Muslim Burials

For followers of Islam, as with many other faiths, death is the end of life on this earth and the beginning of a life hereafter. For Muslims “Death is not final, but a temporary separation from the beloved person, who will be brought back to life on the Day of Judgement and, if God wills, be reunited with his family once more.”

Muslims’ particular requirements for the burial of the dead are often not met outside Islamic countries, and the necessity for them not understood within local communities. In Britain the Commission for Racial Equality has published a paper outlining measures that need to be taken by local authorities which also makes recommendations for central and local government. Some local councils have acted upon this advice and provide separate burial facilities in their cemeteries for non-Christians, but others still do not make any special provision and this sometimes leads to unnecessary distress for relatives.

The body must be ceremonially washed before burial. Many new mosques have a special section for this, although it requires special permission from the local authority. The funeral prayer Salat Al-Janazah is said either at the mosque or at the graveside. The body is then wrapped in one or two sheets of white cloth and laid in the grave. It is not traditional to have a coffin, although some people now do so considering the circumstances.

The finished grave must be raised from the ground between four and twelve inches, to prevent anyone walking or sitting on it, as this is strictly forbidden. The levelling of graves, practised in many cemeteries to make them easier to maintain, is also forbidden by the Muslim faith. There must be only one body in the grave and a simple headstone.

Reverts to Islam

There have been problems in the past when families have laid claim to a Muslim reverts body and have wished to dispose of it in a non-Islamic way. The Statutory Declaration has been introduced to prevent any disputes over disposal which may occur at the time of death. A revert to Islam simply fills in the Declaration which claims that treatment of the body should follow Islamic requirements and lodges it with a solicitor or local Mosque. This can then be presented if the nature of the disposal of the body is contested

The Declaration mentions details such as the avoidance of cremation, proper ghusl before burial, etc.  It also mentions that you want a Janazah prayer to be performed and your body must be buried in a Muslim cemetery. You may also put in a clause stating that you wish not to have an autopsy done on your body unless it is legally required.

A point that should be noted is that to attend the Janazah prayer and burial of a Muslim is Fard Kifayah, a religious obligation, which, if performed by a few Muslims absolves the rest of the community from this responsibility. If no one discharges the obligation, then the entire Muslim community is considered jointly accountable in the eyes of Allah.

Attending a Muslim Funeral – A Guide for Non-Muslims

As we are living a multicultural and multifaith society therefore it is important that we learn about each others customs and practices. This is a brief guide to help familiarise non-Muslims to the process that occurs when a Muslim dies. It may help those who want to pay their respects to a Muslim friend who has passed away or may want to attend the actual funeral, but do not know what to expect and what is considered appropriate.

Near Death

When a Muslim is near death, those around him or her are called upon to give comfort, and reminders of God’s mercy and forgiveness. They are encouraged to recite verses from the Holy Qur’an, and the dying may also recite words of prayer. It is recommended, for a Muslim’s last words to be the declaration of faith, that is, “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah.” However, there should be no coercion to recite this statement. Beyond this, efforts should be made to make the last moments as comfortable for the individual as possible. Offering water and physical comfort is recommended.
 

Upon death

Upon death, those with the deceased are encouraged to remain calm, pray for the departed, and begin preparations for burial. Grief is normal when one has lost a loved one, and it is natural and permitted to cry. One should strive to be patient and to remember that God is the One who gives life and takes it away – at a time He decides – and that it is not for us to question His wisdom.
 

The funeral

A loss of an individual is not just regarded as a loss to the family but to the whole Muslim community as well. For this reason, it is common for people who may not know an individual personally to attend his/her funeral. In fact Muslims are encouraged to attend any Muslim’s funeral due to the profound personal, social and spiritual significance of such an event.
 
Muslims strive to bury the deceased as soon as possible after death therefore it is not unusual for the deceased to be buried within 24 hours of their death. The main steps involved are washing the body of the deceased, shrouding it, performance of the funeral prayer and finally burial. The first two steps are performed only by selected relatives and community members due to the intimacy involved with the body. The funeral prayer is a Muslim ritual which must be performed by Muslims, though observers are welcome.
 

