For many religions burial, death and the ceremonies that come with that are relaxed and flexible and for many they are relatively strict. For many Muslims death ceremonies and rituals are indeed relatively strict and for the two main sides of the faith (Shi’a and Sunni) time is of the essence. While some aspects of the ceremony are strict there are also, like almost all faiths, some room for local and family tradition. Non believers should not feel intimidated as Islamic teachings do stipulate that Muslims should be compassionate to those not of the faith. In saying this it needs to be noted that like all religions, tolerance can depend on the personalities and openness of the individuals involved.
What’s different about a Muslim funeral and lead up to the funeral?
Like with most faiths the conduct at the deathbed is primarily around reflecting with family and friends before death. Prayers may also be said praising and affirming belief in Allah as the true God. Once the person has passed the tradition is to close the persons eyes and mouth before offering more prayers to forgive sins and covering the deceased in a clean sheet. As with a number of other traditional religions planning and preparations for the funeral start immediately as according to tradition and religious law the body should be buried as soon as possible.
Where does a Muslim ceremony take place?
As cremation is generally forbidden for Muslims most preparations are done with burial in mind. The body is washed and shrouded (“Ghusl” and “Kafan”) and then brought to the Mosque (Muslim place of worship). The funeral prayer or “Salat al-Janazah” will then be recited in a sequential way as defined by family ties and gender. Following this the mourners then move to the burial site where, depending on tradition or local ritual, specific persons may be permitted or excluded from being present. In many of the customs the directing of specific elements (like prayer, the grave) need to be towards the holy site of Mecca (Qiblah).
What normally happens at a Muslim funeral and what do non observers need to know?
Tradition is a very important element in conservative Muslims funerals. While funeral and traditions may vary between the different strands of the Islamic faith most will involve prayer, specific points on how the body is presented and cleaned and how the soil is separated from the body (at times their is a stone placed on top of the casket). Like with many faiths mourners need to dress and act modestly with very little in terms of shows of wealth, colour or skin. Elaborate flowers or grave displays are usually frowned upon so it may help to discuss plans with either the family, the organisers or a religious person closely related to the planning.