When Mosques Refuse to Bury Muslim Terrorists
The Manchester Central Mosque has declined to be involved in Salman Abedi’s funeral. The decision is hardly unprecedented.
More than a week has passed since 22-year-old Salman Abedi detonated an explosive outside a concert at the Manchester Arena, killing himself and 22 concert-goers and injuring dozens of others. Still, Abedi’s remains have reportedly not been buried. This carries particular significance for a Muslim like Abedi: Islamic law requires that burials take place as soon as possible after death.
The Manchester Central Mosque, one of the largest Muslim funeral providers in the city, has refused to be involved in Abedi’s funeral. Irfan Chishti, an imam at the mosque, told me its executive committee’s decision not to inter Abedi’s remains aimed to reaffirm the local Muslim community’s rejection of his actions.
“We don’t condone suicide bombing in any way, shape or form, so anyone who’s been involved with that, we’re not going to be supporting them,” Chishti said. “We cannot offer prayers over someone who has committed such an act.”
In the Islamic tradition, the funeral prayer, called Salat al-Janaza, is considered a communal duty: Muslims pray for the forgiveness of the dead. Caner Dagli, a professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross, told me that while some Muslims believe the prayer should be performed for those who commit suicide, others disagree.
“The Janaza prayer is not a special condition for the afterlife,” Dagli said in an email. “It’s not like a sacrament that’s necessary for salvation, for example. Muslims believe that even perpetrators of heinous sins might be forgiven by God.”
Chishti said the mosque’s decision was prompted by a call to the mosque’s funeral director about Abedi specifically, though he clarified that Abedi did not attend the mosque.
“Traditionally the families would be going to the mosques that they attended,” he said. “They didn’t attend our mosque.”
Qari Asim, an imam at the Makkah Mosque in Leeds, told me the Manchester Central Mosque’s decision not to be involved in Abedi’s funeral is noteworthy. “It’s not taken lightly to refuse to bury or, more importantly, not to offer a funeral prayer,” Asim said. “By committing suicide and causing carnage and bringing harm to others, [suicide bombers like Abedi] have gone so beyond the boundaries of Islam that they are deprived of the last right to be prayed upon.”
Such a decision is not unprecedented. In the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, a series of shootings and bombings that resulted in 164 people being killed and more than 300 others wounded, India’s Muslim community refused to bury the nine assailants, arguing that the “people who committed this heinous crime cannot be called Muslim.”
Boston’s Muslim community came to a similar conclusion following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, after which an imam at the Islamic Institute of Boston said he would not be willing to hold a funeral for one of the attackers because “this is a person who deliberately killed people. … He already left the fold of Islam by doing that.”
Following the deadly attack on a church in the French town of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray last July, which resulted in the death of a priest, the town’s Muslim community also refused to be involved with the assailant’s burial. The leader of the local mosque told Le Monde, “We will not sully Islam with this person. We will not participate in the funeral or the burial.”
Not all Muslim community leaders believe funeral prayers should be withheld from those who commit acts of violence. After a Philadelphia police officer was killed in 2008, one mosque leader said that the assailant, who was Muslim and who died in the ensuing confrontation, had the right to be given the funeral prayer—he just refused to be the one to do it.
Dagli told me differences of opinion among Muslims may sometimes stem from differing interpretations over Islam’s stance on suicide.
“There are reports that the Prophet Muhammad did not pray the Janaza prayer for someone who committed suicide,” Dagli said, “but there is difference of opinion as to whether this means that we should not do so either, or whether one still can and the Prophet did that to discourage suicide.”
Although mosques’ refusals to bury attackers signal Muslims’ disavowal of violent acts, Asim said it’s first and foremost about staying true to Islam, rather than about shaping the broader public’s perceptions.
“When Muslims condemn violence and terrorism, they’re not doing so because it’s fashionable,” Asim said. “It goes against the grain of the fundamental teachings of Islam, and as a result they condemn it because they want to disassociate themselves from such heinous crimes.”
Condemnations by Muslim leaders around the world haven’t stopped militant Islamist groups like the Islamic State from framing violent attacks as religiously sound and extolling those who perpetrate them as martyrs who deserve praise. Indeed, when ISIS issued a statement claiming responsibility for the Manchester attack, it said that its “soldier” had acted “in revenge of Allah’s religion” and in response to “transgressions against the lands of the Muslims.”
Though British authorities are still investigating to what extent ISIS was involved in the attack, if at all, Asim said the Muslim community’s rejection of the violence committed by Abedi undermines groups like ISIS and their claims.
“Terrorists believe they are doing this for some noble aim and higher cause that is going to lead them to paradise,” Asim said. “But then the rest of the community—there’s about 3 million Muslims in Britain—is saying that we don’t agree with you, you’re not going to paradise, you’re not following a path to paradise, and that’s why we’re not sending you off with our prayers.”
Though it is unclear what final arrangements will be made for Abedi, his remains are still reportedly in the custody of a coroner. It’s a fate that Chishti said could deter others from following in his footsteps.
“One of the ways that we explain to people the kind of gravity of suicide bombing is to show them that you’re going to lose your very last rights—and so that in itself, hopefully, should be a deterrent for anyone wanting to commit such atrocities.”