Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Badat
I attended Friday prayers following which there was a funeral prayer for someone who had passed away in another country. What is the Islamic position on conducting a funeral prayer in absentia?
In the Name of God, Most Merciful, Most Kind
Jazāk Allāh Khayr/ Thank you for your question.
In general, when a believer passes away, the formal method for the funeral prayer requires the body of the deceased to be present. This allows the completion of all the Islamic rites including, bathing, shrouding, funeral prayers and the burial.
When we receive news of a believer who passed away in a distant land or at another location where we cannot be present, we are to supplicate [make duʿāʾs] and seek blessings along with forgiveness, from the Almighty on behalf of the deceased.
As far as the formal ritual funeral prayer (ṣalāt al-janāzah) in absentia (ʿalā al-ghāib) is concerned, jurists have differed. There are some who permit it with no conditions, others allow it provided certain conditions are met, and another contingent of jurists who are of the view that the funeral prayer in absentia is best not to be offered.
The Shāfʿie and Ḥanbalī school permit the funeral prayer in absentia. (See: Al-Majmūʾ Li-Al-Nawawī, Al-Sharḥ Al-Kabīr)
Some jurists only allow the funeral prayer in absentia if there was no formal funeral prayer offered for the deceased in the distant land. (See: Al-Mughnī)
The position in the Ḥanafī and Mālikī schools, is that the funeral prayer in absentia is not legislated and not permitted. Any reports of the Prophet (peace be upon him) leading such a prayer are from those matters that were exclusively permitted for him. (See: Al-Badāʿi Al-Ṣanāʾi, Ḥāshiyat Al-Khurshī)
For the one who follows the Ḥanafī and Mālikī view, they may offer the funeral prayer in absentia with the intention of duʿāʾ (supplication for the deceased) behind an imam who is of the view that such a prayer is legislated. (See: Fatāwa Dār Al-ʿUlūm Zakariyya)
Jābir bin ʿAbd Allāh (may God be pleased with him) narrates that the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) announced, “Today a pious man from Ethiopia (Najāshī) has expired, let us offer the funeral prayer.” (Jābir said,) “We lined up in rows and after that the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) led the prayer.” Jābir added, “I was in the second row.” (Bukhārī)
There is also a report that the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) offered the funeral prayer in absentia for the Companion, Muʿāwiyah Ibn Muʿāwiyah Al-Muzanī (may God be pleased with him). (See: Al-Bayhaqī and Al-Bidāyah Wa Al-Nihāyah)
And Allāh Knows Best