The question is probably better phrased as; is having a repast after a funeral prohibited? Since according to Islamic law, social and cultural events and affairs are deemed permissible until proven otherwise. A few days ago, an old friend of mine contacted me and asked me about the permissibility of people getting together to eat after a funeral in what is commonly referred to in the United States as a ‘repast’. This article is a response to his question. Wal Allahul Musta’aan.
What is a repast anyway?
According to Webster’s Dictionary, the origin and etymology of repast is from Middle English, from Anglo-French, from (soi) repaistre to feed upon, from re- + pestre, paistre to feed, from Latin pascere… A repast in simpler terms is; 1 : something taken as food :meal. 2 : the act or time of taking food. In the United States, when people get together to share food after a funeral, it’s called a repast and it usually involves family, friends, and acquaintances of the deceased, gathering after the funeral, to eat food, give condolences, remember and maybe say some good things about the deceased person, pray for them, seek closure and to generally let the family know that they acknowledge their loss, and to provide some emotional support.
This is how a repast is done in the United States. Muslims do it, Christians do it, Jews do it, and people who don’t have any religious affiliation do it as well. It is pretty common in the United States and I’m quite certain in other countries as well that when someone dies, people come together to console the family and people who were closed to the deceased. One of the ways of doing that is in feeding food is what is commonly called a repast. The Repast: Is not a religious celebration
- The repast is not a religious celebration or an act of worship.
- No one has to be in a state of ritual purity to attend or participate in a repast.
- There are no special prayers or invocations.
- There are no set liturgical utterances or special du’aa.
- There is no set menu of food to be served.
- There are no set amounts of food to be served.
- There is no procedural methodology except that people eat food and socialize.
- The repast is not a re-occurring holiday (eid) since people only die once.
- No one considers it incumbent if you attend a repast, or a slight if you don’t attend.
The repast tradition in the United States is a way of giving condolences to the family of the deceased, and a way for groups of people to console one another after a shared loss. It can help ease the pain a little, at least temporarily, that families experience due to the loss of a loved one. It simply consists of eating, wishing the family well, sometimes offering assistance, and then going home. Sometimes the repast consists of family members only, and sometimes family, friends and associates, who gather to eat, to mourn the loss of a loved one, to console each other, and to strengthen relationships. The idea that gathering to eat is prohibited, simply because it happens after a funeral, or because it’s called a repast, or because it’s something that they do in America, is totally without scholarly, or textual merit.
The Islamic ruling: The Repast is permissible
In short, if eating with your family and friends is permissible, then having or participating in a repast is permissible, as it simply means to taking food. There is no connection between a repast and a religious act or worship. There are several Sunnan and Quranic injunctions that are found in the observance of a repast such as the Prophet’s exhortation upon the believers to feed food; when asked what is the best type of Islam, he replied: “feeding food, and spreading the salaams”. The repast also is marked by gathering with family and strengthening family bonds, which is a praiseworthy act. Many times, families who have not seen each other sometimes in years, come together for a funeral of a loved one. The repast then serves as an occasion for them to not only console and comfort each other but to gather, make sure people are alright, and to catch up. “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him maintain the bonds of kinship”. The repast is also a way and a venue for extending condolences to the family of the deceased, which is a praiseworthy act according to most scholars. It was related in the collection of Ibn Majah, that the Prophet ﷺ said, “No believer consoles his brother due to a tragedy that befell him except that Allah will cloth him with the clothing of honor on the Day of Standing (Day of Judgment). It can also contribute to having a prayerful attitude for the deceased. For Muslims, having a prayerful attitude toward those who have passed away is a sanctioned part of good Muslim character; “And those who came after them, saying, “Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in faith and put not in our hearts [any] resentment toward those who have believed. Our Lord, indeed You are Kind and Merciful.” [Quran, 59:10]. For Muslims, having a repast can help encourage that,
Additionally, it is not prohibited in Islam to visit the homes of your relatives, and eat there, simply because the meal takes place or occurred after a funeral; “It is no fault on the blind nor on one born lame, nor on one afflicted with illness, nor on yourselves, that ye should eat in your own houses, or the houses of your fathers, or the houses of your mothers, or your brothers, or your sisters, or your father’s brothers or your father’s sisters, or your mother’s brothers, or your mother’s sisters, or in houses of which the keys are in your possession, or in the house of a sincere friend of yours: there is no blame on you, whether ye eat as group or separately. But if ye enter houses, salute each other – a greeting of blessing and purity as from Allah. Thus does Allah make clear the signs to you: that ye may understand”. [Quran, 24:61]
- Saying that the repast is prohibited would seem to contradict the aforementioned verse of the Quran.
