Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar
Every soul will taste death, and you will only be given your [full] recognition and rewards (of your life’s striving) on the Day of Resurrection. So s/he who is drawn away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise has attained a great success. And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion. – (Qur’an, Surah `Ali `Imran 3:185)
On Sunday 22 July 2018, we performed the Salat al-Janazah and laid to rest one of Cape Town’s sporting legends, al-Marhum Saait Magiet. There are scores of inspirational stories about the legendary skills and athletic prowess of Saait Magiet. Sadly, as a direct result of the oppressive apartheid era he was not afforded the accolades and glory that he rightly deserved during his sporting career. He will be fondly remembered as an enormously gifted cricket and rugby player. We ask Allah, to pardon him, have mercy on him, and grant him a special place in Jannah.
Saait Magiet passed away on Tuesday 17 July 2018 at the age of 66 following a heart attack while on holiday in Malaysia. His family decided to transport his mayyit to Cape Town in order to allow them to perform the last rites at home. In light of this extraordinary situation some people have raised the question as to whether it is permissible (ja’iz) for a mayyit to be transferred from one place to be buried in another and in the process also delay the janazah. I would like to take this opportunity to provide an answer to this question.
Since the evidences (adillah) from the most primary sources of Islamic guidance, the Glorious Qur’an and the authentic ahadith (prophetic traditions), are scant and not unequivocal the majority of Muslim jurists hold that it is ja’iz permissible to transport a mayyit from one place to another for burial purposes.
Given current scholarly debates on fiqh al-janaza, it is surprising to note that the Hanbali school of law (madh-hab) holds the most lenient position on this question. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal is reported to have pronounced that: “I do not know of any harm in transferring the deceased from one town to another.”
The Maliki School also holds it permissible to remove the body from one place to another, even after the burial, for a valid reason. One such legitimate reason is when the relatives want to bury the deceased nearby so that they may visit the grave more easily. The Hanafi and Shafi`i schools of law are stricter in their views on this issue.
The Hanafi’s regard it as makruh (undesirable) to remove the body from one place to another and holds it preferable to bury the person at the place of death. The Shafi`i school further considers it unlawful (haram) to transfer the body of a deceased from one country to another unless it is the sacred cities of Makkah, Madinah or Jerusalem.
The equivocal Shafi`i position may have been influenced by the fact that the bodies of some companions like `Abd al-Rahman ibn Abubakr was transported from Abyssinia for burial in Makkah and that of Sa`ad ibn Abi Waqqas and Sa`ad ibn Zayd were taken from the place of their passing in al-Aqiq to be buried in Madinah. (See Fiqh al-Sunnah by Sayyid Sabiq)
Taking into account the varying positions among the schools of law (madha-hib) and contemporary Muslim jurists, it is my considered view that it is permissible (ja’iz) to transport a deceased person to be buried in another city or country as long as the following three conditions are met:
- A valid reason exists, such as the wishes of the guardian and the shura (consensus) of the family to transfer the mayyit so as to allow them to perform the final janazah rites and to visit the grave.
- There is complete assurance that the body will not decompose or the mayyit will not be physically harmed in any way.
- That the family is not placed in debt as a result of the cost involved in transporting the mayyit. The latter can be considerably mitigated by contemporary travel insurances.
In conclusion, it is commendable to note that even though the Shafi`i madh-hab predominates in the Western Cape, and the transporting of the mayyit for burial does not resonate with the official position of this school, our local `ulama’ have not been dogmatic and have not raised any public objections but have rather respected the family’s wishes and shown a great example of adab al-ikhtilaf – integrity and ethics of disagreement.
It is my sincere hope that more fiqhi issues of legitimate ikhtilaf and disagreement among the various schools of Islamic law will be dealt with such decorum, sensitivity and pragmatism. I also take this opportunity to call on all Muslims to embrace the fiqh view on issues pertaining to the janazah that resonates best with their own consciences while at the same time respecting the right of others to adopt a different view.
In this regard we end with a beautiful hadith of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) wherein he exhorted us as follows: Take a fatwa from your heart (conscience).
Moral goodness (birr) is whatever your heart feels ease at doing, and sin (ithm) is whatever brings discomfort to the heart even if people counsel you otherwise. (Musnad of Imam Ahmad, vol. 4 pg. 228, Targhib, vol. 2 pg. 557. See also Sahih Muslim, Hadith: 2553)
Finally, we make du`a and prayer that Allah, al-Muhyi al-Mumit, the Giver and Taker of Life, will grant al-Marhum Saait Magiet a high place in al-Jannah and grant his family sabr and patience at this time of the great sadness and grief.