As we are living a multicultural and multifaith society therefore it is important to understand each others customs and practices here is a guide to help familiarise non-Muslims to the process that occurs when a Muslim dies.
It may help those who want to pay their respects to a Muslim friend who has passed away or may want to attend the actual funeral, but do not know what to expect and what is considered appropriate.
When a Muslim is near death, those around him or her are called upon to give comfort, and reminders of God’s mercy and forgiveness. They are encouraged to recite verses from the Holy Qur’an, and the dying may also recite words of prayer. It is recommended, for a Muslim’s last words to be the declaration of faith, that is, “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah.” However, there should be no coercion to recite this statement. Beyond this, efforts should be made to make the last moments as comfortable for the individual as possible. Offering water and physical comfort is recommended.
Upon death, those with the deceased are encouraged to remain calm, pray for the departed, and begin preparations for burial. Grief is normal when one has lost a loved one, and it is natural and permitted to cry. One should strive to be patient and to remember that God is the One who gives life and takes it away – at a time He decides – and that it is not for us to question His wisdom.
A loss of an individual is not just regarded as a loss to the family but to the whole Muslim community as well. For this reason, it is common for people who may not know an individual personally to attend his/her funeral. In fact Muslims are encouraged to attend any Muslim’s funeral due to the profound personal, social and spiritual significance of such an event.
Muslims strive to bury the deceased as soon as possible after death therefore it is not unusual for the deceased to be buried within 24 hours of their death. The main steps involved are washing the body of the deceased, shrouding it, performance of the funeral prayer and finally burial. The first two steps are performed only by selected relatives and community members due to the intimacy involved with the body. The funeral prayer is a Muslim ritual which must be performed by Muslims, though observers are welcome.
There are also some matters regarding etiquette that one should be aware of when attending the funeral. Women from the Muslim faith commonly do not attend the funeral however should non Muslim women wish to attend the following advice should be noted:
The dress code for Men and Women should be modest. This means a shirt and trousers for men and an ankle length skirt, which should not be tight or transparent, together with a long sleeved and high-necked top for the women. A headscarf is also essential for women. Shoes are removed before going into the prayer hall. Clean and presentable socks, stockings, or tights are therefore a good idea.
The funeral prayer
The congregation will line up in rows behind the deceased coffin to perform the Funeral prayer. It should be noted here that the funeral prayer is performed for the deceased and not to the deceased. Following its completion the congregation will form two lines and pass the coffin from shoulder to shoulder taking it towards the grave site. Visitors are welcome to follow the congregation as they move the coffin towards the grave however a short distance should be kept thereby allowing the congregation walking space to carry the coffin. Once at the grave the coffin will be lowered, usually by members of the family, and the grave filled. The Imam will then say a few final prayers at the graveside and following this, the congregation will disperse. The immediate members of the family will most likely remain at the graveside for a short while longer; this may be an opportune time for visitors to convey their condolences if they so wish.
Islamic funeral customs require that:
- The body be buried as soon as possible after death
- The body be turned to face towards Mecca, the holy center of Islam.
- Guests of the same sex should greet each other with a handshake and hug.
- A person sitting next to the body reads from the Koran. An Imam presides over the service.
- The deceased’s eyes and mouth are closed. There is rarely an open casket.
- Guests should not take photos or use recording devices.
- The arms, legs, and hands of the body are stretched out in alignment with the body.
- The death is immediately announced to all friends and relatives.
- The body is bathed and covered in white cotton.
- Within two days following the death, the body is carried to the graveyard by four men. A procession of friends and relatives follow.
- No discussion takes place at the time of burial, but all guests pray for the soul of the departed.
- After the body is buried, all guests go to the house of the family of the deceased. A meal is prepared and guests usually stay for the entire day. Family members may stay for the whole week.
- During this time, the family members socialize. It is believed that socializing helps to ease suffering.
- If arriving late, guests should simply join in.
Under Islamic funeral customs, the mourning period officially lasts for 40 days. During that time, family members wear only black clothing. For one full year, the wife of the deceased continues to wear black, but the anniversary of the death is not observed.
In the Islamic culture. death is accepted and viewed as a natural part of life. The belief that the deceased has moved on to a pleasant afterlife is an important belief and helps the bereaved cope with their suffering.
It should be noted that grief and the way it is handled is dependant on people’s cultural influences and therefore the above advice should be treated as general guidance.