Who Should Wash the Body When One’s Spouse and Close Family Die?

Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas

Question: I have heard some say that when ones husband or wife dies the marrige is annuled. One cannot even touch ones husband or wife. Then someone says that that is not true and that the wife or husband should give the ghusl to the one who has died. What is right? If ones parents die, who should give the ghusl? If ones siblings die, who should give the ghusl?

Answer: assalamu `alaykum

The basic consideration that needs to be taken into account is the permissibility of the individual performing the ritual-bath (ghusl) to look at the deceased-person being washed. [Ibn `Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]

A Wife Washing Her Deceased Husband

It is permitted for a wife to wash her deceased husband. This is because the marriage remains intact after the death of the husband for the duration of the waiting-period (`idda). Therefore, it is permissible for the wife to look at her husband and as such perform the ritual-bath for him.

This is the position of all four schools of thought. [Ibn `Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar; Nawawi, Majmu`; Buhuti, Kashaf al-Qina`; Ibn Abi Zayd, Risala]

A Husband Washing His Deceased Wife

According to the Shafi`i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools, it is permitted for a husband to wash his deceased wife. This is based on the fact that our liege-lord `Ali (Allah bless him and grant him peace) washed Fatima (Allah be well pleased with her). [Dhahabi, Siyar A`lam al-Nubala]

The only school to state that it is not allowed is the Hanafi school based on the fact that the marriage is considered terminated with the wife’s death. Thus, legally speaking, the husband is now akin to a stranger and may not wash her though he may see her face and arms.

The Hanafi school understands the practice of our liege-lord `Ali as being a ruling specific only to him. This is why it is mentioned that some of the Companions, like `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud, did not agree with `Ali performing the ritual-bath of Fatima, while `Ali defended his practice by stating that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) stated that Fatima would be his wife in this world and the next, which shows the special relationship the two had that allowed for the ruling in question. [Shurunbulali, Maraqi al-Falah; Ibn `Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]

General Rules Concerning Who Performs the Ritual-Bath (ghusl)

As for your inquiry regarding who should wash parents and siblings, then the basis is that it is recommended for those of the same gender as the deceased who are nearest of kin to wash the body. [Ibn Nujaym, Bahr al-Ra’iq; Fatawa Hindiyya]

If the deceased is a male then:

a. He may be washed by his wife.
b. He may be washed by male relatives, such as brothers, while keeping his nakedness (`awra) covered, namely the area between the navel and the knee. In washing this specific area i.e. between navel and knee, the person performing the ritual-bath should not touch it directly but use a cloth and neither should he look at the area.
c. He may be washed by male non-relatives with the same stipulations above regarding his nakedness (`awra).

If the deceased is female then:

a. She may be washed by female relatives, such as her sisters while keeping her nakedness (`awra) covered, namely the area between the navel and the knee. In washing this specific area i.e. between navel and knee, the person performing the ritual-bath should not touch it directly but use a cloth and neither should she look at the area.
b. She may be washed by female non-relatives with the same stipulations above regarding her nakedness (`awra).
c. She may be washed by her husband, according to the position of the Shafi`i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools.

Salman

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani