In America, it is relatively easy to forget that there is an entire world full of people who often do things quite differently. Funeral traditions, which may seem relatively homogeneous within the U.S., vary greatly throughout the rest of the world. Understanding some of these different traditions can help aid compassion and allow us to support others as they express their grief in various ways. For instance, Muslim funeral traditions are rich and steeped in heritage, although they may feel different than “traditional” American rites.
There are several rituals that occur even before death occurs, including the gathering of family members and the closest of friends to the bedside of the ailing to support and pray for them as they pass through the mortal coil. According to the laws of shariah (Islamic law), the body should be buried as quickly as possible–meaning preparations begin immediately. While organ donation is allowed, this is one of the few ways that Muslims allow the body to be changed after death as both autopsies and embalming are considered a desecration of the body unless required by law. Cremation is not allowed for Muslims, and with the need to quickly bury the body, visitations or wakes are rare.
While there are some controversial traditions around the placement of the body as facing towards Mecca and the need to place a copy of the Quran under the head of the deceased, these may be more personal preference of the family than a true requirement of the Muslim faith. Before interment occurs, the family follows precise Islamic rites about washing the body, including the need for same-sex relatives (with the notable exception of husbands and wives) to methodically clean the body from top to bottom, left to right. The process is repeated seven times, and then the body is wrapped in a shroud in preparation for interment.
While Muslim scholars agree that mourning and quiet weeping for the deceased are acceptable, loud crying and wailing most certainly are not. A relatively short mourning period of three days is enforced for all except a woman mourning her husband, who is permitted to mourn for four months and ten days–a time during which her social activities and personal adornment with jewelry and makeup are severely restricted. After this period, however, widows are permitted to return to an active lifestyle and even remarry.
Muslim traditions are steeped in faith and family, and provide a way for all people to offer love and support to the grieving family, as well as prayers to lift the loved one to Allah. If you have questions about ensuring you are following all of the correct protocols for your faith, ask our knowledgeable funeral directors during your funeral arrangement conference or at any time during the process.