Salat al-Janaza `ala al-Gha’ibin

Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani


Is it permissible or not to perform the funeral prayer for all absent Muslims indiscriminately?

What about Albani’s statement: “It [funeral prayer over every Muslim in absentia] is among the innovations in religion of which none doubts among those who know the Sunna of the Prophet e and the school (madhhab) of the Salaf”?[1]

What is the position of the scholars of Ahl al-Sunna on this issue?


It would be enough for one to know that the Salaf had more than a single madhhab to realize the strangeness of Albani’s opinion cited above. It is known that al-Shafi`i and Ahmad – who were of the Salaf – and their schools permitted the funeral prayer in absentia for one and all indiscriminately. The above fatwa is all the more peculiar in light of the fact that it concludes a section of the book which begins with the author’s own declaration that “The janaza prayer is lawful over… those who died in a country which have no one to pray over them in their presence: over such, a group [sic] of the Muslims pray in absentia (Salat al-gha’ib), because of the Prophet’s prayer over the Negus (al-Najashi).”[2] He then reduces this general permission of his to a selective one whereby the prayer in absentia may be offered for some but not all. What is his proof for this?

a) First he quotes Ibn al-Qayyim’s words whereby: “It was not part of the Prophet’s guidance or his Sunna to pray on every single dead in absentia, for a great deal of the Muslims died in absentia and he did not pray over them, and it is true that he prayed the funeral prayer over the Negus.”[3]

b) Then he avers that “when the rightly-guided caliphs and other caliphs died, none of the Muslims prayed the funeral prayer in absentia over them, and if they had, the reports about it would have been transmitted from them from every side.”

Neither statement constitutes proof that the janaza in absentia for all Muslims indiscriminately “is among the innovations in religion of which none doubt among those who know the Sunna of the Prophet e and the school (madhhab) of the Salaf.” For Ibn al-Qayyim’s own school contradicts him since Ibn Qudama in the Mughni `ala mukhtasar al-Khiraqi explicitly precluded any condition to the funeral prayer in absentia: it is permissible indiscriminately of number, social status, or whether the absent ones died in a Muslim environment or not.[4] The same universality is stated by Ibn al-Jawzi before him in his book of comparative fiqh entitled al-Tahqiq fi ahadith al-khilaf in the section entitled: “The funeral prayer in absentia may be performed with the proper intention, contrary to (the opinions of) Abu Hanifa and Malik.”[5] Fiqh al-Sunna does not say otherwise.[6] Nor does the rightly-guided caliphs’ omission of something, even less that of the Caliphs who succeeded them, constitute proof that it is against the Sunna, especially when there is plain evidence to the contrary from the Prophet e himself, even on a single occasion, provided the Sunna instituted by him has not been abrogated, which it has not. At most the two purported proofs suggest that it is not obligatory to pray the janaza in absentia for every Muslim.


The permissibility of performing the funeral prayer in absentia – i.e. for Muslims who died elsewhere in the world – rests on the following hadiths narrated by Muslim in his Sahih (Kitab al-jana’iz, ch. 22: “On Saying Allahu akbar Over the Remains”). They are cited with excerpts from Nawawi’s Commentary on them:

1. Abu Hurayra narrated that the Prophet e announced to the people the death of the Negus (al-Najashi) on the same day that he died, then he came outside with them to the (open air) place of prayer and said “Allah is greatest!” four times.

Nawawi said in his Commentary on Sahih Muslim:[7]

al-Shafi`i and those who agree with him see in this hadith a proof for praying over the absent dead. There is in the hadith an evident miracle of the Prophet’s due to his proclamation of the Negus’s death on the same day that the latter died in Abyssinia. There is also in the hadith the desirability of proclaiming the death of someone, but not in the pre-Islamic fashion which means to glorify and so forth.

