Historic Funeral Traditions: Islamic Funerals

If you’re a fan of funeral traditions, you may quickly learn that many traditions are similar, no matter the origins or the faith. Some funeral traditions ban embalming, while others require embalming for a long-standing tradition of visitation and wakes. Other traditions may frown at cremations, while other individuals seek cremation today as a less expensive alternative to the American traditional funeral.

Islamic traditions are similar to many others where embalming is avoided. The dead are buried as soon as possible – preferably on the day of death. This belief is based upon a Hadith, the Prophet Mohammad’s (P.B.U.H) saying: “To honor the dead is to bury them.”

The mourners are encouraged to respect the dead and, although it is forbidden for those in mourning to excessively wail, scream, or thrash about, grief is normal when one has lost a loved one. So, it is permitted to cry for the loss of a loved one. And, the family is encouraged to care for the dead in a process that also helps to relieve feelings of loss and grief.

Some Islamic funeral traditions include:

  • Those who take care of the body close the eyes and bind the lower jaw so it does not sag. These activities are similar to those carried out in many home funerals.
  • The deceased is washed according to Sharia (Islamic Law), where the entire body is washed with water and kafour (Camphor) and lotus leaves in the final washing. Males wash male bodies and women wash female bodies in most instances.
  • The washing should be done three or five, or any more odd number of times if necessary. All of this is based on authentic Hadith that Um Atiyah narrated that: “When the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) died, he instructed us: ‘Wash her three times, or more than that if you feel it is necessary, with water and sidr (good smelling leaves), and then after the last wash apply some camphor to the body, then loosen her hair, wash it, comb it, and make it in three braids laid behind her back” (Bukhari & Muslim).
  • It is recommended to use white sheets from inexpensive material. Extravagance is not recommended in the Kafan (shroud).
  • After the washing ceremony, men carry the body to the mosque where a ‘prayer on the dead’ is performed.
  • The body then is carried on the men’s shoulders to the cemetery where it is buried in a hole covered with layers of rock tiles and soil. There are two types of grave styles: Al-Shaqq is to make a deep vertical hole in the ground, and; Al-Lahed is to make a deep vertical hole in the ground, then in the bottom make a side horizontal hole big enough to cover the whole body.
  • The deceased’s body should rest on his or her right side, and should be close to the wall and supported so that the body will not fall back. The deceased’s face should look towards the Qiblah, or Qibla. This is the direction Muslims face during prayer.
  • Salatul Janazah is required to be performed in congregation to request pardon for the deceased and all dead Muslims, and to wrap them all in Allah’s Mercy. There is a reward for attending Salatul Janazah for both the deceased and those who make the Salat according to the following Hadith. Today, non-Muslims can take part in the burial ceremony, but they cannot perform the prayers.
  • In the past, only men were allowed to attend funerals. Today, female relatives are also allowed to go to the cemetery in some circumstances but they are not allowed to mix with the men.
  • The condolence period lasts for three days where family and friends offer condolence in two separate sections, one for females and one for males. During the condolence ceremonies the Qur’an is read for the soul of the deceased.
  • Non-Muslims who attend Muslim or Islamic funerals are expected to dress according to local custom. In Islamic traditions there is nothing which says that women need to wear black, but women wearing dark clothes, preferably black or gray, have become tradition. It is inappropriate to wear make up or gaudy nail polish or decorative jewelery to a funeral.
  • Usually, the family and relatives of the deceased give money or food to the needy in the name of the deceased so the deceased receives more rewards after death.
  • The clothes and belongings of the deceased are also given to needy people and its preferable that nothing is kept at home – because giving away will benefit the needy who can make use of it which is also a reward for the deceased.

To learn more about Islamic funerals, including images of cemetery positions and graves, visit the Authentic Step by Step Illustrated Janazah Guide compiled By Mohamed Ebrahim Siala.

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