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Understanding a Muslim funeral

Islam is the second largest religion in the world after Christianity – The word ‘Islam’ in Arabic means submission to the will of God, and the followers of Islam are called Muslims. While the Islamic faith holds some beliefs to be common, there are many different sects so the rituals and beliefs about death can vary. If you’ve been invited to a Muslim funeral, but you’re not sure about the etiquette involved, this short article will help you.

Islam and beliefs about death

In general, Islam teaches that there is life after death. This is known as Akhirah. The arrangements for an Islamic funeral are made very quickly, so that the body can be buried as soon as possible.

It may help you to know that the Islamic faith provides firm guidance on the appropriate funeral for a Muslim, so you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable if you’ve been invited to attend.

Cremation is prohibited. In most situations, the family will know which local Islamic organisation can help them to plan the ceremony – and which local funeral director has the experience they’ll need to help things go smoothly. Muslim funeral rites and the burial itself are led by an Islamic leader, known as an imam. They usually last for about an hour, although some ceremonies may take longer – again, this depends on the family’s tradition.

Most ceremonies follow the same pattern: the mourners start by gathering in the prayer or study room of the mosque to recite traditional funeral prayers. You may be invited to watch, but if you are not a Muslim then you won’t be expected to take part in these prayers. There will also be several readings from the Quran – don’t worry if you can’t follow these; simply listen to them and appreciate the serenity of their reading. However, during the prayers, everyone at the service must face towards Mecca. Follow the lead of others: the closest male relatives will be at the front of the service, in rows, with women and children behind them.

Rather, a Muslim is always buried after the body undergoes two sacred rituals, known as Ghusl (washing of the body by close family members of the same sex as the person who has died), and Kafan (the wrapping of the body with sheets). In contrast to Christian ceremonies, it is very unusual for there to be a viewing before a Muslim funeral service.

You may be surprised to learn that, after the funeral prayers have been said, only men will be allowed to attend the burial. The congregation will line up in rows and pass the coffin from shoulder to shoulder towards the gravesite. As the coffin is being lowered into the grave, the mourners will recite a prayer.

Attending a Muslim’s funeral

During the service, you’ll be invited to watch rather than try and take part. While the prayers are being said, and certainly while the coffin is being passed among the mourners, you should stay at a respectful distance. Follow the lead of others at the service and sit or stand when they do. 

Men and women are expected to dress modestly at a Muslim funeral, so common sense prevails: this usually means wearing a smart shirt and trousers for men, while women should wear ankle length skirts (rather than trousers), and long-sleeved tops. A headscarf is expected. You’ll be asked to remove your shoes before entering the prayer hall, and men may be asked to enter through one door and women through another.

Being respectful, taking advice

If you’re not sure about what’s expected of you, speak to the funeral director – or, respectfully, pay a visit to the mosque. There will always be someone there who can give you advice on what to wear and what’s expected of you on the day,

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