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Muslim Funerals

A Guide to the Memorial Traditions in the World Of Islam

Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. Like much of the religion though, Muslim funerals are still largely unfamiliar to many Westerners. Since a Muslim’s way of death reveals much about the life that he tried to live, it behooves Westerners to understand Muslim funerals better, if only to better understand their Muslim neighbors. Here is a brief guide to some of the traditions of Muslim Funerals.

The first part of Muslim funerals typically takes place while the person is still alive. Muslims do everything that they can to give comfort to a dying loved one as he draws his last breathes, and it is the hope of every Muslim to say as his final words, “I bare witness that there is no God but Allah.”

After the Muslim dies, his family will pray repeatedly to Allah that his soul might go to heaven, praising Him for His mercy, and asking Him to forgive the departed of his sins. As they are doing this, loved ones of the same sex will carefully wash every part of him, 3, 5, or 7 times, depending on the circumstances, and then douse him with non-alcoholic perfume. It is however permitted for a man to wash his wife or for either parent to wash a child, regardless of his gender. They then shroud him in linen, preparing him for burial.

Muslim funerals are usually held outside, in places such as a field or courtyard, hopefully not far from where he lived. As the congregation gathers, forming 3 lines, they will chant, “Peace be upon you, oh people of the graves.” The imam (priest) will then stand up in front of the body and away from the audience as he begins the ”Thana,” or funeral prayers, praising Allah for His mercy and asking that His peace would be upon the departed. If an imam is not available, this task will be left up to the oldest man in the household. These are said five times before the women are dismissed.

It is the men alone who bear the responsibility of burying the deceased. Every aspect of burial in Muslim funerals is designed to give the utmost respect to the departed. Humility is an important virtue in Islamic culture, so if it is permitted, Muslims often prefer to be buried without a casket or a headstone. It is just as important, out of respect for Mohammed, to be buried facing towards Mecca, on the right side in the West and on the left in the East. As the men position the deceased toward the holy city, they will each pour handfuls of soil on the departed’s face, symbolizing his return to dust. They will then chant, “We created you from it, we return you to it, and from it we will raise you a second time.” Muslims believe that when one dies, he will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment.

In Muslim funerals, silence reflects seriousness. Music is seldom used, and any talking apart from prayer is deeply frowned upon.

Following Muslim funerals, loved ones will observe a 3 day mourning period, which includes avoiding decorative clothing and jewelry, and receiving guests who mourn with them. For widows, this mourning period continues for longer, 4 months and 10 days, and she is not allowed to remarry during this time either. Islamic law also expressly requires that the bereaved have control over their emotions during this time and not burst into wailing. Since the Quran says, “The eyes shed tears, and the heart is grieved, but we will not say anything except that which pleases our Lord,” Muslim funerals are intended to demonstrate the self control of the Islamic people.

 

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