Ghusl-ul-Mayyit: Washing Of The Dead In Islam - Who To, How To And More To Do The Ghusl

06 June 2013

By Al-Haja Ganiyat Oredola Ewumi

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim

Article Prepared And Presented For Nasrul-Lahi-Fatih Society Abuja Branch Nigeria

As-Salaam ‘Alaykum Warahmatullah(i) Wabarakaatuh(u)


All faiths, cultures and civilizations believe death is a prescription every living individual must encounter. Yet, for the believing and the not-believing, the civilized and the uncivilized, the poor and the rich, the scholars and the learners, the presidents and the sheikhs, the young and the old, the kings and the slaves - you name the rest, the aura of fear they all have for death is profound. No wonder, Almighty Allaah mentioned the Death 145 times (as many times as what the Creator knows human being cherish most Al-Hayat, The Life itself) in the Glorious Qur'an (thirty times more than the abode of deceit, Ad-Dunya).

"And the stupor of death will come in truth: "This is what you have been avoiding". (Qur'an Surah Qaf, Chapter 50  Verse 19)

Perhaps our topic today is not to remind ourselves about the instinctual assurance common to all humans despite immeasurable desires by every soul to prolong and even to promulgate - if possible - the inevitability of death. To save our sense of fear for another day, we aim to address today only the topic of Ghusl-ul-Mayyit i.e. Washing Of The Dead. 

Ghusl-ul-Mayyit (Washing of The Dead)

The obligation of Ghusl-ul-Mayyit (Washing of The Dead) is clear enough. It's Fard-ul-Kifaayah i.e. a communal responsibility meaning that if some members take the responsibility of doing it the need is fulfilled, but if no one fulfills it then all Muslims will be accountable. (See Ad-Durr Al-Mukhtaar Vol 1 p. 800 - 8006 and Fatih-al-Qadeer vol 1 p. 448 - 451).

Meanwhile, washing the bodies of the Shuhada` (those martyred for the sake of Allaah) is excepted from the obligation of the Ghusl. If the shaheed or shaheedah dies in battle, he or she should not be washed and shrouded. This is what the majority of the scholars are upon, because of the Hadith of Jaabir ibn ‘Abd-Allaah (may Allaah be pleased with him), who said that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) issued orders that the martyrs of Uhud should be buried with their blood and not washed. (Reported by al-Bukhaari, 1346).  Rather they should not be washed, so that the traces of their martyrdom will be left on them, for it was narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: "By the One in Whose hand is my soul, no one is wounded for the sake of Allaah – and Allaah knows best who is wounded for His sake – but on the Day of Resurrection he will come with a colour like the colour of blood and a fragrance like the fragrance of musk." Reported by al-Bukhaari, 2803; Muslim, 1876.  ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Tha'labah narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: "Leave them with their blood, for there is no wound incurred for the sake of Allaah, but he will come on the Day of Resurrection bleeding with a colour like the colour of blood but its fragrance will be like the fragrance of musk." Reported by al-Nasaa'i; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Jaami', 3573. (See al-Mughni ma'a al-Sharh al-Kabeer, 2/333; al-Maswoo'ah al-Fiqhiyyah, 26/274)

As former Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia al-Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azeez ibn ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Baaz mentioned in his Majmoo' Fataawa wa Maqaalaat Mutanawwi'ah volume 13, and I quote:

"Teaching people how to wash the dead is good and is acceptable according to Shari'ah. There is nothing wrong with that, because some people do not know how to wash the dead properly, so there is a real need to know how to wash the dead."

In every undertaking in Islam, knowledge is very important.  It's rather the basis of accomplishment. Although, it is permissible for a man to wash his wife and a woman to wash her husband. They can only do so they possess adequate knowledge of the process as it was the case in ‘Ali (may Allaah be pleased with him), direct cousin of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and the Third Khalifah of Islam, who washed his wife, Faatimah (may Allaah be pleased with her), and Asmaa bint ‘Umays (may Allaah be pleased with her), who washed her husband Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq (may Allaah be pleased with him) the First Caliph and direct successor to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him).

However, even with the best knowledge in the world, Islam (according to Qawaneen Al-Fiqhiyyah and Ash-sharh As-Saqir) does not permit any man to wash any female other than his wife, whether they are his Mahrams (none-marriageable) or not. Although, a knowledgeable man is permitted to wash a young girl who dies before the age of seven years in exceptional cases such as the lack of Islam of knowledge for family of the deceased young girl. Therefore, only the spouses can wash their opposite sexes as husbands and wives.  Thus, Islam prescribes otherwise men wash men and women wash women if the spouses do not or cannot carry out the functions (For details see Al-Mughniyy vol. 2). This Islamic injunction must be so strictly observed that if a woman were to die among men, and she does not have a husband and there are no women present, Tayammum (i.e. The Dry Ablution) should be done for her, instead of Wudoo' and Ghusl (bath).  This is ordained as to lay emphasis on the protection of a woman ‘Awrah (nakedness). For usually the one who does Ghusl for the deceased, even if he just pours water over the body, is bound to look at part of the ‘Awrah and turn the body over so that he can pour water over the entire body. So if Tayammum is done for a woman who has died and has only men around her, that will be on the safe side with regard to protecting her ‘Awrah (see Al-Fiqh-ul-Islamiyy Wa Adllatuhu Vol 2 p 458-460).

