MUSLIM FUNERALS AND MUSLIM IDEAS ABOUT DEATH AND THE SOUL

MUSLIM FUNERALS

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Muslim funeral in Jerusalem
Details of Muslim funeral practices are outlined in the Qur’an and a sacred text known as the “Seal of the Prophets” and are based on ancient Bedouin traditions and customs of urbanized Meccans in Muhammad’s time. Burials are required. Cremation is frowned upon. Muslim law forbids the disruption of the remains of the dead. The average cost of a funeral in Egypt is $300 to $2,500.

In accordance with Muslim custom, the dead are buried before sundown or within hours after death. Muslims try to make sure that the body is buried on the day of death, if at all possible, even if close relatives can not attend the funeral, or at the very latest before sundown on the next day if death occurs late in the afternoon. When that happens a candle is lit to ward off evil spirits. The reason for the haste is that dead bodies have traditionally been regarded as unclean and polluting, and disposing of them quickly minimizes inauspiciousness they might bring. Sometimes temporary burials take place. They were traditionally covered in palm leaves.

On his deathbed, A Muslim should declare that he believes in the Oneness of Allah and say "There is no deity save Allah." It is recommended that the dying person lie down facing in the direction of Mecca while a relative reads the surah entitled "Ya' seen." The debts of the deceased should be paid as soon as possible. If dying dies insolvent, debts should be paid from zakah funds of the Muslim community. [Source: Arab News, Jeddah]

Websites and Resources: Islam Islam.com islam.com ; Islamic City islamicity.com ; Islam 101 islam101.net ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/islam ; BBC article bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam ; Patheos Library – Islam patheos.com/Library/Islam ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts web.archive.org ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam britannica.com ; Islam at Project Gutenberg gutenberg.org ; Islam from UCB Libraries GovPubs web.archive.org ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary pbs.org frontline ; Discover Islam dislam.org;

Muslim Funeral Preparations

When a person dies, his or her eyes should be closed, the body should be covered, and the deceased's family should immediately start preparing for the funeral. The body is usually prepared where it dies so that the dead can be purified as quickly as possible for the meeting with God. The body is unembalmed and wrapped in cloth shrouds and not placed in a casket (sometimes it is placed in a coffin but is removed at the graveyard and buried only in a shroud).

The body is washed (preferably with holy water from Mecca). Usually men clean the bodies of men and women clean the bodies of women. Washing usually begins on the right side of the body. Three washings are usually done: the first with plain water, the second with water steeped with acacia leaves and the third with water and camphor. Sometimes salt is added as a purifier. Martyrs are not ritually cleaned because they are believed to be already in a purified state when they die.

The body is wrapped in three layers of clothing (the use of silk is forbidden for men and discouraged for women). The private parts are covered and often the orifices of the body are plugged. Old clothes are often used because it is considered wasteful to use new clothes. Sometimes spices are sprinkled between the body and the clothes. The deceased is then wrapped in clean white muslin shroud that can be up seven meters long. It is important that wrapping to done right so the deceased looks presentable to the angels that escort him to heaven.

Muslim Funeral Rituals

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Shiite funeral for Sheikh Fourati
Funerals often take place at night because that is when Muhammad was buried. The deceased are first taken in a procession to a mosque. Often the shrouded body is in a coffin. The funeral bier is set down in the mosque but is carried, presumably so the corpse does not pollute the mosque. An effort is made to keep the head of deceased facing towards Mecca. White is the Islamic color of mourning.

Relatives are permitted to cry at the funeral but they should not shout or wail. Excessive grief is regarded as an affront to God. Even so, sometimes men weep openly and slapped their faces with grief and women sometimes ululate, shriek and pull out their hair to express their grief. Sometimes women aren't allowed to attend funerals, presumably because they are more likely to make outbursts than males.

