Inside Memory Gardens, a well-groomed cemetery off Cuero Highway, marked graves and floral arrangements pay tribute to the lives of thousands of Victorians who have died.
Near the rear of the grounds, 50 plots have been reserved for members of the Victoria Islamic Center.
Even though many Islamic communities throughout the United States bury members in Islamic-only cemeteries, Victoria Islamic Center Imam Osama Hassan said the 50 plots in Memory Gardens fit the needs of the community.
“It has worked out perfect for us. It’s the right size for our needs for the future,” he said, mentioning the small size of its congregation.
Like many other religious sects in South Texas, including Christianity and Judaism, Islam has its own unique rituals for burying the dead.
Often, Islamic communities purchase their own cemeteries, especially if they are part of large communities of Muslims or live in larger cities. But death is an important part of life and how a Muslim is honored in death is especially important for believers.
“The Prophet Mohammed tells us to talk about death because it’s a part of life. But many people are afraid to. Some people feel if they talk about it, it’s like bad luck, like someone they know may die,” he said. mentioning the cultural aspect of international Muslims from various countries around the world who are reluctant to discuss or plan for death. “We should be talking more about it.”
Islamic members are not the only community in Victoria with special requirements for death.
In downtown Victoria, off Vine Street, a Jewish cemetery dating back to the mid-1800s indicates some of the city’s earliest residents were Jewish, including the first Jew to settle in Victoria, Abraham Levi, who established one of the city’s earliest grocery stores on Main Street.
Catholic and early Protestant cemeteries also remain pervasive throughout the region, established in the early 1800s as settlers moved in and established churches and parishes.
The Rev. Max Landman, of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Hallettsville, said Catholic funerals are distinct, in part because of their reverence for the dead.
“The main thing, with respect to a Catholic funeral, is we’re there to pray for the soul of the dead person. A lot of times, it can be seen as a celebration of the person’s life – and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the person’s life – but the point of the funeral from the Catholic’s perspective is to commend that soul to God,” Landman said. “We firmly believe that our prayers for that person, especially the Sacrifice of the Mass are helpful in obtaining mercy and speeding that person’s soul into paradise.”
As Halloween approaches, a time of year that gives a not-so-subtle nod to death, cemeteries and afterlife, the season offers a unique opportunity to examine the customs of area religions as they honor the members of their congregations in the religious context they acknowledge.
Here are a few of the many death traditions of Catholics, Muslim and Jewish believers around the world.
In most religions, tombstones and grave markers are permitted and visited by the living.
When a Muslim dies, the body should be buried as soon as possible. Three to four hours is preferable, up to one day, but no longer than 48 hours. The bodies are not embalmed, and careful consideration is given to treatment of the body because Muslims believe the person can still hear and feel pain.
Autopsies and cremations are not acceptable for this reason; however, organ donation may be permitted in some circumstances because it is seen as a charitable event.
Instead, Muslims are washed with soap and water and wrapped in a white cloth. Men prepare male deceased, while women prepare female deceased.
It is preferable that Muslims not be placed in a casket at all, allowing the dead to return immediately to the dirt.
Overseas, Muslims are buried directly in the ground. In the U.S., caskets are required, so Muslims typically place the coffin upside down to encapsulate the body once it is placed in the ground. Bodies must lie on their side and point toward Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
The typical mourning period is three days, and believers are encouraged to return to normal life. This varies depending on each person, with some wearing black for many years in remembrance of a loved one.
Priests are called both right before and after death to pray the appropriate rites over the body.
Vigils are usually held on the evening before Mass, and there is often a praying of the rosary. This is typically the place where eulogies and tributes are delivered.
Caskets can be covered with white linens, or palls, and blessed with holy water as a reminder of baptism.
Bodies are allowed to be embalmed, however organ donation and cremation remain areas of disagreement among Catholics. It is preferred if cremation is being performed that the body not be cremated until after the funeral Mass, so the deceased can be present in the church for the service.
At burial, the Rite of Committal is given at the blessed burial site. The Lord’s Prayer is typically said upon closing.
When a Jew dies, the “Dayan HaEmet” prayer is recited, which acknowledges God as the true judge.
Jewish tradition prefers the body be laid to rest as soon as possible, as soon as one day, so funeral planning often begins immediately.
It is also preferable the body not be unattended and is often given a “shomer” or guardian.
If funerals cannot be held right away, exceptions can be made. Sometimes, the body is refrigerated while waiting on the funeral.
Bodies are typically washed and dressed. Men wash men and women wash women. The washing is called the “taharah.” The submerging of the body in water for the ritual bath is the “mikvah.”
The body is fully dried and dressed in a simple white cloth called a “tachrichim.” Men are typically buried in a “kippah” or skull cap, and also a “tallit” or prayer shawl.
Jews tend to avoid holding funerals on holy days or Saturdays.
Organ donation is generally accepted and seen as a good deed. Autopsies and embalming are generally not accepted unless required by law.
Cremation may be accepted depending on the degree of orthodoxy of the Jewish family. Orthodox Jews do not permit cremation, while conservative and reformed Jews may allow it.
Jews are placed in a simple pine casket without any metal, and sometimes holes are drilled in the bottom of the box to accelerate decomposition. There is generally no wake or visitation in the Jewish faith. Funerals are held in the synagogue, at the grave or funeral home, and include a eulogy, reading of the psalms, and the memorial prayer, “El Maleh Rachamim.”
It is customary for the tombstone or grave marker to be put up one year after the death. A stone is usually placed on the grave within the first 30 days to indicate someone has visited.
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