Etiquette of Funerals

`Ata’ ibn Abi Rabah said: I heard Ibn `Umar say: I heard the Prophet say: “When one of you dies do not tarry, but make haste and take him to his grave, and let someone read at his head the opening of Surat al-Baqara, and at his feet its closure when he lies in the grave.” al-Tabarani narrates it in al-Mu`jam al-kabir, but Haythami said in Majma` al-zawa’id (3:44) that the latter’s chain contains Yahya ibn `Abd Allah al-Dahhak al-Babalti who is weak. However, the hadith is confirmed by the practice of `Abd Allah ibn `Umar as narrated through sound chains (see below). al-Khallal also narrates the hadith in his al-Amr bi al-ma`ruf (p. 122 #239).

It is related that al-`Ala’ ibn al-Lajlaj said to his children: “When you bury me, say as you place me in the side-opening (lahd) of the grave: Bismillah wa `ala millati rasulillah — In the name of Allah and according to the way of Allah’s Messenger — then flatten the earth over me, and read at the head of my grave the beginning of Surat al-Baqara and its end, for I have seen that Ibn `Umar liked it.” Narrated by Bayhaqi in al-Sunan al-Kubra (4:56), Ibn Qudama in al-Mughni (2:474, 2:567, 1994 ed. 2:355), al-Tabarani in al-Kabir, and Haythami said in Majma` al-zawa’id (3:44) that the latter’s narrators were all declared trustworthy.

Abu Bakr al-Khallal (d. 311) in al-Amr bi al-ma`ruf (p. 121 #237) relates the above with the following wording: “flatten the earth over me, then read at the head of my grave the Opening of the Book, the beginning of Surat al-Baqara, and its end, for I have heard Ibn `Umar instruct it.” Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya cites it in Kitab al-ruh (Madani ed. p. 17) from Khallal’s narration in al-Jami` but without mention of the Fatiha.

`Ali ibn Musa al-Haddad said: “I was once with Ahmad ibn Hanbal at a funeral in the company of Muhammad ibn Qudama al-Jawhari. After the dead was interred a blind man came up and recited [from the Qur'an] beside the grave. ‘O So-and-so,’ Ahmad said to him, ‘Recitation at the graveside is an innovation (bid`a)!’ But when we left the cemetary Muhammad ibn Qudama asked Ahmad, ‘O Abu `Abd Allah, what is your opinion of Mubashshir ibn Isma`il al-Halabi?’ ‘A sound authority,’ he said, ‘have you written anything down from him?’… ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘Mubashshir ibn Isma`il related to me on the authority of his father, on the authority of Abd al-Rahman ibn al-`Ala’ ibn al-Lajlaj, on the authority of his father, that he had requested that upon his death the opening and closing verses of the Chapter of the Cow should be recited over his grave, saying: I heard Ibn `Umar requesting that this be done.’ Thereupon, Ahmad said to him, ‘Return to the man, and bid him recite’.” Narrated by al-Ghazali in his Ihya, book of “The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife,” trans. T.J. Winter [`Abd al-Hakim Murad] (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1989) p. 117. al-Khallal narrates it in al-Amr bi al-ma`ruf (p. 122 #240-241), Ibn Qudama in al-Mughni (2:567, Beirut 1994 ed. 2:355) and Qal`a’ji in Fiqh Ibn `Umar (p. 618). Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya cites it in Kitab al-ruh (Madani ed. p. 18) from Khallal’s narration in al-Jami`. Ghazali prefaces the relation with the words: “There is no harm in reciting the Qur’an over graves.”

Nawawi said in Kitab al-adhkar (Ta’if ed. p. 212 #493): “We also narrated in Bayhaqi’s Sunan (4:56-57) with a fair (hasan) chain that Ibn `Umar liked for the beginning and the end of Surat al-Baqara to be recited over the grave after burial.”

Shawkani in Tuhfat al-dhakirin (p. 229) cited al-Jazari’s instruction in al-Hisn al-hasin: “Let one recite over the grave, after burial, the beginning of Surat al-Baqara and its end.” This is based on Ibn `Umar’s words narrated by Bayhaqi in his Sunan (4:56): “I like that it be read over the grave the beginning of Surat al-Baqara and its end.” Shawkani comments: “Nawawi declared its chain fair (hassana isnadahu), and even if it is only Ibn `Umar’s saying, such as this is not uttered on the basis of mere opinion. It is possible that because of what he learned of the benefit of such recitation generally speaking, he then deemed it desirable that it be read over the grave due to its merit, in the hope that the deceased benefit from its recitation.”

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