(Washing of the Dead)
“Ali narrated that the Prophet had so enjoined that if anyone except himself (Ali) had given him the funeral bath, he would have gone blind.”
The obligation of Ghusl-ul-Mayyit (Washing of the Dead) is clear enough. It’s Fard-ul-Kifaayah, i.e., a communal responsibility, meaning that if some members take the responsibility of doing it, the need is fulfilled, but if no one fulfills it, then all Muslims will be accountable. (See Ad-Durr Al-Mukhtaar Vol. 1 p. 800–8006 and Fatih-al-Qadeer Vol. 1 p. 448–451).
The only exception are the bodies of the Shuhada` (those martyred for the sake of Allah). They are excerpted from the obligation of the Ghusl. If the shaheed or shaheedah dies in battle, he or she should not be washed and shrouded. Jaabir ibn ‘Abd-Allaah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) issued orders that the martyrs of Uhud should be buried with their blood and not washed. (Reported by al-Bukhaari, 1346)
In every undertaking in Islam, knowledge is very important; therefore, the washing of the dead requires adequate knowledge of the process. It is permissible for a man to wash his wife and a woman to wash her husband. But that can only be if they possess the knowledge. Husbands are highly recommended to wash their wives bodies, and vice versa. For example, Asmaa bint ‘Umays washed her husband Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq (may Allaah be pleased with him) and the Third Khalifah of Islam washed his wife, Faatimah (may Allaah be pleased with her). This is ordained to lay emphasis on the protection of a woman and a man’s ‘Awrah (nakedness).
Who wants to wash must be a trustworthy Muslim (male or female). That’s because washing the dead is an act of amaanah, i.e., trust. The Prophet Muhammad said in the Hadith of Ibn Umar, “No one should wash your dead except the Ma`moonun i.e., those who are trustworthy. (Reported by Ibn Majah) “Whoever washes the dead and keeps the trust of the privacy thereof, Allah will forgive him (the entrusted washer) forty times.” Reported by Al-Hakim.
It’s recommended that the washer lower her gaze while washing. This is due to the prohibition of looking at the dead naked body, as in the Hadith of Ali (may Allaah be pleased with her) that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Don’t look at a thigh, live or dead.” (Reported Abu-Dawud).
The Prophet’s washing is an example of how important is Ghusl-ul-Mayyit and how confidential it is. “Ali narrated that the Prophet had so enjoined that if anyone except himself (Ali) had given him the funeral bath, he would have gone blind.”Abbas, Fadhl, and Qutham turned the body from one side to the other as Usamah and Shaqran poured water over it. All of them were blindfolded.”
All scholars established the obligation to cover the ‘awrah of the deceased, whatever the circumstances. Kashf al-Qinaa‘, 2/91.
An-Niyyah, i.e., intention, has to be said in line with Islamic beliefs: “Actions are by intentions”. The scholars have affirmed that this intention does not have to be verbal. However, some students of the schools of thought still use pronunciations like the following invocations as a sufficient and common exercise: (for male) Allaahummah Inni Nawaitu Ghusl-al-Mayyit ‘Abdika Ibni ‘Abdika Ibni Amaatika [(for female) Allaahummah Inni Nawaitu Ghusl-al-Mayyitah ‘Amaatika Binti ‘Abdika Binti Amaatika].
“Teaching people how to wash the dead is good and is acceptable according to Shari’ah. There is nothing wrong with that, because some people do not know how to wash the dead properly, so there is a real need to know how to wash the dead.”