“Janazah”, The Muslim funeral

Muslims in America–unlike in Europe–don’t have a physical community and generally avoid living in ethnic ‘ghettos’. They can choose to live anywhere they want and pursue their own social mobility very much at their own discretion. This changes when they die as the only place that Muslims will choose to ‘rest in peace’ is the Muslim ‘ghetto’ cemetery. In Minnesota, this is usually located inside a remote section of an existing Christian cemetery. I never understood the religious segregation ritual between the dead Muslim faithful and those of other faiths with no amount of interfaith dialogue bringing them together. Anyway, it is hard to have any dialogue when you are dead. According to Dr. Ahmad Shafaat, a prolific Islamic thinker: “The Qur`an contains no prohibition (haram) of burial of Muslims and non-Muslims together and the same is true of the books of Hadith.” But Muslims are dead serious about separating their dead from the non-Muslim ones. The grave separation is a grave matter not just to the non-Muslim faithful who are kept at bay. In some cultures, it includes gender separation, too. In the Middle Eastern ‘mausoleum style’ of graves, no Muslim men or women could share the same grave. However as Professor Ahmad A. Ahmad from the Department of Religious Studies at UCSB explains “When there is a need for it, , yes, men and women can mix, but a symbolic barrier should be erected.”
Some Muslim scholars include in the probation list, those who commit suicide, who are considered “kafer”, or non-believers, and should be also banned from the Muslim grave. This may come as an unpleasant surprise to those suicide bombers, who sought out paradise sooner than God intended. The probation of mixing Muslims and non-Muslims in graves still unclear, “I don’t know of any report where the Prophet explains separating Muslim and non-Muslims in the graves, but it seems to be an old tradition, whereby Jews (who have lived in separation, too), Christians, pagans, etc, buried their dead separately and with different procedures,” explained Professor Ahmad A. Ahmad on the phone from his office. However, Dr. Shafaat thinks it has something to do with the ‘grave torture.’ Muslim belief holds that the Judgment Day starts immediately after you are buried; therefore, Muslims didn’t want their own dead suffering from hearing the cries of the non-Muslim dead in a mixed grave during the divine punishment. That is why Muslim grave shouldn’t just lounge other faiths, it also has to be far enough from the Non-Muslim graves; some say a 100 feet is far enough , unless it is Rush Limbaugh cemetery, you may keep the Muslim grave a bit further, say 100 miles. “my add”.
The Islamic burying ritual may vary according to local traditions, but, in general, Muslims don’t like to keep their dead lying around for a long time. Once you you get the divine call, you have only 24 hours to report in the grave. It is preferred for a Muslim to be buried in a cemetery in the area where he or she died rather than in another city or country to avoid embalming the body; and autopsies will be avoided at any cost. Muslims are very meticulous about the physical bodies of their loved ones once they die, no cutting or messing is allowed. Conversely, this sanctity of the body doesn’t extend while you are alive, and the cutting ritual may start as early as your birth with circumcision. In some parts of the Muslim world, they may cut your hand or even your neck if you steal or commit adultery, but if you can sidestep these practices, and make it to your grave with your body intact, it is now up to God to use the knife. Back to the rituals after death, the body then moves to the washing room, a small dark windowless room usually attached to the mosque, with only one piece of furniture: a big washing table in the middle of the empty room. A “Washing Room” sign on the steel door seems deterrent enough to keep most intruders out; there have been no reports of any stolen Muslim dead. Washing the Muslim dead body has its own great reward in heaven, so the washing is not only cleansing the dead body, but also a chance to cleanse your own soul. As in other areas of the Muslim religious life, there is a gender separation in the washing room, like the case in the Turkish bath. According to the washing guide of ISNA (Islamic Society of North America), men wash men, and women wash women, while minors can be washed by either men or women. A husband can wash his wife and vice versa. Whatever you do with the dead body of a Muslim, washing, wrapping or burying, make sure that the head is always facing the “Qebla” (Mecca). After washing