Q. Recently I attended a funeral service and the Imam gave a lengthy dissertation about death the night before the burial. Some things he said have already been addressed at your website: viewing the deceased and delaying the burial so that distant relatives can attend, women not being allowed to go to the cemetery, etc., all of which he railed against. He also talked about the questioning of the deceased by the angels and punishment in the grave.

There were other pronouncements from the Imam that I'm sure made some Muslims as well as non-Muslims uncomfortable (incidentally, the deceased had close relatives and friends who are non-Muslim and were present at the event). The Imam said that non-Muslims are not allowed to wash a deceased Muslim prior to burial, they are not permitted to carry the coffin with the deceased, and they must not join the janazah prayer (he sarcastically uttered some non-Muslim names as examples to drive home his point). He further added that Muslims who wash the deceased and carry the coffin must be in a state of wudu (ablution) in order to perform these tasks. Are these statements in concordance with Islamic guidelines?

A. It is unfortunate that at a solemn occasion when we should all reflect on our common humanity and mortality, the Imam, instead of setting an example (since he is supposed to be a role model for the community), chose to indulge in self-righteousness and disparage the non-Muslims present, who in all likelihood attended the service out of love and respect for the deceased. What incentive will non-Muslims have to show up at future services if they are going to have to put up with the likes of the Imam you described! Many assume the authority to issue statements without proof and / or knowledge. While we disagree with most of what he said, the sad fact is that for many Muslims, this state of affairs is now the norm.

Since the washing of the corpse is seen as a duty upon Muslims, it is viewed as that which must be performed by Muslims only, and in a state of purity. Most of these practices do not take into account something that you noted: the deceased has non-Muslim relatives. They are part of the family and must be accorded certain privileges and honor. This is where the Imam ought to realize that he is there to do a service and if he is NOT a jurist, then he should be duly informed that he is not and a suitable scholar consulted. This is difficult of course, given the respect usually accorded to anyone bearing the title of "Imam." In short, the norm in Islam is that Muslims do the burial services, but based on other considerations, non-Muslim relatives can claim the right to do certain things, including washing the dead and carrying the coffin. The Imam's job is to do the funeral prayer; outside of this, he should leave the issuance of edicts to those who are qualified to do so.

Posted June 7, 2018