Abu Hanifa may have cited the words “he came outside to the place of prayer” as proof that the funeral prayer is not prayed inside the mosque. However, our school (Shafi`i) and that of the great majority of the scholars is that it is permissible to perform it inside the mosque… The coming out is interpreted to signify greater publicity and to show the people this great miracle of the Prophet’s. There is also the (desirable) increase in the number of worshippers. It offers no proof whatsoever that the prayer cannot be prayed inside the mosque. What the scholars have considered prohibited is to bring the remains into the mosque.

2. Abu Hurayra narrated that the Prophet e announced to the people the death of the Negus – the leader of the Abyssinians – on the same day that he died, saying: “Ask forgiveness for your brother.” Ibn Shihab (al-Zuhri) said: “Sa`id ibn al-Musayyib also narrated to me that Abu Hurayra narrated to him that the Prophet e arranged them in rows in the place of prayer and prayed saying “Allah is greatest!” four times.

3. Jabir ibn `Abd Allah narrated that the Prophet e prayed over As-hama the Negus saying: “Allah is greatest!” four times.

Nawawi said:

Ibn Qutayba said that the meaning of As-hama in Arabic is `Atiyya. The scholars have said that al-Najashi – the Negus – is the title of every king of the Abyssinians, while As-hama is the name of the righteous king that lived in the time of the Prophet… and Ibn `Abd al-Barr said: “The Consensus has taken place around four takbirs. That is the agreement of the jurists and those who give legal decisions in all Muslim countries, based on the sound narrations.”

4. Jabir ibn `Abd Allah said that the Prophet e said: “Today one righteous servant of Allah has died: As-hama.” Jabir continued: “Then he rose and led us in prayer over him.”

5. Jabir ibn `Abd Allah said that the Prophet e said: “A brother of yours has died. Therefore rise and pray over him.” Jabir continued: “We stood up and he arranged us in two rows.”

Nawawi said:

His words: “Therefore rise and pray over him” indicate the obligatoriness (wujub) of the funeral prayer, which is a collective obligation (fard kifaya) according to the Consensus.

The correct position in our school (Shafi`i) is that the obligation of the funeral prayer is fulfilled by the prayer of a single man. It has also been said that the condition of fulfillment is that two men offer it; some said three; some said four.

6. `Imran ibn Hisayn narrated that the Prophet e said: “Your brother al-Najashi (the Negus) has died. Therefore pray over him.” `Imran continued: “Then he stood up and he arranged us in rows behind him, and he prayed over him.” Muslim narrated it.

Nawawi said:

The number of salams is not mentioned in Muslim’s narrations. However, al-Daraqutni mentioned it in his Sunan and the Consensus of scholars has been to refer to the latter. Their majority said that one gives a single salam. Sufyan (al-Thawri), Abu Hanifa, al-Shafi`i, and a number of the Salaf said that one gives two salams.

The scholars differ whether the imam says salam loud or not. Abu Hanifa and al-Shafi`i say the former, while two opinions are narrated from Malik.

The scholars differ whether the hands are raised for each takbir. The school of al-Shafi`i stipulates the raising of the hands in each one. This is what Ibn al-Mundhir, who opts for it, reports from Ibn `Umar, `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz, `Ata’, Salim ibn `Abd Allah, Qays ibn Abi Hazim, al-Zuhri, al-Awza`i, Ahmad, and Ishaq (ibn Rahawayh or Rahuwyah). Ibn al-Mundhir reports from al-Thawri, Abu Hanifa, and the latter’s school that the hands are raised only in the first takbir. From Malik are reported three opinions: the hands are raised in all four; the hands are raised in the first only; the hands are not raised in any of the four.


Ibn Qudama said in al-Mughni, Kitab al-jana’iz, section entitled “Whoever misses the prayer offers it at the grave”:

[Position of the Hanbali school:] The funeral prayer over the dead who are in another locality is permissible with the proper intention. One faces the Qibla and prays as in the presence of the body, regardless whether the absent dead is in the direction of the Qibla or not, or whether the distance between the respective countries warrants shortening the prayer during travel or not. This is also Shafi`i’s position. According to Malik and Abu Hanifa, it is not permissible. (Ibn Abi Musa did relate from Ahmad another opinion which resembles theirs.) For – according to them – one of the prerequisites of the funeral prayer is the presence of the body, since the prayer is not allowed to take place within the locality where the body is not present.

