Hello! This blog seems to have gotten some new readers this week – so, welcome! If you have any questions, please feel free to visit the Ask me anything! page and leave a comment! And thank you to everyone who has cited or referenced this blog – I had no idea what kind of response I would get when I started writing this (being completely ignored, openly attacked or actively threatened all seemed like legitimate outcomes!), and I really appreciate all of the support I’ve gotten already.
Whilst it’s true that a lot of people on the internet are really unpleasant, some people on the internet are totally awesome!
Anyhoo . . . so I’m still getting a lot of hits through google searches about Islamic burial customs after my post on bin Laden’s burial at sea (my original post is here, by the by, if that’s how you’ve found your way to this page). A fair amount of the discussion online has moved on to a new question, however, of whether or not bin Laden should have a Muslim burial, considering the kind of person he was.
Intriguingly, in rereading the hadith, although there is no clear answer for if burial at sea is permissible in Islam, there is a very clear answer for this question – all Muslims are due a Muslim burial, even criminals, no matter what crime they have committed. Even those who have committed suicide deserve a Muslim burial, which is especially surprising in a Late Antique setting. In Islam, as in Judaism and Christianity, suicide is considered one of the worst crimes a person can commit. Indeed, the hadith which establishes that a Muslim who kills himself deserves a Muslim burial actually specifies that when this happened in the early community, the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not pray for the person himself, but he allowed his companions to hold a Muslim funeral, stressing just how wrong an act this was considered.
In addition to the theological reason for this – that we are God’s creation and so it would be an act of pride to destroy something God created – there’s also a very real pragmatic reason for this understanding, in Islam as well as in the larger Late Antique world. There were lots of common activities that had a pretty high death rate in this period – women going through pregnancy and childbirth, men going off to war, and any number of agricultural and construction projects could all be death sentences, but they were all massively important for the continuation of Late Antique society. Therefore, it was important to convince people to do these things, instead of just killing themselves to get out of it.
Thus, it’s incredibly surprising that suicide would be mentioned specifically in the hadith as still worthy of a Muslim burial. Basically, no matter how terrible a person was in life, if he or she could be considered a Muslim, that person deserves a Muslim burial.