Information on Muslim funeral traditions and etiquette
Most Muslims believe that good deeds they do in life will be rewarded with entry into Paradise on the Day of Judgement, which is when the world will end. On this day, they believe that the dead will rise and will either live in peace in Paradise or suffer in Hell. Although this is a common belief among Muslims, there are many different sects within Islam, so rituals and beliefs may vary between each.
Planning a Muslim funeral
Muslim funeral arrangements should begin immediately after the death of a loved one, since according to Islamic law, they must be buried as soon as possible. It is important for the family to contact a local Islamic organisation so they can help with the planning of the funeral.
Some funeral directors specialise in offering Muslim funerals or may have previous experience working with Muslim families.
Muslim funeral traditions
Generally, organ donation is allowed in Islam. However, autopsies are seen as a desecration and are not accepted by Islamic law. Cremation is also prohibited, whereas embalming is accepted on occasion.
The preparation before the funeral consists of the Ghusl and the Kafan. In the Ghusl, close family members of the same sex as the person who has died wash the person who has passed away. They are usually washed three times, but additional washes are not uncommon.
The Kafan involves the covering and wrapping of the person with large simple sheets, one on top of the other. The material and colour of the cloth may vary according to regional customs, but men typically get buried with three sheets, whereas women are buried with five. The person is then placed on top of the sheets, with females traditionally being dressed in an ankle-length sleeveless dress and a head veil as well.
The person is then wrapped in the material and secured with rope before being transported to the mosque. Since Islamic law states that a person should be buried as soon as possible, no viewing takes place before the funeral service.
Muslim funeral service
Special Muslim funeral prayers are recited by all members of the Muslim community who have congregated in the courtyard, a prayer room or a study room of the mosque, but never inside the main hall of the mosque. The service is led by an Islamic leader, known as an imam, and usually lasts from 30 to 60 minutes, although it can last longer.
During the prayers, everyone must face towards Mecca and form at least three rows, with the closest male relative in the first row. Behind him the other male mourners, children and then women. Besides prayer, you can expect the service to include several readings from the Quran.
After the ceremony, following the completion of the funeral prayer, the congregation will line up in rows and pass the coffin from shoulder to shoulder towards the grave site for burial. Non-Muslim mourners should keep at a respectful distance to allow the coffin to be carried.
In the Islamic tradition, only men are allowed to attend the burial, although some Muslim communities also allow women to be present. The grave should be perpendicular to Mecca, with the person placed on their right side facing Mecca. While the person is being placed into the grave, mourners recite a prayer.
Wood and stones are placed on top so that the soil does not come into direct contact with the person. The imam may recite another prayer, and each mourner will then throw a handful of soil into the grave. A simple stone will mark the grave site, as any large monuments decorating the grave are prohibited by Islamic law.
After the funeral
Traditionally, the family will gather in their home and receive guests after the funeral. Though similar to a Christian wake or after-funeral reception, there will likely be no alcohol as many Muslims consider drinking to be against the rules of Islam. Usually the community provides food for the bereaved for the first three days after the funeral.
The mourning period lasts for 40 days, but can often vary depending on the family. The period of mourning for widows is even longer – four months and ten days – in which they are forbidden to interact with men who they could potentially marry.
Muslim funeral etiquette
If you are attending an Islamic funeral and you are not a Muslim, it is important to observe certain traditions. For example, the Muslim funeral prayer should be recited only by members of the Muslim faith, though respectful observers are welcome.
When deciding what to wear to a Muslim funeral, be aware that both men and women are expected to dress modestly. For men this usually means a shirt and trousers. Women should wear ankle length skirts, long-sleeved high-neck tops and a headscarf, and be sure that no clothing is too tight or see-through.
Also be aware that shoes must be removed to enter the prayer hall of a mosque. Therefore you may want to wear presentable socks, tights or stockings.
For more information on religious funerals, visit our religious funerals page.