Muslim Funeral Rites Explained


For many years, Muslim funeral rituals have attracted attention from Christian counterparts mainly because of their simplicity.

Yesterday, two high profile octogenarians, who played key roles in Kenyan politics and civil service, were laid to rest.

One, ex-minister Simeon Nyachae, a Christian of a Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) faith and Senator Yusuf Haji of the Muslim faith. The two funeral services sparked debate on social media with a section of Christians seeking answers on Muslim funeral rites.

Nyachae, who died on February 1 at the Nairobi Hospital aged 88, was laid to rest two weeks later at his Nyosia village in Kisii County. His remains had been preserved at the Lee Funeral Home for 14 days before being flown to Kisii on Sunday.

On the other hand, the late Garissa Senator, who died on Monday morning, was interred at the Lang’ata Muslim Cemetry, in Nairobi, miles away from home, less than 24 hours after his death. He was 80 years old.

The cost of giving a loved one a decent send off took centre stage on the social media debate, with many Kenyans agreeing that Muslim burials cost way less.

Mohammed Hersi, a hotelier and vocal commentator on social media, took to his Facebook page to explain what happens when a Muslim dies.

In Muslim, Hersi said, the burial of a loved one should take place as quickly as possible after death and preferably within 24 hours.

Where the cause of death is uncertain this may and should be determined prior to burial.

The person who has died is washed as quickly as possible after death and wrapped in a simple white shroud For men, up to three pieces of cloth may be used for this purpose, for women, five.

In many countries, a coffin is not used, but in the UK, where this is often forbidden, a coffin is permitted.

Hersi revealed that the Muslim rarely transport a body.

“You get buried where you passed away…For us your burial is where death (maut) will find you, ” he wrote.

The Muslim burials timings are mainly dictated by prayers times.

The Muslim community prays five times a day: Fajr at 5am, Dhuhur at 1pm, Asr 4pm, Maghrib 6.30pm and Isha 8pm.

“Most of the burial prayers would coincide with the 1pm or 4pm prayers for various reasons ranging eg to allow immediate family like children to arrive etc, ” he said.

“We try and avoid evening or nighttime burial unless it is a case of an accident and departed ought to be laid to rest as quickly as possible.”

Preparation of the body 

The body is prepared either at home or even at some mosque.

Ghusl is the full-body ritual purification mandatory before the performance of ritual and janaza prayer.

The remains are wrapped in a simple plain cloth (the Kafan) which costs less than Sh500. After that, instead of a coffin, the deceased is transported to the mosque in a Janaza that is returned after use and reused by another family.

“Our mosque in South C does that very well and a few masjid in Mombasa, ” he added.

When a Muslim passes on in town, it becomes the responsibility of fellow muslims to give the departed brother or sister a decent burial.

The body is then carried away in a Janaza and is placed at the back of the mosque awaiting the normal prayers to happen.

Immediately after the normal prayers, an announcement is made informing worshippers of the presence of a body of a departed brother or sister and requested to join the family in burying their kin.

“It is considered a blessing to take part in such even if you were not known to the departed. We then bring the body to the front of the congregation, ” he added.

Before the body leaves for its final resting place, the family led by the eldest son and the Imam ask if there is anyone who owed the departed anything or if the departed owed anyone anything.

The son or immediately male family member are expected to take responsibility for the debt.

“We then all stand behind the Janaza and final prayers are led by the imam. Sometimes we have more than one body so they are all laid out in a line, ” he said.

The service takes less than 10 minutes and thereafter the body is picked by young men, who mostly are not even known to the deceased, and taken to the final resting place.

Once at the graveyard immediate family members preferably sons and brothers to the deceased will go inside the grave which is always ready.

The body is removed from the Janaza and placed inside a grave that has a mould of mud which acts as a pillow where the head of the deceased is placed. Additionally, the body faces the right side towards Mecca (the Muslim community faces Mecca when praying).

Wooden planks are used to enclose where the body is placed and if there is no wood, concrete slabs can be used.

Once done the family members step out, the grave is filled with soil.

Unlike in Christian funeral rituals, Muslims don’t observe protocols as everyone is considered equal regardless of their status.

“Once done a quick sermon is given hardly 5 to 10 minutes and we are done. We make no speeches and there are no protocols at the mosque or at the burial site based on your worldly position, ” he said.

“At the mosque and burial site we are all equal.”

In Muslim funeral rites, women are not allowed at the gravesite. If they attend, they can only watch from a distance.

