Islamic Funeral Traditions, Customs, and Beliefs
The Islamic faith has strong beliefs and traditions surrounding death, funerals, and burials. Understanding these customs can help you show respect and support to those of the Islamic faith who are facing a difficult time.
Islamic death rituals and beliefs
In the Islamic faith, death is seen as a natural transition from this world to the afterlife. Death is accepted as God's will as death can come at any time without warning. A Muslim funeral is intended to honor the deceased, however, there are many cultural practices that differ between countries or regions.
There are specific Islamic burial practices that must be followed. The body should not be embalmed, nor should any organs be removed for medical reasons or donation. Additionally, no autopsy should be performed. Muslims believe that the body should remain intact in respect to the deceased.
Can Muslims be cremated?
In general, Islamic custom and law forbids cremation. Instead, Muslim bodies should be buried in a cemetery in the ground. This is because according to Islamic beliefs, burying the body directly in the earth helps it decompose naturally and will allow for resurrection on the Day of Judgement. Cremation is not seen as respectful to the deceased, and it is believed that it prevents the body from being properly prepared for the afterlife.
Islamic burial requirements
According to Islamic beliefs, the body must be prepared and buried as soon as possible after death. Generally speaking, there are five primary requirements for Muslim burials:
- Washing the body (ghusl): The ritual washing of the deceased is done with scented, warm water and performed by up to three trusted people. It symbolizes a purification process as well as an act of mercy towards the deceased.
- Shrouding (kafan): After the body has been washed, it is then covered in a white shroud.
- Prayers (salat): A prayer service is held shortly before the burial and consists of four cycles.
- Burial: The body should be placed in a grave that is perpendicular to Mecca, so the head lies towards the right side and the face towards Mecca. Other forms of burial – such as cremation and above-ground tombs – are not accepted in Islamic culture.
- Graveside prayer (dua): Once the body is placed in the grave, a brief prayer is recited.
Islamic funeral etiquette
When attending an Islamic funeral, it is important to understand the customs and etiquette for respectful participation. One of the most important differences to note with an Islamic funeral is that women are traditionally not allowed to attend, though they may be permitted to attend the prayer service.
What should you wear to a Muslim funeral?
Guests should dress conservatively in dark clothing. Bright colors and flashy jewelry are considered disrespectful, as is wearing any form of ostentatious religious symbols. Anyone attending the funeral will generally be expected to remove their shoes before entering the mosque the funeral is being held in. (Muslim funerals are typically, but not always, held in mosques.)
Islamic funeral order of service
Islamic funerals typically follow the following order of services:
- Funeral attendees gather and recite the Islamic funeral prayer, Ṣalāt al-Janāzah, which is typically read at the mosque. While reciting the prayer, attendees should be facing towards the holy center of Islam (Mecca).
- Once this prayer is recited, the deceased's body is then taken to the burial site. (The burial site is traditionally perpendicular to Mecca.)
- The body is then lowered into the chosen burial site and another prayer is recited.
- After this final prayer is recited, attendees are invited to carefully place three handfuls of dirt into the grave.
- After the funeral services and burial take place, it is customary for guests to gather at the deceased's family's home.
Islamic practices after a funeral
Rituals and beliefs around death do not end at the termination of services; it's customary to take a bath after attending funeral in Islam if you touched the body of the deceased.
It's traditional to continue bringing food and offerings to the family of the deceased for up to 3 days after the funeral services take place.
Typically family and friends gather around the family of the deceased to offer condolences and prayers during the mourning period. The mourning period will also vary depending on the relationship the individual had with the deceased. For example, it's expected that widows mourn for at least four months and 10 days, where they are expected to remain in black clothing and cannot interact with potential romantic partners.
Islamic funerals are intended to honor the deceased and provide closure for family and friends. Although there is some variation in burial practices across different countries or regions, having a basic understanding of the funeral etiquette and order of service can help guests be respectful and participate in the services in a way that they feel comfortable participating.