Funeral rites vary tremendously from culture to culture and religion to religion. From practices and customs to wardrobe and etiquette, there is a lot to know about the proceedings of funerals for people of any nationality or spiritual belief. If you are planning a funeral for a Muslim friend or family member, or even if you are only attending an Islamic funeral, there is much you need to know. This simple guide will explain the basics of Islamic care for the dying and funeral services.
Before death, as in many religions, the friends and family of the dying are called to them to offer comfort and support. They may select and recite passages from the holy book of Islam, the Qur'an, they may pray for the dying, or they may simply speak to them with kind words in order to ease their suffering. If at all possible, the last words of the dying should reflect their faith in God. Following death, preparations are made for the funeral. It is during this time that loved ones turn to each other for comfort and support. They must not scream or yell, and should remain still. This reflects a respect for the deceased and for God.
The eyes of the deceased will be closed and the body will be covered with a sheet. It is important to Muslims that the bodies of the dead be buried as soon as possible after death. It is for this reason that they do not embalm the bodies. Exceptions will be made for autopsies, but these are reserved only for outstanding circumstances. Before the burial, the friends and family of the deceased will ritually wash the body. This will be performed with perfumed water and the utmost respect. After the washing is complete, the body will be wrapped in a kafan, sheets of clean, white cloth. These steps will be skipped if the deceased died a martyr. If this is the case, then they will be buried in the same clothes in which they died.
Next, the funeral prayers will be administered. This is performed by an imam facing away from the gathered family and friends. This takes place in a public place, giving the community an opportunity to honor the dead. After the prayers, the body will be transported to the burial site. It is generally preferred that a Muslim be buried in the same place in which he died, as to transport the body would delay the burial and possibly necessitate embalming. The body is lowered into the ground without a casket, if permitted. The body rests on its right side, facing Mecca. No tombstones or other markers are erected above the grave. Mourning proceeds for three days. Widows mourn for an extended period lasting four months and ten days.