The Muslim Funeral
Muslims are followers of Islam, a monotheistic religion with the same roots as Christianity and Judaism founded in Arabia in the early seventh century CE by Muhammad. Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad’s revelations from God were recorded by his followers in the Quran, the holy book of Islam.
According to Islamic custom, Muslims bury their dead as soon as possible in order to free the soul from the body, typically within 24 hours. In preparation for burial, the family or other members of the community will wash and shroud the body. The body must be prepared by Muslims – men by men and women by women. Some U.S. cemeteries offer special body preparation facilities.
The simple funeral service preceding the burial generally takes place in a mosque. After leaving their shoes at the door, men and women sit on the floor in separate areas. Women must cover their heads with a veil or scarf and wear loose, modest clothing.
The service is brief and consists of ritual chanting and recitation from the Quran. Before the body is taken away for burial, visitors and mourners file past to pay their last respects.
Muslims believe in keeping the body as close as possible to its natural state. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, the body is not embalmed, frozen or autopsied, and cremation is strictly forbidden. If the funeral home provides the service, the deceased’s family may rent a casket for the ceremony and burial procession. If permitted by local law, the body is buried without a casket.
Women are allowed to accompany men to the gravesite, but they must walk behind. After a short ceremony at the burial site, visitors return to the mosque for more prayers and the offering of additional consolation to the family.
Muslims prefer to bury the deceased where he or she died, preferably in a Muslim cemetery or one with a special Muslim section. The deceased is laid in the grave on his or her right side, facing Mecca – toward the northeast in North America.
Muslim graves typically feature only a flat market with Arabic writing. Tombstones, elaborate markers and flowers are discouraged. Instead, one should humbly remember Allah and pray for the deceased.
The Muslim period of mourning is typically three days. Widows observe an extended mourning period of four months and 10 days, during which time she is not to remarry, move from her home, or wear decorative clothing or jewelry.
Mourning is observed in Islam by increased devotion, receiving visitors and condolences. Excessive wailing, shrieking and loud expressions of grief are discouraged.
Family and friends customarily bring food to the family of the deceased to keep them from having to attend to these details. Comments to the bereaved should be short and tasteful. It is appropriate to send flowers after the funeral.