Complete Article HERE!

Green Burial Wants to Clean Up American Funerals

Natural burials can remind us that death and grief are natural, too.

The Preserve at All Saints in Waterford, Michigan.

By Jake Maynard

Basil Eldadah assumed his father’s funeral would be simple. Years before, Basil’s father had taken steps to make the process easy on the family, purchasing plots and making arrangements. But in 2012, when his father died, Eldadah and his family discovered how complicated and impersonal the American funeral industry could be.

First, Eldadah learned that what his father had purchased was only the plot itself. Digging the grave, installing the concrete grave liner, and filling in the gravesite were not included. But the larger issue was that the cemetery required the use of a vault or burial liner: a concrete box that encases the coffin, keeping dirt from collapsing the casket. Eldadah’s family is Muslim, and it’s customary in Muslim traditions for a body to be placed directly in the soil. He described Muslim burial as “a process that reminds us of the humility of being from dust and returning to dust.” But most American cemeteries require concrete vaults or grave liners to prevent dirt settling at the gravesite—it makes the cemeteries easier to mow and eliminates the spooky depressions overtop graves—despite the fact that it is counter to the religious traditions of Muslims and some Jewish denominations. For Eldadah’s father, the best the family could do was to add some dirt to the inside of the vault.

>Later, as the grief began to lift, Eldadah questioned whether there was a more reverent, natural approach to burial. As an active member of his local Muslim community and as a researcher who studies aging, he knew that his experience wasn’t unique. “My father’s funeral really kind of planted the seed in my mind,” he told me. He eventually learned that there is a name for what he wanted: a green burial ground.

Green burial doesn’t have an official definition but generally refers to a range of cemetery practices that limit fossil fuel usage and the amount of human-made materials put into the ground. More broadly, the green burial movement wants to help people approach death with a more natural, and less commercial, outlook.

Green cemeteries substitute exotic hardwood caskets with renewable wood coffins or burial shrouds, and they don’t line graves with concrete. They shun mown lawns for native grasses and trees. Some green cemeteries mark graves with native stone or plant memorial trees; others don’t mark graves at all. They reject embalming as unnatural, unnecessary, and toxic. (Embalming chemicals contribute to high rates of cancer in mortuary workers.) Green cemeteries look more like nature preserves or parks than the orderly cemeteries we’re accustomed to.

The nonprofit Green Burial Council certifies cemeteries as green—it’s kind of like LEED building certification—and keeps tabs on the environmental impact of conventional burial. It says that each year American burials put more than 4 million gallons of embalming fluid, 20 million board feet of hardwood, 81,000 tons of metal, and 1.6 million tons of concrete into the ground. Cremation, promoted by the death care industry as the greener alternative, uses the equivalent of around 20 gallons of gasoline per cremation and vaporizes heavy metals (from dental fillings and surgical implants) into the atmosphere. While cremation conserves physical space, green burial conserves energy.

Burial wasn’t always so complicated. Embalming only gained traction among wealthy Americans during the Civil War, which essentially started the modern funeral industry. (Abraham Lincoln was embalmed for his funeral train, and reembalmed at many stops, but onlookers thought he looked nasty.) Concrete grave liners came later, allowing for today’s flat, uniform suburban cemeteries.

Generally speaking, laws governing burial are complicated and vague. In most states you can bury a loved one on your own property, but local zoning ordinances often contradict the state laws. While no states legally require embalming or grave liners, the funeral industry has made them so standard that in some places, they’re essentially requirements. Neither practice has any public health benefit, but embalming stretches the possible time between death and funeral. Embalming is popular only in the U.S. and Canada; in the rest of the world, it’s actually quite rare. Funeral homes have normalized embalming because it saves on refrigerator space and because they can sell larger funeral packages.

After his father’s funeral, Eldadah let his idea percolate until he found the right partner, one who’d also been surprised by the cost of a funeral. In 2019, Eldadah’s friend Haroon Mokhtarzada, a successful tech entrepreneur, received a call asking him to help fund the burial of a local community member. He was glad to help, but the cost rattled him.

“I was thinking it was going to be a couple hundred bucks and it was several thousand dollars,” he said. “And I came to learn that the average burial in Maryland is $10,500.” The national average, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, is about $9,000. (This chart shows how complicated itemized funeral expenses can be.) Mokhtarzada said, of the funeral’s cost, “There’s something that bothered me about that to my core.”

