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A Handbook of Muslim Burials
GHUSL AL MAYYAH (WASHING THE BODY)
This section describes the procedure for washing a body in preparation for its burial in detail. Islam lays great emphasis on physical and spiritual cleanliness. Indeed, physical cleanliness is considered absolutely necessary for all acts of worship to be meaningful.
The concept of cleanliness is extended to the preparation of a body for burial also. Since Islam emphasizes the preservation of the dignity of the deceased person at all times, it requires that the body be washed and cleaned thoroughly and in a specific way. This ensures that all Muslims will be prepared for their last journey in an identical fashion regardless of their social or economic status.
The importance of maintaining a clean and hygienic environment at all times is exemplified by the instructions of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) to his followers in the following Hadith:
" Let whoever washes a dead person take a bath; and let whoever carries him perform Wudu." (Ahmad and Abu Daud).
Things You Need
No elaborate preparations or paraphernalia are required for the Ghusl. The few things needed are listed below. They are designed to maintain as sanitary and clean an environment as possible during the Ghusl. They are not mandatory, and things marked with an asterisk (*) would suffice in extreme circumstances
Water* (preferably warm), soap*, surgical gloves, disposable masks and shoe covers, a roll of cotton*, towels, clean cloth*, Kafan*, perfume, powdered camphor.
Procedure For Ghusl
It may be mentioned that the body of a deceased person can be released only to a funeral home if the death occurs in a hospital. If the person dies at home, the relatives should call a funeral home and follow its advice in respect of reporting the death to the proper authorities as well as the transportation of the body to the funeral home for its final preparation.
The following is a step-by-step description of the procedure for Ghusl:
(1) Place the body of the deceased on a table for ease of access during washing. Funeral homes usually provide a table washed and disinfected according to industry standards and state regulations. If in doubt, wash the table thoroughly with warm water and disinfectant soap before use.
Funeral homes can provide valuable services and facilities for Ghusl and the ensuing preparation of the body such as the washing table, soap, surgical gloves, hot and cold running water etc. Local and state laws in the Western countries do not allow the handling and washing of a dead body in a place other than one licensed for this specific purpose. Check with a funeral home in your area for specific regulations.
(2) Remove the deceased person's clothes carefully and discreetly taking care to respect his or her privacy. At no time during the process should the Awrah of the deceased be exposed. Keep the Awrah covered with a cloth as the clothes are removed.
It may be mentioned that the Awrah of a male consists of the part of his body from his navel to his knees, while that of a female consists of her body from her neck down to her ankles.
(3) Press the stomach of the deceased gently and massage it downwards to evacuate the bowels before the Ghusl is started. The process may be facilitated by one person raising the body from behind to a semi-upright or reclined position as the other compresses the abdomen. Working under the cover, use a gloved hand to discreetly and carefully wash away any refuse with warm water.
(4) Change the glove. Wrap a piece of clean wet cloth around your index finger and gently wipe the teeth and the inside of the mouth of the deceased. Discard the used piece of cloth.
(5) Use small wads of cotton to plug the ears and the nose to minimize the possibility of water entering these orifices during Ghusl. A thick pad of cotton may be placed over the mouth for the same purpose. Additionally, use your free hand to shield the orifices during the Ghusl.
(6) Perform Wudu of the deceased as below:
(a) Wash the right hand and then the left hand, each three times.
(b) Washing the inside of the mouth and the nose is not necessary. Clean both from the outside only.
(c) Shielding the mouth, nose and ears with your free hand wash the face three times. Try not to let the water enter any of the orifices.
(d) Wash the right arm from the elbow down to the fingertips three times. Wash the left arm similarly.
(e) Wash the right foot from the ankle down to the toes three times. Wash the left foot similarly.
(7) Using warm water and soap, wash the body thoroughly from head to toe. Usually, three washes are sufficient to adequately cleanse the body. If necessary, wash the body again. It is the sunnah of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) to wash the body an odd number of times as is clear from the following Hadith:
Umm Atiyyah (ra)reported that the Prophet (pbuh) came in while they were washing his daughter Zaynab (ra). He instructed them:
Wash her three, five, seven or more times if you find it necessary- using water and (ground leaves of) lotus" (Bukhari and Muslim).
(8) Have one or more helpers turn the body on its left side. Using soap and warm water, wash the right half of the body thoroughly. Gently turn the body on its right side and repeat the process to clean the left side.
(9) Wash the whole body with water only. Make sure that the body is cleansed of all foreign matter including soap scum.
(10) Pat the body dry with a towel discreetly. Again, work under the covering in deference to the privacy of the deceased.
(11) Perfume or camphor may be applied to the body to add to its overall sanitary condition.
(12) Transfer the covered body carefully to an adjacent table where the Kafan has already been spread out in the prescribed manner as described in Section III.
Special circumstances may have to be addressed during the Ghusl. Common sense and decency should dictate the line of possible action in such situations. For example, inspite of all precautions body fluids may sometimes be discharged from the deceased after the Ghusl has been completed. It is then only necessary to clean the refuse with water and rinse the whole body with water three times. It is not necessary to repeat the Ghusl. If the discharge still continues small wads of cotton may be used (discreetly taped, if necessary) to stop the secretions.
Cases involving accident victims, autopsy or contagious diseases are some other examples of situations requiring special handling and precautions. A knowledgeable professional e.g., the funeral home director would normally be able to suggest prudent lines of action in such circumstances compatible with the Shariah, local laws and legitimate health concerns.
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