Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
At a time when Islam is associated with any number of troubling practices, shall necrophilia also be laid at its feet?
Consider the following report of a Muslim-background man who sexually violated a number of corpses last year in the UK:
A warped “monster” who broke into a funeral parlour before having sex with a woman’s corpse has been jailed for six years. Kasim Khuram, 23, forced his way into a Co-op undertakers before violating a dead body at around 1.40am on November 11 last year. A court heard how he lifted the lids of several coffins before selecting his victim. Khuram then removed the body from the coffin, took off her clothes and then “interfered with her” in the chapel of rest, leaving her face down on the floor.
Another female body was found face down in a coffin with her lower clothing pulled down while seven other corpses, including a baby, were disturbed. Police were alerted by the alarm at the funeral parlour on Walsall Road, in Great Barr, Birmingham, and turned up to find the depraved pervert still at the scene. Officers said he was “more concerned” about leaving his watch behind. Khuram, who had been drinking vodka and smoking mamba, told officers: “I bet you think I’ve been sh***ing them don’t you?” and sickeningly added: “every hole is a goal.”
While necrophilia is a depravity that is not unique to any one modern culture, the fact is only Islam contains scriptures, commentaries, and fatwas (Islamic decrees) revolving around and in some instances permitting the macabre practice.
As with most of Islam’s problematic teachings, necrophilia is traceable to Muhammad.
According to a hadith (a recorded tradition concerning the sayings and doings of the prophet) that exists in six of Islam’s classical reference texts (including the important Kanz al-‘Umal and al-Hujja fi Biyan al-Mahujja), Muhammad once took off his shirt, placed it on a dead woman, and then descended into and “lay with her” in the grave.
As they hurled dirt atop the corpse and Muhammad, the grave diggers exclaimed, “O Prophet, we see you doing a thing you never did with anyone else,” to which he responded: “I dressed her in my shirt so that she may be dressed in heavenly robes, and I lay with her in her grave so that the pressures of the grave [also known as Islam’s torments of the grave] may be alleviated from her.”
One can interpret this, and there certainly is no reason to maintain that Muhammad was actually copulating with the corpse. There are, however, some hurdles:
First, the two Arabic words (ataja‘ ma‘ha اضطجع معها) which I translate above as “lay with her,” are also used in Arabic to mean “intercourse.” This is similar to the English idiom, “to lay with her,” which can literally mean nothing more than laying down with a woman, but often is a reference to sex. More than a few Muslim clerics have made this linguistic observation.
Second, Sunni Islam’s four orthodox schools of jurisprudence (or madhahib al- fiqh)—namely, al-Hanafi, al-Hanbali, al-Maliki, and al-Shafi‘i—implicitly permit necrophilia. None of them actually addresses it on its own; rather, they give it a nod whenever it comes up in the context of other topics. Thus, in the section on adultery, the Maliki teaching is that “If a husband enters his dead wife—any which way, from front or behind—there is no penalty for him” (Sharh Mukhtasar al-Khalil fi al-fiqh al-Maliki).
Similarly, Shafi‘i rulings on wudu (ablution) point out that it is unnecessary to rewash the body of the dead—male or female adds the Hanbali madhhab—after penetrating it, though the penis of the penetrator does require washing. (Although a few English translations of these pivotal Arabic texts appear online, most are poor and inaccurate. I may at some point collate and freshly translate all of the relevant ones, which are not a few.)
Regardless of all the above, it is not for the non-Muslim—certainly not for me—to tell Muslims what their texts are really saying and teaching. That is the job of their ulema: scholars and clerics devoted to learning the deep truths of Islam. Thus, the real question remains: do modern day ulema permit necrophilia?
The lamentable answer is yes. For instance, in 2011 a leading Moroccan cleric and founding member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Sheikh Abdul Bari Zamzami, issued a fatwa permitting the Muslim husband to copulate with his dead wife. He prefaced his decree by saying that, although he does not necessarily approve of this act, it is not for him to ban what Islam permits. As proof, he cited the aforementioned rulings of Islam’s schools of jurisprudence.
In April 2012, when the Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammad Morsi was president of Egypt, news that Islamist Egyptian parliamentarians were trying to pass a law legalizing necrophilia appeared. Although Al Ahram, Egypt’s most reputable paper reported the story, it was quickly dismissed as a hoax in Western media (which often happens whenever Islam makes the news in ways that do not comport with Western sensibilities). As one journalist argued, “This ugly rumor and hoax, thought to originate in a fatwa by [the aforementioned] sheikh Zamzami, a noted Moroccan cleric, should be doubted for the simple reason that no Egyptian Islamist sheikh, or any other Imam, has ever been reported to approve of necrophilia.”
That may have been true then, not now: In late 2017, necrophilia was again mentioned and legitimized, this time by Sheikh Sabri Abdul Raeuf, a professor at Egypt’s Al Azhar—the Islamic world’s most prestigious madrasa, which Pope Francis considers an ally. During a televised show in Egypt, the Sheikh-professor was asked if it is permissible for a husband to penetrate his wife after death. He replied, “It is not favorable in Islam; however Islamic law considers it as halal,” that is, permissible, not a crime or sin deserving of punishment in the here or hereafter.
A Youm7 Arabic report titled (in translation) “The Books of al-Shafi‘i, al-Hanbali, and al-Hanafi Reveal that Sex with a Dead Wife is Not Adultery,” verified the Al Azhar professor’s claims.
Be all the above as it may, I would be remiss not to point out that this entire excursus on Islam’s position concerning necrophilia should not be interpreted as meaning that “death-sex” is a normal or widespread activity among Muslim societies. Indeed, whenever it makes the news in the Arab world, most Muslims—as can be expected of most decent people of whichever creed—respond with incredulity and revulsion.
Rather, the point here is that Islamic jurisprudence is so legalistically slavish to old, sometimes bizarre, texts and often ambiguously worded as to legitimize much that is repugnant to modern sensibilities. Not only does this provide a moral—sometimes even pious—cover for deviants; it may attract them to Islam.
In other words, just as pedophiles, rapists, sex-slavers, misogynists, psychotic mass murderers, extortionists, those eager to be “breastfed” by women or drink camel urine, can find support in the teachings of Islam—in ways that the followers of other religions simply cannot—so too can those with depraved proclivities for the dead.