He asked, “Why does a hole in the ground cost $10,000?” The same use of embalming fluid, concrete, and hardwood that make death so polluting also make it expensive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, funeral costs jumped 225 percent since 1986; GoFundMe hosted 125,000 memorial campaigns in 2020. Funeral poverty is an underreported crisis in America.

Eldadah had contacted Mokhtarzada previously about the project, but he was too busy to get involved. Seven years later, backed with his money and startup expertise, Mokhtarzada emailed Eldadah and said, “We’re going to make this thing happen.” Together, they set to work making metro D.C.’s first nonprofit green cemetery. If it works, it will be the most urban green cemetery in the U.S.

There are 82 cemeteries in America certified as green by the Green Burial Council (you can read about the certification standards here), but the movement has struggled to take hold near major cities due to the price of land. Pete McQuillin, who operates Penn Forest Natural Burial Ground near Pittsburgh, told me that it took him three years to find a property close to the city. In the nine years since Penn Forest opened, it has interred only 205 bodies. (Because people usually want to be buried next to their deceased loved ones, cemeteries are notoriously tough to get started.) But the number of burials is growing steadily every year, as does the execution of Penn Forest’s broader mission: It strives to be a multiuse park, hosting guided nature hikes, community roundtables on death, and a DIY coffin-making class.

Mokhtarzada and Eldadah have similar goals for their site, a woody, 40-acre plot in Silver Spring, Maryland, tucked between a concrete factory and a church. (The price? Almost $2 million.) When I first talked to them in July, they were excited to explain the project’s overarching goals. “We’ve started to envision a community-gathering place,” Mokhtarzada said. “Not just a creepy place where you only go to pay your respects and then you leave. But some place where people would want to spend quality time … a space where not only do the living serve the dead by providing simple, natural, and dignified burials, but also where the dead can fuel life.”

By December, they were feeling the weight of bureaucracy. In between fielding questions from their new neighbors about water quality and funeral traffic, the two men had poured $200,000 into the project before breaking ground. There were nonprofit lawyers, land-use lawyers, engineers, architects, permitting fees. And they were still struggling to come up with a name. Like burial, starting a cemetery was more complicated than anticipated.

While Mokhtarzada’s startup experience was helpful, he learned that the cemetery business is unique. “In a startup mode,” he said, “you just figure out as much as you need to figure out, you don’t figure out what this thing’s going to be in five and 10 years. But what I’ve found that was different in this creative process is we had to think decades into the future. We had to think in three dimensions in decades.”

To help with that part, Eldadah and Mokhtarzada hired architect Jack Goodnoe, who has designed some of America’s best-known green burial grounds. Goodnoe started designing conventional cemeteries in the 1980s and began working with green cemetery movement when the movement began in the late ’90s. While Goodnoe supports greening the death industry, he also thinks that green and conventional cemeteries need to learn from each other. The green burial movement has been led by charismatic industry outsiders—academics, environmentalists, spiritual types—with big ideas offset by a lack of knowledge about cemetery management. Goodnoe recommends that “when someone wants to start a green cemetery, they partner with a traditional cemetery that can bring all the legal, grief, record-keeping elements that they’ve learned from decades in the industry.”

Eldadah and Mokhtarzada don’t plan to work with a traditional cemetery, but they have implemented some conventional cemetery practices at Goodnoe’s recommendation. For example, some green cemeteries let people choose their own burial site anywhere on the property, which Goodnoe worries could lead to record-keeping issues for future cemetery managers. At their site, Eldadah and Mokhtarzada have taken Goodnoe’s advice of burying in one area at a time and evenly spacing gravesites like a conventional cemetery might.

They hope to open for burials in 2021 and have already generated some interest among the local Muslim community. But in order to fulfill their inclusive mission, Eldadah and Mokhtarzada will have to expand beyond green burial’s usual demographic. Hannah Rumble, an anthropologist who studies burial in the U.K., told me that green burial has been “quite a middle-class aesthetic and cultural practice,” and hasn’t yet become popular among the working-class people who could most benefit from lower burial prices (often less than half the price of conventional burial) and less upkeep responsibility. But traditions change slowly, she says, and as the last rite of passage, burial traditions are usually some of the last to change.

