If you’ve been looking around our site, you’ve probably noticed that we take a sort of carefree, fun approach to talking about what it means to be Muslim. On this page, though, we’re going to stop doing that. You can get back to the fun stuff later.
As is the case with most cultures and religions, Islam takes death and bereavement very seriously. With that in mind, we’re going to tell you what’s involved in a Muslim funeral, and why we observe certain customs.
Muslims believe that death does not end a person’s existence. Eternal life will be given, and God will be merciful to the departed. When a Muslim is near death, loved ones encourage the dying person to pray, and if possible, to have their final words be “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah.”
Preparation for Burial
Once the loved one has passed, those with him or her pray, and begin burial preparations. The deceased’s eyes are closed, and the body is covered with a clean sheet. Crying is permitted, because grief is normal and to be expected, but excessive wailing, screaming or other histrionics are forbidden.
Burial takes place as soon as possible, so the body does not need to be embalmed or otherwise disturbed. If an autopsy must be performed, it should be done with reverence.
Washing and Shrouding
The family, or other community members will wash and shroud the body with clean, scented water. Then the body is wrapped in a kafan (sheets of white, clean cloth).
The deceased is taken to the salat-I-janazah (the site where the funeral prayers will be said). This is usually outdoors, either in a public square or a courtyard – not within the mosque. The imam (prayer leader) is to the front of the deceased, facing away from the congregants. The funeral prayer is much like the daily prayers, except that it is said silently except for a few words, and there is no prostration or bowing.
Finally, the deceased is taken to the al-dafin (cemetery) to be buried. Only men accompany the body to the gravesite. A Muslim cemetery, or a section of a cemetery that is reserved for Muslims, is preferred. The deceased is placed facing Mecca, on his or her right side. Tombstones, other markers, flowers and mementos are discouraged. If permitted, the deceased will be buried without a coffin.
Relatives and other loved ones observe three days of formal mourning, during with they will receive visitors, and avoid wearing jewelry and ostentatious clothing. Widows will observe iddah, a mourning period of four months and ten days, during which time she cannot remarry, wear jewelry or decorative clothing, or move from her home.