Islam possesses distinct rituals for burying its dead and relies foremost upon its holy book, the Quran, for proper funerary protocol. The Hadith, or views of Muhammad, and the Muslim scholars known as Ulama, provide further influence on Islamic funerary ritual. Despite the firm rules of Islamic burial, Muslim culture does allow small modifications when a corpse’s state of decomposition or other circumstances prevent a common burial.
The Shahada, or testimony of faith, is typically pronounced as one is dying. It is a testament to the dying one’s earnest belief in Allah and Muhammad the prophet. Excerpts from Surah 36, a portion of the Quran on death and resurrection, may also be recited. Meanwhile, the dying one’s face is turned to face Mecca. It is commonly believed that the moments before death are a time of confusion and pain as Satan makes one last attempt to convince the believer to denounce his faith shortly before dying.
With water from a lote tree, the body of the deceased is washed an odd number of times by those of the same sex. To protect the dignity of the deceased, the washing is done under a sheet and then sprinkled with camphor scented liquid. Men are fully wrapped in three white clothes, often those used for their Hajj, or holy journey to Mecca. Women are covered in a wraparound, head covering shift, and two shrouds. Preparation rites may change depending on the local culture of the Muslim population. Hausa Muslims of West Africa, for example, may allow the wife or husband of the deceased to wash the body, foregoing the strict same sex restriction.
Whether held at the home of the deceased or at a mosque, all adherents are required to have the same burial rights. Muslim custom designates that the deceased are buried without a coffin, although they may be carried to the burial site in one. However, in certain regions, Muslims may amend the rule to abide by local law. Since it’s believed that two angels of death will interrogate the deceased while he sits up in his grave, a funeral prayer is read as preparation. Next, individuals recite funerary prayers while throwing dirt unto the grave that is leveled afterward.
Decomposition and Funerary Rites
Islamic laws require that bodies are buried within 24 hours. Although laws of the country where the Muslim resides may require an autopsy, they are generally discouraged. It is thought that bodies are not to be interfered with after death. In the event where a Muslim soldier’s body may have sat enduring decomposition, he is not washed and nor would he receive prayers during the burial process. He is believed to be purified through his act as a martyr and may even be buried while stained with blood. In the case of severely decomposed laypersons that can’t be washed, purified water may be poured over the body. If such is not feasible, Tayammum, a ritual cleansing using dust rather than water, can be used. Taymmum is also commonly used in areas that lack sufficient water.
- Encyclopedia of Islam, Juan E. Campo
- Islam: A Guide for Jews and Christians, F.E. Peters
- Essential Islam: A Comprehensive Guide to Belief and Practice, Diane Morgan
- Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures: Family, Body, Sexuality : Volume 3, Suad Joseph and Afsāna Naǧmābādī Eds.
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