Inside the mosque, relatives read prayers and the mourners supplicate themselves to ask that Allah forgive the sins of the deceased. A typical funeral prayer, usually led by relative or recognized leader of the Muslim community, goes: “O God, he is thy servant, the son of thy servant and thy handmaid; you led him to Islam, you have taken his spirit. and know him in secret and in the open. We have come to intercede for him and we have made intercessions for him. I take hold of the rope of thy protection for him; he is faithful and under thy care; guard him from the discord of the grave and the punishment of Jahannam.” Martyrs do not require prayers.

A procession from the mosque to the cemetery is held because Muslim regard following such a procession as a good deed. Even though the practice is frowned upon, women sometimes ululate, douses themselves in ashes, cover their faces with dirt or pull out their hair as expressions of grief. During funerals of important leaders or martyrs, the bodies are often lifted and pushed over the heads of the wailing mourners.

Shiite funerals often feature crowds carrying the coffin. After Ayatollah Khomeini died in June 1989 an estimated 10 million people turned out for his funeral. Pandemonium broke out as people tried to touch his corpse and rip off a piece of his shroud. Security forces were unable to hold the crowds back. The torn pieces of his shroud are now regarded as holy relics.

There is no color for mourning in Islam. You may notice that many Muslim brides wear white on their wedding day and same is the color of the cloth for the dead. Also it is not prohibited to wear jewels soon after someone dies in the family, in fact people don't even realize what they are wearing and in what color. they are upset. and if some one wants to recover from the shock and wants to wear jewels , he may do that after getting normal, but not to show off. [Source: Dania Tehreem ><]

Muslim Burial of the Dead

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Funeral of Sultan
Suleyman the Magnificent
The dead are usually buried in a cemetery in the outskirts of town. The mourners "quietly" carry the body to the graveyard and the deceased is buried in a deep grave "to prevent any bad smell coming out and to stop animals digging." Sometimes graves are left open to accommodate burial within 24 hours after death.

The shrouded body is taken out of the coffin and placed in the grave by three or five male relatives who often crawl into the grave and carefully arrange the body. Women are not allowed to do this. The dead are usually buried on their side facing Mecca. A brick or stone is placed under the head.

Graves are usually angled towards Mecca. Graves and tombs come in a great variety: square ones, niches, brick structures, mausoleums, trenches, graves covered with reeds. Some have scripture of the Qur’an written in Arabic. Women are not supposed to buried next to men.

Originally graves were supposed to be plain and simple and not have tombstones as an expression of humility and equality under Islam. This tradition did not last long. Within a short time after Muhammad’s death, grand mausoleums were raised to honor great men as was the custom in pre-Islamic days. The grandest Muslim mausoleum of all is arguably the Taj Mahal. In Muslim mausoleums the marker in the central room are just representational. The actual tomb is in the crypt below.

After the Funeral and Muslim Mourning

Many Muslims ritually wash themselves after the funeral is over to purify themselves. Sometimes a sheep is slaughtered and a feast is held. Bitter coffee is the traditional Islamic mourning drink. According to Arab tradition, families serve sour coffee to mourners who have come to pay their respects to the dead. Traditional Pakistani condolence calls involve visiting the home of the deceased and sipping tea, chatting and saying the fatiha , the Muslim prayer for the dead.

In some parts of the world relatives read verse from the Qur’an in shifts around the clock until the Muslim sabbath (Friday). In doing this relatives believe they will prevent angels from questioning the deceased before his sins are forgiven on Friday. Sometimes professional reciters are hired to keep the vigil going. [Source: Arab News, Jeddah]

Mourning is forbidden to last for more than 3 days. 40 days period is for the soul to get settled in its new place wherever it is. plucking of hair, shouting and slapping may be instantaneous reactions but they must be controlled quickly. Graves , from the inside , must not be made permanent. one can put a plate on top of the grave, saying who is lying in side. But making a grave with solid bricks is forbidden. ><

Mourning customs vary and often have their roots in pre-Islamic rituals. The period of mourning can last from a month to a year and is often around 40 days. During that time close relatives wear plain clothes and avoid wearing jewelry or perfumes. Sometimes they refrain from doing their prayers in that time and sometimes they stop working for a week or so.

