Understanding Muslim funeral traditions
A loss of an individual is not just regarded as a loss to the family but to the whole Muslim community as a whole. For this reason, it is common for people who may not know an individual personally to attend the funeral. Muslims are encouraged to attend any Muslim’s funeral due to the profound personal, social and spiritual significance of such an event.
Burial is typically within 24 hours of death to protect the living from any sanitary issues, except in the case of a person who dies unexpectedly or from unnatural causes. Where death is unexpected or from unnatural causes it is essential, and a legal requirement by law, to determine the cause of death before burial. Determining the cause of death is the responsibility of the local Coroner. At all times, this is done with the utmost respect for the deceased persons.
What happens before a Muslim funeral?
- Before the ceremony, the deceased person is washed. Washing takes places either at the Mosque if facilities exist or another location, such as a funeral home.
- Washing is carried out by relatives of the same gender, or other trusted people of the same gender.
- Water is poured over the body then gently rubbed over the skin, as though a shower.
- Private areas remain covered.
- The deceased person is then wrapped in cloth according to gender: Three cloths for a male, 5 for a female.
- If applicable, the deceased person is then conveyed to the Mosque.
What happens during a Muslim funeral?
- At the Mosque the body is not taken to the main prayer hall. Usually, it will be in a side room and will enter the building through a side door. Although not considered impure, the body is not regarded as suitable to enter the prayer hall.
- The Imam, together with family and friends of the deceased person, will gather in the prayer room to perform Salat al-Janaza - the funeral prayers. With doors open and standing in line with the deceased person, these prayers are short (3-4 minutes in length) and ask for forgiveness and God’s mercy.
- After prayers are said, the body is conveyed to the burial ground. Muslim religious beliefs prohibit cremation, so all deceased persons will be buried.
- Burial should take place as soon as possible, so local burial is preferred. However, if it is the family’s wish that the deceased person be returned to his or her home country, that is also permitted.
- Prayers are again said for mercy and forgiveness.
- The body is then covered, preventing contact between the deceased person and the soil. Concrete slabs or wood are often used, as it is forbidden to use anything formed by fire (such as clay).
- The nearest male relative will then pour three handfuls of earth into the grave, reciting quietly the prayer: “From this we have created you; to this we will return you; from this we will resurrect you.” It is believed that the deceased person will be resurrected at the site of burial.
- Other members of the funeral party will then join in pouring soil in the grave before it is filled in and final prayers are said.
What should I wear to a Muslim funeral service?
Those attending a Muslim funeral should dress modestly. For women, this means ankle-length skirts, long sleeves and a headscarf; for men, a long-sleeved shirt and trousers.
Shoes are removed before prayer, so ensure you are wearing clean socks.