Understanding the Islamic Funeral
The Islamic faith regards death as a transition to another state of existence called the afterlife. How well you followed Islamic religious codes during your life will determine where you go in the afterlife. The belief is that if you lived a good life you will go to Paradise when you die. If not, you will be separated from all that is good in the world. Islamic funerals serve not only to comfort the grieving, but also to pray to Allah to have mercy on the deceased.
An Islamic funeral is considered a communal event and very spiritual occasion. Attendees participate in group prayers in which mourners pray that Allah will have mercy on not just the recently deceased but all deceased Muslims. The funeral helps mourners cope with their grief and offers hope for a good afterlife for the deceased. A typical service lasts 30 to 60 minutes.
Rites and Traditions
Important to the Islamic faith is that burial take place as soon as possible after death. For this reason, there is no viewing, wake, or visitation. Immediately after death the body is washed, covered with a sheet by family members and the hands are placed as if in prayer. The body is then transported to the location of the funeral or mosque.
Typically, the funeral is held outside the mosque in a location such as a prayer room, community square, or courtyard where members of the community can gather. The body and all attendees are all turned to face Mecca and prayers are led by the Imam. Attendees form at least three lines: men, children, and women in the back. After prayers the body is then taken to the burial site in a silent procession. Traditionally, only men are allowed to attend the burial, but some communities allow women and children to attend. Another important Islamic burial rite is to have each person in attendance throw three handfuls of dirt into the grave.
Muslims believe there will be a physical resurrection of the body on Judgement Day, therefore cremation is prohibited in Islamic faith. Autopsies are strongly discouraged because they delay the burial process and are considered to be a desecration of the body. Embalming is also considered to be a desecration of the body and is not performed unless required by law.
The mourning period is 40 days and tradition dictates that flowers be sent to the family’s home after the burial of the deceased. In addition, food is also greatly appreciated.
During an Islamic funeral, mourners may express grief but only with a level of decorum. Crying is permitted but not loud wailing. Signs of extreme emotion such as tearing of clothing, thrashing about, sacrilegious speech, and self-injury are not permitted.
Traditional Muslim funeral etiquette forbids mourners from taking pictures or recording any part of the funeral prayer service.
Mourners may gather at the home of the immediate family after the prayer service and burial. At this time, it is appropriate to express condolences to the family and support them in their grief. Socializing is believed to help the family cope with their loss. Traditionally, a meal is served and it is customary to stay the entire day.
During the first three days of the 40-day mourning period, it is customary for community members to bring food to the family. Modern Muslim communities observe an abbreviated mourning period.
Widows will customarily observe a longer mourning period. Community visits and offers are very important and any ways to help will be appreciated.