Question: Is it permissible to excavate the graves of the Muslims and the graves of the disbelievers?
Answer: There is a difference, naturally, between excavating the graves of the Muslims and excavating the graves of the disbelievers. Thus, excavating the graves of the Muslims is not permissible except until after the corpse has deteriorated and become decay. This is since excavating the grave would expose the buried cadaver and its bones to wreckage, and the Prophet, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: “Breaking the bones of a deceased believer is like breaking his bones if he were alive.” So the believer has sanctity after his death, just as he used to have sanctity during his lifetime. However, this sanctity is of course within the legislated bounds.
As for excavating the graves of the disbelievers, then they do not possess this (same) sanctity. Therefore, it is permissible to excavate them based on what is established in Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree and Muslim that when the Prophet, sallAllaahu ‘ alayhi wa sallam, migrated from Makkah to Madeenah, the first thing he instituted was the construction of the Prophet’s masjid, which is still in existence today. But (at that time), there used be a garden there that belonged to a group of orphans from the Ansaar, in which were graves of polytheists. So he, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said to these orphans: “Give me a price for your land.” He meant by this, “Sell me your land for it’s price.” They responded: “It is for Allaah and His Messenger. We do not want any price for it.” And there was found old ruins and graves of polytheists on that land. So the Messenger, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, put someone in charge of the graves of the polytheists and so they were leveled (and the bodies were taken out). And he put someone in charge of the old ruins and they were flattened. Then the Prophet’s masjid was established on the ground of that garden.
So therefore, the excavation of the graves is from two perspectives. As for it being done to the Muslim graves, then it is not permissible. And as for it being done to the disbelievers’ graves then it is permissible. I have indicated in the response, that it is not permissible to excavate the Muslims’ graves until the bodies first deteriorate and become dust, but when is this? Indeed, it differs according to the different types of land. There are arid desert lands, in which corpses can remain for as many years as Allaah wills. And there are moist lands, which expedite the decaying of the bodies buried in them. Thus, it is not possible to put a regulation that would determine the specific time it takes for the bodies to decay. So just as it is said: “The inhabitants of Makkah are the most knowledgeable about its mountain trails”, then those individuals who bury people in that land know best the approximate time it takes for the dead buried in the graves to decay.
[Al-Asaalah, Issue #10]
Fataawaa of Shaikh Al-Albaanee (rahimahullaah)
From Al-Asaalah Magazine Issues 1-21, Translated and Arranged by: Isma’eel Alarcon