It's now evident that Islam prescribes: (a) the obligation of Ghusl-ul-Mayyit (Washing of the dead); (b) husbands are highly recommended to wash their wives body and vice-versa - if they know how to (c) men's bodies should be washed by men and women's by women (with exceptional cases for children bodies under seven, who may be washed by either sex) (d) husband can wash his wife's body and vice-versa if the need arises.

Although there is no specific item for positioning the deceased body while washing, it's preferable and sometimes more befitting to place the body on a high position or items such as a table.

Shurut ie. Requisites For Ghusl-ul-Mayyit (Washing of The Dead)

However, with regards to the Shurut i.e the pre-requisites of washing the body, the following may be considered:

Being a Muslim

Being trustworthy: The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said in the Hadith of Ibn Umar (may Allaah be pleased with her) that: "No one should wash your dead ones except the Ma`moonun i.e. those are are trustwothy. (Reported Ibn Majah). That's because, washing the dead is an act of Amaanah i.e. trust (Naylu Al-Awtaar mentioned one Hadith of Aishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) as reported by Imam Ahmad (r.a.).  But far more authentic on the trust in washing the dead is the Hadith of Abu-Raafi' reported by Al-Hakim that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: "Whoever washes the dead and keeps the trust of the privacy thereof, Alllah will forgive him (the entrusted washer) forty times."

(Having as - or in conjunction with - pronouncing) An-Niyyah i.e. Intention. The Hadith of Abu-Hifs, Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: "Actions are by intentions". The scholars have affirmed this intention does not have to be verbal. However, amongst some students of the schools of thought still use pronunciations like the following invocations as a sufficient and common exercise: (for male) Allaahummah Inni Nawaitu Ghusl-al-Mayyit 'Abdika Ibni 'Abdika Ibni Amaatika [(for female) Allaahummah Inni Nawaitu Ghusl-al-Mayyitah 'Amaatika Binti 'Abdika Binti Amaatika].

The Process

Although remove the deceased's clothes (garments) leaving the private parts covered is a pre-requisite, it's recommended that the washer do lower gaze while washing. This is due to the prohibition of looking at the dead naked body as in the Hadith of Ali (may Allaah be pleased with her) that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: "Don't look at a thigh, live or dead." (Reported Abu-Dawud).

Scholars have written volumes about the permissibility of removing the deceased's cloth when washing. Yet they excluded removing the clothes of or on the dead ‘awrah, which must be covered.  All scholars established the obligation of covering the 'awrah of the deceased whatever the circumstances. In Kashf al-Qinaa‘, 2/91, Al-Bahooti (may Allaah have mercy on him) wrote: "Then his clothes should be removed -- this is recommended, because that makes it possible to wash him and purify him more effectively, and it is more akin to washing one who is alive, and it is more likely to protect him from impurities if it is possible that such may come out of him, and because the Sahaabah (r.a.) did that based on the fact that they said: We did not know whether to remove the Prophet's clothes as we did for our dead."

Meanwhile, in al-Mawsoo‘ah al-Fiqhiyyah, 13/52 it's recalled that the Hanafis and Maalikis are of the view that it is Mustahabb (i.e. recommended) to remove the clothes of the deceased when washing him, because the purpose of washing is to purify and that may be done more effectively by removing the clothes, and because if he is washed in his clothes, the clothes may be made impure (najis) by what comes out, and he may not be purified. The correct opinion according to the Shaafa‘is is that he may be washed in his chemise. Covering the ‘awrah, is therefore emphasized with no difference of opinion. Hence as in Sharh al-Kaafi, Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: The correct view is that his clothes should be removed apart from his ‘awrah, which is the area between the navel and the knee. Abu Dawud and many others reported in a Sahih Isnad that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) was washed in his Kamis (clothe)."

It's Sunnah to begin washing the right side by placing or turning the body on its left side before (and then after) turning it on its right side to wash the left side. Washing the body once is the obligatory.  The body is, preferably, washed three times each right side first and (then) left side. However if the body needs more cleaning than three time, continue washing five or seven times. Umm'Atiyyahh narrated: The daughter of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) expired, and he said to us, "Wash her three or five times, or more if you see it necessary, and when you finish, notify me." (Reported the Jama'ah)  It's Sunnah to to keep washing time to the odd numbers. In the Hadith of Ibn Nosr, Abu-Hurairah, Ibn Omar (may Allaah be pleased with the all): "Allaah is odd number and He loves (actions of 'ibaadah in) odd numbers".  The first and the second washes are done with water and soap, while the last one with water and scent, especially, the Sidr (see Nayl Al-Awtaar vol. 4 p 30). Kafurah may be used as the Hadith of Umm 'Atiyyah (may Allaah be pleased with her) "Perform the final wash with Kafourah (or sprinkle camphor scent)" Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim. This is the adoption of Imam Shaafi' (r.a.) (see Maraaqi Al-Falaah p. 97 and Kishaaf al-Quanaa' vol 2 125)

Though, it is preferable to use warm water, whatever water used must be clean. One must also remember that adding some scented oils (nonalcoholic) in the final wash is highly desirable.

