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Muslim Funeral Customs

July 10, 2015

Deathbed: 

Allah SWT has invited people to accept belief in Him, do good deeds and practice faith early on in their life. Declaration of faith for the first time in one’s life upon death is not acceptable in Islam. However, the dying person is encouraged to confirm their belief just one last time by proclaiming verbally, if they are able to : “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger.” People would often gather around their loved one, recite prayers and even have Qur’an recitation on audio for the dying person. It is believed that the prayers bring much relief. Once the dying person says their last shahada, or once the he/she dies, the surviving relatives, friends, neighbors are all encouraged to say “Verily we belong to Allah, and truly to Him shall we return.”  Whoever is present at the moment of a person’s death, he/she should close the person’s eyes and lower jaw, then cover the person with a clean sheet. A supplication to Allah (God) SWT is then made for forgiveness of sins for the deceased person.

Funeral & Its Arrangements 

According to the Islamic Law, Shari’a, the deceased person must be buried as soon as possible. This is why the planning of the funeral must take place immediately. This process may include:

1. Contacting the local Islamic center

2. Paying for appropriate services (e.g. washing of the body, grave site, obituary)

3. Informing relatives, friends and neighbors

4. Preparing the dead for the funeral: getting the deceased washed three times (or more if necessary, provided it is odd number of times) and shrouded in white sheet dedicated only for funeral purposes (deceased Muslims are not dressed in any fancy clothes and cannot have makeup). The washing is done by same-sex family members. In some communities there may be designated Muslims who are paid to do the washing. The washing is done in this order: upper right side, upper left side, lower right side and then lower left side. Women’s hair is washed and braided into three braids. Prior to shrouding of the body, the left hand of the deceased is placed on the chest, and the right hand is placed on top of it. Prepared body is  ready for the funeral prayer: Salat al-Janazah.

5. Although organ donations are acceptable, there must be no desecration of body. Autopsies are generally viewed as desecration of the body and many Muslims are likely to refuse it.

6. There is no wake for a dead Muslim because he/she must be buried as soon as possible.

Salat al-Janazah & the Funeral:

The deceased is placed in a casket-style coffin and layed on a table inside a room designated for funerals within the mosque complex and is only performed by men, both relatives and non-relatives. According to the Muslim teachings it is a good deed to attend a funeral of the member of community. So, in many Muslim countries or places with large Muslim communities, people would go to another Muslim’s funeral no matter if they were family or not, friends or not. Generally, it is understood that everyone is welcome to attend Muslim funeral whether Muslim or not, and a formal invitation is not necessary.

Once the prayer is done, the body is then transferred to the cemetery. Only men are encouraged to attend, but women are allowed as well. In most instances women are discouraged to attend because they typically prepare post funeral food and prayer arrangements.

The body is carried by the closest male relatives, usually walking through town toward the cemetery. If walking is not possible, then the cars are used. Once the body arrives at the cemetery, men stand in two opposing rows and the body is carried through the hands of men making the two rows. “The grave should be dug perpendicular to the qiblah, and the body should be placed in the grave on its right side, facing the qiblah. Those placing the body into the grave should recite the line “Bismilllah wa ala millati rasulilllah” (“In the name of Allah and in the faith of the Messenger of Allah”). Once the body is in the grave, a layer of wood or stones should be placed on top of the body to prevent direct contact between the body and the soil that will fill the grave. Then each mourner present will place three handfuls of soil into the grave. Once the grave has been filled, a small stone or marker may be placed at the grave so that it is recognizable. However, traditionally, it is prohibited to erect a large monument on the grave or decorate the grave in an elaborate way” (www.everplans.com).

“After the funeral and burial, the immediate family will gather and receive visitors. It is customary for the community to provide food for the family for the first few days of the mourning period (usually three days). Generally, the mourning period lasts 40 days, but depending on the degree of religiousness of the family, the mourning period may be much shorter.” (www.everplans.com)

Mourning Period

Mourning period, as mentioned earlier, is 40 days. During that time, people receive visitors from family, relatives, neighbors and friends. Also, much prayer is recited. In some Muslim communities, there are special prayers conducted within 7 days and 40 days. People would gather, recite Qur’an, pray and an imam would hold a sermon. The purpose is to ask Allah SWT for the forgiveness of sins for the deceased. These special prayers are common among Western Muslim communities. Generally, Arab Muslims frown upon such practice. Some of Arab Muslims even call it unnecessary and shirk (blasphemy). How such prayers can be blasphemy is not understood by me, but oh well… 🙂 Chapter Ya’sin from the Qur’an is recited by close family members on a daily basis for 40 days at least as a prayer to Allah SWT to forgive sins of the deceased.

In some communities during the mourning period no music is to be heard and no television watched for 40 days. Some wear black clothing, but most Muslims wear ordinary colors.

“Widows are expected to observe a longer mourning period, generally of four months and ten days. During this time, widows are prohibited from interacting with men whom they could potentially marry (known as “na-mahram”). However, this rule may be overlooked in cases of emergency, such as when the widow must see a doctor.

It is acceptable in Islam to express grief over a death. Crying and weeping at the time of death, at the funeral, and at the burial are all acceptable forms of expression. However, wailing and shrieking, tearing of clothing and breaking of objects, and expressing a lack of faith in Allah are all prohibited.” (www.everplans.com)

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