Etiquettes

There are also some matters regarding etiquette that one should be aware of when attending the funeral. Women from the Muslim faith commonly do not attend the funeral however should non Muslim women wish to attend the following advice should be noted:
 

Dress code

The dress code for Men and Women should be modest. This means a shirt and trousers for men and an ankle length skirt, which should not be tight or transparent, together with a long sleeved and high-necked top for the women. A headscarf is also essential for women. Shoes are removed before going into the prayer hall. Clean and presentable socks, stockings, or tights are therefore a good idea. 
 
The congregation will line up in rows behind the deceased coffin to perform the Funeral prayer. It should be noted here that the funeral prayer is performed for the deceased and not to the deceased. Following its completion the congregation will form two lines and pass the coffin from shoulder to shoulder taking it towards the grave site. Visitors are welcome to follow the congregation as they move the coffin towards the grave however a short distance should be kept thereby allowing the congregation walking space to carry the coffin. Once at the grave the coffin will be lowered, usually by members of the family, and the gravesite filled. The Imam will then say a few final prayers at the graveside and following this, the congregation will disperse. The immediate members of the family will most likely remain at the graveside for a short while longer; this may be an opportune time for visitors to convey their condolences if they so wish.
                                                                                                                
It should be noted that grief and the way it is handled is dependant on people’s cultural influences and therefore the above advice should be treated as general guidance.

Preparing for Grief

The death of someone close to us is the most severe stressor imaginable. Bereavement brings a high risk of mental and physical health problems for a long time afterward.

Grieving is a completely natural process, but it can be profoundly painful and distressing.

Occasionally we are aware in advance that someone is reaching the end of his or her life, and in this case the experience of grieving partly begins before their death occurs.

To a certain extent it is impossible to be prepared for the loss of a loved one. It is a time of overwhelming emotions. Despite these feelings, however, it may be possible to plan ahead for this difficult time, particularly to ease any practical issues surrounding the eventual death. This can help reduce the complications in the first hours and days of bereavement, and also later as you struggle to carry on. Taking action in advance can be comforting because you are able just to cope with the circumstances without the added pressure to “get yourself together” and sort things out.

  • Build a network of caring people. Family friends, neighbors, colleagues and strangers in a self-help group who have “been there” can give support. Let the people close to you know what you’re going through and warn them that you may soon need more support than usual, or not to be offended if you don’t contact them for a while.

  • Knowing when to ask for help is important and so is being allowed to be alone with your thoughts. One of the keys to coping is to consider bereavement as a normal natural part of life which can be a topic of conversation without fear or discomfort.

  • Look after yourself physically. Try to eat well and get plenty of rest. It is very easy to overlook your physical needs when you are busy dealing with everything that has to be done surrounding a death or struggling with grief.You may have difficulty getting to sleep, and your sleep may be disturbed by vivid dreams and long periods of wakefulness. You may also lose your appetite; feel tense and short of breath, or drained and lethargic. Don’t try to do too much.

  • If possible, speak to your boss about having time off work or at least delegating some of your workload to a colleague. Gather information on the financial and legal aspects of bereavement in advance, so you feel less overwhelmed.

  • Prepare children by explaining the situation and how they are likely to feel at the time of the death and afterward. Warn them if any practical arrangements are going to change. Think about whether to find a specially-trained counselor to help them, and keep their school informed.

Emotionally, you will be getting used to the idea of the loss, but this may happen gradually, in fits and starts. It is often not as simple as it sounds, especially if you have known the person for a long time. You may switch between talking rationally about the situation, then have a sudden surge of hope that the person will recover.

Talking about the future loss may help you get used to the reality of the death and work through some of the pain. Remember it isn’t morbid to talk about death, and it’s sensible to be prepared for it as far as possible. At times, you may be the person who can support others also affected by the loss. As you do this you will probably, slowly, find a way of imagining life after the loss, with the person in your thoughts and memories.

