I was watching a documentary yesterday on Channel 4 called Gods Waiting Room. It followed a Muslim funeral parlour which work with the deceased loved one’s in ensuring the departed is buried, washed and treated as per the Islamic rulings.

As part of the various families and couples in the documentary one which particularly struck me and got my brain ticking was a Malaysian family. This Malaysian woman made funeral arrangements for her recently departed husband, leaving behind one daughter. She remained incredibly composed throughout it all, from arranging the washing of the body, the viewing of the face, the timing, and when the burial was taking place she was sat in the car in the nearby car park. Trying to see what was going on. After the actual burial and reciting of prayers over the grave was complete, she came along with he daughter and sisters and paid her respects at the grave, weeping quietly – a striking contrast to the usual wailing and loud sobbing that is taken to be the reason why women are not allowed to follow and participate in the burial and funeral procession.

It made me wonder whether on the passing away of my loved ones I would be able to participate by following the funeral procession and stand by the grave as the men filled it in with soil or would I be restricted to stand and watch from afar. I have always been to visit graves of loved ones, although have never been part of a funeral procession, nor have any of the women I have ever come across been involved in the funeral to such a degree. So I flexed my index finger and got searching.

As per the understanding of Islamic rules by some, women do not accompany the funeral procession to the site of burial, nor do they participate in the actual carrying of the coffin or in covering the coffin with earth. The women tend to drift in after the burial has been done.

Not allowing women to visit graves is taken from the following hadith:

Umm Atiyyah (R) said: “We were prohibited from following funeral, but without being strict on us.’ [Muslim]The Messenger of Allah (S) said: “Allah’s curse be upon the women that (frequently) visit the graves and illuminate them.” [At-Tirmidhi and Al-Hakim]

This however seems to contradict the outright ban on women visiting graves by the following permissibility of infrequent visitations to the resting place of a loved one:

It is permissible for women to infrequently visit the graves. This is based on the saying of Aishah (R) when she was asked about it: “Yes, the Messenger of Allah (S) had prohibited visiting of the graves, later, he permitted it.” [Al-Hakim, Al-Baihaqi]

The understanding and applicability of these hadiths in terms of rulings becomes muddled whereby the position of visiting graves is not understood clearly to be either forbidden -which implies no fleixibility in the matter – or disliked -where an outright ban is not the case but is dependent on other factors-

Q. Can a woman go to a funeral? It has been suggested that in the times of early Islam women were prevented from doing so. Is this true? Are women allowed to physically enter cemeteries or graveyards?

A: There are conflicting Ahadith on this subject. While one set of Ahadith prohibits such practices, another set seemingly goes the opposite way. Those people who reject the idea altogether quote the following Hadith in which the Prophet(SAW) is reported to have said: ‘Allah has cursed those who often go and visit graves.’ Another Hadith relates an incident in which the Prophet (SAW) asked his daughter, Fatima (RA),why she had left her house. She is reported to have replied: ‘I went to the family of such and such a dead person and I prayed to Allah to shower His mercy on the person.’ The Prophet (SAW) is then reported to have asked whether she went to the funeral and she replied: ‘God forbid, how could I do such a thing when I have heard that you have forbidden this?’

However, those looking for evidence to show that women are allowed to visit graves quote some of the following Ahadith: According to one tradition, the Prophet (SAW) is reported – after acknowledging that he had earlier forbade women to visit cemeteries – to have said: ‘Now you are allowed to go and visit them, for they remind you of the life to come.’ In another Hadith, included in both Muslim and Al-Bukhari, the Prophet (SAW), is reported by Umm Atiyyah to have forbade women from following janazah prayers ‘… but,’ adds Umm Atiyyah, ‘he did not stress it’

The question then is: What does the believer gather from all this? After much deliberation, scholars have concluded that women can go to gravesides and cemeteries, providing they fulfil usual requirements – in the same way as, for example, they go shopping or visiting friends and neighbours. This, say scholars, is the best method of combining the two sets of Ahadith which may otherwise appear contradictory.

Some of the restrictions seem to be age and temperament specific

According to Shi’ite traditions, it is disapproved foryoung girls to participate in mourning ceremonies. Sunni scholars have recorded from Umm Atiyyah who said that the Holy Prophet encouraged women not to participate in mourning processions but he did not forbid it. [8]

However the above hadith is seen to be inaccurately understood within the context of its reference

….if he relied on the hadith of Umm Atiyya in Sahih al Bukhari to which you refer, then one should note that her words are to the meaning that the prevention was not enforced. The tradition about Aisha throws more light on the matter: Aisha came one day from the cemetery, and I said to her: “O mother of the believers! From whence do you come? She said: “From the grave of Abdur Rahman.” I said to her: “Did the Messenger of God not prohibit visiting the graves?” She said, “Yes, then he ordered to visit them.”

The most commonly referred to explanation for disallowing women to attend funerals was due to the loud wailing and improper conduct of beating themselves and tearing their hair/clothes that most engaged in – and this is the reason currently still used although it would be relatively obsolete and varying depending on the temperament and degree of control the individual has over themselves and their senses

The traditions state that the custom was to employ women who used to wail and bemoan the dead. It would seem if we accept the hadith, that this may have been the reason for any early prohibitions. It ought to be noted too that men are also prohibited from wailing and tearing their hair, etc. Once this was understood and became the law of Islam, there was no need to prevent either sex from attending a janazah in a graveyard………Therefore, a woman cannot be deemed as being too emotional to attend a funeral — be it in the mosque or the graveyard — for as I have pointed out, the prohibition is for both men and women if it is feared that they will deport themselves in a manner deemed improper in Islam.

The absence of any clear indication of the permissbility or impermissibility on this matter, as with other matters, is taken to indicate that if something is not explicitily stated to be disallowed/forbidden then it should not be hastily assumed or taken to be as such

….And we seem to forget that the Qur’an states: “…and He has clearly explained what is forbidden unto you.” If we cannot find a prohibition in the Qur’an, then no Imam — no single person — has a right to enforce any interdiction. May Allah guide us to do that which is correct.