On a more spiritual level, Rumble has observed the way that green burial has influenced the grieving process of people she’s interviewed. She says, “The bereaved like to go over time to watch the trees grow, to watch the site developed to maturity, to watch the plants bed in. It’s interesting how their own emotional journey with grief has changed and how they see it reflected in the development of the natural burial ground. … And so now their visits are more about just going and enjoying the bird songs, seeing how the site’s developed, seeing what initiatives are going on. It becomes a kind of community, a community of practice.”

This sentiment is ultimately how the green burial movement overlaps their ecological and spiritual goals. Conventional cemeteries, with their permanent headstones and concrete grave liners, encourage us to think that even in death, we’ll last forever. What natural burial offers is the reminder that death and grief are like all natural processes: They change and evolve, grow and decay. Like Rumble says, “I think what’s really powerful about that ecological metaphor is it’s fairly timeless. And it’s one that, irrespective of your faith, people can relate to.”

Complete Article HERE!

Writing Into and Out of My Long-Distance Grief

Mourning on a wintry day at the end of a year that has all been winter.


I walk out, steering the stroller with icy fingers. I pass the house that always appears as if someone is moving in or out, the gray house with a garage full of ugly toys, the white house with an attractive couple who dine every day at 7 p.m., which I know because I peek in on my daily quarantine walks, comforted by the sight of the woman’s top bun and the man’s beard as they sit across from each other at a farmhouse table.

Today is winter. A crisp, cold, sunny day, the kind that makes you think for a few hours that perhaps this — the end of the year in Michigan — isn’t too bad. But when I reach the park, it is all sorrow. Each blade of grass, shimmering in December light, is sorrow. The crackle of each remaining leaf is sorrow.

Muslims recite the azan — the call to prayer — in the ear of every newborn, but we leave it out of the final prayer for the deceased. The point is that our time here is as brief as the moment between the call to prayer and the start of prayer. Now, in the park, the journey each drop of melted snow makes from branch to wilted grass is sorrow.

For those, like me, living far from home, there is a worry so common it is banal: the Call. The call that comes when a loved one is hurt or dying. We brace ourselves against it, convinced that anticipation is inoculation against grief. To this day, I sleep with my phone on silent only when I am back in Pakistan; home is the place where late-night calls don’t seize the ground beneath you.

In Michigan, when the phone rings in the middle of the night, it’s usually just a wrong number or a relative who thinks America is five hours behind and not 10. Sometimes though, it is a sunny morning, the house smells of coffee and the baby is playing with tiny toes when the phone rings, and something in you, that animal that senses danger before it manifests, tells you that it’s bad news.

My husband once asked my father if he believed in saints. Abbu responded that if there was any saint in his life, it was his last surviving uncle, Chacha Jee. On Dec. 1, Chacha Jee died, his lungs, liver and heart collapsing in quick succession in an emergency ward in Pindi, Pakistan.

The official diagnosis was pneumonia, but the symptoms were close enough to Covid-19 for them to transfer him to the Covid ward. No family was allowed to visit him in his final moments. Globally, 1.6 million people have died of the disease this year. Many were also isolated from their loved ones in their last days, even if they lived in the same town, let alone across the world.

Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the famous Urdu poet, wrote that during his years in prison, time collapsed so that “the occurrences of a century seem to be like the happenings of yesterday.” Grief, particularly of the remote kind, seems to work in the same way.

Suddenly, I am 5 again, and Chacha Jee and his wife, Baji, have come over, armed with the Sandwich House they painstakingly made for our birthday parties. There is a garden of lettuce leaves and cottages made of sliced bread. In the middle stands Mr. Potato, on legs of toothpicks, with a bit of carrot for a nose.

Then I am 9, spending sticky summer afternoons at their house, Chacha Jee making the hot chai such a hot day calls for.

Then I am 25 and sharing sly smiles with my brothers because Chacha Jee is singing his favorite song: “Tu Ganga ki mauj main Jamna ka dhara /Ho rahega milan yeh humara tumhara.” (You are the wave of the Ganges, I am a stream of the Jamuna /Our union is bound to happen.)

These are the happenings of yesterday, yet far more real than the ephemera of sun grazing the backyard, my foggy breath, my mother’s voice over WhatsApp, saying that Chacha Jee has passed.

My father was only 30 when my grandmother died, and often relatives would try to reminisce about her with him. Abbu, resolutely private in his mourning, firm in his belief that one takes grief to the prayer mat and leaves it there, would quote the poet Ahmed Faraz. “Dukh fasana nahi ke tujh se kahen /Dil bhi mana nahi ke tujh se kahen.” (Neither was my grief a story, that I may tell you /Nor did my heart agree, that I may tell you.)