Supporting our position is what was narrated whereby the Prophet e proclaimed the death of the Negus, the leader of the Abyssinians, the day that he died and led the Companions in prayer in the place of prayer outdoors, in which he uttered four takbirs. The hadith is agreed upon. If it is objected that it is possible that the earth was contracted so that the Prophet e could see the Negus’ remains, we reply that this was not reported, and if it had been the case he would have certainly told us.

Also supporting our position is that we follow the Prophet e (indiscriminately) as long as it is not established that he alone is concerned (i.e. that it concerns a practice allowed exclusively for him). Since it is not permissible to pray over the janaza from a far distance, even if one can see him, therefore, if the Prophet e had seen the Negus, the funeral prayer (in absentia) would have been particular to the Prophet e himself. However, he lined up the Companions and led them in prayer.

If it is objected: “There was no one among the Abyssinians to pray over him,” we reply: Then your school (Hanafi and Maliki) does not provide for the funeral prayer in such a case, for you do not allow the prayer over the victim of drowning, the prisoner of war (who dies while in captivity by non-Muslims), and the one who dies in the wilderness, even if there is no one to pray over them. Furthermore this is far-fetched, because the Negus was the king of the Abyssinians and had entered Islam and shown his Islam. Therefore it is unlikely that there was no one to pray over him.

Section #1: If the dead person is in one of the two extremities of the city, it is not allowed for someone who resides on the other side to pray over him in absentia. He has to go to the side of the city where the body is. The author [`Umar ibn al-Husayn al-Khiraqi, d. 334] said that this was the preference of Abu Hafs al-Barmaki. The reason is that it is possible in such a case to be in the presence of the janaza and perform the prayer over him or at the grave. However, Abu `Abd Allah ibn Hamid prayed over a man who died on one side of Baghdad while he himself was on the other side. The dead man was far away, and the prayer in absentia therefore became permissible for him as if he prayed over someone in a different city. The permissibility in this case is related to the city where he resides.

Section #2: The allowed time span for the funeral prayer in absentia is one month, like the funeral prayer over the grave. This is because it is not sure that the remains do not decompose after that time. Ibn `Aqil said concerning the one eaten by a wild beast and the victim of fire: It is possible not to pray over them due to their disappearance in a different fashion than the one who is missing or the victim of drowning, for something remains over which to pray in the case of the latter. Finally, the prayer can be done over one of those who belong in one of these categories short of ritual washing as long as he is recognized, just as is done for the absent one who is in a far place. In such cases they are exempt from washing due to impediments. This is similar to the case of the one who is living but unable to wash nor perform dry ablution (tayammum): he must perform prayer according to his condition.[8]


[1]M. Nasir al-Din al-Albani, Talkhis ahkam al-jana’iz (s.n.: Jam`iyyat ihya’ al-turath al-islami, n.d. [reprint of the 1st edition, Amman : al-Maktabat al-Islamiyah, 1982]) p. 48.
[2]Ibid. p. 44, 47.
[3]Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya, Zad al-ma`ad (ed.? 1:205-206).
[4]Ibn Qudama, al-Mughni (Beirut, 1414/1994 ed.) 2:323.
[5]Ibn al-Jawzi, al-Tahqiq (Beirut, 1414/1994 ed.) 2:14.
[6]Sayyid Sabiq, Fiqh al-Sunna (Cairo, 1408/1987 ed.) 1:352.
[7]Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim (al-Mays ed.) 7/8:25-28.
[8]Ibn Qudama, al-Mughni (Beirut, 1414/1994 ed.) 2:323.