It is true that Islam encourages a “prompt” or “swift” burial of the deceased and this should remain Muslim practice but it doesn’t mean that Islam directs the faithfuls to dispose of the body in such a haste that loved ones and those wishing to show their final respects and take part in janaza are robbed of their rights.
The “prompt” or “swift” in burial of the deceased should not only include the entire process of ghusl, shrouding of the body, preparation of the grave, and the carrying the body of the deceased from the home or mosque to the cemetery but creating reasonable opportunity for those who are entitled and wish to participate in the janaza are able to do so.
Recently, in some Muslim-majority countries and Muslim-minority countries night burial has emerged and is evolving as a new “common” phenomenon. This is because a group of traditional and conservative Muslim scholars base their rulings on some ostensible night burial practices that occurred in early Islamic history and on the following hadith:
Hasten with the Janaza. If it was a righteous person, then you are forwarding it to its bliss, and if it was other than that (not righteous), then you will remove this burden from your necks (Reported by al-Bukhari [volume 2, hadith 401] and Muslim [volume 2, hadith 2059]).
Night burial in Muslim communities and societies has occurred since very early in Islamic history. Islam’s first Khalif, Abu Bakr (r), and Prophet Muhammad’s (s) wife, Ayesha (r), who was also Abu Bakr’s (r) daughter, were buried at night in Arabia, for instance.
However, there is no evidence that this set the precedence for night burial or that night burial was a common or regular occurrence in early Islamic history. It should be noted that the rites of a burial is not constituted in the Qur’an.
Also, it is worth mentioning that at the time of Islam’s advent Muslims lived in small village settings in close-knit communities. Family members, relatives, and friends lived in close proximity to one another and when someone died then people would gather around the deceased’s family swiftly to offer their condolences and support, assist with the funeral organisation, and participate in the funeral service.
The burial place or the cemetery often was within or around the village and so the funeral procession would need to travel only a short distance.
However, as I mentioned above that there is no evidence that night burial was a common or regular occurrence in early Islamic history or that the night burial of Abu Bakr and Ayesha, for example, set the precedence for night burial in Islam.
Also, there is nowhere in the above hadith which says that the deceased can be buried at night or offers a timeframe within which burial should be carried out. If this hadith is read correctly in conjunction with the Qur’an which states:
He it is That hath made you the night that ye may rest therein, and the day to make things visible (to you). Verily in this are signs for those who listen (to His Message) (Quran 10:67),
We can conclude that the burial of the deceased is at least logical and most practical in the day-light hours. The Qur’anic verse is clear in which Allah constantly mentions that He has made day for us to work and pursue the usual activities of daily life and He has made night for us to rest.
Given that we live in a globalised world where family members and friends are widely dispersed and people movement from state to state is a common and frequent occurrence, Muslim scholars must use their ijtihad carefully and wisely and only recommend or approve night burial when the body decomposition is imminent.
Otherwise, the burial should be restricted to the day-light hours as a common practice in light of sura Yunuus, verse 67 with jazana being carried out within a reasonable timeframe.