It is sunnah to do the following when a person dies:
1. Advise the dying person to say: “La ilaha illa-Allah” (there is no god but Allah). It is narrated on the authority of Abu Sa’id al-Khudri that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Prompt your dying people to say: ‘La ilaha illa-Allah’.” (Muslim, Abu Daw’ud, Tirmizhi) Another report on the authority of Mu’azh ibn Jabal states that the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said: “He whose last words are ‘La ilaha illa- Allah’ shall enter Paradise.” (Narrated by Abu Daw’ud; Al-Hakim considers it a sound hadith)
This prompting (talqin) is necessary only when the dying person is unable to utter the shahadah (La ilaha illa- Allah…). If such a person is able to utter these words then there is no need for prompting, but he should rather be advised to do so. Such advice is useful in cases of persons who are in possession of their faculties of reason and speech. If one is already mentally impaired such advice cannot be of benefit. But one who is unable to speak might say these words in his heart. The scholars are of the opinion that no pressure should be put on the dying person. So one should not say to him, “Say, ‘La ilaha ill-Allah’,” lest he should become annoyed and utter something improper. One may say the shahadah, however, in such a way that the dying person might be able to hear it and repeat it. If he utters it once, he should not be asked to repeat it unless he says some words after it. In such a case he should be asked to repeat shahadah to ensure that it be his last utterance.
Most scholars are of the opinion that one attending a dying person may repeat only the words: “La ilaha ill-Allah,” according to the apparent meaning of the hadith. Others are of the opinion that the dying person should be prompted to utter the two testimonies (that is, “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger”). The purpose is to remind him of the Oneness of Allah, which includes both of the two testimonies.
2. Lay the dying person so that the qibla is on his right side. To this effect it is recorded that Abu Qatadah said: “Upon arrival in Madinah, the Prophet, peace be upon him, enquired about a person called al-Bara ibn Ma’rur. The people told the Prophet, peace be upon him, that he had died, and had willed one-third of his property to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and that his face be turned toward the Ka’bah at the time of his death. Hearing this, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘He has been true to his innate nature. I return the one-third of his property to his children.’ Then the Prophet, peace be upon him, left and offered a prayer for him and prayed, saying: ‘O Allah! Forgive him, have mercy on him, and cause him to enter Your Paradise. Indeed, You have accepted this prayer’.” (Narrated by Al-Baihaqi and Al-Hakim, who observes: “I know of no hadith, other than this one, with regard to turning the face of a dying person toward Ka’bah.”)
Ahmad reported that Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet, peace be upon him, at the time of her death, turned toward the Ka’bah and placed her right hand under her head. This is the sleeping position recommended by the Prophet, peace be upon him, and in a grave, a dead body should also be placed in the same position. A report recorded from Ash-Shafi’i says: The body of the deceased should be laid flat on his back with his feet toward the Ka’bah, and his face raised a little, facing it. The majority of scholars, however favour the first position and hold it to be preferable.
3. Recite Surah Ya Sin from the Qur’an. (Surah 36 of the Qur’an) This is reported by Ahmad, Abu Daw’ud, Nasa’i, Al-Hakim, and Ibn Hibban, and the last two of them grade it as a sound hadith. They report also on the authority of M’aqil ibn Yasar, that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Ya Sin is the heart of the Qur’an. Whoever recites it seeking the pleasure of Allah and the hereafter will receive Allah’s forgiveness. So recite it to your dead.” (Ibn al-Qattan considers this hadith weak and manifests some confusion, doubt, and even ignorance about some of its narrators. Ad-Dar al-Qutni is reported to have said: “In the chain of narrators of this hadith there is confusion. Its text is obscure and is not correct.”)
Ibn Hibban observes: This hadith refers to the recitation of Ya Sin for those on the eve of death and not for those already dead. This interpretation is supported by Ahmad, who recorded in his Al-Musnad that Safwan states: “The most eminent scholars say: ‘The recitation of Surah Ya Sin at the time of a person’s death makes death easy for him’. “The compiler of Musnad al-Firdaus attributes this hadith to Abu ad-Darda and Abu Zharr. They both narrated: “The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘If any person is on his deathbed and Ya Sin is recited to him, Allah makes his suffering easier’.”
