The Funeral Prayer for the Departed in Absentia
There are many situations that might cause us to be absent from a funeral prayer (salat al-janaza) for a loved one. In such a situation, it is important to note: the funeral prayer is a communal obligation (fard al-kifaya), which means that if the obligation is taken up by even a few, it will cover the obligation for the entirety of the community.
When one is not able to attend, it does not mean that there are not many acts of worship that might be done in order to benefit the deceased. On the contrary, there are many good deeds that can be done, irrespective of whether one has prayed over the departed, including the reading of Qur’an and dedicating the reward of that to the departed, or supplicating for them (du’a), among many other acts.
There is also the funeral prayer for the departed in absentia (salat al-gh’aib), or the ‘absentee prayer’. This is valid according to relied upon opinions in the extant and normative schools of jurisprudence, particularly the Shafi’i school. Among the Shafi’is, it is mentioned that the ‘absentee prayer’ is permissible for those from whom it is valid from the point they know, or have reasonable surety that the person’s body has been washed (or the necessary alternative, such as tayyamum).
In any normal situation, the absentee prayer is permissible for the person who is not in the same city as where the deceased has passed away. If one is in the same city, there are two commonly held, and equally valid positions among the Shafi’is – the upshot of which is that Ibn Hajar in al-Imdad and Imam Ramli in al-Nihaya, two authoritative later scholars in the school, note that if a person has a valid excuse for not attending the funeral, then they may pray the funeral prayer for the deceased, whether individually or in a group. In this case, if one is able to visit the grave after the burial, then it is preferable they pray next to the grave, as Ibn Hajar in his Tuhfa makes this a condition, in his other opinion on the matter; otherwise, one may pray anywhere else, including in one’s home.
[During times such as living under restrictions due to the COVID19 pandemic, or other excuses for not attending the funeral, one may indeed follow Imam Ramli’s position as mentioned above, and pray either at the grave afterwards, or at home, if one is in the same city.]
The prayer is performed as thus:
– There is no calling (iqama) to the prayer, but one may say ‘al-salatu jam’ia’;
– One stands, intending to pray a funeral prayer, with the obligatory intention occurring at the time of the opening takbir;
– The obligatory opening takbir (Allahu akbar), raising one hands to shoulder level as usual, is followed by the obligatory reciting of surah al-Fatiha (to one’s self);
– Then this is followed by an obligatory second takbir;
– which is then followed by quietly saying ‘alhamdulillah’; and then (quietly, to one’s self) recitation of the prayer upon the Prophet, upon whom be blessings and peace, in the same way that one would do so in the second half of the tashhahud in the ritual daily prayer (it is obligatory to pray upon the Prophet, and sunna to pray upon his family); and then it is recommended to supplicate for the believers briefly;
– which is then followed by an obligatory third takbir; which is then followed by (quietly, to one’s self) supplicating for the deceased, the obligatory minimum of which would be “Allahumma ighfir lihadha almayt(a)”
– which is followed by an obligatory fourth takbir; it is recommended one says, “Allāhumma lā taḥrimnā ajrahu wa la taftinā baʿdahu wa-ghfir lanā wa lahu” (“O Allah, do not deprive us of his reward, nor afflict us after him. [O Allah,] grant us and him forgiveness.”)
– which is then followed by saying aloud the obligatory ‘al-salam ‘alaykum ’ to the right, and then it is recommended to repeat to the left.