Death and Funeral Rituals

Islam sees death not as an end to life but rather as the beginning of the world to come. Muslims recognize that all creatures will die and believe that God determines our time and place of death. “Every soul shall have a taste of death; in the end to Us shall you be brought back…. Nor does any one know in what land he is to die. Verily, with Allah is full knowledge, and He is acquainted with all things” (Qur'an 29:57, 31:34).

Death Rites

Muslims see death as a natural event, and they prefer to face death in the company of family and friends, not among strangers in a sterile medical ward. When a Muslim nears death, his loved ones gather around to help him turn his thoughts to God, encourage him to repent his sins, remind him about the good things he did during his life, and give him hope about the mercy of God. They may also prompt him, very gently, to utter words of faith as his last words.

After death has been confirmed, those present close the eyes of the deceased, cover the body with a clean sheet, and supplicate God to forgive him for anything he did wrong during his life. They then hasten to prepare the body for washing, shrouding, and burial.

It is common in some Muslim countries to declare a 40-day national mourning period upon the death of a dignitary. This practice has no basis in Islam. The mourning period in Islam is limited to three days, except in the case of a widow mourning her husband's death.

Islamic Burial

Muslims strive to bury the dead as soon as possible after death, and many Islamic burials occur within twenty-four hours. Family members or other members of the Muslim community care for the deceased. They wash the body several times with water, following the same general process as in the ablutions for prayer. In the final wash, perfume or camphor is added to the water. Finally, the body is dried with a towel and shrouded in plain white cloths.

According to a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims may bequeath up to one-third of their estate in a written will to any person or organization of their choosing. In addition, transfers of estate may be done at any time during a person's lifetime. These amounts are not included in the inheritance calculations.

At the time of burial, Muslims gather to pray the funeral prayer, called salaat-l-janazah. This is a congregational prayer during which worshipers ask God for forgiveness and mercy for the deceased. The congregation gathers in front of the body, standing in rows. The funeral prayer is said silently except for a few words. After the prayer, the body is transferred directly to the cemetery for burial.

Muslims prefer simple and natural burials. If permitted by local law, the deceased is buried without even a casket. The shrouded body is placed in the grave resting on the right side, facing Mecca. Muslim cemeteries are characterized by simplicity, humility, and economy. One will not find ornate monuments or elaborate floral displays. A grave is usually marked with a simple stone marker, level to the ground.

The official mourning period in Islam is three days. For widows, this period is extended to four months and ten days, as described in the Qur'an (2:234). The Prophet Muhammad advised his followers to be humble and patient in mourning. Grief at the death of a loved one is natural, but Muslims are not to despair or lose faith.

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