The mourning period for a wife is four months and ten days, unless she is pregnant when it last until the child is delivered. Other female relatives are only allowed to wear mourning clothes for three days. On the anniversary of a person's death his dutiful children are supposed to serve food and drink to the poor.

Muslim remember their dead on Thursday. Many Muslims often return to graves each Thursday during the period of mourning and pour bottles of scented water on the grave and bring back dirt from the graves to their homes. A mansaf is traditional Muslim feast also held to mark the end of a period of morning of a prominent person.

Muslim Ideas About the Soul

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Muhammad's Night Journey
The Muslim concept of the soul is similar to the Christian concept although there has been considerable debate within Islam as to the soul’s relation with the mind, body and God’s “spirit” or “breath” and how it survives death and is resurrected. Most Sunni regard the soul as a material substance that is not visible to the eye but was created along with the body by God while Sufis and other mystical Muslims regard the soul as something more abstract and separate from the body.

According to a prevailing view among Muslims, the souls has three parts and is not unlike Freud’s concept of the id, ego and superego: 1) an id-like component that is driven by animal urges and is “prone to evil”; 2) an ego-like component that can distinguish between good and evil and strives to overcome evil; and 3) a spiritual component that is totally oriented towards God and enters heaven after death. The spiritual component is said to be about the size of a bee and shimmers like mercury when it is removed from the body.

It is believed that the dead body is helpless and cannot react to any thing so it should be handled with care. The soul, after the decease is some state we call as barzakh. In this state the punishment of grave is given to the sinners and the righteous are rewarded in some manner. But these things may not be visible to others , like widening of grave or darkness of grave etc. The soul in barzakh can feel the punishments and rewards. The soul remains in this state till the day of judgement. If some one prays for the deceased and his children do righteous deeds than the punishment may be less extensive. [Source: Dania Tehreem]

Muslim Views About After Death

The Muslim vision of the Last Judgement, Satan, angels, Heaven and Hell and its set of moral and ethical doctrines are similar to those of Christianity and Judaism. Some Muslims believe 40 days before a person dies a leaf falls from a great tree beneath the throne of God and that leaf has the name of person who is to die and an angel is summoned to begin making preparations for that person. At the moment of death that angel appears to the dying person and informs him that there is no escape. After death occurs, the soul is drawn from the body by four angels clothed in white and escorted to heaven.

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Muslims believe that death is a stage in which the spirit leaves the body and waits for the resurrection of the spirit on the Judgement Day. Som believe that upon death the soul is temporarily taken to heaven and is questioned about its worthiness by angels and informed immediately as to whether he will be allowed to go heaven or is condemned to death. At each of the seven levels of heaven the soul is approached by angels who welcome him if he has been faithful and scorn him if he has sinned. The soul is also taken on a quick tour of hell where it is shown the tortures that await it there.

Sinners are unceremoniously barred from heaven and flung back to earth. There is some debate about what happens to the faithful. Some believe they reside in heaven until the Day of Judgement. Some believe they return to the corpse and wait like everyone else in the earth to the Day of Judgement. Some say the soul returns to earth and dies a second death and enters a long sleep until the judgement. Yet others believe the soul is reborn in a quasi-life in which they are interrogated about their faith by black angels with green eyes and visited by foul- and sweet-smelling personifications of their sins and good deeds and are informed of their fate. Those who are damned begin wailing with misery.

Book: Muhammad’s Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society by Leor Halevi, a professor of history at Texas A&M University.

