I’m working as an officer from the HIV/AIDS/STDS unit of the Health Office and want to ask regarding the ruling of embalming a deceased body. The reason is according to the guideline for the management of transportation of a deceased entering/leaving the country, any deceased individual who is suspected to harbour any contagious diseases must be embalmed. Hope to get an explanation from Datuk Mufti.
Waalaikumussalam wrt wbt,
Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks to Allah for the countless blessings He has blessed us all with. Blessings and salutations to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his wives, his family, companions and all those that follow his teachings to the day of judgement.
We start with the statement of Allah SWT:
لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ
“We have certainly created man in the best of stature,”
Surah al-Tin (4)
Ibn Kathir stated that among the advantages of humans is that they are able to stand and walk with their legs and eat with their hands while animals walk on four legs and eat with their mouth. Humans are also blessed with the ability to hear and see as well as a heart that is able to contemplate and reflect the benefits for themselves, differentiating between beneficial and harmful matters in the affairs of this world and the religion. (See Tafsir al-Quran al-‘Azim, 5/97)
Embalming A Body
Embalming is a preservation process.  In other words, it is a process that prevents the body from decomposing, decaying and rotting. 
In short, for the embalming process, the corpse is first washed with disinfectant chemicals. The body parts are massaged relaxing the joints and muscles. The eyes of the deceased would be closed using a type of glue or eye caps. The blood is removed through the vein and replaced with liquid formaldehyde through the artery. After the embalming process of the arteries is completed, the body’s cavities must be embalmed as well. A small incision is made in the lower part of the deceased’s abdomen and a trocar (a sharp surgical instrument) is inserted into the body cavity. The organs in the chest cavity and the abdomen are then punctured and drained of gas and fluid contents. Formaldehyde-based chemicals are subsequently injected. Once the incision is sutured, the body is fully embalmed. 
The Ruling of Embalming A Deceased
Coming back to the question asked, the original ruling of embalming a deceased body using chemicals through the process stated above is haram. This is as stated by Allah SWT in the Quran:
وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ وَحَمَلْنَاهُمْ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَاهُمْ مِنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَىٰ كَثِيرٍ مِمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلًا
“And We have certainly honoured the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created, with [definite] preference.”
Surah al-Isra’ (70)
Humans are honoured creations of Allah SWT while they are alive and even after death. Imam Jalaluddin al-Mahalli stated that it is impermissible to degrade or sully their bodies. (Tafsir al-Jalalain, 5/108)
The same is stated by the Prophet PBUH:
إنَّ كَسْرَ عَظْمِ المُؤمِنِ مَيِّتًا، مِثلُ كَسْرِه حَيًّا
“Indeed, breaking the bones of a deceased believer is the same as breaking them when he is alive.”
Musnad Ahmad (24308) and Sunan Abu Daud (3207)
Syeikh al-‘Azim Abadi cited the opinion of al-Tibi regarding the above hadith. Al-Tibi said that there is an indication that a deceased should not be degraded just as he should not be degraded when he is alive. (See ‘Aun al-Ma’bud, 9/18)
As for embalming a deceased because of a necessity such as in controlling contagious diseases from spreading then it is permissible and this has been decided by the 33rd National Muzakarah Fatwa Council for Religious Matters Committee which convened on 11th October 1993.
This is in accordance with the Islamic legal maxim:
الضرورات تبيــح المحــظورات
“Exigent situation makes the prohibited permissible.”
Likewise, Islam came and prevent any harm or abuse. When anything harmful happens, then it is wajib on Muslims to prevent it the best he could. However, if he is unable to prevent all of the harm, he should try to prevent the greatest harm hoping that he could lessen the harm. The same is applicable when people are unable to prevent harm, then he should choose the least harmful thing. This is in line with the maxim:
إذا تعارضت مفسدتان رُوعي أعظمهما ضرراً بارتكاب أخفهما
“When two harm collides, then the greater harm is rejected by choosing the lesser harm.” (See al-Qawaid al-Fiqhiyyah wa Tatbiqatiha fi al-Mazahib al-Arba’ah, 1/226)
Thus, when two harm collide, which are embalming a deceased and controlling a contagious disease, then embalming is prioritized to control and prevent greater harm which is the contagious disease.
This is as stated in the guideline issued by the Ministry of Health Malaysia in the Standard Precaution which states among the documents needed for the management of a deceased in entering or leaving the country for a deceased harbouring infectious disease is the certificate of embalming other than a guideline for the coffin and place it should be kept in. (See Standard Precaution, MOH, pg. 46)
To conclude, according to the above discussion, we surmise the following:
- The original ruling for embalming with chemicals is haram for humans are honoured creations of Allah SWT when they are alive and even after death.
- However, embalming a deceased due to a necessity such as in controlling a contagious disease is permissible as decided by the 33rd National Muzakarah Fatwa Committee for Religious Matters which convened on 11th October 1993.
- The reason is it is to prevent greater harm which is the spread of contagious diseases is prioritized compared to not embalming a deceased.
May Allah SWT give us all a clear understanding in religion. Amin.
 See http://prpm.dbp.gov.my/Cari1?keyword=embalm&d=139128&#LIHATSINI. Accessed on 28 January 2020.
 See https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/embalming?utm_campaign=sd&utm_medium=serp&utm_source=jsonld. Accessed on 28 January 2020.
 See https://basicfunerals.ca/funeral-industry/the-embalming-process/. Accessed on 28 January 2020.