaliation and factionalism. These are all circumstances where emotions may run high and wailing is more likely to occur. Additionally, many funerals accompany protest which is another reason for high emotions.
In the United States, at this juncture in our history, most deaths of Muslims are due to illness, old age, accidents, and natural causes. In cases where death is from homicide, it is usually one or two persons. Amongst American Muslims, there has never been an accepted tradition of wailing over the dead, tearing clothing, jumping into the casket, cursing Allah, or questioning His decree with regards to someone’s soul being taken. Some of these practices did exist in jaahiliyyah before people entered into Islam, and some of it still exists amongst non-Muslims. However, this type of behavior amongst Muslim Americans was addressed and stamped out early on, and the Islamic prohibition on these things has been pretty well known across the board by the general Muslim population here in the United States.
Furthermore, we do not have a history of paid mourners, wailing parties, and mass hysteria during funerals amongst the Muslim women folk here in our country. Although it has happened on occasion that one or two persons would get out of hand, this is has been usually corrected immediately by others who are present. I have been present at scores of funerals and have seen the women present at scores of burials and have never witnessed or even heard of women wailing, yelling, cursing, tearing their clothes, or beating their cheeks at funerals.
Similar moral progress occurred during the time of the Prophet (SAWS) with regards to visiting the grave sites. In the beginning of the Prophetic era, there was a need to prevent the women from the gravesites because of their recent habit to jaahiliyyah practices, and later as people gained greater understanding, the prohibition was rescinded. In the hadith of Abu Hurraira, the Prophet (SAWS) said: “I used to prohibit you from visiting the graves, now (I say) visit them for verily it will remind you of death”. In another tradition, the Prophet (SAWS) saw a woman crying at a grave so he told her: ‘Fear Allah and be patient.” It is duly noted in this hadith that the Prophet (SAWS) did not forbid her from staying at the grave. The Mother of the Believers, Aisha (RA) continued to visit the graves after the death of the Prophet (SAWS), as mentioned in the hadith of Abdullah Ibn Abi Mulaykah, who said: `Aisha came one day from the graveyard, so I said: “O Mother of Believers, from where have you come?” She said: “From the grave of `Abdul-Rahmaan Ibn Abi Bakr.” I said: “Did not the Prophet (SAWS) forbid visiting the graves?”She said: “Yes, then he commanded us to visit them.”
Therefore, based upon the fact that Muslims in America, as a rule do not engage in the practices of wailing, tearing clothing, beating the cheeks, and hollering out bad statements at funerals, and the evidence from the sunna of the Prophet (SAWS) and the view of the scholars we have mentioned, it is not haram for Muslim women to accompany the funeral procession to the grave sites as long as they are able to control themselves from the unlawful types of behavior that we have mentioned in the hadith. If there is a probability that attendance at the burial will stir emotions to a degree where unlawful behavior will likely occur, and If the standards of adab and decorum cannot be maintained when following the funeral procession to the gravesite, then it is prohibitively disliked. And Allah knows best.
 Collected by Bukhaari and Muslim.
 Collected by Muslim.
 Collected by Muslim.
 Collected by Bukhaari.
 Fat’hul Bari, vol. 3, p. 489.
 The difference between nahiy tah’reem [prohibitively unlawful] and nahiy tanzih [prohibitively disliked] is that the former makes something haram and therefore a sin while the latter makes it disliked but not sinful in and of itself.
 Collected by Ibn Majah and an-Nisaa’ee.
 Abu Hassan Abdurrahman ibn Muzaffar ad-Dawudi (d. 467).
 Collected by Abu Dawood in the Sunan and by Imam Ahmad in the Musnad, this hadith is also in Sahih Muslim but with a slightly different wording
 Collected by Bukhaari.
 Collected in the Mustrad’rak of al-Haakim, and in the Sunan of al-Baihaqi