Muslim Concept of Torture of the Grave

One prevailing belief among Muslims is that by the time the corpse is ready to be washed the soul has returned to earth to observe the preparation for burial and the procession to the cemetery. Then just before the grave is to be filled in with dirt, the spirit returns to dwell in the body. In the grave the combined spirt and corpse are subjected to a serial of trials to test his faith by two demonic angels---Munkar and Nakir---recognized by the bluish faces, huge teeth and wild hair. If the deceased passes the trials his grave is transformed into a luxurious space, making the long wait to Judgement Day bearable. If he fails, the space is made cramped and uncomfortable. As times goes on for those who fail the weight of earth crushes down on the body and worms eat away at the flesh, causing terrible pain. [Source: Leor Halevi, New York Times, April 2007]

Fear of “the torture of the grave” has been around at least since the 8th century and remains strong today. Prayers, sermons, invocations and stories in literature and the media constantly remind the faithful of this fate. Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that this fear is very real and alive. The psychologist Ahmed M.Abdel-Khalek who has studied anxieties about death among Arab youth has found that preoccupation with the fear of the torture of the grave is strong. Many young Egyptians and Kuwaitis, a poll by Abdel-Khalek found, worry more at this torture than they do about a serious disease befalling a loved one. [Ibid]

In 2007, an Islamist web site ran a picture an 18-year-old dead “sinner” whose body was exhumed on the orders of his father. The fact that the body appeared aged and bruised after only three hours in the grave was presented as scientific proof that the torture of the grave was real. Muslims are told they can escape the “the torture of the grave” by dying as a martyr which does not only occur fighting for Islam but can also happen if a person dies in a fire, by drowning, is crushed under a building or dies in some other in which they endure great physical pain. If one dies such a death, it is believed, the period in the grave is skipped and the deceased go directly to paradise, where they receive new bodies. [Ibid]

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Funeral for Janaza Syed Shujaat Ali Qadri

Islam and End of Life Issues

Robin McDowell of Associated Press wrote: “When it comes to end-of-life issues in Indonesia, a country that provides no legal guidelines for doctors, religion plays a role. Islam says all possible steps should be taken to save a dying patient, unless the risks outweigh the benefits, said Dr. Rusdy Malueka, an Islamic ethics specialist. Malueka was among more than 100 hospital directors, doctors and researchers taking part in an end-of-life workshop in the city of Yogyakarta. The meeting, a collaboration between Harvard Medical School and the University of Gadjah Mada, was organized before Suharto fell ill. [Source: Robin McDowell, Associated Press, January 17, 2008]

"There really is no systematic policy at hospitals on how to deal with end-of-life patients," said Retna Siwi Padmawati, a bio-ethics researcher, describing the burden doctors may face in trying to convince families that some cases are futile. Some physicians base their decisions on international guidelines, she said, adding others look for advice wherever they can find it, "from the Internet, for instance." For many families without money or health insurance, end-of-life issues are often determined by cost. When they can no longer afford expensive treatment, they ask doctors to pull the plug.”

Chinese Muslim Funerals and Burials

Most Chinese Being Muslims, Baoan strictly abide by the basic Islamic funeral principles of "burial in the ground", "thrifty and simple burial" and "quick burial". Muslims believes that the a human being is created by the "soil" of the land and thus he should be returned back to the soil when he dies. Burial in the ground after death is to return to one’s birthplace. Chinese Muslim often say "burial in the ground after death is safe" and "burial in soil is like that in gold". They avoid cremation, and do not use inner or outer coffins when burying the dead people in the ground. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

The custom of burial in the ground is very simple: 1) select a place at the cemetery, 2) then dig a pit that is about one meter in width, two meters in length and two to three meters in depth in a south to north direction, 3) and then dig a wing-hole on the western pit wall. 4) When the dead person is buried, the head of the corpse is placed in the north direction. The face is placed in the wing-hole so that it faces west towards Mecca. 5) The entrance of the hole is sealed by adobe bricks and mud, 6) then the pit is filled with soil until a grave mound forms on the surface of the ground. Wood boards, stone boards and iron boards and other non-soil items, baked porcelain articles or other grave goods are strictly forbidden in accordance with Muslim burial rules. Most Muslims also frown on the construction of grand, large-scale tombs, although sometimes exceptions are made for revered Muslim saints, and forbid the building of houses on tombs. ~

