Explainer: May Muslims Refuse To Bury Terrorists?

Joe Bradford

| 07/30/2016

May Muslims Refuse To Bury Terrorists? #SaintEtienneDuRouvray murder raises the question again.

Muslims refuse to bury terrorists

On July 26th two nineteen year olds pledging allegiance to ISIS brutally murdered 85 year old Fr. Jacques Hamel during Mass in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, located in northern France. Eyewitnesses say the two young men slit Fr. Hamel’s throat during Mass and while engaging the horrified onlookers in conversation. After one of the nuns attending the service escaped and alerted authorities, police cornered and subsequently killed the attackers as they tried to escape. This act, performed by ISIS pledgees in Europe, met broad condemnation from the international Muslim community as well as the Muslim community in the Normandy suburb of Rouen, where the murder occurred who have refused to bury them.

Another crime in clear contradiction to Islam

It goes without saying that the killing of Fr. Jacques Hamel is a crime in blatant contradiction to several Islamic texts. For anyone with cursory knowledge of the Quran, you’d suspect the prohibitions of murder such as Quran 25:68 “and they do not murder a soul which God has sanctified…” would be sufficient. Apparently not, as the perpetrators added another level of evil to their act: they targeted not just a clergyman, but an elderly man at that, both expressly forbidden by the Prophet Muhammad ? himself. He said instructing those waging legitimate warfare: “Do not kill a child, woman, elder, sick person, or a priest.”[i] The acts of these two were neither legitimate, nor were they warfare, bringing us to their third act of malevolence: their lawlessness and vigilantism. This too was unambiguously censured by the Prophet when he said “There is no sin more likely for God to expedite the punishment for than vigilantism.”[ii]

Following the murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel, the Muslim community in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray has refused to bury the killers, shot dead by police after the attack. Leaders of the local Muslim community, stating that they do not wish to “taint Islam” have asserted that they will not participate in the preparation or burial of the bodies.

Not the First Time Muslims have Refused to Bury Their Own

This is not the first time a Muslim community has taken this stance. As early as 2008 a Muslim community in Philadelphia, PA in the United States took the same position after a local Muslim robbed a bank and killed one of the officers responding to the crime. In 2013 the Boston, MA Muslim community dealt with the burial for one of the Tsarnaev brothers that same. And as recent as last month Sh. Mehmet Görmez, the head of Diyanet – Turkey’s highest religious authority, issued a fatwa concerning participants in the July 15 coup, stating funeral prayers are denied those that involve themselves in such acts.

After these events, there were a numerous questions. Is the denial of funeral rites a legitimate position for a Muslim community to take? What bearing do the actions of a person before death have on their right to funeral services after? Islamic legal treatises speak expressly to this issue. How to handle unrepentant perpetrators of violent crimes is consistent across legal schools, with slight variance. Violent crimes such as highway robbery, organized armed insurrection and terrorism all fall under the rubric of censure and condemnation. Surveying standard Sunni Islamic law on this issue, two main approaches to funeral rites for such people are found.

Islamic Law – Shariah – Mandates Censure, Not Support

The official positions of the Hanbali, Shafi’i, and Maliki schools state that such a person is not prayed over by leaders of the community nor is his burial given communal sanction, although he is due a basic funeral. The rationale here that these acts are grave sins committed against the public, making official and community sanction of them unwarranted.

Muslims, equally harmed by the crime perpetrated, have the obligation to shun the funeral of such a person as a preventative measure against anyone that would follow in their footsteps. However the perpetrator, technically still Muslim yet opposed to the society, must still be prayed over and buried. Balancing this need for censure with the injunction to fulfill burial rights, they came up with an in-between. A appointed person should wash, shroud, and bury the body, but the burial is not honored with the attendance of Muslim leaders and those of good standing, as this loss is not one which the community should mourn.[iii]

The Hanafi school makes similar arguments but goes one step further, not even allowing for the dead body’s preparation, prayer, or burial. The body is merely buried as found, with no public recognition or even personal religious ceremony. The rationale here is that mere prayer over this person is a form of endorsement and approval, something that those who endanger public safety and flirt with disastrous practices similar to those of the Khawarij are not deserving of. [iv]

While the above schools may go into details on how and when these positions are applied, the substance of each position above is that those who die while committing violent crimes that affect public safety deserve censure, not support.


[i] Sunan al-Bayhaqi 9/153

[ii] Sunan al-Tirmidhi 4/664

[iii]  Nih?yat al-Ma?lab 17/306, al-Was?? 6/423, al-Shar? al-kab?r 10/64, Kash?f al-Qin?? 6/165, al-dhakh?rah 2/476,  al-t?j wa al-Ikl?l 8/368

[iv]  al-Ikhtiy?r li ta?l?l al-mukht?r, P.97, al-Bin?yah Shar? al-hid?yah P.3/279 , Bad??i? al-?an??i? P.1/311,  al-Mabs??: 10/131.

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