the body thoroughly, the cleansed body is cloaked in a clean white sheet called a “kafan.” Then the deceased will be moved to the mosque where funeral prayers will be performed by relatives, friends and other mourners. In the old days, when the body was transported to the Muslim cemetery, people would carry the casket of the dead body all the way to the cemetery, which also has it own rewards. However, now undertakers will do the honors and take the body to the cemetery, where it will be placed in a simple grave devoid of any tombstones. Family members and others wishing to show respect will gather at the cemetery, no gender separation here, at the Muslim cemetery there is grief equality between men and women. Muslims don’t use caskets in burying their loved ones, but in Minnesota for health reasons, they have to build a permanent concrete casket inside their graves. Funeral homes in America aren’t making any money off of dead Muslims, I believe for this reason alone Americans should like Muslims and not hate theme, as funeral homes are notorious for “sucking the blood” out of your loved ones but not from the Muslims. In the final step, the dead body is brought to the grave and taken out head first and lowered into the cement casket inside the grave. Before the concrete casket is covered and sealed, the Imam will stand on the edge of the grave and give the mourners a brief burial sermon. This sermon is usually full of ‘grave’ wisdom and reminds us that we are all are going to suffer the same fate, “short of god, we all going to vanish from the face of the earth”, goes the Qur’an verse that is most mentioned at Muslim grave sites. The Imam makes sure to inform us that “no matter how much wealth you accumulate, there is nothing you could possibly take with you to the grave, except a white sheet,” your kafan–another common grave-side sentiment. Volunteers then start the final cover up phase, each holding a shovel pushing the dirt from a nearby pile back into the grave. These volunteers will take turns; as some rest, others will get a chance to get their hands dirty, too, and at the same time collect some more “hasanat” divine favors. Once the burial ritual comes to an end, people will leave the cemetery site. Within seven days, a memorial ceremony will be held at the main mosque, at a relative’s house or inside a big tent setup that evening. The mourners and those who couldn’t attend the funeral would come at this time and offer their condolences to the family of the deceased. At a traditional funeral, there would be a lengthy reciting of the Qur’an over a loud speaker, or live in-person based on how big the gathering is. In Egypt, servers will come by to offer you drinks, usually coffee. Drinking coffee at the funereal memorial has its own ritual and a funeral grief index system, which is based on the assumption that the amount of sugar added to your coffee could indicate how much grief you may or may not have; if your coffee is Sadah, (black without sugar), this registers a higher grief index, Mazboutah (just the right amount of sugar) registers some grief, or sukar zeyadah (extra sugar), denotes hardily any grief registered, and you just tagged along with a friend because you had nothing else to do. If you are overwhelmed by the grief make sure that you politely turn down the coffee offer altogether. At the memorial service, everyone will sit quietly with no side conversation tolerated. For this reason, kids are not encouraged to come to funerals, and if they do, they are miraculously kept at bay. A show of respect to the deceased would prevent any mention of his/her affairs in private life especially the undesirable ones. “Mention the goodness of your deceased,” God commands of us. Therefore, at Muslim funerals, the conversation is very short and artificial. One last thing, at Muslim funerals, remember not to offer any condolences or say you are very sorry. It is not your fault! It is our immortal fate to be mortal. If you want to say anything at a Muslim funeral, there is only one politically-correct thing to say to anyone you meet: “Bakeyah Fi Ha Yateck” which loosely translates as “Remains in your life,” which I never completely understood! But things don’t make sense when people pass away. Ahmed Tharwat 3/20/2010
Host of the Arab American TV show BelAhdan


Ahmed Tharwat …. in the middle AhMedia.... احا مديا A media critic, and a media consultant... A show with an accent for those without one! AhMedia احا مديا Ahmed Tharwat/ Host BelAhdan TV show Freelance Writer, Public Speaker, International Media Fixer


To get all updates


Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)