Repatriation of the deceased - Can it ever be justified?

On the death of a family member or friend we endeavour to do what we think is the best for the deceased. This includes ensuring that they have a suitable funeral and fulfilling their last wishes. However at the time of grief and stress we often make decisions that are not in line with the teachings of Islam due to misunderstanding and ignorance. One such decision which often causes confusion and family conflicts is whether the deceased should be repatriated for burial. 

What is repatriation?

Repatriation is the return of the deceased’s body to the country of origin for burial. This may be performed for several reasons; the next of kin may feel that it was the deceased wishes, family members living abroad may want to participate in the funeral, there may be cultural beliefs or the deceased had expressed a wish to be buried abroad prior to their death.

Often on making this important decision we do not understand the process of repatriation and the consequences of the decision made.

The process of repatriation

Repatriation requires a number of steps to be completed:

  • Certification
  • Embalming
  • Transport


The normal procedure to register the death in the UK must be followed but in addition the coroner must be informed of the request to repatriate the body overseas to obtain the necessary certificates. The consulate of the country where the deceased is being repatriated to needs to be notified, who will confirm which further documents will be needed for repatriation to take place.

Many countries also require signed documents from an appropriate doctor that the deceased was not suffering from any condition that might pose a public health risk.

For some countries, a post-mortem may be required and the coroner could decide to order an inquest to determine how the person died.

Issues: This will lead to a delay in the funeral process as the coroner will have to make a ruling on the case after considering the details. Plans cannot be completed until all the necessary certificates are received. Delay in burial causes additional unnecessary anguish and strain as the family will not be at ease until the deceased is buried.  

Islamic view: As Muslims we are instructed to bury the deceased as soon as possible and not to delay the process.

Abu Hurayrah has narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“Make haste in burying the deceased: because if it is the janazah of a pious servant, then enjoin this goodness with its station quickly; and if it is the janazah of an evil person then quickly dispose of such a load from your shoulders.”

(Narrated by al-Bukhari)

Therefore delaying the burial for repatriation goes against the teachings of Islam.


Before repatriation of the deceased can happen, the body will need to be prepared for transport. There is a legal requirement for the deceased to be embalmed before they can be transported overseas. During this process, the natural fluids of the body, including the blood, are replaced with a chemical solution of preservatives to slow down the effects of natural deterioration and decomposition.

The invasive nature of the embalming process involves the following steps:

    • The body is first washed in a strong disinfectant solution
    • Eyes are closed using glue or plastic eye caps that sit on the eye and hold the eyelid in place and the lower jaw is secured by wires or sewing.
    • An incision is made near the right collarbone from where the embalmer cuts the internal jugular vein
    • Tubes are placed in the vein so the blood can be drained out and discarded
    • The tube is then connected to a pump and the embalming fluid is pushed through the vessels under high pressure forcing the remaining blood out
    • As the fluid is being pumped into the blood vessels, the embalmer vigorously massages the whole body to help drain the blood and distribute the embalming fluid
    • The skin and muscular tissue will begin to firm and take on a different appearance. The tubes are then removed, the vein and artery tied off and the incision is sutured (using stitches).
    • Next, the body internal cavities are treated using a trocar, a metal tube with a sharp pointed tip, which is used to puncture through the skin and into each of the body cavities and organ to remove excess fluid and gas.
    • All the fluid is suctioned from the hollow organs using the trocar, then a high-index (very strong plastic-like) substance is placed into the cavities to give shape

Embalming fluid is a mixture of formaldehyde, a strong tissue preservative and disinfectant, alcohol in the form of methanol, propanediol, a compound similar to antifreeze and water.

Issues: It can be argued that this process is a form of mutilation of the body. The embalmer is not a physician or a surgeon and the deceased undergoes an undignified process of being naked,  being handled by an embalmer, vigorously massaged and turned over to push the blood out and distribute the preserving fluid.

Women are embalmed by men, they are also naked and handled in the same way by a non-mahram.

Muslim View: Islam teaches utmost respect for the dead and to treat the body with dignity and care. The Prophet (peace be upon him) forbade us from mutilating dead bodies. Muslims cannot cut the nails or hair of the deceased, then what about cutting the flesh, draining out all the blood, replacing it with toxins and sewing it up again?

Honouring the dead body and its dignified burial is a fundamental Islamic obligation and in no way or form is permitted any harm, disrespect or damage to the natural composition and construction of the body before burial.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered ghusl for the body, not embalming. 


A dead body is transferred within the cargo hold of a plane with the rest of the luggage, within a specially sealed coffin and is subjected too much movement during the journey. Arrangements would also need to be made in the country of burial for the body to be released by border guard authorities and transferred to the burial site.

Issues: Booking the necessary travel tickets cannot be completed until certificates from the coroner is received and all necessary documents are in place, which will cause a delay in the burial process. Repatriation of a body from the UK to a foreign country can be costly, which may cause a financial burden on the family. Instead this money could be spent on things which will benefit the deceased and others eg sadaqah jariyah.

Islamic View: The practice at the time of The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and the time of the Sahaabah was to bury the deceased in the graveyard of the land or city in which they died. It is not proven in any hadeeth or report that The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) either allowed or approved transportation of a dead body from one location to another for any reason or purpose, even though Mecca and Madinah may only have been a few miles away.  Therefore transporting the body for repatriation goes against the teachings of Islam. 


It must be noted that there is no precedent set for repatriation of a body in Islam. There is no verses of The Quran, hadeeth or sunnah which promotes this act.

The process has no Islamic value for the deceased or living and goes against Islamic teachings.

The embalming process is nothing but mutilation of the deceased’s body, is undignified and has no place in Islam. How can we make ghusl for our dead brother or sister, taking great care to wash away impurities, but meanwhile pump the body full of toxic substances and stab them with a sharp instrument?

Some may argue that repatriation of the deceased allows relatives to participate in the funeral process and is what the deceased would have wanted. However this is nothing but ignorance and misunderstanding of Islamic teachings.

Proper burial of Muslims is fard kifayah – a community obligation. If it is not done properly by individuals, we are all liable for punishment. May Allah Most-Merciful forgive us for what has done out of ignorance and help us on the correct path.

If you still feel that you want to transfer the deceased abroad, we strongly advice you speak first to your local iman for further advice.