Death is the only certain thing in this life… if one really thinks about it. It has been predestined for every soul. So after death what next? The funeral ceremony is usually the immediate thing to be concerned about, at least from an Islamic perspective. In Islam, it is encouraged to bury the dead as soon as possible. The Islamic funeral ceremony consists of the following aspects:
Washing (Ghusl-Janazah) and Shrouding the Deceased
As soon as it has been confirmed that a person has passed, he is to be washed according to prescribed methods. This is done with water mixed with lotus leaves, if available, to give a perfumery scent. The washing should be done preferably by close relatives, for example, a man washes his wife and vice versa otherwise the next closest relative of the same gender as the deceased. Other righteous knowledgeable people can also perform this function if no relatives are available.
Next up is the shrouding of the corpse with 2 or more pieces of garment preferably white and if possible of a stripped pattern. This should cover the entire body from head to toe. The garment may also be lightly scented. People who arrive after the body has been covered may open the face to pay their respects and pray for the deceased.
The Funeral Prayers (Salatul-Janazah)
Without any delay, after the shrouding has been done, the corpse is taken to the prayer ground and prayers are performed on it. The prayers are usually done in a designated open space near a mosque but rarely, it may be said inside a mosque if no such open space exists. The corpse is placed at the centre with the imam (person leading the prayer) standing opposite the head or middle body and others forming rows behind the imam. It is recommended for large numbers of Muslims to participate in the prayers, including friends, relatives, and community members whether the deceased be known to them or not.
The Funeral Procession
The corpse is then carried to the grave yard, with a procession in tow, however there is no chanting, music or the sort and it is strictly prohibited for people to wail. It is preferable for people to follow behind rather than in front and those in a vehicle should follow behind those on foot. Women are discouraged from following the bier; however it is not a strict prohibition.
The corpse is then lowered into the grave and specific supplications are made upon doing so. Note that Muslims are never buried in a coffin. The preferred type of grave site is one in which a niche has been dug to one side into which the dead is placed though one may also use the vertical type. The body is placed on its right side with the head facing the qiblah (direction Muslims face in prayer) People present may then throw three handful of soil into the grave. The grave site is then covered up and should be elevated by one hand span. A headstone may also be put to mark the grave site.
Friend, relatives and well-wishers then proceed to commiserate with the family of the deceased. Food should be taking to them and not vice versa. The family should not have to be burdened with making food for guests; this was explicitly disliked in early Islam though it is now customary for some Muslims to have some sort of feast as part of the funeral ceremony. Also there should be no specific place marked out for the purpose of offering condolences. Condolences should go on for a maximum of three days preferably. It is discouraged after this length of time as it is believed it may make it harder for the bereaved to move on.
The Islamic funeral ceremony is a pretty simple affair; no time is to be wasted in burying the dead and specific guidelines according to the Islamic law as outlined above are to be followed.