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10 Muslim Funeral Traditions

Coping with the loss of a friend or family member is difficult, no matter what your faith.
All religions have funeral rites and traditions for dealing with death, and Islam is no
different.

With Osama bin Laden's recent death and burial at sea, there's been a lot of
speculation about Muslim funeral traditions. Muslims have a pretty clear set of rules
when it comes to preparing the dead for burial and for the funeral itself.

Not only are there Muslim funeral traditions, but there are rituals and recommendations
for Muslims close to a person who is dying, like saying positive things, making sure that
he feels safe and is never alone, and gently encouraging the dying person to accept
Allah and say the Shahaadah (a declaration of faith).

Muslims believe in similar constructs to heaven and hell, referred to as Jannah


(paradise or heaven) and Jahannam(hell). Many Muslims believe that by accepting
Islam, even just before death, and saying the Shahaadah, the dying person will go to
Jannah after death.

So, what are the Muslim traditions for a funeral and burial? The rituals begin just after
death.

Just After Death


As soon as a Muslim person dies, it's customary to close the eyes, bind the jaw and
cover the body with a clean sheet. It's also important to prepare the body for the
funeral as quickly as possible. Ideally, the funeral will take place before the next
sunset or within 24 hours.

While there are Muslims who believe that it's important to make sure that the body
faces toward Mecca, and that you should place a copy of the Quran under the
deceased person's head, these traditions are controversial. Some scholars say that
there is no precedent for doing these things.
As we'll see next, there are even rules for mourning the dead, including special rules
for widows.

Mourning
Hidaad, or mourning, for a close relative should last only three days, and there are
guidelines about how that mourning should take shape. Weeping is acceptable, but
the Islamic faith discourages loud crying and acting out during the mourning period.
Conservative Muslims believe that the person's spirit can hear these cries, and they
cause the spirit anguish.
There's a special mourning period for women who have lost a husband. It's called
the 'Iddah (or Edda), and it lasts four months and 10 days. During that time, the
woman is not allowed to wear perfume or jewelry, and she can only leave the house
for work and errands. She can visit friends and family, but during the 'Iddah, she's
required to sleep at home and can't remarry until the period is over.
Before the funeral, Muslims go through a washing ritual to prepare the corpse.
Check out details on the next page.

Washing the Dead


Before the funeral, the deceased's family follows traditional Islamic washing rites.
It's important that the people who perform the washing also be Muslim and of the
same sex as the deceased. The only exceptions are for children or spouses.

The washing requires following very specific rules. After placing the body on a high
table and saying, "In the name of Allah," the washers use cloths to methodically
clean the body, top to bottom and left to right, repeating the process three to seven
times until the body is clean.
Once the deceased is clean and dry, it's time to shroud the body.

Shrouding the Body


There are different rules for shrouding male and female Muslims. To wrap a male
Muslim corpse, you use three white sheets and four ropes. After placing the man's
hands on his chest, right hand on top of left hand, you wrap each sheet, right side
first, over the body. To finish the shrouding, tie two ropes just above the head and
just below the feet, and use the other two ropes to secure the sheets around the
body.

For women, the wrappings are much more intricate. The corpse wears a loose-
fitting, sleeveless dress, a head veil and a loin cloth. All of that goes underneath the
same sheets and ropes that you'd use to wrap a male corpse.

Muslim tradition stresses that once a person dies, the burial should happen as soon
as possible, so it's important to begin the funeral as soon as the shrouding is
complete.

Funeral Prayer

Even Muslims who aren't close with the deceased or the family can participate in
this ritual, the Salatul Janazah.

Before burial, it's traditional to pray over a Muslim body, no matter how old the
person was when he or she died. The prayer should happen immediately after
shrouding the body. It usually occurs outside of the mosque and its prayer room,
and the prayer should take place at dusk or sunset, if possible, unless the body is
decomposing and needs to be buried immediately.

Muslims gather in a group to pray silently that Allah will have mercy on this person
and all other dead Muslims. There are only two parts of the prayer said aloud, and
we'll get to the funeral service in more detail on the next page.

The Funeral
Funeral attendees stand in three horizontal lines facing toward Mecca: men in the
front row, children in the second row and women in the third row. Like the silent
prayer, this occurs outside of the mosque, if possible, and the entire prayer service
takes place standing. Participants silently set pure intentions for the funeral service,
and then they silently recite the Fatihah, the first section of the Quran. This seven-
verse prayer asks for Allah's mercy and guidance.

After the silent Fatihah, there are four more prayers in a traditional Muslim funeral
service. Before each of the next four prayers, attendees say, "Allahu Akbar," which
basically means "God is good." The four prayers are the Tahahood, a prayer to the
prophet Muhammad, and three personal prayers for the deceased. If the funeral is
for a child, the third personal prayer is often for the child's parents.

After the funeral, it's time to move the body to the cemetery for burial. As we'll see
next, this transportation has some traditions of its own.

Transporting the Body


Traditionally, several men carry the body to the cemetery on foot, and funeral goers
follow behind. In modern times, the body can be transported in a hearse with a
funeral procession behind it.

The car or truck transporting the body shouldn't be a military vehicle, and the
funeral procession should happen in silence. No singing, loud crying or reading the
Quran is allowed. There should also be no incense or candles in the funeral
procession.

Because of the rules about a quick burial, it's traditional to bury a Muslim where he
or she died. That means that a Muslim who dies in another country or a remote
location should be buried there, not transported back home for burial.

Muslim graves also need to be dug in a very specific way. We'll look at Muslim burial
traditions on the next page.
Muslim Burial Traditions

Traditionally, a Muslim body should be buried in a Muslim cemetery, and no women


or children are allowed at the grave site during the burial.

The body should be buried in a hole deep enough to contain the smell as the body
decomposes and to keep animals from digging it up, and it's considered desecration
to cremate a Muslim corpse. The body goes into the grave on its right side, facing
Mecca, ideally not inside of a coffin. If the cemetery is located in a place with
abundant wildlife, sometimes Muslims will cover the grave with bricks or stones to
keep animals from disturbing the body.

If a Muslim dies at sea, and it's not possible to get the body to land within 24 hours
after death, then a burial at sea is allowed.

Marking and Visiting the Grave


Muslim cemeteries are all about minimalism and deference, so they don't have
extravagant grave markers. A small marker or gravestone, however, is fine.
Traditionally, you don't put anything for the deceased on or around the grave: This
means no cut flowers, candles or other offerings.

There is some debate about whether women can visit the grave of a loved one to
remember him. While some Muslims say that this is forbidden, others think it's OK
to occasionally visit the grave site to remember the deceased and meditate on
mortality.

Muslim tradition even has rules on how to console grieving friends and family,
though these aren't as strict as some of the other funeral traditions.

Consoling Family and Friends


Consoling grieving friends and family is important in the Muslim community and
doesn't have many rigid rules governing how to comfort those in mourning. It's
traditional to reach out to the mourning family with sympathy and with food for
three days after the funeral.

Like in many other cultures, offering help and condolences to the mourning family is
considered an essential part of dealing with death. It's also common to bring food to
the mourning family after a Muslim funeral, so that they won't have to worry about
details like cooking as they cope with the loss of a loved one.