4. Close the eyes of the deceased. It is narrated by Muslim that the Prophet, peace be upon him, went to visit Abu Salmah. He saw that his eyes were wide open and blank with the stare of death. So the Prophet, peace be upon him, closed his eyes and said: “Verily, when a soul is seized, the eyesight follows it.”
5. Cover the deceased: ‘Aishah said: “When the Messenger of Allah died, he was covered with a piece of cloth that had some designs on it.” This is reported by Bukhari and Muslim. The objective here is clearly to safeguard the respect and dignity of the deceased in death against prying eyes and against the exposure of his or her body to the idle curiosity of those looking for changes in its physical condition and features.
There is a consensus among scholars regarding the permissibility of kissing a dead person. The Prophet, peace be upon him, kissed ‘Uthman ibn Maz’un after his death. Similarly, when the Prophet died, Abu Bakr leaned over him and kissed him between his eyes saying: “O my Prophet! O my best friend! !”
6. Prepare the body for burial without delay, as soon as death is confirmed (by specialists i.e., a qualified physician or the like).
The guardian of the deceased should wash, wrap, and arrange for the burial of the body soon after the funeral prayer for the deceased, because the body might deteriorate if burial is delayed. This is based on a report, recorded by Abu Daw’ud from al-Husayn ibn Wujuh that when Talhah ibn al-Bara fell ill, the Prophet, peace upon him, said: “I see that Talhah is on the verge of death. Inform me about him (when he passes away) and make immediate preparations for his burial, for a Muslim’s remains should not be left long with his family after his death.”
The burial may be delayed only for the guardian, provided no physical deterioration in the condition of the body is feared from such delay. Ahmad and Tirmizhi report on the authority of Ali ibn Abu Talib that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “O Ali, never delay three things: prayer when its time approaches, the funeral when death is confirmed, and marrying a widow or a divorcee when a suitable match is found for her.”
7. Settle the debt of the deceased. Ahmad, Ibn Majah, and Tirmizhi have recorded a hadith on the authority of Abu Hurairah that the Messenger of Allah said: “A believer’s soul remains in suspense until all his debts are paid off.” Tirmizhi considers this a sound hadith.
This means that the judgement regarding a soul’s salvation or perdition or its entry into Paradise is held in abeyance until its debts are fully paid off and settled. This applies to a person who leaves some property upon his death. His debt should be paid out of the property that he leaves behind. In the case of a person who dies in debt which he sincerely intended to pay, but has no property (nor leaves any behind to pay his debt), according to a confirmed report, his debt will be settled by Allah, the Exalted. Concerning a person who dies in debt with sufficient means to pay it and was willing to do so, but his heirs do not pay it, Bukhari records on the authority of Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “If anyone takes other people’s money with the intention to repay it and then he or she should die without settling the debt, Allah will pay the debt on his behalf. And if anyone takes money or property (of others) with the intention of destroying it, Allah will destroy him.”
A hadith recorded by Ahmad, Abu Nu’aym, Al-Bazzar, and At-Tabarani from the Prophet, peace be upon him, says: “The debtor will be summoned before Allah on the Day of Judgement. Then Allah will ask him: ‘O Son of Adam ! Why did you incur debt and infringe on others ‘rights?’ The man would reply: ‘My Lord! You know I took it, but I neither abused nor lost it. It was stolen or burned in a fire or lost its value.’ Allah, the Almighty and Exalted, will say: ‘My slave has told the truth, and I am more entitled (than anyone else) to settle his debt. Then Allah will issue a command and something will be placed on his scales causing his good deeds to outweigh his bad ones. And so, by Allah’s Grace, he will enter Paradise’.”
The Prophet, peace be upon him, did not perform funeral prayers for those who had died in debt. When, however, Allah the Almighty, granted him certain lands as a result of conquests, and the community’s wealth increased, he offered funeral prayer for them and settled their debts.
Bukhari reports that the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said: “I am nearer to the believers than their own selves. So if someone dies leaving behind debt, but no wherewithal to settle it, we shall pay his debt, and if someone dies and leaves some estate behind him, it is for his heirs (to pay his debt).”
This hadith shows that the debt of a deceased Muslim may be paid from the public exchequer out of the zakah funds specified as the portion for the people in debt. This is one of the prescribed categories of zakah recipients. Death by itself does not annul one’s debt or other responsibilities to the living.