بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
4 – An overseas Islamic magazine, states that the following practices are not established from the Qur’aan or the Sunnah:
-Reading Surah Yasin besides a dying Muslim
-Directing a dying Muslim to face the Qiblah
-Asking menstruating women to leave the room of the dying person, or the room in which the dead body lies
READING SURAH YASIN BESIDES A DYING MUSLIM
The hadith of Ma‘qil ibn Yasar which contains the instruction to read Surah Yasin in the presence of a dying person is documented in Musnad Ahmad (vol.5 p. 26), Sunan Abi Dawud (no. 3121) and Sunan Ibn Majah (no.1448) and a number of other sources. This hadith does not fulfil the requirements of authenticity—a fact that has led to a rejection of the practice in some quarters.
However, a distinction should be made between the basic acceptability, and even recommendability of the practice, and the elevation thereof to the level of a Prophetic sunnah. While authentic evidence is admittedly required for declaring a practice to be based directly upon the instruction or example of the Nabi sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, the same does not hold for the lesser claim that a practice is recommendable or acceptable.
Imam Ahmad, for instance, has documented a narration that recalls the last moments of Ghudayf ibn al-Harith (who was a Sahabi in the opinion of most scholars). Upon his deathbed he asked if there was anyone who could read Surah Yasin. The surah was then read and upon the completion of 40 verses his soul left his body. The narrator of the incident, Safwan ibn ‘Amr, then remarks that the elders used to say that when Yasin is read in the presence of a dying person it lessens the intensity of the throes of death upon him. Since Safwan himself belongs to the younger generation of the Tabi‘in, the “elders” whom he refers to have to belong to the elder generations of the Tabi‘in, or possibly even the Sahabah radiyallahu ‘anhum.
The chain of narration through which this narration has come down to Imam Ahmad has been authenticated by Hafiz Ibn Hajar. While it does not contain a direct ascription of the instruction to recite Surah Yasin to the Nabi sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, there does exist the possibility that what Ghudayf ibn al-Harith requested on his death-bed actually has its roots in the Sunnah of the Nabi sallallhu ‘alayhi wasallam. However, even when we discard this possibility, the basic acceptability of this practice stands unaffected by the lack of authentic evidence to support its being sunnah. If it was found to be effective in bringing ease to the dying person by the early generations of Islam, then its recommendability extends to all successive generations, not as a matter of Prophetic precedent, but on the basis of the simple rule that whatever is beneficial is desirable. All that remains objectionable is to regard this practice as based directly upon an instruction or example of Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam.
But even in this regard the door is not completely closed. It is a well-established (though not universally agreed upon) principle that weak ahadith may be used in matters of fada’il—supererogatory matters from which issues of ‘aqeedah, halal and haram are excluded. The majority of the ‘ulama hold the view that practices may be based upon weak ahadith when the following four conditions are met:
- the defect in authenticity should not be serious
- the matter should not pertain to ‘aqeedah, halal or haram
- the matter should fall under an accepted principle in Shari‘ah
- when doing the deed one should not have the conviction that it is in fact a sunnah, but rather that there is the possibly of it being a sunnah
The first three conditions are already met in the hadith of reading Surah Yasin in the presence of the dying person. The last condition pertains to the impression with which one executes the deed. As long as one does not firmly believe the matter to be an established sunnah, and acts according to the hadith on the basis of the possibility that it might in fact be a sunnah, there would be no harm, according to the majority of the ‘ulama, in following this practice. Scholars who deny the practice expectably belong to the camp that does not subscribe to this principle.
In summary, the recitation of Surah Yasin in the presence of the dying person is based upon either
– a slightly defective hadith,
– or the experience of the early generations of Islam.
In the case of a slightly defective hadith, the hadith may still be taken as the basis of one’s practice, provided one does not look upon the deed as an established sunnah, but practices it merely as a possible sunnah.
In the latter case a claim of the practice as a Prophetic sunnah is decidedly untenable, but this does not affect the basic acceptability, and even recommendability of the practice.
TURNING A DYING MUSLIM TOWARDS THE QIBLAH
The practice of turning a dying person towards the qiblah is based upon a hadith that recounts the death of al-Bara ibn Ma‘rur. This Sahabi was the first of the Ansar to swear allegiance to Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam at ‘Aqabah, before the Hijrah. He passed away one month before Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam reached Madinah. Upon his deathbed he instructed his children to turn him towards the qiblah. Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, upon learning of this, approved of this act, and declared that al-Bara ibn Ma‘rur had indeed acted upon the fitrah (the natural and instinctive disposition to truth).
