First of all, we’d like to state that burying the dead has been legislated to honor the human being and prevent his body from being eaten by wild animals or birds of prey. It is also to prevent the smell of the decaying corpse from harming those who are living.
The eminent Muslim scholar and renowned Da`iyah, Sheikh `Abdel Khaliq Hasan Ash-Shareef, states: “The dead body of a Muslim should be buried and not to be put on fire as man in Islam is honored either alive or dead. Burial is to place the dead body into a hole in the earth and cover it with dust.
The basis in graves is that it is not distinguished. As for putting flowers on graves and the like, there is no benefit from that because the dead left the worldly life and shifted to another life. Moreover, in Islam, we visit graves for the sake of admonition and meditation, and we do not know any benefit in putting flowers or the picture of the dead on the grave.”
Moreover, we’d like to furnish you with the following fatwa issued by the late Sheikh Jad Al-Haqq `Ali Jad Al-Haqq, former Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, in which he stated: “The Muslims in general agree on the obligation of burying the dead bodies of human beings. It is a collective obligation, as Allah the Almighty says, [Have We not made the earth a receptacle. Both for the living and the dead.] (Al-Mursalat 77: 25-26)
Also, in Surat Al-Ma’idah, Almighty Allah says, [But recite unto them with truth the tale of the two sons of Adam, how they offered each a sacrifice, and it was accepted from one of them and it was not accepted from the other. (The one) said: I will surely kill thee. (The other) answered: Allah accepts only from those who ward off (evil). Even if you stretch out your hand against me to kill me, I shall not stretch out my hand against you to kill you, lo! I fear Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. Lo! I would rather you should bear the punishment of the sin against me and your own sin and become one of the owners of the fire. That is the reward of the evil-doers. But (the other’s) mind imposed on him the killing of his brother, so he killed him and became one of the losers. Then Allah sent a raven scratching up the ground, to show him how to hide his brother’s naked corpse. He said: Woe unto me! Am I not able to be as this raven and so hide my brother’s naked corpse? And he became repentant.] (Al-Ma`idah 5: 27-31)
Thereupon, burying the dead bodies in the earth has become the usual procedure according to Islam. So, if the people who attend to a dying person and those who know about his death have not buried his dead body, they will all incur sin. However, if any of them has performed the burial, the rest would be relieved of the obligation.
The meaning of burial is to place the dead body into a hole in the earth and cover it with dust. This is done so as to honor man’s dead body and preserve it from being eaten by wild animals and birds of prey, and also to protect the living from the bad smell of the decaying corpse. Hence, the procedure of burial should be done in a way that accomplishes this end and fulfills the obligation.
In Islam, a tomb is called “lahd”, i.e. to dig a hole inside the wall of the tomb under the earth towards the direction of the qiblah (Al-Ka`bah), or the hole may be dug in the middle of the tomb. It is a Sunnah that the walls of a tomb be about a yard above the surface of earth, in order to be recognized. At-Tirmidhi said: “Some Muslim scholars dislike raising the walls of tombs except to the extent that marks them, so people would not step or sit above them.
Muslim scholars unanimously agree on the permissibility of building the roof of the tomb in one of two ways; either dome-like or flat. At-Tabari said: “Building tombs should not exceed one of two ways; making them as flat as the earth or in a dome-like structure.”
Al-Qadi `Iyad quoted most of the Muslim scholars as maintaining that it is better to make the tombs dome-like, according to the opinions of Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik, Ahmad, Al-Muzany and most of the Shafi`i scholars. Imam Ash-Shafi`i held that flattening the tombs is better, as the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) ordered Muslims to do so.
However, the structure of a tomb may differ from one place to another according to the nature of the earth in which it is built. Some areas can be dug to make lahd, while other areas cannot be dug due to the existence of ground water near the surface of the earth. In such areas tombs are built above the earth and are not necessarily flattened along the surface of the earth.”