Death Beliefs & Rituals of Islam
Islam teaches that death is not the end of a person’s existence. Rather, it acts as a passageway to connect one to the afterlife. A person’s ultimate destination – either paradise or hell – is determined by an individual’s actions during life, and whether he or she lived in a way that was pleasing to Allah. The five pillars of Islam – believing in Allah, performing ritual prayers, paying alms, fasting during the month of Ramadan and traveling to Mecca – are a guide of practices that a Muslim must adhere to in order to live life according to the teachings of Islam.
1 Beliefs about Life after Death
The Quran teaches that human beings will be resurrected on the Last Day, when the world will be destroyed and Allah will judge humanity. Until that time, Muslims believe the souls of the deceased will remain in their graves, either in peace or suffering depending on whether the souls are bound for paradise or hell. The Quran outlines two exceptions to this rule: martyrs who die fighting for the causes of Allah are said to be admitted directly into God’s presence after death, while enemies of Islam are reportedly immediately sentenced to hell, according to the Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project.
2 Rituals before Death
When death is approaching, the dying person should be lying on his or her back so that the soles of the feet face the direction of Mecca (assuming that such a placement would not cause pain or discomfort). It is also recommended that, if possible, the dying person repeat the Shahadah (“There is not true god except Allah”), a declaration of faith in Islam. After death, a family member should close the eyes and mouth of the deceased, wash the body and prepare it for burial.
3 Preparation of the Body
Soon after death, family members will wash the body and wrap it in a white shroud for burial. Traditionally, men will wash other men and women other women, with exceptions only for the case of a husband and wife or small children. Muslims prefer to bury the bodies of the dead directly in the earth, instead of using a casket, according to the BBC. It is preferable for immediate family members to prepare the body for burial.
4 Funeral Rites
Muslims aim to bury the body of the deceased no later than three days after death. After members of the community gather for the funeral prayer, where they offer their collective prayers for the forgiveness of the dead, the body is taken for burial. Prayers are recited while the body is lowered into the ground, and then three handfuls of earth (prayers are recited with each handful) are thrown into the grave. Islam encourages the use of modest grave markers instead of elaborate tombstones. Cremation of the body is forbidden by Islam, which teaches that destroying the body in such a way will prevent its resurrection on the Day of Judgment.