Although there are differences by country and even within one country, in general, Muslim women can go to burials. They have a distinctive period of mourning and are encouraged to say prayers for their loved ones. Although Islamic faith dictates that women and men are equal, participating in some aspects of the burial ritual are discouraged for women, so both men and women can avoid Fitnah, or bodily temptations.
Women play an important part in burial preparations after a loved one dies. Immediately after death, the departed’s eyes are closed and the body is covered in a clean, white sheet. The body is nearly always washed by a person of the same gender as the deceased, so a woman would not wash a male body, unless he was her child or husband. Women participate in Hidaad, a three-day mourning period in which they weep; the mourning women are discouraged from crying or wailing loudly, out of a desire to remain humble and a fear they'll upset the dead, who Muslims believe can hear them crying. Women who are grieving their husband's death observe the Iddah, a special period of mourning, which lasts four months and 10 days.
The body is typically interred within 24 hours after it is prepared. Once the body is ritualistically shrouded, it is carried to the gravesite via a funeral procession, much like in Christian culture. Some Imams believe that women should be forbidden from participating in a funeral procession. Others believe it is permissible for a woman to participate, as long as she doesn't do anything Haram, or forbidden. Examples of forbidden behaviors include pulling her hair, slapping her face or ululating, which are discouraged but still seen sometimes at Muslim funerals.
Women are not required to go to funerals, especially if they are in Hidaad and do not want to leave the house. Some Imams forbid women from being at the gravesite during the funeral and others encourage the practice. If women attend the funeral, they participate in the prayer service, which involves silent prayer, followed by a prayer to the Prophet Muhammad, followed by three prayers for the deceased. At the funeral, men stand in the first row, children stand in the second row and women stand in the third row, farthest from the grave. This practice separates the men from the women to prevent distractions.
Some Imams prohibit women from visiting gravesites because they would be alone and vulnerable. Others allow older women to visit, but not younger women. Still others recommend younger women visit to pray at the monuments of deceased prophets, Imams and other wise people. Modern Muslim women are encouraged to visit their loved ones' graves, while more conservative Imams forbid it, based on a belief that women visiting graves will be cursed, causing Fitnah to others or themselves.
- Quran: Surat Al-Mumtaĥanah
- Search Quran and Hadith: Bukhari: Funerals (Al-Janaa'iz)
- Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine: Death and Dying -- A Muslim Perspective
- The Logic of Law Making in Islam: Women and Prayer in the Legal Tradition; Behnam Sadeghi
- Islam Questions and on Women Praying the Janaazah (Funeral) Prayer
- On Islam: Women Accompanying Funeral Procession
- Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images