Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult things we have to go through in life, even under the best of circumstances. Many cultures and communities have their own set of rituals to help ease the pain, from the Jewish tradition of receiving condolences at home during a seven-day mourning period to Hindus gathering to burn the bodies of the deceased along the Ganges River.
In this post, we’re going to explore what happens under Islamic Law. As in many cultures and religions, there are specific rules that ensure the dignity and respect of the dead as well as for their living relatives.
What Muslims believe about death
It is a common belief that the present life is a trial in preparation for the eternal life to come. According to the Quran, Muslims are only allowed entry into Paradise, a form of heaven, if their good deeds in life outweigh the bad.
Islamic death rituals are very much affected by their beliefs about death. Where you go in the afterlife depends on how well you followed Islamic religious codes during your life. Funeral rites and traditions are therefore very important. Islamic funerals are very spiritual events and central to Muslim communities.
How do Muslims mourn the death of a loved one
As soon as a Muslim person dies, the custom is to close their eyes, bind the jaw, and cover the body with a clean sheet. It’s also important to prepare the body for the funeral as quickly as possible. Ideally, it takes place before the next sunset or within 24 hours.
There is a mourning period before and after Muslim funerals take place and there are rules that have to be followed.
Hidaad, or mourning, for a close relative should only last three days. Following the guidelines about how that mourning should take shape helps relatives and loved ones deal with grief.
It is acceptable for mourners to weep, but loud crying and acting out during the mourning period are discouraged by the Islamic faith.
For women who have lost their husband, there’s a special mourning period. It’s called the Iddah and lasts four months and 10 days. During that time, they are not allowed to wear perfume or jewellery and can only leave their home for work and errands. Visiting friends and family is permitted, but the widow must return to her home to sleep. She also can’t remarry during the Iddah.
What happens at a Muslim funeral
At a Muslim funeral, it is usual for mourners to congregate at the mosque. They recite Ṣalāt al-Janāzah, the Islamic funeral prayer, which sees pardon for the deceased and all dead Muslims. During this recital, everyone faces towards Mecca, the holy centre of Islam, and forms at least three rows.
After the prayers, the body is transferred to the chosen burial site. For a Muslim burial, the grave should be perpendicular to Mecca and the deceased’s body positioned so their right side faces the Islamic holy city.
As the body is lowered into the grave, the congregation says a prayer. Wood or stones are laid down to prevent the body from touching the dirt.
Finally, each mourner places three handfuls of soil into the grave. Large or decorative headstones are not usually allowed, so a small marker or stone is left to identify their final resting place.
On average, an Islamic funeral lasts between 30 and 60 minutes. The Muslim funeral rites are led by an imam (an Islamic leader), and typically include funeral prayers and several readings from the Quran.
Islamic burial rituals
When it comes to burial vs. cremation, burying the dead is the only method prescribed. A number of burial rituals are also prescribed.
Funeral rites are very important for Muslims because they show respect for the dead, and include various ceremonies which people believe are necessary to ensure that the deceased go on to whatever their next life will be. In addition, they give relatives and friends of the deceased time to mourn and show their grief.
Some of the burial and funeral rites include:
- Preparing the body: It must be cleansed at least three times either by the spouse or same sex family member
- The body has to be cleansed in a particular order: It begins with the upper right side, then the upper left side, lower right side, and ending with the lower left side
- A woman’s hair is cleansed and put into three braids
- Shrouding the body: Three white sheets are first spread out and stacked one upon the other. The body is then placed on top of them. The left hand of the deceased is placed and the chest and the right hand is placed on top of it. The sheets are brought over the body one at a time, first the right side and then the left. A rope is tied at the top of the head and another below the feet. One or two ropes are tied around the middle of the body.
The Muslim funeral etiquette
Muslim funeral etiquette tips include:
- Men should wear a shirt and trousers
- Women should wear a headscarf, an ankle-length skirt, and a long-sleeved shirt
- Clean socks must be worn because your shoes have to be removed before the prayers
- Traditionally, only men would attend a Muslim funeral, however, some Muslim communities permit women to attend
- Photography or video recordings are not allowed
- There should be no loud emotional expressions or sacrilegious speeches
Islamic funeral prayers
Family and friends perform Ṣalāt al-Janāzah, the Islamic funeral prayer before the funeral takes place. Every male must participate, but women only participate if they are willing to do so.
During the Muslim funeral service, an Imam says prayers and recites from the Quran.
Planning a Muslim funeral in the UK
Islamic funeral rites and traditions are an important part of the Muslim community in the UK. Family members in charge of the funeral will typically contact their local Islamic organisations for assistance. Together they will look for a suitable funeral home or funeral director with experience arranging a Muslim funeral, often with direct links to the Mosque,
There is no viewing or visitation and mourners must attend their mosque’s prayer room to offer religious prayers for the deceased.
Discover more about the death rituals practised in the UK today.
Learn all about the different types of funeral services in the UK in our short guide.