Q. I have the following questions.

  1. Is it permissible for some to go and pray for the deceased at the cemetery?
  2. Did the Prophet Muhammad practice visiting gravesites and pray for dead?
  3. The Prophet was denied to go pray for his mother but allowed to visit her grave? Why? Was the Prophet's mother a Muslim? Who read her janaza prayer, if any?
  4. Was there any believer in Islam before the call to prophethood?
  5. Did the Prophet stop women from going to the cemetery and performing the janaza prayer if they can be strong about it?
  6. Who read the Prophet's janaza prayer?
  7. Did the Prophet practice lifting his hands and making du'a after the fard salat? Where was this practice derived from?

A. Regarding prayer at the graveyard, on the one hand, one may state that Allah knows the full extent of His own mercy and who are we to ask for more. But on the other hand, we see in the Qur'an in v14:41 that Abraham is praying for his parents. This shows that it is allowed. As far as going to the graveyard, this, while frowned upon by some scholars, is adductive to a stronger remembrance that someday we will be lying in graves too. And since our religion teaches us that death is not the end of everything, we should contemplate that state, and a strong aide is to actually stand at the grave of one whom we can remember as a living person, and think of where s/he now lies.

Did the Prophet pray at the graves? We have several ahadith on this. Are these ahadith correct? They are problematic since they contain for the most part things that are not conducive to the Qur'anic portrayal of death. In Sahih Muslim, Vol.2: hadith 2003 (English translation) for example, we have the Prophet praying for Allah to illuminate the grave and widen it. As we have shown elsewhere (click on The Grave for more information), this is impossible as a du'a from the Prophet. But there is nothing to deny that he prayed for the dead, and possibly in the graveyard for the reasons that we have mentioned before. However, we need to be careful when accepting ahadith on the subject that are controversial as far as content is concerned.

As far as the Prophet being denied to pray for his mother, we postulate that these are ahadith of a later creation, seeking to solve certain doctrinal problems that the umma was facing. Allah says: "And we punished none without sending a Messenger." We know that by the time of the Prophet, the Jewish and Christian scriptures had become corrupted, and that the Arabs were seen as the wild descendants of Ismail, meriting no grace. The case of the Prophet's mother is with the Lord of all the worlds. That the Prophet should visit her grave showed as we have stated before, he was being a good son. In the Qur'anic ayah mentioned regarding Abraham, we also need to point out that his father was an idolator, and here he is asking forgiveness for his father. Why should the Prophet Muhammad be any different?

Some scholars raise the probability that Abraham's real father was not an idolator, and that the "father" referred to in the Qur'an is merely a stepfather, or a guardian. We believe that were this the case as they say, it would have been explained, and also that the rule "Speech is taken by its apparent meaning" (al kalaam yuhmal ala zaahirihaa) does not allow for the latter interpretation. This controversy about the Prophet's parents has no meaning for us, and indeed is to be considered beyond our capability and judgment. This does not mean that she was a Muslim in the technical sense of the word, and since she died while the Prophet was still a little boy, we cannot assume that any janaza was made for her.

As for believers before the Prophet, certainly they were. All the Christians and Jews who were following the scriptures are to be considered believers. The Prophet brought not a new religion, but a new level of religious evolution. As such, some scholars talk of two Islams, one with a lower case, i.e. islam as a general one, and another Islam with a capital I to denote the final stage of the divine revelation. Salman al Farsi is a case of someone who, even before the Prophet's time, used to believe, although not in the intricate terms of the post-revelation era.

As far as the women not going to the janaza, the hadith as related by Umm Atiyya seem to stress "but it was not made absolute upon us." One has to take into consideration the Arab environment, and the state from which the women had just evolved. They used to be employed as criers and mourners, weeping and wailing for the dead for a fee. It is possible, if the hadith on the subject is correct, that their presence would have reminded many of pre-Islamic customs, and that some of them would have possibly resorted to it. Given the evolution of later Islam, the jurists and traditionists it would seem took this hadith to extreme stringency. Some scholars state that women are more emotional and may break down at the gravesite and create scenes. This is patent nonsense, proven by no empirical survey. Suffice it to say that whatever the case at the time of the Prophet, the matter could not be one of permanency and women have a right to do as they wish. The necessity of proper deportment at the gravesite is as incumbent on men as it is on women. Certainly the hadith of Umm Atiyya indicates that there is room for change in the traditional proscription.

Who prayed the Prophet's janaza? The traditions seem to studiously create a haze where this is concerned. We do know that the Prophet was not buried on the same day. And that by the time he was buried, the people had accepted Abu Bakr as the caliph, and so, keeping in line with what is known of the time, it was him who did the janaza.

There are two types of du'as: those as part of the prayer, and those outside of the prayer. It was the practice of the Prophet and his companions to make qunut if they needed to make a du'a, thus making it a part of the prayer. In that prayer, they would raise their hands, but it would be part of the prayer. If they were not in prayer, and a du'a was to be made, they simply raised their hands and supplicated. As far as this ritual of making a specific supplication after the prayer, if it is based on ijtihad, it is to be seen as meritorious in some instances. Our brothers from certain countries oppose it on the ground that it is an innovation, which is why we make our condition about it being done based on ijtihad.

The overwhelming opinion is that the communal salaat must be done in Arabic, and that no foreign language may be used. If the imam and the people understand Arabic, then the performance may stick to the pure sunnah. But what happens when the imam does not understand Arabic and neither do the followers, and yet they have a situation wherein they need to ask Allah for something? In this case, the obvious solution is to finish the prayer and then raise the hands in du'a, making the du'a short and to the point, praising Allah, asking what one seeks, and then concluding with hope and "ameen." One cannot consider this as bid'ah, and indeed should be circumspect about ruling on any practice as being heretical innovations until s/he has studied it carefully, and understands all its reasons and repercussions. For this reason, we see the post-salaat du'a having its origin in the non-Arabic speaking countries, and then later spreading to the Arabic lands when those places were taken over by foreign forces, as in early Islam with the Persians, etc.

Posted November 20, 1999