Cremation is considered by Islam to be “haram,” or an unclean practice. Muslims are forbidden to take part in the act of cremation in any way, including witnessing the event or even stating approval of it.
In Islam, funeral rites are prescribed by the divine law. Burying the dead is the method prescribed. Islamic belief holds that only Allah knows what is good or bad for us and that the body should be treated with the utmost respect in life and in death. Burning the dead is considered a form of mutilation, forbidden by Allah.
There is also a set series of events that burial rites are to follow, including bathing, covering the body with cloth or shroud, reception of friends and family, then a gathering of the Muslim community to offer prayers for forgiveness. The body is then prepared for burial, with the head buried facing Mecca. These practices alone do not lend themselves to cremation.
Some of the specific tenets of Islam that preclude cremation include:
Beliefs about the body: Muslims believe that the dead must be treated with the same respect as the living, a belief deriving from Mohamed’s teaching that to break a man’s bone in death is the same as to break it in life.
Beliefs about mourning: Muslims believe that seeing the body of one who has died is an important reminder that death comes to all, but to believers it is not to be feared. Muslims also have a religious obligation to offer “janazah” – or prayers – for those who have died, both during the preparation for, and immediately after burial.
Beliefs about resurrection: Muslims believe in resurrection of the physical body. The Quran teaches that the body slowly disintegrates, except for the tailbone. It is believed that at the time of resurrection, Allah resurrects the body from the tailbone. Cremation is thought to prevent resurrection by destroying the tailbone along with the rest of the body.
However, it is also believed that Allah can make the cremated body whole again for resurrection regardless of whether there are any physical remnants remaining, so if a person is cremated, it does not necessarily preclude them from entering heaven or hell.
A senior lecturer at the Islamic Institute of Toronto states, “One of the reasons for this [Islamic prohibition against cremation] is that our knowledge of what happens to the person after death is limited and, therefore, Allah alone knows what is good and bad for us in an ultimate sense. What should be remembered here is that we should treat the deceased person with the utmost of compassion, just as we would treat a person who is alive.”
Unlike Judaism or Christianity, Islamic Sharia law offers little diversity of opinion regarding the acceptability of cremation. The only exception to the prohibition against cremation is during epidemics of disease when the risk of disease spread is proven and permission has been obtained from Muslim authorities.
If you or a loved one is considering cremation, we at Neptune Society encourage you to consider carefully your own position on the subject, discuss your options with your religious leader, and make the choice you believe is right for you and your family. For more articles in this series, please see our religion and cremation article archive.