Q: What happens when a pilgrim dies during his pilgrimage? What are the rituals associated with this?
By Adil Salahi
A: Death means the end of life on this earth. However, for a monotheistic religion like Islam in which resurrection and accountability are essential beliefs, death means the beginning of a new journey taking us to God and the Day of Judgment. Hence, there are certain rituals to be followed in preparing the body of the deceased for burial.
These include giving the deceased a bath, wrapping them well and offering a special prayer for them. What we are concerned with is what happens if the death occurs during the pilgrimage, with the deceased having started his pilgrimage journey and performed some of its rituals. This is explained in the following Hadith:
Ibn Abbas reports: “A man was on his camel on the day of attendance at Arafat, when he fell down and knocked his head. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: ‘Bathe him in water and Sidr, and wrap him in two garments. Do not add any perfume, and do not cover his head as he will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment declaring his response to the call to pilgrimage’.” (Related by Al-Bukhari).
The Hadith speaks of how to prepare the deceased for burial if he dies while he is offering the pilgrimage, when he is still in the state of consecration, or ihram. In ordinary cases, the deceased is bathed with water and Sidr, which means the leaves of a buckthorn tree that gives foam similar to soap. Before finishing, some calyx of sweet-smelling flowers is added to give the body a sweet smell.
A pilgrim who dies while offering the rituals of pilgrimage is bathed in the ordinary way, but the prohibitions that apply during the state of consecration are maintained. Thus, he is wrapped in his two garments which he wears during consecration. Normally a third one is added, but not for a pilgrim. His head is left uncovered, because we are not allowed to cover our heads during consecration. No perfumes are added to the water used for bathing him, for the same reason.
The Prophet said in the above-quoted Hadith that the pilgrim is resurrected in the same condition he was in at his death, i.e. declaring his response to God’s order to offer the pilgrimage. This is indicative of the importance of this religious duty which is required of every Muslim at least once during their lifetime. This is a duty owed to God by all people and the pilgrim declares his response and readiness to fulfill this duty. Therefore, if he dies while doing it, he is buried in the same condition, and he will be resurrected in that condition. This ensures his forgiveness of any past sins, because such forgiveness is the reward for the pilgrimage.
The Hadith also indicates that no one else is required to complete the rituals the deceased pilgrim might have not had time to complete, although the pilgrimage may be offered on behalf of someone who is unable to undertake it. Scholars say that when someone has started an act of worship in obedience to God, but death prevents him from completing it, he will be rewarded for it in full, God willing.