Common Islamic Burial Rituals
Burial rituals should normally take place as soon as possible and include:
- Bathing the dead body.
- Enshrouding dead body in a white cotton or linen cloth.
- Funeral prayer.
- Burial of the dead body in a grave.
- Positioning the deceased so that the head is faced towards Mecca (Makkah Al-Mukarramah).
Bathing the Deceased
The corpse is washed (ghusl bathed), the purpose is to physically cleanse the corpse. The exact manner: the method, style and accessories used for bathing the corpse may vary from locale and temporal position. However the deceased is bathed, it is an essential ritual of the Sunnah of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and therefore a part of the Islamic Sharia. Ideally, this occurs as soon as possible, within hours of the actual death.
The orthodox practice is that the body is washed while a cloth is put on top of it. The water is then poured over the body with the cloth on the body. The genitals should be covered at all times.
The “washers” are commonly the same gender as the deceased and immediate family members. In the case of violent death, or accident where the deceased has suffered trauma or mutilation, morgue facilities accommodate this practice and mend or pack the body in a shroud (so there is minimal blood or fluid leakage (which would distress the mourners)) prior to the body of the departed being surrendered to the mourners.
Enshrouding the Deceased
The corpse is typically wrapped in a simple plain cloth (the kafan). This is done to respect the dignity and privacy of the deceased. The specifics of this ritual, including the material, style, and color of the cloth, may vary across regions. However, the shroud should be simple and modest. It is for this reason that Muslims have generally preferred to use white cotton cloth to serve as the shroud. Some perfume may be applied to the cloth as well.
The deceased may be kept in this state for several hours, allowing well-wishers to pass on their respects and condolences.
If the corpse must be transported to be buried, and the duration to burial is greater than a day (especially if the departed died overseas, or the next of kin is domiciled overseas) there is no major issue, as long as the corpse has been adequately cleaned, refrigerated and embalmed.
The Muslims of the community gather to offer their collective prayers for the forgiveness of the dead. This prayer has been generally termed as the Salat al-Janazah (Janazah prayer).
The Janazah prayer is as follows:
- like Eid prayer, the Janazah prayer is incorporates an additional (four) Takbirs, the Arabic name for the phrase Allahu Akbar, but there is no Ruku’ (bowing) and Sujud (prostrating).
- Supplication for the deceased and mankind is recited.
- Dogma states it is obligatory for every Muslim adult male to perform the funeral prayer upon the death of any Muslim, but the dogma embraces the practical in that it qualifies, when Janazah is performed by the few it alleviates that obligation for all.
Grave of a Muslim
The deceased is then taken for burial (al-Dafin). The exact manner, customs and style of the grave, the burial and so forth may vary by regional custom. The Islamic directive is simply that a respectful burial in the ground be observed.
Ideally, the grave itself should be aligned parallel to the Qibla (i.e. towards Mecca). The body is placed directly into an open grave without a casket. Grave markers should be raised only up to a maximum of 12 inches (30 cm) above the ground. Thus Grave markers are simple, because outwardly lavish displays are discouraged in Islam. Many times graves may even be unmarked, or marked only with a simple wreath. However, it is becoming more common for family members to erect grave monuments.
In Middle Eastern cultures women are generally discouraged from participating in the funeral procession. The reason for this is that in pre-Islamic Arabia it was customary in Arabia for grieving women to wail loudly. Wealthy families often even hired ‘wailers’ to attend the funerals of their deceased relative. Wailing at funerals is not permitted in Islam.
The body is laid such that it is facing the direction of the Qibla.
Three fist-sized spheres of hand-packed soil (prepared beforehand by the gravediggers) are used as props, one under the head, one under the chin and one under the shoulder. The lowering of the corpse, and positioning of the soil-balls is done by the next of kin. In the case of a departed husband, the male brother or brother-in-law usually performs this task. In the case of a departed wife, the husband undertakes this (if physically able). If the husband is elderly, then the eldest male son (or son-in-law) is responsible for lowering, alignment and propping the departed.
The orthodoxy expects those present to symbolically pour three handfuls of soil into the grave while reciting a Quranic verse in Arabic meaning “We created you from it, and return you into it, and from it We will raise you a second time”. More prayers are then said, asking for forgiveness of the deceased, and reminding the dead of their profession of faith.
In a Tatar Muslim cemetery
The corpse is then fully buried by the gravediggers, who may stamp or pat down the grave to shape. Commonly the eldest male will supervise. After the burial, the Muslims who have gathered to pay their respects to the dead, collectively pray for the forgiveness of the dead. This collective prayer is the last formal collective prayer for the dead. In some cultures eg South East Asian Muslims, the surviving members of the deceased scatter flowers and perfumed rose water upon the grave as the last action prior to leaving the grave.