Islam is a religion with more than 1.8 billion followers across the globe. Making up nearly a quarter of the world's population, it's a faith that encourages regular prayer, ritual and charity.
Muslim mourning practices are steeped in many rich traditions. There are many ways in which Islamic rituals can be carried out, and these often depend on factors like region and personal interpretation of customs. In this article, we'll explore some of the practices that are carried out in order to honor those who have passed away.
Many religious death rites actually begin before a death occurs, and it is so with Muslim death practices. When death is imminent, family and closest friends surround the person who help ease the transition from life to death. Those in attendance will state Islam-affirming proverbs to the deceased during death. When death occurs, the family will ask Allah for forgiveness of sins committed in life, close the deceased person's eyes and tend to the body.
These practices may not be possible, depending on the circumstances of the death. However, those of Muslim traditions strive to give their ailing loved ones a transition that is comforting, spiritual and respectful.
The funeral service is arranged by notifying the deceased person's mosque, or other Islamic organization soon after death has occured. Similar to Jewish traditions, Muslim funerals are usually held as soon as possible once a person has passed away.
There are other similarities to Jewish burial traditions too. Disturbing the body unnecessarily after death is considered a desecration. Cremation, embalming and allowing a body to decompose prior to burial are not permitted, necessitating a prompt burial upon death. Organ donation is permitted, because the act of giving life or health to another is virtuous. Autopsies are complied with only when they are deemed necessary.
The body is washed three times by a team of close family members (usually of the same gender), and this is done in a particular order. It is then shrouded in clean, white sheets, and secured together with rope, before being taken to the funeral, usually held at a mosque.
Funerals in Islam are a community affair, with prayers recited by all asking for the deceased person to be forgiven by Allah. The Janazah prayer is conducted before the body is taken to be buried. Where the body is buried depends on the family, as well as regional custom. Prayers are done with all in attendance facing qiblah, that is, the direction of Mecca.
The body should be protected from uncleanliness, so once lowered into the grave, layers of protective material (such as stone) is placed on top to prevent soiling of the body. Fistfuls of balled-up soil are prepared before the internment by gravediggers, and placing in the grave by mourners. As during the funeral prayers, the grave is dug perpendicularly to qiblah, with the body resting on its right side. Graves tend to be simple, with marker stones not reaching higher than about a foot.
Muslim families usually host a large event after the funeral, providing food for all. The reception feast could continue for days
Grief is considered a natural and expected course for those who mourn. Crying is acceptable, but dramatic expressions of bereavement are not allowed. Expressions such as shrieking, wailing, grasping at objects or clothing, or disrupting the grief of others' is in poor taste and considered unacceptable when mourning a Muslim person who has passed away. Mourners are expected to behave and dressed in a dignified manner.
There is a period of mourning for 15 to 40 days, but widows and widowers often wear black and continue mourning from four months to a year.
The way in which any culture or religion handles death varies by region, community, beliefs and family. This article is only a general summary of Muslim mourning traditions. More information can be learned by studying the many branches of Islam theology, or by contacting a mosque or other Islamic organization.
Interested in learning more about cultural death practices?
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