It's essential to perform the Wadu' (ablution) for the body. But in the process, the teeth and nose must not be stirred and must only be cleaned from outside in order to avoid the dirt outwards. Narrated Umm'Atiyyah (may Allaah be pleased with her): Allaah's Apostle, concerning his (dead) daughter's bath, said, "Start with the right side, and the parts which are washed in ablution." (Reported by Al-Bukahri and Muslim)

Gentility is very important in all this process.  Don't press the stomach hard or clean harshly.  Keep to the recommendation of pressing gently and ensure to clean whatever comes out.

For men and women hair should be un-braided, washed and combed. Unlike men, women may be braided in three braids. Narrated Hafsa bint Sirin (r.a.): Umm'Atiyyah (may Allaah be pleased with her) said that they had entwined the hair of the daughter of Allaah's Apostle in three braids. They first undid her hair, washed and then entwined it in three braids."  (Reported by Al-Bukahri and Muslim)

The use of a piece of cloth or washer hand-gloves or (clean) hands is permissible throughout this washing process.

Towards the end of the washing process, it's recommended to dry the body with a clean cloth or towel before rounding up the washing by adding some perfume on the head, forehead, nose, hands, knees, eyes, armpits, and place perfumed cotton on the front and rear openings.

The Aimmah (i.e. Imams) all agreed only one person is needed for washing with someone to help and preferably those people who know the deceased.

The Wash of The Washer?

It is supererogatory Mustahabb for the one who washes the deceased to do Ghusl, because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: "Whoever washes the dead, let him do Ghusl, and whoever carries him, let him do Wudoo'." Reported by Abu Dawood, 2/62-63; al-Tirmidhi, 2/132. However, with regard to washing the clothes, there is no basis for doing so in the Sunnah, and it is neither obligatory nor Mustahabb.

Owing to the fact that the scholars have reasons to defer on whether it a correct stance to regard doing Ghusl (bathing) after washing the deceased as Fard (obligation) or Mustahabb (recommended), one may need to consider along with the hadith "Whoever washes the dead, let him do Ghusl, and whoever carries him, let him do Wudoo'." which is agreed upon as a Mawquf Abu-Hurairah, mahfooz in Tahdheeb al-Sunan as explained in al-Da'eefah, 6304, Al-Majmoo vol 5 p 141 the following two mawqoof Ahaadeeth that are to be taken as marfoo: 1 – From Ibn ‘Abbaas: "When you wash your dead you do not have to do Ghusl afterwards, for your dead are not naajis. It is sufficient for you to wash your hands." (Reported by al-Haakim, 1/386; al-Bayhaqi, 3/398). 2 – Ibn ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: "We used to wash the deceased, and some of us would do Ghusl afterwards and others would not."


Perhaps, when summing up how to wash the dead in Islam, one may be sufficed with that which is mentioned in the Hadith of Umm ‘Atiyyah (may Allaah be pleased with her), by washing the deceased with water and lotus leaves each time you wash him, starting on the right and washing the parts of the body washed in wudoo', taking care to remove any dirt etc, each time you wash him, until he is clean, even if that means washing him more than seven times, because of the Hadith mentioned. There is no need for soap, shampoo or anything else, unless the lotus leaves are not enough to remove the dirt, in which case it is permissible to use soap, shampoo, potash and other kinds of dirt-removers from the first wash, and to put some camphor in the final washing, because of the Hadith mentioned. This is the Sunnah as far as I know from the Saheeh Ahaadeeth, because of the Hadith of Umm ‘Atiyyah (may Allaah be pleased with her) and Similar Ahaadeeth.

To conclude, Hadith Umm 'Atiyyah (may Allaah be pleased with her) is a suitable summary.

Narrated Umm'Atiyyah (may Allaah be pleased with her)

Allaah's Apostle came to us and we were giving a bath to his (dead) daughter and said, "Wash her three, five or more times with water and Sidr and sprinkle camphor on her at the end; and when you finish, notify me." So when we finished, we informed him and he gave us his waist-sheet and told us to shroud her in it. Aiyub said that Hafsa narrated to him a narration similar to that of Muhammad in which it was said that the bath was to be given for an odd number of times, and the numbers 3, 5 or 7 were mentioned. It was also said that they were to start with the right side and with the parts which were washed in ablution, and that Umm 'Atiyyah also mentioned, "We combed her hair and divided them in three braids."

And Allaah knows best.  He is the Source of strength. May Allaah bless our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and his family and companions.


N.B: This Article Which Was Prepared And Produced For Nasrul-Lahi-Fatih Society Abuja Branch Nigeria Has Been Designed By The Author, Al-Haja Ganiyat Oredola Ewumi To Educate The Muslims In An Effort To Help Them Fulfill Their Obligation In Accordance To The Qur'an and As-Sunnah.


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