The erection of three boards in Islamic cemeteries

Q: It is my great pleasure to bring to your attention that your loyal son, his Excellency, the Minister of Rural Development in Malaysia, al-Hajj Anwar ibn Al-Hajj Musa agreed to allocate a sum of money for the erection of three boards in Islamic cemeteries, commencing with the cemetery that is in his constituency. These boards will contain the correct rulings concerning graveyards including what you mentioned in your Fatwa no. (19246) dated 17/11/1417 A.H. The second board will contain some statements of condolence in addition to explanation of the questions of Munkar and Nakir (the two angels who test the faith of the dead in their graves). The third board will expose the rulings concerning the general etiquettes of visiting the graves. This came as a response to a suggestion that I have recently made. The Minister entrusted me to select the Ayahs (Qur'anic verses) and the relevant statements that convey the above-mentioned expressions. But I feel it is a great responsibility and fear that I may fail to provide the correct information in this regard. So, first, I hope that Your Eminence would express your opinion on this project, and then write the rulings and etiquettes concerning the above, so that I could translate them into the Malaysian language (Malay) and then execute the project. Obviously, the boards, with the aid of Allah (Exalted be He), will be a means to help raise awareness of Muslims, reminding them of the Hereafter, and teaching them the correct manners, especially with regard to visiting the graves. Your work will, by the will of Allah, benefit us and all Muslims. May Allah reward you greatly! (Part No. 7; Page No. 369

A: First: Rulings concerning graves: 1- It is impermissible to build on graves, plaster them, use electricity to light the place and the like. This is because these matters may be a means leading to Shirk (associating others with Allah in His Divinity or worship) by making Du`a' (supplication) to the dead and seeking their help instead of Allah. 2- It is impermissible to offer prayer or make Du`a' at graveyards, even if nothing is built on them, due to the words of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him): "You must not take graves as mosques; I forbid you to do that" . 3- It is also impermissible to raise the level of the graves above the ground more than a hand span because this is the description of the Prophet's grave and the graves of those of the Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet). The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) told `Aly ibn Abu Talib (may Allah be pleased with him): "Leave not a high grave unleveled.'' A high grave is that which is raised above the ground and leveling it is to remove the projected part of the structure beyond the one hand-span height. 4- Do not disrespect graves by sitting or tread on them, throwing garbage on them, letting water flow over them or any other means of desecration. A wall must be built around the cemetery to preserve it from any such desecration. This is because it was authentically attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that he forbade plastering graves, building over them, and sitting or writing on them . 5- After placing a dead Muslim in the grave, it is recommended for those attending the funeral to stand by the grave and make Du`a' and Istighfar (seeking forgiveness from Allah) and ask that Allah make him steadfast when he is questioned by Munkar and Nakir in the grave. When the burial of a dead Muslim was concluded, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) would stand by the grave and say to his companions: (Part No. 7; Page No. 370) "Ask Allah to make your brother steadfast for he is now being questioned" . 6- If a Muslim passes by Muslim graves, it is recommended that he says: (Peace be upon you, inhabitants of the graves from among the believers. Verily we will, Allah willing, (surely) follow you. May Allah have mercy on those among us who have come first and those who are to come later. We ask Allah to give us and you well-being. O Allah! Do not deprive us of their reward, do not let us fall into Fitnah (temptation) after them and Forgive us and forgive them). Second: Visiting graves: 1- It is recommended for Muslim men to visit the graves of Muslims to make Du`a' and Istighfar for them, ask Allah to have mercy on them, and to take heed and admonition from the dead. 2- It is impermissible for women to visit the graves because the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) cursed women who visit graves, those who take graves as mosques and those who light lamps over them. Women are emotionally weak, and their excessive grief may lead them to do what is impermissible. 3- It is not lawful to visit graves for the purpose of seeking help from the dead and invoke them besides Allah. Such visits are Bid`ah (heresy in religion) and Shirk (associating others with Allah in His Divinity and worship) and men and women are not allowed to do these acts. What is lawful is that when a Muslim visits the grave of his acquaintances or relatives, he is to salute them, make Du`a' and Istighfar for them and then leave the graveyard. Third: Offering consolations: 1- It is recommended to offer condolences to the family of the deceased by saying: (Part No. 7; Page No. 371) (May Allah perfect your consolation, compensate you for your loss and forgive the sins of your deceased). 2- It is recommended that enough food is prepared for the mourning family by relatives or neighbors. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: Make food for the family of Ja`far, for there has come to them that which will keep them busy . 3- It is impermissible to hold ceremony after the funeral, gather people to attend it or for the family of the deceased to prepare food for consolers or disrupt their life. Jarir ibn `Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: "We used to prepare the gathering place for the family of the deceased and prepare food for them). A word of caution: These rulings are to be translated into the languages used in your country, put in print and distributed so that people may benefit from them. They are not to be written on boards on the cemetery wall because this was not done by the Salaf (righteous predecessors).May Allah grant you success! May Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family, and his Companions!