Muslim death funeral & burial customs

Written by meg campbell
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Muslim death funeral & burial customs
Muslims believe their lives on earth are merely preparation for the afterlife. (holly quran image by bayu harsa from Fotolia.com)

Every culture has distinct views on the parts of life that all of humanity shares in common--birth, coming of age, marriage and death--and it is through these differences that a culture has its unique identity. In Islam, specific rites and rituals are observed through each step of the process of caring for the dying, preparing and burying the dead.

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View of Death

Muslims believe life on earth is merely a preparation for the afterlife, and as with Christianity and Judaism, they also believe in a hell and a paradise. They believe paradise is filled with palaces, delicious foods, and houris or virgin attendants. Hell, for Muslims, is not necessarily a permanent place for the soul, and a soul can in fact follow steps to progress out of hell and into paradise. An important Islamic belief regarding the afterlife is that Allah will physically resurrect the dead on the Day of Judgment, to be permitted entry into paradise or be sent to hell.

Preparing the Corpse

The moment a Muslim dies, his eyes should be closed (if he died with them open). The body is first prepared by washing it thoroughly, which usually means numerous times. As reported on understanding-islam.com, a corpse should be washed in jujube leaves five times--or more--if possible; washed in "odd numbers, three, five or seven times. Start with [his] right side and wash those parts first, which are washed during ablution for prayers." The final wash should contain perfume, however, a martyr should not be washed, to retain his musk on the Day of Judgment. Afterwards, the entire body is covered with a shroud, or kafan. The shroud can be as simple as a sheet, but often the shroud is a special cloth.

Funerals

Muslims perform a funeral prayer, which, according to Bilal Abu Aisha, is "a communal obligation... If someone is buried without it being performed, the whole community incurs a sin for not having fulfilled this obligation." It is to be performed outside of the mosque in an area called Musallah. Since Muslims bury their dead immediately, there may be a circumstance when the prayer is not said until the body is in the ground. It's permissible to say the funeral prayer in the graveyard, but not desired. The funeral prayer is incanted with a soft, quiet voice.

Burial & Condolences

The majority of Muslims are simply buried in their shrouds; more wealthy Muslims may use caskets, which are allowed, but just not commonly used. Some Muslims put three handfuls of dust into the grave at the side of the deceased person's head. There are no rules regarding how a grave is dug, so there may be large stones placed over it or simply earth. Expression of condolence is very important in Islamic culture; according to Bilal Abu Aisha, important expressions of sympathy include reminding family members that the departed has passed beyond the "triviality of this life, that everything belongs to Allah."

Mourning & Visitation

There are rules in Islamic culture regarding how to mourn and whom may visit a grave. Crying or weeping are allowed, but wailing during mourning is not. It's believed that if a deceased person is wailed over, that person is tortured in the afterlife. A woman is allowed to mourn for three days over the death of a close family member; she may mourn her husband for four months and 10 days. There are mixed opinions (among Islamic scholars) about whether or not women should be allowed to visit graves; however, it is recommended that Muslims do visit the graves of their loved ones. It's decidedly not recommended that they participate in funerals of non-Muslims. They can, however, visit the graves of non-Muslims to reflect on the lives of non-believers.

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