Q. I recently attended a janazah service which was held on our local mosque ground. Before the janazah salah, the Imam mentioned that the sisters were allowed to perform the salah since it was being read on the mosque ground and not at the cemetery. However, he did instruct the sisters that it was forbidden for them to follow the procession to the cemetery.

According to Sahih Bukhari, it is reported that women are forbidden to follow the procession, but not strictly. How do we interpret this statement? And in another Bukhari hadith, it is reported that a Muslim who follows the procession of the deceased gets one qirat of blessing. The bottom line question is what is the position with regard to women attending the burial at the cemetery?

A. The Imam was incorrect in preventing the women from going to the cemetery. If he relied on the hadith of Umm Atiyya in Sahih al Bukhari to which you refer, then one should note that her words are to the meaning that the prevention was not enforced. The tradition about Aisha throws more light on the matter: Aisha came one day from the cemetery, and I said to her: "O mother of the believers! From whence do you come? She said: "From the grave of Abdur Rahman." I said to her: "Did the Messenger of God not prohibit visiting the graves?" She said, "Yes, then he ordered to visit them."

The traditions state that the custom was to employ women who used to wail and bemoan the dead. It would seem if we accept the hadith, that this may have been the reason for any early prohibitions. It ought to be noted too that men are also prohibited from wailing and tearing their hair, etc. Once this was understood and became the law of Islam, there was no need to prevent either sex from attending a janazah in a graveyard. In assessing hadith, one ought to realize that several hadith reflect the views of those who report them, rather than the people to whom they are ascribed. One also needs to take into consideration that Islam does not promote any type of stereotyping as being a basis for legislation.

Therefore, a woman cannot be deemed as being too emotional to attend a funeral -- be it in the mosque or the graveyard -- for as I have pointed out, the prohibition is for both men and women if it is feared that they will deport themselves in a manner deemed improper in Islam. Your Imam's decision seems to have been the result of some impromtu and improper ijtihad. If he could allow the women to pray for the dead, then it does not matter where the service occurred. If, as I have pointed out, Aisha visited her brother's grave (and there are several other hadith where the women visited the graveyard), then it shows that they are allowed to be in the graveyard. And if they are allowed in the graveyard, it means that they can visit the grave and/or pray at the funeral service.

I find it extremely upsetting that in this day and age, when the research into hadith has shown that much of it is untrue, an Imam can prohibit a female from visiting a graveyard. The Qur'an and indeed the hadith present the image of a mother normally being the closer of the two parents to the child. Is it not cruel to prevent a mother from having the last view of her child before covering the grave? To tell a woman that for whatever reason she cannot attend a funeral service in its final rite is to discriminate in a fashion that is totally removed from our religion. And we seem to forget that the Qur'an states: "…and He has clearly explained what is forbidden unto you." If we cannot find a prohibition in the Qur'an, then no Imam -- no single person -- has a right to enforce any interdiction. May Allah guide us to do that which is correct.

Posted April 3, 2001