This hadith was documented as well as authenticated by al-Hakim an-Naysaburi in his collection al-Mustadrak (vol. 4 p. 259). His authentication of the hadith was corroborated by adh-Dhahabi. Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani found no reason dispute the authenticity of the hadith, and later sholars such as ash-Shawkani and as-San‘ani followed in his footsteps.
However, the late Shaykh Nasir ad-Din al-Albani disputed its authenticity. In his Ahkam al-Jana’iz he briefly states that there exists no authentic hadith on the issue, while in his lengthier Irwa’ al-Ghalil (hadith no. 689, vol. 3 p. 152-153) he elaborates the factors on the basis of which he disputes the authenticity of the hadith. The major reason is the fact that the chain of narration is mursal, meaning that it is narrated by a Tabi‘i directly from Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, without mention of the source through whom the information was passed down to the Tabi‘i. At the end of his discussion al-Albani does make mention of an alternative narration documented by al-Bayhaqi in as-Sunan al-Kubra (vol. 3 p. 384). This narration is declared by al-Bayhaqi to be a sound mursal report. Al-Albani does not dispute this fact.
At this point it should be noted that mursal narrations are generally regarded as acceptable evidence in the Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali schools, while the Shafi‘is require any of a number of additional criteria (in the present case, the alternative narration of al-Bayhaqi) for accepting the hadith. Thus, within the theoretical framework of all four madhahib there ought to be no reluctance to accept and practice upon this hadith. If there happen to be other scholars whose restrictive theoretical approach to mursal narrations leads them to reject the hadith altogether, then it must be understood that theirs is but a relative position, and not an absolute one. It is only against the backdrop of their specific principles that the denial of the hadith’s authenticity is feasible. To the four major madhahib the hadith is acceptable.
Broader research into the authenticity of the hadith reveals that it ought to be acceptable even within restricted parameters. In al-Isabah (vol. 1 p. 149) Ibn Hajar has adduced a number of independent narrations that verify the hadith in al-Mustadrak. One of these is taken from the Tarikh of Ya‘qub ibn Sufyan al-Fasawi, and although its chain is the same as that of the alternative narration given by al-Bayhaqi, there is one important difference: al-Fasawi’s chain does not suffer from a mursal link. Its chain is completely uninterrupted, and the “area of concern” is thus satisfactorily accounted for.
It is quite possible that these alternative narrations escaped the notice of al-Albani, especially the one in al-Fasawi’s Tarikh. This book was not yet published at the time he wrote Ahkam al-Jana’iz and Irwa’ al-Ghalil. Be that as it may, in light of the above one may safely conclude that the practice of turning the dying person towards the qiblah has a reliable basis in the Sunnah.
ASKING MENSTRUATING TO LEAVE THE ROOM IN WHICH A MUSLIM IS DYING, OR IN WHICH THE CORPSE LIES
I am not aware of any Shar‘i reason for asking a menstruating woman to leave the room in which a person is dying or in which his dead body lies, neither in the form of textual evidence from the Qur’an or Sunnah, nor through analogy, nor even in the statements of any of the fuqaha. This practice seems to be based upon nothing but custom that is misconstrued as Shari‘ah.
The basis of this custom is probably the idea that the presence of a menstruating woman somehow has the effect of keeping out rahmah (divine mercy) or barakah (divine blessing), or repelling the mala’ikah (angels). Rahmah, barakah and the mala’ikah all belong to the Unseen World, and a cardinal rule with regard to the Unseen World is that claims about it may not be based upon mere logical deduction or speculation.
Furthermore, in the Sunnah we find proof that the presence of a menstruating woman does not negatively affect the spiritual purity of the atmosphere in a room or a house. Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam used to recite the Qur’an whilst reclining in the lap of ‘A’ishah radiyallahu ‘anha during her menstruation (Sahih al-Bukhari no. 297). He also used to perform salah in his room while she, in the state of menstruation slept in the same room. She was so close to him that at times his clothes used to touch her. (Sahih al-Bukhari 379) It was the Jews who held the idea that all social interaction with a woman had to be suspended during her menstruation, and Islam came to destroy this notion. (Sahih Muslim vol. 3 p. 211)
And Allah knows best.