Islamic Studies Death, Dying, and the Afterlife
Amir Hussain
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 May 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0017


The Islamic understanding of death represents a dramatic shift from pre-Islamic Arabia. In the pre-Islamic world, there was a notion of fate, with time (dahr, also known as zaman or al-ayyam, “the days”) being the determining agent of a person’s life and death. This is reflected in the Qurʾan, in which the pre-Islamic Arabs say: “There is nothing but our life in this world. We live and we die and nothing destroys us but Time” (45:24). To this, Muhammad is commanded to say: “It is God who gives you life, causes you to die, then gathers you together for the Day of Resurrection, of which there is no doubt” (45:26). The modern understanding of death and dying has also changed. In the premodern world, the majority of people died at home, and so family members by necessity had to be familiar with the rituals surrounding death. In the modern world, the majority of people die in hospitals or institutions, creating a distance from traditional rituals.

Attitudes toward Death and Dying

There are a number of basic introductory works on Muslim attitudes toward death and dying. Leaman 2006 and Waardenburg 2001 provide encyclopedia articles on death in the Qurʾan, while Hussain 2009 provides a more general overview of death in Islam. Jonker 1997 describes death rituals by contrasting the funeral of Muhammad with the funeral of an immigrant Turkish Muslim who died in Berlin in 1995. Neuberger 2004 and Sarhill, et al. 2001 describe Muslim attitudes to palliative care and the hospice movement.

  • Hussain, Amir. “Death.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Vol. 2. Edited by John L. Esposito, 47–49. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    A basic introduction to death and dying.

  • Jonker, Gerdien. “The Many Facets of Islam: Death, Dying and Disposal between Orthodox Rule and Historical Convention.” In Death and Bereavement across Cultures. Edited by Colin Murray Parkes, Pittu Laungani, and Bill Young, 147–155. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.

    A good account of death and dying rituals in Islam, contrasting early rituals with their modern forms.

  • Leaman, Oliver. “Death.” In The Qurʾan: An Encyclopedia. Edited by Oliver Leaman, 170–178. London and New York: Routledge, 2006.

    Leaman provides more detailed coverage of this topic than other encyclopedias.

  • Neuberger, Julia. Dying Well: A Guide to Enabling a Good Death. 2d ed. Oxford and San Francisco: Radcliffe, 2004.

    An introduction to palliative care that includes sections on Islam.

  • O’Shaughnessy, Thomas J. Muhammad’s Thoughts on Death: A Thematic Study of the Qurʾanic Data. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1969.

    An early study of the Qurʾanic verses and the Hadith literature about death and dying. Although the material is dated, it does provide information on earlier methodologies for the study of Islam.

  • Sarhill, Nabeel, Susan LeGrand, Ramez Islambouli, Mellar P. Davis, and Declan Walsh. “The Terminally Ill Muslim: Death and Dying from the Muslim Perspective.” American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine 18.4 (2001): 251–255.

    DOI: 10.1177/104990910101800409

    Discusses Muslim attitudes to palliative care and the hospice movement.

  • Waardenburg, Jacques. “Death and the Dead.” In Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾan. Vol. 1. Edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe, 505–511. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2001.

    An excellent entry point into what the Qurʾan says about death.

  • Welch, Alford T. “Death and Dying in the Qurʾan.” In Religious Encounters with Death: Insights from the History and Anthropology of Religions. Edited by Frank E. Reynolds and Earle H. Waugh, 183–199. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977.

    Overview essay dealing with Islamic traditions.

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