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Writing on the shroud of the deceased

Question:

What is your opinion about a piece of cloth that comes from holy sites that has Qur’anic verses and Ahadith written on it; can the dead be shrouded in such a cloth? Is it permissible to place a Shajara (spiritual genealogy) in the grave?

Answer:

I will discuss this issue under the following three sections:

Section One – According to Hanafi Fiqh it is permissible not only to write on the shroud but to place a Shajara (spiritual genealogy) in the grave. I will present Ahadith that corroborate this.
Section Two – I will cite Ahadith that prove that sacred texts have been placed in the shroud or with the body and this was not sacrilegious.
Section Three – Is a rebuttal to the Shafi’i scholars who think writing on the shroud is sacrilegious.

Section One:

Our venerable scholars believe that to write “the declaration of faith” on the deceased’s forehead could be a means of forgiveness. Imam Ahmad cites thirteen proofs. I will just mention three of them:

1 – The great Imam Taus Tabie who was a student of Abd Allah ibn Abbas requested in his will to have the “declaration of faith” placed in his shroud, and his wish was carried out.
2 – It is mentioned in Fatawa Kubra, citing Imam al- Tirmidhi, that ‘the writing of the certain Du’as on the shroud guarantees protection from punishment in the grave’
3 – In Durr al-Mukhtar it is mentioned that ‘the writing of “declaration of faith” on the forehead or the shroud can be a source of forgiveness.’

Section Two:

The next section also has thirteen Ahadith as proof, I will mention only three:

1 – A woman presented the Messenger ﷺ with a piece of cloth with a beautiful border and said: ‘I have especially woven this for you.’ The Messenger ﷺ gladly accepted it and wore it as a loin cloth. One of the disciples remarked: ‘This is really beautiful; can I have it?’ The Messenger ﷺ went back to his chamber, took it off and gave it to him. Other disciples were disappointed and said to the man who took the cloth: ‘That was not a good thing; you know well that the Messenger ﷺ never refuses to give when he is asked.’ The man said: ‘By God, I did not take it for wearing it, but for my shroud.’ The narrator Sahl said: ‘That sheet of cloth became his shroud.’ (Sahih al-
Bukhari)

2 – The following is also in Sahih al-Bukhari. Hazrat Umm Athia narrated that: ‘We were about to wash the body of the Prophet’s ﷺ daughter when he came to us and gave us the following  instructions: ‘Wash her with water containing the lotus leaves three or five times and the last wash should contain camphor. Once you have done this let me know.’ Once we had completed the requested method of washing the body we informed him. He gave us his loin cloth and said place that next to her body.’ This proves that it is permissible to derive benefit from the clothes or relics of righteous people.
3 – Hazrat Thabit ibn Banani said: ‘Anas in Malik said to me: ‘this is the Beloved Messengers’ ﷺ hair. When I die, place it under my tongue.’ He was buried like that. (al-Isaba).

Section Three:

Criticism against writing sacred texts on the shroud is that the body decomposes and releases fluids. So the sacred text is soiled with filth. The reply to this is eloquently given by Imam Nafees as mentioned in Radd Mukhtar. He said: ‘The horses in the stables of Umar Faruq were marked on the flanks with the words “dedicated for the path of Allah”. We have the same criticism he has in the case of “sacred text written on the shrouds”. From this we conclude ‘the possibility of something happening in the future should not be a barrier for doing a good deed now.’ Imam Ahmad concludes as follows: ‘The sacred writing on the flanks of horses is not sacrilegious, neither was this the intention when it was written nor the purpose. Its purpose was to mark the horses. The value of deeds is dependant on intention.

It is mentioned in Al-Fatawa Al-Hindiya that ‘there is no problem with engraving the name of Allah on gold or silver coins’ – the same applies to writing sacred names on the shroud. The only purpose of writing on the shroud is to gain blessings. Our intention is not to be sacrilegious now, nor when it is soiled. This is not same as writing text on carpet or on the floor, where it is obviously going to be sacrilegious. Our (Hanafi) Imams have allowed the writing of sacred texts on the shroud as a possible means of forgiveness, as well as the placing of spiritual genealogy. A niche can be carved in the grave to place the genealogy as well. Shah Abd al- Aziz has preferred this method of placing the genealogy in the grave. The genealogy has the names of spiritual directors of the order. Thus it is blessed and sacred.

And Allah ﷻ knows best

Imam Ahmad Rida Khan رحمة الله تعالى عليه

Translation by Dr Musharraf Hussain Al-Azhari Translator of Majestic Quran, www.majesticquran.co.uk