- Saying that a repast is prohibited is tantamount to saying that eating after a funeral is prohibited, and there are no proofs in the Quran and the Sunna that supports such a notion.
- If we were to accept that a repast is prohibited on the basis that it occurs after a funeral, then we would also have to accept that for a person to stop by a restaurant and have lunch after a funeral is also prohibited since it happens after a funeral.
- We would also have to accept that it is prohibited in Islam to eat a congregational meal after a funeral which again, seems to directly contradict the verse we mentioned earlier.
Now it’s one thing to say that certain types of foods are prohibited like pork, food killed in the name of an idol or deity other than Allah or food seasoned or marinated with alcohol, or an alcoholic beverage. It’s entirely something different when people try to say that simply eating is prohibited, in other than the daylight hours of the month of Ramadan. The problem here is, that there some people in the American Muslim community who look into nearly every aspect of cultural practices in the United States, to find ways to somehow make it haram/prohibited. We see this all the time. They often base their conclusions upon a proclamation from a Muslim scholar from abroad. With all due respect to the esteemed scholars of Islam, it is a fact that every scholar is not intimately aware of every situation that they pronounce judgements upon, and as far as the repast as practiced in the United States, most Muslim scholars have not participated in, or witnessed such events.
The Prophet ﷺ, and his learned companions, knew how to navigate their way through their society in ways as to avoid what was prohibited upon them. This is true for most Muslims, once they know what is prohibited upon them according to the Quran and the Sunna. Thus, if we can accept, as the majority of scholars do, that the companions of the Prophet were able to navigate through Arab society using the guidance of the Quran and the Sunna, then how can we not accept the possibility that American Muslims could do the same?
Another thing that we have to consider is that Muslim scholars are not always aware of the intricate details and nuances of the people and societies that they render fatwas about. To read more about fatwas and the responsibilities of Muslim scholars, click here.
There is no evidence which expressly supports a repast being prohibited.
There are no verses in the Quran or authentic ahaadeeth of the Prophet ﷺ that expressly prohibit people from eating after a funeral. What if people are hungry after a funeral? Does the ruling of haram mean that they can’t eat? If so, how long must they wait before eating some food? What about if they have children? How long before they feed their children after the funeral? Thus you can see how problematic such a ruling could be.
Some of the benefits of a repast.
- Feeding food
- Remembering Death
- Du’aa for the Deceased
- Ease on the family
- Consoling and comfort for the family
- Developing husnul thann (positive assumptions) about the deceased.
I’m not encouraging people to have repasts after their deceased, or to have post janaaza gatherings where they share food. I’m not discouraging people from doing so either. Death is a serious matter and families deal with it differently. what I am saying is that deeming it haram is a bit of a stretch. There are no conclusive proofs from the Quran or the Sunna that I am aware of, that would even remotely render eating after a funeral, or what people call a repast as prohibited.
The strongest argument that I have seen so far about prohibiting the repast, or a meal after a funeral is that the Prophet ﷺ didn’t do it. However, the fact that the Prophet ﷺ didn’t do something does not alone make it forbidden. Furthermore, there are no proofs that the Prophet ﷺ or any of other companions never ate after a funeral, or that they never, ever discussed the deceased, their merits, or their virtues. In fact, evidence would suggest otherwise;
The repast or getting together to visit the family and eat after a funeral does not replace the janaaza, and you don’t even have to call it a repast. The janaaza is a fard kifaaya and part of islamic ritual law as pertains to the rights of the deceased. The janaaza is an act of worship and has specific conditions, regulations and utterances that govern it. After the janaaza, people move on with their lives, and they are free according to islamic law, to do as they wish as long as they do not participate in prohibited acts, as long as they do not invent new religious practices, and as long as they respect the proper laws of Islam. After a funeral a person or persons may decide to visit the family to offer condolences, there is not harm in that according to islamic law. Also, a person may decide after the janaaza to go to the local McDonalds and have a chocolate milk-shake. There is no harm in that either. And Allah knows best.
Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad
Shaykh Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad, a Philadelphia native, is a writer, a researcher and Imam of the Islamic Society of Folsom, in Northern California. He is a former executive committee member of the North America Imams Federation (NAIF), and the CEO of ‘Mosque Without Borders’, an organization that address Muslim sectarianism in the United States. He is also and the author of the new book, “Double Edged Slavery “, a critical and authoritative look at the condition of African American and convert Muslims in the United States, and the book: “The Devil’s Deception of the Modern Day Salafi Sect “, a critical look at the ideological underpinning of modern Salafist extremism. He blogs at imamluqman.wordpress.com, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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