Views and practices vary between the two main sects within Islam (Shi’a and Sunni) but Muslims commonly believe that entry into Paradise on the Day of Judgement (the “Last Day”) is attained through the good deeds one does in one’s life. Until then, the dead will remain in their tombs, experiencing either peace, for those heading to Paradise, or suffering, for those heading to Hell.
Preparing the Body
The body is washed (“Ghusi”) at least three times (and always an odd number of times) by members of the same sex (although the spouse may perform the washing) and wrapped in a shroud (“Kafan”). Washing takes place in a specific order: upper right side, upper left side, lower right side, lower left side. Women’s hair is washed and braided into three braids and, if possible, they should be dressed in an ankle-length, sleeveless dress and head veil. The body is then be covered in a white sheet. The shroud is made of three white sheets laid on top of each other. The body is placed on top of the sheets and the left hand should rest on the chest and the right hand on the left hand, in a position of prayer. The sheets are folded over the body one by one, first the right side, then the left, until all three sheets encase the body. The shroud is secured by ropes, one tied above the head, two tied around the body, and one tied below the feet.
The Funeral Service
According to Islamic law (“shariah”), burial should take place as soon as possible after death, so there is no viewing. The local Islamic community organisation will help make arrangements for the service and the burial.
After being prepared, the body is taken to the mosque and funeral prayers (“Salat al-Janazah”) are performed by all members of the community. These are performed in a prayer room, study, or in the mosque’s courtyard. Those praying face Mecca (“qiblah”) and form at least three lines, with the most closely related male in the first line, followed by other men, then children, then women.
The body will then be taken to the cemetery for burial (some cemeteries in the UK now allow Muslims to be buried without a coffin). Traditionally, only men are present at the burial. The grave is dug perpendicular to Mecca, with the body on its right side, facing Mecca. “Bismilllah wa ala millati rasulillah” (“In the name of Allah and in the faith of the Messenger of Allah”) is recited by those placing the body in the grave and then a layer of wood or stones is placed on top to prevent the soil from touching the body. Each mourner will pour three handfuls of soil into the grave, which is then filled in. The grave may only be marked by a stone or marker; large monuments or elaborate decorations are prohibited.
After the Funeral
Mourners will usually return to the Mosque or gather in the home of the family where a meal is served. Food is provided by the community for the first three days after the funeral.
Usually, the mourning period lasts 40 days, but it may be shorter for less religious families. Widows are expected to observe a longer mourning period of four months and ten days, during which time they should not interact with men whom they could potentially marry (“na-mahram”).
What to Wear
Conservative, modest, clothing in subdued colours should be worn. Men should wear smart trousers and a shirt and women should wear an ankle length skirt, a long-sleeved, high-necked top and a headscarf. Shoes should be removed before entering the prayer hall.
Cremation, embalming and cosmetology are forbidden, unless obliged by law.
Routine autopsies are not acceptable.
Organ donation is generally acceptable.