an illustration of a mosque
Dead Serious

What are Islamic funeral and burial practices?

Dead Serious

What are Islamic funeral and burial practices?

How adherents of the Islamic faith say goodbye to their loved ones.

In Arabic, “Alhamdulillah” means “All praise is due to Allah”. The recitation of this word is itself a central part of the Muslim way of life, one of the fastest growing religions on the planet. There are approx. 3 – 4 million Muslims living in the US currently, and numbers suggest that Muslims will comprise the second largest religious group in the country by 2040.

Ever since death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE, Islam as a religion has spread far and wide across the planet. One foot remains set in the traditions of the world of the prophet and of Mecca, while the other marches forward to new futures and possibilities. Funerals are no different.

The process of Islamic funerals and burials are set forth in the Qur’an, the holy text of the Islamic faith, as well as the myriad of cultural traditions established in the time of the prophet. At its core, the traditions of funerals and burials center community, for while death is a sad occasion, it is also a moment for reflection.

In the Islamic tradition, when someone dies, they are buried as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours of death. There are no viewings or wakes, and the body isn’t embalmed or preserved in any way except for being covered by a white cloth. There also aren’t cremations, as it is believed that on the Day of Judgment people will return to their bodies once again.

Let’s take a deeper look at some of the practices of burial in the Islamic faith.

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  1. Burial preparation
  2. Islamic funeral
  3. Islamic burial
  4. After the funeral
  5. Costs of an Islamic funeral

Burial preparation

Upon death, the face is turned towards Mecca and hands are placed at the side. The first act is the ritual washing of the body called ghusl, or more specifically ghusl mayyit, which is the ritual purification of a dead body. The body is washed three times, so as to purify it for the meeting with God.

Under tradition, the body is wrapped in three types of clothing: a shirt, a loincloth, and a shroud called a kafan, which can be up to seven feet long. Modern day funerals may have the deceased dressed in their own clothes as well, but the kafan is the important part. The kafan is done so that the deceased can look presentable when taken up to heaven.

Islamic funeral

Once the body is prepared, they are taken to the mosque for the funeral. Oftentimes the body will be in a coffin, so as not to disturb the purity of the mosque itself. People who are in attendance are permitted to mourn, but excessive displays of emotion are typically frowned upon, though this varies depending on culture and community.

At the funeral, there is a prayer called the Salat al-Janazah. The prayer is not just for the deceased at the singular funeral at the time, but for all deceased people. As we are all destined to die at some point, Islamic teachings direct that adherents must reflect on how we want our passing to be viewed. For Muslims, in order to be taken care of, one must be aware of how they care for others, alive or dead.

Islamic burial

While bodies are carried in coffins through the mosque, when it comes to burials, the body is removed and buried directly into the earth on its side. This is done so as to not disturb or pollute the ground.

Graves themselves are pointed towards Mecca, the holy site of the Islamic faith and location of the Masjid al-Haram, the holiest mosque. When lowered into the ground, three handfuls of dirt are poured into the grave. A prayer is recited, “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” (It sounds even better in Arabic).

After the funeral

Muslims will perform a washing after a funeral to cleanse and purify themselves. The general mourning period is three days, (though for widows the period can go up to 4 lunar months) during which the community comes to the aid of the immediate family, taking care of any chores that need attention. During these visits, people may speak aloud prayers and offer condolences, as socialization is important during difficult times.

Costs of an Islamic funeral

American funeral customs can often provide complications for Islamic burials. As Americans prefer to do viewings and wakes, coroners and hospitals often hesitate to release bodies so suddenly after death. And often, funeral homes won’t bury bodies without a coffin.

There are Islamic funeral homes which provide such services and can help families coordinate when a loved one passes. As such, the price of an Islamic funeral is dependent on the funeral home you choose to work with. The Islamic Foundation in Illinois, for example, estimates that total funeral costs can amount anywhere between $5,000 to $8,000, whereas the Islamic Society of Baltimore estimates funeral costs just under $5,000. It all comes down to the type of funeral you want to have for your loved one, and which provider you go with.

For Muslims, death is not taboo. Since only Allah (God) knows when each person is to die, it is the responsibility of the individual to behave righteously and morally. Doing so is said to prepare the self, spiritually, for periods of strife. It is said that the Prophet Muhammad once said, “be in the world as if you are a stranger or a traveller,” a reminder to note take anything, even life itself, for granted.

The opinions we expressed in this post are for general informational purposes only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations.