Death in the Mihrab

As I’ve written before, medieval fatwas often contain quite surprising material, dealing as they do with all the contingencies- possible and otherwise- of medieval life. Below is my translation of a short question and answer dealing with what I don’t imagine was an every-day occurrence, or at least something one would hope wasn’t a normal occurrence… The selection is from a compilation of fatwas isssued by muftis in al-Andalus, and hence reflects the prevailing Maliki school of jurisprudence. Though note that in this case our mufti does not support his opinion with citations or scripture: rather, he is working from a probably shared assumption that even if the imam drops over dead, the canonical prayer must go on…


Mahmud ibn Umar ibn Libaba asked about a man who was a prayer-leader (imam) of the people, was praying with the people the second raka’a, then suddenly died in the mihrab– what is to be done with him? And how are they to finish their canonical prayers?

Answer: If there is a section of the mihrab fenced-off in some way from the people, place him in this section. Otherwise, let the people in the first row remove him to the people of the second row, and the people of the second to the third, passing him along backwards via the people of each row. [In this way] they will not turn their faces from the qibla.