In the style of a child forever looking up to her father, I aspire to that, but that is not how I process grief. Instead, even as I am on the phone, I think to myself, I will write into and out of this.

“What skies this earth has inhaled,” wrote Ameer Minai, and Chacha Jee was that — a benevolent sky over everyone who knew him. Born in a rural Punjabi village where men rarely spoke to children and never showed affection to their wives, Chacha Jee carved out a path of his own. I remember him arranging saucers, pouring out cups of chai for Baji and himself. Complimenting the little frocks my cousins and I wore for Eid, when every other man would consider that frivolous.

The sun is now setting upon that world, but without a doubt, that world was there. I saw it — where the worth of a man was his brooding silence, his coldness, his anger. There was that line of fathers, haughty and unforgiving. And there was that childless father of us all, Chacha Jee, laughing his shrill, girlish laughter, joking with everyone, treating even the youngest child with wonder and love and curiosity.

He was a captain in the Pakistan Army. Sent to Germany for training, he tricked an American officer into believing the pungent taramira oil he used to smooth his hair was a Pakistani delicacy to be enjoyed by the spoonful. At 82, he drove himself from Pindi to our home village in Talagang every other week, although my love for him will not allow me to sugarcoat this: Chacha Jee was a truly terrible driver, with a recklessness that was not complimented by capability.

If Chacha Jee was modern enough to have shunned those older, tormented ways of being, he was still hospitable in a way that only someone brought up in the communality of the village could be. He settled in the city but brought the wide-open doors of the dhok with him. When I had a fever and my mother was not around, Abbu deposited me at Chacha Jee and Baji’s house for the night, because there was no one in the family who cared for the sick as they did.

A Palestinian friend tells me that in Arabic they say, “Ili raba ma maat”: The one who raises others never dies.

Now I am a mother, and I find that grieving with a child is odd. The world tumbles on its axis, and yet complete despair seems impractical, because there is a hungry mouth to be fed, a pair of curious eyes watching as you weep. That day we learned that Chacha Jee was gone, my youngest brother, who was visiting, and I kept seeking the baby, not for catharsis (babies are terrible, squirmy huggers) but for comfort. He is new. He has years and years and years, inshallah. He will go places, to spots in time, where none of us will.

“Your absence has gone through me,” W.S. Merwin wrote, “Like thread through a needle. /Everything I do is stitched with its color.” And so it is with being a parent; every feeling, high or low, is refracted through that identity, considered in the context of that tiny body lolling around on the lime green quilt. Chacha Jee, then, is another part of my life that I will not be able to share with my children. I add him to the tablet full of real things — people I touched, places I trod — that will live on only as stories. And yes, stories are important. I know that because why else would I be here with you?

My mother tells me of a time when she visited her grandfather. He was remembering the people he had known in his life, laughing mostly to himself as he relayed this story or that. Ammi sat with him, mostly out of deference, slightly impatient because she didn’t know any of the people he was talking about. Suddenly, she realized that he was telling her all this because everyone who did know the people in his stories was gone.

Children can be brutal to the past. My brother remembers standing in a row for our grandfather’s funeral prayer and having a 4-year-old cousin whisper to him, “I bet it’s going to be Grandma next.” Everyone was together in the village for three days of mourning, during which the little kids ran around, hopping from one house to another. For months they remembered those days with extreme fondness. “We had such fun at Grandpa’s funeral,” they remarked.

But I am obsessed with my parents, and given the way these things go, there is a decent chance that my children will be, too, not for my sake but because that is where any honest attempt at understanding their own selves would lead them. Lives should be led in the present, the eye has to look to the future, but all meaning is past.

So where does that leave us, on this wintry day at the end of a year that has all been winter? In the past, I have been embittered by mourning deceased family members from afar, while everyone back home gets together and seeks catharsis in crowded rooms. This time, we are all far apart.

In 2020, the congregation of grief is online. We call one another and spin stories, which we then rehear from others and wonder: Did this story start with me, or are we all saying the same things? On the family thread, I send a screenshot of Chacha Jee laughing with his mouth wide open, the baby curled up in tummy time in the top right corner. A cousin quotes Khalid Sharif: “Bichra kuch iss ada se ke rut hi badal gayi /Ik shakhs saray shehr ko veeran kar gaya.” (He left, and the season changed /He left, and left the city desolate.)

