With every religion comes a unique approach to death, mourning, and funerals – and the Muslim religion is no different. According to Islam, the date and time of a person’s death is predetermined; Allah (God, in Islam) has chosen the exact moment in time for a person to pass away. In other words, death happens for a reason, and it only occurs when the time is right.
In Islam, when family and friends know a loved one’s death is imminent, it is customary for them to all be with the person as they pass away. After the person has passed, Muslim funeral arrangements are organised straight away because, according to Islamic Law, one must be buried as soon as possible following their death.
So, if you’ve recently lost a friend or family member who’ll be buried according to Islamic and Muslim traditions, chances are you won’t be waiting too long to hear about the funeral’s time and place. Which means that if you aren’t all to familiar with traditional Muslim funeral customs, now’s the perfect time to get acquainted.
Here’s a quick guide.
The Ghusl and the Kafan
Have we already lost you? Freaking out because those words don’t exactly sound familiar? Don’t worry, friend. We’ve got you.
‘Ghusl’ is an Arabic term used to describe the process of purifying a person’s body before they’re prepared for burial. During the Ghusl, family members who were close to the deceased person (and are of the same sex as the deceased) wash the body in pure water. Usually, the body is washed three times, but some families add in a few extra washes (and this isn’t entirely uncommon).
After the body has been washed at least three times, the Kafan process occurs. This is where the family members cover and wrap the deceased person in large sheets. The type and colour of the material used varies according to each family’s customs (usually it depends on which regional customs they follow). Men are buried with three sheets, and women are buried with five. Women are also traditionally dressed in an ankle-length dress and a head veil before being buried.
Wondering if you can view the body prior to the funeral?
Well, we hate to break it to you (if viewing bodies before they’re buried is your thing), but you can’t. This is mostly due to a body needing to be buried as soon as possible, so delaying the proceedings to view the deceased is prohibited.
The Muslim funeral service
A Muslim funeral service lasts between 30 to 60 minutes, and is led by an Islamic leader known as an ‘imam’. A range of prayers are recited, and all attendees are asked to form at least three rows, facing Mecca. The closest male relative is always positioned in the very front row, and then behind him stand all other male mourners, children, and women.
While loud wailing is customary at some funerals, it isn’t the case at Muslim funerals. Loud crying, wailing and exhibiting extreme emotions is not permitted during the funeral. Recording any parts of the funeral or taking photos is also not permitted.
After the funeral prayers are recited, the community lines up to pass the coffin from shoulder to shoulder; moving the coffin towards the grave site in preparation for burial. If you’re a non-Muslim community member, we recommend taking a respectful step back at this point and allowing the congregation to do the passing.
While the person is being lowered into the grave, all mourners recite a prayer before stones and wood are placed on top (it is forbidden to decorate a Muslim grave with items such as flowers). Then they listen to the imam recite another prayer, and all present community members close off the ceremony by throwing a handful of soil into the grave.
Who can attend the burial?
Usually only men are allowed to attend the burial site, however, some communities do allow women to attend the burial. It really just depends on the bereaved family, their community, and their traditions.
What to wear to the funeral
Our top tip? Dress modestly. Men should wear a shirt and trousers, and women should wear ankle-length skirts, long-sleeved and high-neck tops, and a headscarf. Ensuring that no clothing is too short, revealing, tight or see-through is important.
And, while you might be um-ing and ah-ing about which pair of shoes will perfectly match your funeral getup, we’d recommend not overthinking it. You’ll need to remove your shoes before entering the mosque’s prayer room, so focussing your attention on wearing presentable hole-free, matching socks should probably be a priority. (You can thank us later for warning you about that).
After the Muslim funeral service
According to Muslim tradition, friends of the family and the deceased should send flowers and food to the family’s home after the funeral service. The mourning period lasts for 40 days, and it’s common for friends and members of the wider community to continue bringing both food and flowers to the family throughout this entire period, or for – at least – the first three days.
If you’re attending a Muslim funeral in the coming days (or maybe even today), we hope this guide has helped educate you a little more about the funeral process, the appropriate clothing (and socks) to wear, and what to expect when you attend the burial site. Every culture and religion has their own way of approaching death, burial, and the mourning process, so don’t be afraid to ask for tips if you aren’t completely sure about how things work – being respectful to both the deceased and their family is always what’s most important.
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