Q: What is the Islamic ruling with regard to headstones and tombstones in a Muslim cemetery?

A: Classical Islamic law looks upon the beautification of the graves as very negative, for in Islam, the physical death means exactly that. The death is also a reminder that one's time in this world is finished. Therefore, to put up expensive headstones / tombstones, etc. is considered a waste of money and seeking to make a state of permanency of the site. As such, there is a hadith where the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w) allegedly ordered his companion to go and flatten every raised grave. Since ancestor worship too was an ancient practice, the marking of the spot was not done. So we find that except for the Prophet's grave, we cannot with any certainty rule on the authenticity of any of the places claimed to be grave sites of the previous Prophets.

In modern terms, it has become a custom to use a marker as in North American cemeteries, which merely notes the name of the deceased, and the time of birth and death. This obviously has no adulative purpose in mind, and does not seem to contradict any shari`ah principles. One may classify this as a headstone, although it is almost flat with the ground. So headstones or tombstones which serve as markers are permissible. However, if the objective is to aggrandize, then they fall into the category of the prohibited.

Posted February 11, 1999