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Indonesian Muslim funeral

Islam advocates a thrifty and simple burial, and holds that the funeral should conform to the principle of simplicity, eliminating unnecessary and overly-elaborate formalities. It is particularly critical of anything that hints of ostentation or extravagance. Behind this is the belief that when a human being is born, he is bare and has nothing, so after death, he should also be buried under the same terms. After the death of a person, only an imam is invited to chant scriptures, while family members or funeral specialists wash the corpse with clean water, dress it in a "kafan" (a white cloth and twine used for wrapping the corpse, for women corpses, a cloth to cover the head is added). A corpse needs no any other clothing. Then the corpse is moved into the "tabu" (a rudimentary coffin-like wooden box for carrying corpse in the mosques), and a simple and short funeral is held. Then the corpse is carried to the graveyard and buried in a prepared tomb. During the time of waiting for and holding a funeral, people are forbidden from crying loudly, making an uproar, sending wreaths and funeral couplets, setting off firecrackers, hammering gongs and beating drums, or using any other musical instruments. It is forbidden to create spirit or ancestor tablets as is the custom of Chinese and put up portrait of the deceased. Making sacrifices or presenting offerings is also not allowed. ~

On the topic of quick burials, the prophet Muhammad said: "you should bury the dead people quickly, if they are happy, they should gain the happiness as early as possible; if they are not lucky, you should let them evade the fire and prison as quickly as possible." Therefore, Islam provides that all Muslims "must be buried within three days after their death" preferably within 24 hours. Islam opposes the custom of waiting for an auspicious lucky day as extravagant and wasteful. Most Muslims try to hold the funeral on the day of the death, not waiting for the next day. Only when the time of death is very late, or some other special situation happens, or close kin of the dead person are far away and cannot return home quickly for the funeral, can the rule be broken to wait for a day. For guiding principal for a quick burial is "the soil in any place can bury people". The dead can be buried anywhere they die. It is not necessary to transport the corpse a long distance to a hometown for a burial. Additionally, it is not necessary to bury the dead together with their ancestors in the hometown as is the custom among Chinese. ~

Simple funeral Muslim practices are observed by the Baoan, Hui, Dongxiang, Salar and other Islamic minorities in China. They believe that a thrifty, simple and quick burial, not only save times and manpower, it also avoids wasting of wealth, and helps prevent the spread of diseases and environmental pollution. ~

Muhammad Ali's Muslim Funeral

A Muslim funeral was held Muhammad Ali six days after he died at the age of 74 in June 2016 in the boxer's hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Thousands of admirers and mourners prayed over his body. The jenazah, or funeral in Arabic, was held at a convention space in Freedom Hall, the complex where the former heavyweight world champion defeated Willi Besmanoff in 1961 in his last fight in Louisville. [Source: Steve Bittenbender, Reuters, June 9, 2016]

Steve Bittenbender of Reuters wrote: “An estimated 14,000 people, representing many races and creeds, attended the service, where speakers repeatedly referred to Ali as "the people's champion." "The passing of Muhammad Ali has made us all feel a little more alone in the world," said Sherman Jackson, a Muslim scholar at the University of Southern California.... Imam Zaid Shakir, a founder of Muslim liberal arts school Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California, led worshippers in prayers such as "Allahu akbar" ("God is greatest") over Ali's body, which lay in a casket covered with a black and gold cloth.

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Funeral for Sultan Perkasa Alam Shah

Ali and his family planned his funeral for 10 years, making sure it would honor his Muslim faith while also adapting to the demands of Western media-driven culture. Among those at Thursday's funeral was a Bangladeshi man named Mohammad Ali who said he flew to the United States to attend the service despite failing health. He showed pictures of his famous namesake visiting his home nearly 40 years ago. "If I could not attend the funeral of Muhammad Ali, it would be a sad part of my life," he said. "Today or tomorrow, I have to die. So I took the risk and came down all the way because he visited my home."

Ali joined the Nation of Islam and adopted an Islamic name in 1964. In the 1970s, Ali converted to Sunni Islam, the largest denomination among Muslims worldwide. Late in life he embraced Sufism, a mystical school of the faith.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Arab News, Jeddah; Islam, a Short History by Karen Armstrong; A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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