For my brother, more resolute in his faith than I am, the consolation is clear. As Muslims, we believe that Muhammad will never abandon a lover of Muhammad. And Chacha Jee loved Muhammad, the cousin and daughter and grandsons of Muhammad, the followers of Muhammad, and beyond. Chacha Jee will be at peace. It is us, the living, that I worry about.

I worry for Baji, who will wake up without a partner of more than 50 years; her loss is its own universe. My father and mother, who will miss the kindest shadow in their lives. And us — my brothers and I, the baby. Life will distract us; it is good at doing that. We will have other people to love and be loved by.

All day, my brother and I hummed softly to ourselves, stray lyrics that let us obliquely touch the place that hurt. I started “Tu Ganga ki Mauj” but stopped after a verse. The next morning, I put on the coffee and turned on a song by Mehdi Hassan: “Muhabbat karne walay kam na honge /Teri mehfil mein lekin hum na honge.” (Your congregation will still have other lovers /It’s just that I will be there no more.)

Complete Article HERE!

Of Death and Consequences

Religious Muslims in many nations are finding their sacred rituals of mourning disrupted.

The historian Leor Halevi.

By George Yancy

This month’s conversation in our series on how various religious traditions deal with death is with Leor Halevi, a historian of Islam, and a professor of history and law at Vanderbilt University. His work explores the interrelationship between religious laws and social practices in both medieval and modern contexts. His books include “Muhammad’s Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society” and “Modern Things on Trial: Islam’s Global and Material Reformation in the Age of Rida, 1865-1935.” This interview was conducted by email and edited. The previous interviews in this series can be found here.

— George Yancy

George Yancy: Before we get into the core of our discussion on death in the Islamic faith, would you explain some of the differences between Islam and the other two Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Judaism?

Leor Halevi: Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is a religion that has been fundamentally concerned with divine justice, human salvation and the end of time. It is centered around the belief that there is but one god, Allah, who is considered the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent force behind human history from the creation of the first man to the final day. Allah communicated with a long line of prophets, beginning with Adam and ending with Muhammad. His revelations to the last prophet were collected in the Quran, which presents itself as confirming the Torah and the Gospels. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are many similarities between the scriptures of these three religions.

There are also intriguing differences. Abraham, the father of Ishmael, is revered as a patriarch, prophet and traveler in Islam, Christianity and Judaism. But only in the Quran does he appear as the recipient of scrolls that revealed the rewards of the afterlife. And only in the Quran does he travel all the way to Mecca, where he raises the foundations of God’s house.

As for Jesus, the Quran calls him the son of Mary and venerates him as the messiah, but firmly denies his divinity and challenges the belief that he died on the cross. A parable in the Gospels suggests that he will return to earth for the judgment of the nations. The Quran also assigns him a critical role in the last judgment, but specifies that he will testify against possessors of scriptures known as the People of the Book.

Some of these alternative doctrines and stories might well have circulated among Jewish or Christian communities in Late Antiquity, but they cannot be found in either the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament. The differences matter if salvation depends on having faith in the right book.

Yancy: I assume that for Islam, we were all created as finite and therefore must die. How does Islam conceptualize the inevitability of death?

Halevi: The Quran assures us that every death, even an apparently senseless, unexpected death, springs from God’s incomprehensible wisdom and providential design. God has predetermined every misfortune, having inscribed it in a book before its occurrence, and thus fixed in advance the exact term of every creature’s life span. This sense of finitude only concerns the end of life as we know it on earth. If Muslims believe in the immortality of the soul and in the resurrection of the body, then they conceive of death as a transition to a different mode of existence whereby fragments of the self exist indefinitely or for as long as God sustains the existence of heaven and hell.

Yancy: What does Islam teach us about what happens at the very moment that we die? I ask this question because I’ve heard that the soul is questioned by two angels.

Halevi: This angelic visit happens right after the interment ceremony, which takes place as soon as possible after the last breath. Two terrifying angels, whose names are Munkar and Nakir, visit the deceased. In “Muhammad’s Grave,” I described them as “black or bluish, with long, wild, curly hair, lightning eyes, frighteningly large molars, and glowing iron staffs.” And I explained that their role is to conduct an “inquisition” to determine the dead person’s confession of faith.

Yancy: What does Islam teach about the afterlife? For example, where do our souls go? Is there a place of eternal peace or eternal damnation?

