Funerals. They are something we generally do not like to think about. I say this based on evidence of observation in the way in which Muslim communities tend to handle funerals (hereafter referred to as janazah). I’m not talking about the etiquette, or lack thereof, that is displayed at so many jana’iz (pl. janazah): that subject deserves its own post (forthcoming? Make du’ah for my typing skills). What I am talking about are two things: one, community obligations and two, easy deeds for one’s scale.
As for point one, let’s examine it from rom a fiqh point of view: jana’iz fall under the heading of fard al-kifayah/communal obligations. It is our responsibility as a community to bury our dead, not the state’s. What seems to frustrate this process is often times a lack of planning, admittedly on both parties: the deceased (or in this case, the formerly living) and the Muslim community at large. Part of what I feel should be incorporated into the new masjid paradigm we see trying to form in America is help in the area of life planning, or more specifically in this case, death planning (feel free to suggest some other terminology — I know this sounds awful). This is equally important for both legacy Muslims as well as so-called convert Muslims. I have seen many funerals go awry due to improper planning of wills and last testaments. Not that we want to hand every new Muslim a copy of the Qur’an, a prayer rug and then a last-will-and-testament kit (bean pie is optional), but it would be pretty good to have a will-template made up and on-hand, downloadable from a masjid’s website or obtainable from its front office. It would also help to perhaps conduct workshops on this from time to time to keep it in the community’s periphery vision. But I digress.
Point two: easy deeds. What do I mean by easy deeds? There is a well-cited hadith from Ibn Majah, narrated by Abu Hurayrah, that details the fate of those who die in a state of debt:
نَفْسُ الْمُؤْمِنِ مُعَلَّقَةٌ بِدَيْنِهِ حَتَّى يُقْضَى عَنْهُ
“The soul of the believer is attached to his debt until it is paid off.” (Hasan)
For me, this hadith illustrates the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وسلم overarching wisdom in that he saw all sides and all aspects of his community. The Muslim community will always be made up of those who will need the help of others and that these people should not necessarily be looked down upon simply because of economic hardship. In fact, helping one’s brother or sister from a hardship is an excellent and “easy” opportunity to acquire lofty deeds for one’s scale as is noted in another hadith (also narrated by Abu Hurayrah), as recorded in Sahih Muslim:
مَنْ نَفَّسَ عَنْ مُؤْمِنٍ كُرْبَةً مِنْ كُرَبِ اَلدُّنْيَا, نَفَّسَ اَللَّهُ عَنْهُ كُرْبَةً مِنْ كُرَبِ يَوْمِ اَلْقِيَامَةِ , وَمَنْ يَسَّرَ عَلَى مُعْسِرٍ, يَسَّرَ اَللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ فِي اَلدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ, وَمَنْ سَتَرَ مُسْلِمًا, سَتَرَهُ اَللَّهُ فِي اَلدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ, وَاَللَّهُ فِي عَوْنِ اَلْعَبْدِ مَا كَانَ اَلْعَبْدُ فِي عَوْنِ أَخِيهِ
“If anyone relieves a Muslim believer from one of the hardships of this worldly life, Allah will relieve him of one of the hardships of the Day of Resurrection. If anyone makes it easy for the one who is indebted to him (while finding it difficult to repay), Allah will make it easy for him in this worldly life and in the Hereafter, and if anyone conceals the faults of a Muslim, Allah will conceal his faults in this world and in the Hereafter. Allah helps His slave as long as he helps his brother.”
For me, I am concentrating on the first part of the hadith, “If anyone relieves a Muslim believer from one of the hardships of this worldly life…”. I cannot tell you how many notifications for jana’iz have come through brother Da’ood Nasir’s listserv: Islamic Information E-mail Network, of Muslims who have passed on. Often these Muslims who are passing, may Allah have mercy on them and grant them Jannah, have non-Muslim family who may or may not be amicable to a Muslim funeral, are in debt, or are incapable (them or their families) of paying the costs of the funeral. Our communities seem to have no issue in investing millions of dollars into buildings but commits very little to human causes. My thoughts are thus: could we, as a community, set up an emergency fund to help these Muslims alleviate their debt by removing this hardship or the hardship of the cost of the funeral. Perhaps something as simple as a weekly or monthly donation program in which members of the Muslim community could contribute to this fund which would be especially allocated to this particular effort. In the end, it would be a win-win situation for the dead as well as the living, who will be joining them shortly.
These few notes here are not meant to be taken as dictates but rather as a means of starting important conversations in our various communities across America to help facilitate the growth and maturation of the Muslim community in America. And God knows best,
For more information on Da’ood Nasir’s e-mail network you can reach him at nasir [at] nasirkeyman [dot] net.