Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Muslim customs surrounding death, bereavement, postmortem examinations, and organ transplants

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 20 August 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:521
  1. A R Gatrad
  1. Manor Hospital, Walsall WS2 9PS.
  • Accepted 20 April 1994

Muslims are always buried, never cremated. It is a religious requirement that the body be ritually washed and draped before burial, which should be as soon as possible after death. Those carrying out this duty should be immunised against hepatitis B and be aware of the hazards of AIDS. Muslim women never attend burials and it is rare for funeral directors to be involved. Muslim jurists from the Arab world can justify organ transplantation, but those from the Indian subcontinent are against it. They are united in the belief of the sacredness of the human body and thus deplore postmortem examinations.

There are over 1.5 million Muslims in the United Kingdom,1 of whom well over 600 000 are from Pakistan and Bangladesh.2 Most of the rest are from India. Muslims from the largest non-Christian religious group in the United Kingdom, encompassing 43% of the Asian population from the Indian subcontinent.3 Behaviour surrounding death as expected by the Muslim faith is generally adhered to in Britain. Most of the customs followed have been laid down in the Shari'ah (Muslim laws) which are derived from the Hadith (practices and sayings of the prophet Mohammed) rather than the Koran.

Although Islam recognises no intermediary between humans and God, such as a clergy, there are special committees in the Indian subcontinent that decide on matters such as the burial in sacred ground of a person who has committed suicide. Ulamas (high ranking Muslim jurists) guide the Muslim world on the interpretation of the Koran and the Hadith.


Muslims prefer to die in their own homes. They believe in the day of judgment and the life hereafter, and that on approaching one's death it is important to ask for forgiveness of violations against humans before asking for forgiveness from God for sins …

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