Handling the Burial of a Non-Muslim Relative in Financial Distress

Answered by Shaykh Muhammad Abu Bakr Badhib


A disbelieving man passed away and his children are Muslims. He lived far from them, and an official entity contacted them to come and collect his body, otherwise, they would cremate it if the children delayed or refused to receive it. Knowing that receiving the body and carrying out burial procedures will cost them about eight thousand dollars, and they do not possess this amount, what is their duty in this case? Should they leave him for cremation? Or should they borrow the amount or ask people for help to gather the money?


In the name of Allah, all praise is for Allah. May peace and blessings be upon our master Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, and upon his family, his companions, and those who follow him.

Honoring Parents Regardless of Their Religion

Indeed, honoring parents is among the greatest deeds, and Allah has paired His obedience with the obedience to parents. Allah says: “For your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And honor your parents. If one or both of them reach old age in your care, never say to them ˹even˺ ‘ugh,’ nor yell at them. Rather, address them respectfully.” [Quran, 17:23]
And He says: “We have commanded people to honor their parents. But if they urge you to associate with Me what you have no knowledge of,1 then do not obey them. To Me you will ˹all˺ return, and then I will inform you of what you used to do.” [Quran, 29:8]
And He says: “But if they pressure you to associate with Me what you have no knowledge of,1 do not obey them. Still keep their company in this world courteously.” [Quran, 31:15]
These noble verses indicate the obligation to honor parents, which is a personal obligation as stated by some scholars. And righteousness is not conditional on both parents being Muslim, nor on one of them, for the ruling’s reason is birth, not religion. So the obligation of righteousness is not nullified by the absence of religious affiliation between both parents or one of them and the children.

Washing, Shrouding, and Burying Non-Muslim Relatives

Regarding the specific issue in question, we will relay a group of scholars’ statements on the subject. Imam Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d. 333 AH) in his book of Tafsir Ta’wilat Ahl al-Sunnah said: “If one of them dies, he should oversee their burial, and this is from good companionship and kindness. It is narrated that when Abu Talib died, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to Ali: ‘Go and bury him.’”
Imam Jassas (d. 370 AH) in Ahkam al-Quran said: “Our scholars said about a Muslim whose parents die while they are disbelievers: He should wash them, proceed with their funeral, and bury them, because that is part of the good companionship that Allah has commanded.”
The Position of the Shafi’i School
The Shafi’i school’s position, as stated by Imam Nawawi in al-Majmu, is: “They unanimously agreed on the prohibition of praying for a disbeliever, but it is permissible to wash, shroud, and bury him,” meaning that burial and shrouding are permissible, not obligatory. If a permissible act is connected with honoring parents, undoubtedly, the ruling escalates from permissibility to a higher level.
Evidence for the Permissibility of Burying Non-Muslim Relatives
Specific to the issue, the evidence includes what was reported by Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Ahmad, and others from Ali ibn Abi Talib, Allah be pleased with him, who said: “I said to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) ‘Your misguided old uncle has died.’ He said: ‘Go and bury your father, and do not start anything until you come to me.’ So, I went, buried him, and came to him. He ordered me to bathe, and he prayed for me.”
Scholarly Commentary on the Hadith
Imam Ibn Raslan al-Shafi’i in his commentary on this hadith said: “It indicates the obligation to bury a dhimmi, especially if he is a relative, and to shroud him according to the most correct view, because the Prophet ordered to leave the bodies of Badr in the well as they were and ordered Ali to bury his father. The second opinion is the position the majority adhere to: that it is not obligatory.” [Sharh Sunan Abi Dawud]
Imam al-Badr al-Ayni al-Hanafi said: “Our companions used this as evidence that a Muslim, if he has a disbelieving relative who dies, should wash and bury him. The author of al-Hidaya said: ‘If a disbeliever dies and he has a Muslim guardian, he should wash, shroud, and bury him. This is what Ali, Allah be pleased with him, was commanded to do regarding his father, Abu Talib.’” [Nukhab al-Afkar]
Imam ‘Imrani (d. 558 AH) discussed this issue in detail in his book al-Bayan, saying: “If a disbeliever dies, it is permissible to wash him because the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) ordered Ali, Allah be pleased with him, to wash his father,” and if it were not permissible, he would not have ordered it. If he has Muslim relatives and disbelieving relatives and they dispute over washing him, then the disbelievers are more entitled because there is no allegiance between him and the Muslims. If the disbeliever does not wash him, or there is no disbelieving guardian, it is permissible for his Muslim guardian to wash, shroud, and bury him, but it is not permissible to pray for him.
The Opinion of Imam Malik and Our Response
Imam Malik (Allah have mercy on him) said: “It is not permissible for him to wash him, nor is it permissible to pray for him.” Our evidence is what is narrated: “The Prophet, (Allah bless him and give him peace) ordered Ali to wash his father,” and if it were not permissible to wash him, he would not have ordered it. Also because Allah Almighty said: “Still keep their company in this world courteously.” [Quran, 31:15] Washing him when he dies is part of kindness, and prayer differs, as its purpose is to have mercy on him, and it is not permissible to seek mercy on him. But the purpose of washing is cleanliness, and that is achieved by washing him. [’Imrani, al-Bayan]

Seeking Help for Funeral Expenses

As for the second part of the question, whether it is permissible to borrow or seek help from others for funeral expenses?
The answer is that the established position in the Shafi’i school regarding the shrouding and burial of a dhimmi disbeliever is that it is one of the collective obligations. Imam Ghazali said: “But the shrouding and burial of a dhimmi are among the collective obligations, in fulfillment of his covenant” [Rafi’i, al-Aziz] and Imam Nawawi in al-Minhaj said: “Prayer is permissible for funerals. It is forbidden for a disbeliever, and his washing is not obligatory. The soundest opinion is that to shroud and bury a dhimmi is obligatory.”
Therefore, if the children are unable to pay for their father’s funeral expenses and he has no wealth, it appears permissible for them to borrow for this purpose, fulfilling their father’s right and honoring him after his death. If they are unable to do so, there is no harm in asking their Muslim brothers for help in this matter.
Allah knows best, and we ask Allah Almighty to cover us with His beautiful veil, to forgive us, and to enable us to honor our parents. Allah, the Exalted, knows best.
[Shaykh]Muhammad Abu Bakr Badhib