Halevi: The soul’s destination between death and the resurrection depends on a number of factors. Its detachment from a physical body is temporary, for in Islamic thought a dead person, like a living person, needs both a body and a soul to be fully constituted. Humans enjoy or suffer some sort of material existence in the afterlife; they have a range of sensory experiences.

Before the resurrection, they will either be confined to the grave or dwell in heaven or hell. The spirit of an ordinary Muslim takes a quick cosmic tour in the time between death and burial. It is then reunited with its own body inside the grave, where it must remain until the blowing of the trumpet. In this place, the dead person is able to hear the living visiting the grave site and feel pain. For the few who earn it, the grave itself is miraculously transformed into a bearable abode. Others, those who committed venial sins, undergo an intermittent purgatorial punishment known as the “torture of the grave.”

Opinion Today: Get expert analysis of the news and a guide to the big ideas shaping the world.

Prophets, martyrs, Muslims who committed crimes against God and irredeemable disbelievers fare either incomparably better or far, far worse. Martyrs, for instance, are admitted into Paradise right after death. But instead of dwelling there in their mutilated or bloodied bodies, they acquire new forms, maybe assuming the shape of white or green birds that have the capacity to eat fruit.

For the final judgment, God assembles the jinn, the animals and humankind in a gathering place identified with Jerusalem. There, every creature has to stand, naked and uncircumcised, before God. In the trial, prophets and body parts such as eyes and tongues bear witness against individuals, and God decides where to send them. Throngs of unbelievers are then marched through the gates of hell to occupy — for all eternity, or so the divines usually maintained — one or another space between the netherworld’s prison and the upper layers of earth. Those with a chance of salvation need to cross a narrow, slippery bridge. If they do not fall down into a lake of fire, then they rise to heaven to enjoy, somewhere below God’s throne, never-ending sensual and spiritual delights.

Yancy: What kind of life must we live, according to Islam, to be with Allah after we die?

Halevi: The answer depends on whom you ask to speak for Islam and in what context.

A theologian might leave you in the dark but clarify that the goal is not the fusion of a human self with the divine being, but rather a dazzling vision of God.

A mystic might tell you that the essential thing is to discipline your body and soul so that you come to experience, if only for a fleeting moment, a taste or foretaste of the divine presence. Among other things, she might teach you to seek a state of personal annihilation or extinction, where you surrender all consciousness of your own self and of your material surroundings to contemplate ecstatically the face of God.

Your local imam might tell you that beyond professing your belief in the oneness of God and venerating Muhammad as the messenger of God, you ought to observe the five pillars of worship and repent for past sins. Paying your debts, giving more in charity than what is mandated and performing extra prayers could only help your chances.

A jihadist in a secret chat room might promise your online persona that no matter how you lived before committing yourself to the cause, if you beg for forgiveness and die as a martyr, you will at the very least gain freedom from the torture of the grave.

As a historian, I refrain from giving religious advice. Muslims have envisioned more than one path to salvation, and their ideals, which we might qualify as Islamic, have changed over time. Remember, for example, that in Late Antiquity and the Early Islamic period, ascetics engaged in prolonged fasts, mortification of the flesh and sexual renunciation for the sake of salvation. This was a compelling path back then. Now it is a memory.

Yancy: If one is not a Muslim, what then? Are there consequences after death for not believing or for not being a believer?

Halevi: Belief in the possible salvation of virtuous atheists and virtuous polytheists would be difficult to justify on the basis of the Muslim tradition.

But there is a variety of opinions about your question among contemporary Muslims who profess to believe in heaven and hell. Exclusive monotheists, those advocating a narrow path toward salvation, say that every non-Muslim who has chosen not to convert to Islam after hearing Muhammad’s message is likely to burn in hell. Exceptions are made for the children of infidels who die before reaching the age of reason and for people who live in a place or time devoid of exposure to the one and only true religion. On the day of judgment, these deprived individuals will be questioned by God, who may decide to admit them into heaven.

What about Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama? Will saints and spiritual leaders also meet a dire end? This is sheer speculation but I imagine that a high percentage of Muslims, if polled about their beliefs, would readily declare that nobody can fathom the depths of Allah’s mercy and that righteous individuals should be saved on account of their good deeds.

In the late 20th century, a few prominent Muslim intellectuals, yearning for a more inclusive and pluralistic approach to religion, drew inspiration from a Quranic verse to argue that Jews and Christians who believe in one God, affirm the doctrine of the last day and do works of righteousness will also enter Paradise.

