Do Muslims Cremate or Bury?

In a Muslim funeral in Australia, the deceased is buried in white cotton shroud, according to custom.
... Don Arnold/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The Quran says, "We have ordained death among you and We are not to be overcome, that We may change your state and grow into what you know not." This statement suggests that for Muslims, death is not an end but a transformation. Muslim burial practices focus on preparing the body for entrance into a purer, more holy form of existence. The body of the deceased must be buried intact and never cremated or harmed in any way.

1 Death and Islam

Islamic teachings state that people should always be mindful of their impending death, as it will help them see life as a transient state and look forward to their exit from this world with joy. A Muslim is commanded to spend his energy preparing for his eternal life, rather than focusing on acquiring belongings in this world.

Although focus of Islamic spiritual life is on the hereafter, the body is also considered a gift from God to be honored and kept pure. Ritual washing and purification occurs both upon entering this world and exiting it.

2 Muslim Burial Practices

After death, a loved one washes the deceased's body and wraps it in a specific way. After the body is prepared, an Imam says prayers for the deceased with family, friends and members of the community present. A procession to the grave then follows. If required by local law, the body is placed into a casket, otherwise it is buried only in a shroud. Family members lower the body and everyone present pours three handfuls of soil onto the grave before it is filled and a stone slab is placed at the foot.

3 Why Cremation is Forbidden

For Muslims, the human body is to be respected, alive or dead. Burying the deceased bestows honor and respect on that person, and harming a dead person is the same as harming the living. Throughout a Muslim funeral, the body is handled with extreme care. Cremation completely destroys the deceased's body. It is therefore forbidden.

4 Current Concerns

In some urban areas, there is limited room for cemeteries, and the public is pressured to choose cremation. In India, where 80 percent of the population traditionally cremates their dead, Muslim communities are having difficulty finding land to use as cemeteries and even keeping control of land that they already own. If Muslims in these areas are forced to abandon their burial customs they will have violated a major tenet of their religion.

Amy Wilde has worked as a grant developer, copy editor, writing tutor and writer. Based in Portland, Ore., she covers topics related to society, religion and culture. Wilde holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and classical civilization from the University of Toronto.