Opposition to a proposed Islamic Cemetery in Texas prompted numerous newspaper articles as well as much discussion on he Deathcare Discussion List, a listserv devoted to funeral and death-care issues, where the sentiment was largely in support of the cemetery, or at least in rebuttal to the misinformation used to justify local opposition to the cemetery.
Here in its entirety, is the forwarded post from a Muslim woman who expresses her thanks for the support expressed by the listserv participants. She also gives a good description of Muslim funeral practices.
~~~ The full post ~~~
A board member of the FCA-Central Texas and a hospice social worker, Sabiha Bandali, was unable to post the following message to the Deathcare Discussion List because of a computer glitch. At her request, I am posting it for her.LWH
I have been following the Farmersville/Muslim cemetery story with interest and dismay. I am a Muslim, and the fearful/hateful reaction of some to a place where the deceased will be laid to rest is disheartening. However, the comments/reactions on this listserv have been comforting and gives me hope that as long as there are people who will speak up against injustice, we can do better. Thank you.
I wanted to share some information on Muslim death/funeral based on my understanding and experience. I hope this will help shed light for some. Please note that some practices may be different based on diversity/culture within the Islamic sects.
1. Death is viewed as a transition from a temporary world to a permanent abode. When death nears, loved ones are encouraged to recite verses from the holy scripture, Quran, ensure the dying person’s comfort, create a quiet and peaceful environment for the soul.
2. After death, the deceased’s eyes and lower jaw are gently closed, and a clean sheet is used to cover the body. It is believed that the soul is still present close to the body. Utmost care and respect is extended in handling the body. It is recommended that someone stay with the body at all times till burial.
3. According to Islamic law, the body should be buried as soon as possible. Embalming is not permissible, unless required by law. Autopsy is discouraged unless necessary. The body is washed in a cleansing ritual, and covered in a white shroud. Viewing is not allowed after the body is prepared except to close family members.
4. Funeral prayers are offered. Muslims are highly encouraged to attend funerals even if they do not know the person. Funerals are a reminder that death is inevitable, and that this life is only temporary.
5. Islamic law does not require vaults or caskets - this practice is now common in Muslim burial in America only due to cemetery requirements/laws.
The Muslim burial is very eco-friendly, and similar to green burials. Male family members will lower the shrouded body into the grave. Women are discouraged from attending the gravesite during burial. If they do attend, they observe from some distance. (Personal note: Rather than discriminating against women, I see this as a protection towards women from a moment that can be very difficult to observe/behold).
6. Cremation is prohibited.
7. Grieving is encouraged, however, patience is also encouraged. Grief is a natural reaction to loss, and in Islam, Muslims are encouraged to extend comfort and kindness to the bereaved in the form of one’s presence, offering of food, kindness and comfort, and any other assistance that may be needed. The bereaved are encouraged to express their grief through tears and story telling. However, they are also encouraged to submit to God’s will, with reminders that it is God who creates life and it is to God that we ultimately return to.
8. Islamic funerals are simple affairs there are no speeches, eulogies, or memorials. It is solemn, quiet, and brief. Interaction with family members is often later where family and friends gather at the bereaved’s home, to pray for the departed soul and to offer comfort to the family.
I hope some of these thoughts have provided some insight into Muslim deaths and funerals.
Sabiha Bandali, LMSW