Connections between the disturbing practice of necrophilia and Islam are back in the news.
“In a shocking revelation,” starts one Apr. 29 report, “parents in Pakistan now guard their dead daughters against rape by putting padlocks to their graves. … [N]ecrophilia cases are on the rise in the country.”
Addressing this same phenomenon, another report states:
That a woman is raped every two hours in a country [Pakistan] taking great pride in its family-oriented values has been hammered to the point of repetition in our collective conscience. But the heart-wrenching sight of padlocks on the graves of females is enough for the entire society to hang its head in shame and never dare to look at the so-called vessels of honour. This is being done as a desperate bid to ensure the sanctity of dead bodies in case some randy monsters cherry-pick them to satiate their lust. Considering the rampant rise in necrophilia, one can’t help but understand the urge to protect loved ones.
This issue is not limited to Pakistan. According to an Aug. 22, 2022 report, a female Afghan refugee to India “revealed that the Taliban has sex with dead bodies.”
What to make of these macabre revelations? Is Islam really to blame?
As usual, when determining whether a practice is or is not Islamic, one must turn to the prophet of Islam: Muhammad. According to a bizarre hadith (a recorded tradition concerning his sayings and doings) 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 her grave to “lay with her.”
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 [myself] with her in her grave so that the pressures of the grave may be alleviated from her.”
Clearly, this hadith leaves much room for interpretation, and there is no reason to insist that Muhammad was actually copulating with the corpse. There are, however, some hurdles:
First, the two Arabic words (ataja’ ma’ha اضطجع معها) translated above as “lay with her,” are also used in Arabic to mean “intercourse.” This is similar to the English idiom “to lie with her,” which can literally mean nothing more than lying down with a woman but often is an indirect 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, all of them 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 “[i]f 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 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.
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.
Soon thereafter, in April 2012, when the Muslim Brotherhood held the presidency of Egypt in the person of Mohamed Morsi, 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, “[t]his 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.”
If that was true in 2012, it wasn’t in 2017, when necrophilia was yet again mentioned and legitimized, this time by Sheikh Sabri Abdul Raeuf, a professor at Egypt’s Al Azhar — the Islamic world’s most prestigious university (which Pope Francis considers an ally). During a televised show in Egypt, the sheikh and 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 subsequent 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.
Muslim necrophilia has, incidentally, also made it to the West. In the U.K., late one night in 2019, a Muslim man, Kasim Khuram, broke into a funeral home, opened several coffins, and, having made his “selections,” proceeded to yank out and “rape” two female corpses. When police arrested him, Khuram explained his actions by laughingly saying, “Every hole is a goal.”
Despite all the above, necrophilia should not be seen as widespread among Muslims. 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, but it also may attract them to Islam.
Just as pedophiles, rapists, sex-slavers, misaogynists, psychotic mass murderers, extortionists, and 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.