Is cremation prohibited in the Quran?
By: A. Mohamed

Traditional Islamic scholars have always maintained that cremation is prohibited by God in the Quran, and that an Islamic burial is the only method of disposing of a dead body that is approved by God. To justify their claim, they refer to two Quranic verses, 5:31 and 17:70. This article aims at analysing this claim in the light of the Quran.

FIRST: 5:31

So God sent a crow scratching in the ground to show him how to bury his brother's corpse. 5:31

The claim is that God related this story to us to teach us the correct method of disposing of a dead body. Thus any other method of disposing of a dead body is prohibited by God.

The significance of 5:31 in the light of the Quran

To analyse the significance of 5:31, the Biblical names of Cain and Abel are used for reference.

God does not give us His law by means of a raven! When God decrees a law that all people must follow, God openly says, "You shall do so and so". There are no such words in 5:31.

The story of the raven was an isolated event related to one person (Cain) at one specific point in time. Once again, when God decrees a law that is binding for all people, God addresses: "O you who believe", or "O Children of Adam".

Since the event of the raven took place at the very beginning of time, for all we know, fire was not yet known to humans, and so the process of cremation would not have even been an option at the time.

We do not find in 5:31, nor anywhere in the Quran, words that state that burial is the only method approved by God, nor do we find any Quranic words that prohibit cremation. Since nothing is prohibited unless it is clearly prohibited by God in the Quran, then there is no evidence to justify the prohibition of cremation.

In the story of the raven, the death of Abel was the very first death on earth, and thus no one then had any clue of what to do with a dead body! The process of burial would not have been known yet, thus what the raven showed Cain was new, and much needed, knowledge of how to dispose of a dead body, no more and no less.

SECOND: 17:70

Muslim scholars also refer to 17:70 to justify the prohibition of cremation:

We have honoured the children of Adam and carried them on the land and in the sea and We provided them with good things, and We favoured them considerably over many of those We created.

The claim is that in keeping with the spirit of this verse, it is necessary to treat the human body with the utmost of respect, not only when a person is alive, but also when he/she is dead. Cremating the deceased or discarding bodies in other ways is considered sacrilege and abhorrent and, therefore, forbidden according to Islam.

The significance of 17:70 in the light of the Quran

1- Burying a body, or cremating it, leads to the same end result; the body will turn to dust.

A dead body is dead matter, not any different from a dead extracted tooth, or hair that has been cut, or an appendix that was removed, and so on. Is there any difference between a dead tooth and a dead body? Yes, there is more dead matter in a dead body! Do we bury our extracted teeth and our removed appendix? And if we do not, would that mean that we are not honouring our body just like God honoured us in our lifetime?

The honour that God speaks about in 17:70 is specified in the same verse and it is all during our lifetime. God honoured us by means of the "good things" that God granted us during our life time, and also by means of the dominion which God granted us over all creatures on earth. This is in the words that state that God favoured us, during our life time, "over many of those We created".

The body, which we occupy during our life on earth, is no more than a shell we occupy for a predetermined term. This shell becomes dead matter after our death. It is thus irrational to think that it is possible to honour dead matter!
The only honour any human may receive after death is the honour in the Hereafter. It is not the dead body that receives the honour, but the real person, the 'self'. As for the dead body, whether it is buried or cremated, it will be resurrected by God on the Day of Judgement.

As for the claim that cremation is degrading, dishonouring or abhorrent, this is no more than cultural baggage! In Western societies, people who are cremated are disposed of in a very dignified manner and no one considers it degrading or abhorrent in any way.

Following the above analysis, which confirms that there is no prohibition in the Quran against cremation, it is worthwhile to dig deeper and try to understand why the Muslim scholars came up with the prohibition of cremation. Why do they proclaim that burial is the only Islamic method that is approved by God, when all that they stand on are the incorrect interpretations of two Quranic verses?

Here we find a link that appears to be of great significance and which connects the prohibition of cremation to another equally un-Quranic claim.

According to hadith, after death, a wicked person who committed many sins will be tortured in his grave in what they call the "punishment of the grave".
It follows that if a person is cremated, and his ashes are scattered and no grave is allocated, this would totally ruin the theory of the "punishment of the grave"!
It is hard to justify a scenario where angels are wondering aimlessly unable to determine the location of a dead person and where his punishment of the grave can be dished out!
Needless to say, the concept of the "punishment of the grave" is yet another myth that violates Quranic truth, but that is another story.