Is it permissible to select a place and have one’s grave dug there whilst one is alive?
The relied upon position of the Hanafi jurists (fuqaha) is that it is permissible to have one’s grave dug whilst one is alive. It’s actually considered to be a means of remembering one’s death and preparing for it, something which the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) emphatically emphasized.
Sayyiduna Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said to his companions: “Have shame before Allah as you ought to.” They said: “O Messenger of Allah, we do have shame praise be to Allah.” He (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Not like that, rather the one who has shame before Allah as he ought to guards his head and what it contains, guards his stomach and what it takes in and remembers death and disintegration. And whoever desires the hereafter leaves the ornamentation of this world. Whoever does all this has shame before Allah as he ought to.” (Sunan Tirmidhi)
Sayyiduna Bara’ ibn Azib (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) saw a group of people digging a grave and hence cried until the earth became wet with his tears. He then said: “O my brothers! For this, prepare yourselves.” (Sunan Ibn Majah)
Imam an-Nawawi (Allah have mercy on him) states after quoting the above two Hadiths in his al-Majmu’ that it is recommended to prepare one’s self for death by refraining from sins that are connected to fellow servants of Allah and those that are between the servant and Allah Almighty. It is recommended for everyone to remember death as much as possible and more so in a state of illness, for in remembering death, one’s heart becomes soft, one fears Allah, one refrains from sins and commits to obeying Allah Most High. Shaykh Abu Hamid said that it is advised to remember the Hadith: “Have shame before Allah as you ought to……” as much as possible. (See: Nawawi, al-Majmu’ sharh al-Muhadhab of Shirazi, Kitab al-Jana’iz, 5/70)
As regards to digging one’s own grave during one’s lifetime, Imam al-Haskafi of the Hanafi School (Allah have mercy on him) states in his Al-durr al-Mukhtar:
“There is nothing wrong with digging a grave for one’s self, and it is said that it is disliked. It appears that preparing the shroud (kafan) etc will not be disliked contrary to the grave.”
Imam Ibn Abidin (may Allah have mercy on him), a later authority in the Hanafi School, states whilst commentating on the above statement of al-Haskafi:
“(al-Haskafi’s statement: “There is nothing wrong with digging a grave for one’s self”)… It is stated in al-Tatarkhaniyya (m: name of a book) that there is nothing wrong with it and one will be rewarded for doing so. This was the practice of Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz, Rabi’ ibn Khaytham and others (Allah be pleased with them).” (Radd al-Muhtar ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar, 2/244)
Allama Sayyid at-Tahtawi, another commentator of al-Haskafi’s Al-Durr al-Mukhtar, states:
“(al-Haskafi’s statement: “There is nothing wrong with digging a grave for one’s self”) because it is a form of preparing to meet Allah Most High. (al-Haskafi’s statement: “it is said that it is disliked”) due to the statement of Allah Most High, “Nor does any one know in what land he is to die” [Qur’an, 31: 34]. I (Tahtawi) say, digging one’s grave does not contravene this verse due to its benefit in general even if it may be for another.” (Hashiya at-Tahtawi ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar, 1/383)
As such, in conclusion, the authoritative opinion in the Hanafi School is that there’s nothing wrong in having one’s grave dug whilst one is alive as a way of preparing for death, rather it is hoped one will be rewarded for acting upon the general recommendation of remembering one’s death and preparing for it outlined in the above two and other Hadiths. Some scholars did, however, state that it is disliked to do so in view of the fact that no one knows when and where one will die. This though was explained away by Imam Tahtawi (Allah have mercy on him) saying that even if one was not to die in the same area where the grave was dug, it will be of benefit for others.
As you may be aware, it is prohibitively disliked (makruh tahriman) to transfer the body of the deceased from one area to another for burial unless it is just a mile or two (Radd al-Muhtar 5/275). As such, if one was to have one’s grave dug whilst being alive, it is advised to include in one’s bequest (wasiyya) that the grave may be used to bury any other Muslim should one pass away in some other distant land.
And Allah knows best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK