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Ritual prayer of the dead

translated by: Manal Samhat

All creatures are destined to die, and there are many rulings that govern the way of dealing with a dead body, including ritually washing it, embalming it and performing a special ritual prayer called Salatul-Mayyit (the prayer of the dead) on it. This prayer is performed in a way that is different from the other prayers, and which some people are unaware of or do not take notice of except when they attend the funerals and the prayers performed for the dead. So, what are the rulings and details of such prayers?

Due to its importance, it is a subject addressed by all jurisprudents. One of these jurisprudents is His Eminence, the late Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra), who points, at first, that the prayer of the dead is a duty that is obligatory in a Kifa’i manner [a Kifa’i duty is a duty that is not obligatory on others if some carry it out] and that ought to be performed on every dead Muslim even if he were a skeleton, and it includes the just and the corrupt, even if they commit big sins or commit suicide, as well as the martyr and others, the old and the young if he has reached six years old or he learned and acquired the meaning of the prayer before this age. Moreover, this prayer is recommended to be performed on he who is younger than this age, and even the child who dies right after being born, but it is not recommended for the aborted child or the child who is stillborn.

As for the dismembered body, if it includes the torso or all what is left of it is the torso, then the prayer is due on it; if not, then the prayer is not due even if it includes the bones.

The way of performing the prayer is as follows: After reciting/having the intention, one should recite five Takbirs (Allahu Akbar). After the first, one should recite the two testimonies (Shahadahs), after the second, one should invoke Allah to bestow His blessings upon the Prophet and his Household Members, after the third, one ought to invoke Allah for the good of the believing men and women, and after the fourth, one should invoke Allah for the good [abode] of the deceased, and then he/she concludes the prayer by a fifth Takbir whilst standing, without bowing or prostrating. Moreover, the body of the deceased should be present when performing the prayer, for it is not valid if it is performed without having the body present.

Moreover, the things that ought to be considered in the daily prayer, ought to be observed when performing the prayer of the dead, including performing the prayer with the intention of seeking closeness to Allah, facing the Qibla, standing still and steadiness, in the sense of not moving while standing, reciting the Takbirs and supplications chronologically, not talking while performing the prayer, giggling or turning away from the Qibla and reciting the obligatory supplications in order… In addition, it is not preconditioned in this prayer to wear lawful (non-usurped) clothes or perform it in an non-usurped place, nor is it preconditioned to cover the a’wrah (private parts), or be in a state of purity from Khabath (physical impurity) in terms of the clothes and the body, or from Hadath (ritual impurity; occurrence), both the minor occurrence (urine and feces) and the major occurrence (Janaba, menstruation, touching the dead… etc.).  Moreover, masculinity is not a condition in this prayer, so the woman is allowed to perform the prayer of the dead on a man, and it is rewarding.

His Eminence (ra) says: “If the Mukallaf wishes to perform the prayer quickly, it is enough to say: ‘Allah is the Greatest, I testify that there no god but Allah, and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, Allah is the Greatest, O Allah bestow Your blessings upon Muhammad and his Household Members, Allah is the Greatest, O Allah, (please) forgive all believing men and woman, Allah is the Greatest, O Allah, (please) forgive this dead person, Allah is the Greatest.’”

His Eminence (ra) continues: “Performing less than five Takbirs in this prayer renders it insufficient, and if it is performed with less than this number, whether intentionally or out of forgetfulness, then it is invalidated, unless one notices so and corrects it before missing the chronological order.

His Eminence also points out that there is no Adhan or Iqamah in the prayer of the dead, so if one wants to call on people to join it, it is recommended to call out: the prayer, the prayer, the prayer three times instead of the Adhan. Moreover, it does not include reciting the Opening, bowing, prostrating, reciting Qunoot, Tashahhud or Tasleem. Moreover, it is forbidden to perform any part of it as being legislated…

[Fiqh Ash-Shariah, vol. 1, p: 206 and afterwards]

Actually, this prayer and all its related details are agreed upon by all Shiite jurisprudents in general.

As for the opinion of the Sunni jurisprudents, it is also a duty that is obligatory in a Kifa’i manner, and all four Sunni schools of thought (the Shafi’i, Hanbali, the Hanafi and the Maliki) agree that one should recite four Takbirs, and some, who are the Hanbalis, consider that it is permissible to do it more than four times. The prayer attendant raises his hands for every Takbir according to the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, whereas, he should only raise it in the first Takbir according to the Hanafi and Maliki schools of though. Then, one should recite the Opening (Al-Fatiha) as an obligatory step, according to the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, and then recite supplications for the dead as an obligatory step also according to the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, as well as the Maliki school of thought. Then, one ought to recite Takbir for the fourth time and do Tasleem without reciting supplication according to the Hanafi and Hanbali schools of thought, and do Tasleem once according to the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, and twice according to the Shafi’i and Hanafi schools of thought.

For the prayer of the dead to be valid, the body of the deceased ought to be present before the prayer attendant, so it is not valid, for example, if the body is carried or behind a wall.

Some Sunni jurisprudents, such Ibn Taymiyya, said that this prayer is most likely recommended and not obligatory.