Depression is a natural part of grief, and usually lifts of its own accord. But if it doesn’t, you may begin to worry that you are becoming clinically depressed. This can be treated and there are different ways of getting through it, which you could discuss with your doctor.

Taking Bodies Abroad

Taking bodies abroad for burial is discouraged. The main reason for this being that a process of embalming has to be undertaken in order to preserve the body.

Another reason being, that the actual transportation of a deceased body in access of a few miles is prohibited by a number of institutions of Jurisprudence. Taking this ruling into account it is imperative that an early burial is facilitated.

This process of temporary preservation involves the removal of blood and its replacement with a fluid (made up of chemical substances). At this point it has to be noted that the fluid used to replace the blood contains traces of alcohol.

Modern embalming methods now consist primarily of removing all blood and gases from the body and the insertion of a disinfecting fluid. Small incisions are made in either the carotid or femoral artery and the jugular or femoral vein; the disinfecting fluid is injected through the carotid or femoral artery, and the blood is drained from the jugular or femoral vein.

The above method of embalming described is clearly disturbing and we would like to point out that to a degree it is also tantamount to desecration of the body, hence not permissible in Islam.

Should Someone Pass Away At Home

  • Contact the family General Practitioner.
  • Contact the relatives and immediate family.
  • Contact the police if the death was violent, accidental, unexpected, if there are unusual circumstances or if the cause of death is not known. If the police are called, do not touch or move anything in the home
  • Contact the local mosque who will guide you to the responsible individual who will assist.
  • If the dead person wanted to donate their body, or body parts (such as organs), you will need to contact a doctor quickly.
  • Contact a Muslim funeral director and respective mosque. Depending on the wishes of the deceased and immediate family.
  • Register the death at a local Registrars office, by appointment.
  • Find out if there is a will, and implement the deceased wishes.

Should someone pass away in Hospital / Hospice

In the majority of cases the loved ones are usually around the relative who is about to pass away. In certain cases the Charge hand / Nurse or the police will contact the nearest relative or next of kin and arrange for them to attend the hospital. If you are the nearest relative or next of kin, you may be asked to:

  • Identify the body, if the person was not a patient of the hospital.
  • Consider authorising a post-mortem examination, although such authorisation is not needed when a post-mortem is legally required.
  • Provide the documents needed to allow you to take away any personal possessions.
  • Tell the hospital staff if you know that the person wanted to donate parts of their body for transplantation.
  • Contact a Muslim funeral director and respective mosque. Depending on the wishes of the deceased and immediate family.
  • Find out if there is a will, and if so, where it is and who is responsible for dealing with it.
  • Get a medical certificate/ cause of death certificate.
  • Register the death at a local Registrars office, by appointment.

Should the individual have passed away testate then follow his / her instructions according to his /her last will and testimony.

THE PROCURATOR FISCAL

(The role of the Procurator Fiscal)

The Procurator Fiscal has a duty to investigate all sudden, suspicious, accidental, unexpected and unexplained deaths and any death occurring in circumstances that give rise to serious public concern. Where a death is reported, the Procurator Fiscal will investigate the circumstances of the death, attempt to find out the cause of the death and consider whether criminal proceedings or a Fatal Accident Inquiry is appropriate. In the majority of cases reported to the procurator Fiscal, early enquiries rule out suspicious circumstances and establish that the death was due to natural causes.

Deaths are usually brought to the attention of the Procurator Fiscal through reports from the police, the Registrar, GPs or hospital doctors. However, anyone who has concerns about the circumstances of a death can report it to the Procurator Fiscal. There are certain categories of deaths that must be enquired into, but the Procurator Fiscal may enquire into any death brought to his/her notice.

The first task for the Procurator Fiscal is to find out the cause of death. The police will provide full information about the circumstances of the death. They will normally interview relatives and others who can provide information about the circumstances of the death.