A guide to Muslim funeral rites

June 24, 2014

When someone of the Muslim faith dies, tradition dictates that the burial process be started as soon as possible. Here's what you need to know.

A guide to Muslim funeral rites

First steps

First, the family should make contactwith a local Islamic organization to locate a funeral homefamiliar with Muslim funerals. Family members or friends then determine if the deceased is an organ donor. While organ donation is commonly accepted by Muslims, autopsies are not. The family will usually say no if officials ask for an autopsy to be performed.

The body of the deceased cannot be transported long distances because Islamic law dictates that the body should not be embalmed. Often, local laws supersede this tradition, requiring the body to be embalmed. The funeral director will know the local laws. Cosmetology on the body is also strictly prohibited. The deceased must be laid to rest in a natural state. Cremation is also not an option for a Muslim, and is strictly forbidden by Sharia law.

Body preparation includes washing of the body by same-sex family members or the spouse only. In a ritual known as "ghusl," the body must be washed three times, and it takes place in a specific order. The upper right side is first, followed by the upper left side of the body. The lower right side is cleansed, and then the lower left side. A woman's hair must be washed and braided into three braids. After the body has been cleansed, it is covered in a white sheet until it's time for it to be dressed.

Laying to rest

The body is laid across three sheets on top of each other. Women are dressed in an ankle-length dress with a head veil is placed over their hair. Men are simply dressed. The deceased's left hand is placed over his chest, and the right hand is placed on top of the left to symbolize prayer. The sheets are then wrapped around the body. The left side of the first sheet is folded over, followed by the right side. Then the left side of the second sheet is folded over, followed by the right side. The last sheet is folded around the body in a similar fashion. The sheets that shroud the body are secured by one rope tied above the head, two ropes tied around the body and one below the feet.

After preparation, the body is taken to the mosque for funeral prayers. Upon completion of the prayer service, the body is transported to the cemetery. Usually only men are present for the body's interment, but sometimes, the family allows both male and female family members to be present. The body is placed in the grave on its right side. Sticks or stones are laid over the body so it does not come in contact with soil. Local laws may require the body to be buried in a casket. Finally, a plain marker is erected.

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