Yancy: Does Islam teach its believers not to fear death?

Halevi: I am not convinced that it effectively does that. Or that teaching believers to deal with this fear is a central aim. Arguably, many religious narratives about death and the afterlife are supposed to strike dread in our hearts and thus persuade us to believe and do the right thing. Even if a believer arrogantly presumes that God will surely save him, still, he may have to face Munkar and Nakir, contend in the grave with darkness and worms, stand before God for the final judgment and cross al-Sirat, the bridge over the highest level of hell. All of this sounds quite terrifying to me.

Of course, I realize that Sufi parables may suggest otherwise. Like the poet Rumi, who fantasized about dying as a mineral, as a plant and as an animal to be reincarnated into a better life, some Sufi masters imagined dying so vividly and so often that they allegedly lost this fear.

What Islamic narratives do teach believers is not to protest death, especially to accept the death of loved ones with resignation, forbearance and full trust in God’s wisdom and justice.

Yancy: Would you share with us how the dead are to be taken care of, that is, are there specific Islamic burial rituals?

Halevi: Instead of giving you a short and direct answer, I would like to reflect a little on how the current situation, the coronavirus pandemic, is making it difficult or impossible to perform some of these rites. Locally and globally, limits on communal gatherings and social distancing requirements have devastated the bereft, making it so very difficult for them to receive religious consolation for grief and loss.

In every family, in every community, the death of an individual is a crisis. Funeral gatherings cannot repair the tear in the social fabric, but traditional rituals and condolences were designed to send the dead away and help the living cope and mourn. The pandemic has of course disrupted this.

In Muslim cultures, the corpse is normally given a ritual washing and is then wrapped in shrouds and buried in a plot in the earth. Early on during the pandemic, concerns that the cadavers of persons who died from Covid-19 might be infectious led to many adaptations. Funeral homes had to adjust to new requirements and recommendations for minimizing contact with dead bodies. And religious authorities made clear that multiple adjustments were justified by the fear of harm.

In March of 2020, to give one example, an ayatollah from Najaf, Iraq, ruled that instead of thoroughly cleaning a corpse and perfuming it with camphor, undertakers could wear gloves and perform an alternative “dry ablution” with sand or dust. And instead of insisting on the tradition of hasty burials, he ruled that it would be fine, for safety’s sake, to keep corpses in refrigerators for a long while.

In the city of Qom, Iran, the coronavirus reportedly led to the digging of a mass grave. It is not clear how the plots were actually used. But burying several bodies together in a single grave would not violate Islamic law. This extraordinary procedure has long been allowed during epidemics and war. By contrast, burning a human body is regarded as abhorrent and strictly forbidden. For this reason, there was an outcry over Sri Lanka’s mandatory cremation of Muslim victims of the coronavirus.

Every year on the 10th day of the month of Muharram, Shiites gather to lament and remember the martyrdom of al-Husayn ibn Ali, the third Imam and grandson of Muhammad the Prophet. This year Ashura, as the day is known, fell in late August. It is a national holiday in several countries. Ordinarily, millions gather to participate in it. This year, some mourned in crowds, in defiance of government restrictions and clerical advice; others contemplated the tragic past from home and perhaps joined live Zoom programs to experience the day of mourning in a radically new way.

It is far from clear today if, when the pandemic passes, the old ritual order will be restored or reinvented. One way or the other, there will be many tears.

Complete Article HERE!

How Jews and Muslims are burying their coronavirus dead

By Daniel Burke

The women gently pour purifying water for the woman in the coffin. A soul on the threshold deserves the utmost care.

When the ritual concludes, the body is ready for the earth, the soul for the afterlife.

But first the women, members of a Jewish burial society in Pittsburgh, must sing a final prayer.

They press the Mute button.

On Zoom their voices refuse to ring as one, so one singer takes the lead while the undertaker, who is Catholic, wraps the body in simple white shrouds.

D’Alessandro Funeral Home & Crematory occupies a building that has cared for the deceased and bereaved in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, since 1897. But this — a Catholic funeral director participating via Zoom in a centuries-old Jewish tradition — is likely a first, said Dustin D’Alessandro, the mortuary’s supervisor.

It’s preferable to perform the ritual in person, said Malke Frank, founder of New Community Chevra Kadisha of Greater Pittsburgh.

But many members of the burial society are elderly and fear entering a funeral home before there is a vaccine for Covid-19, the deadly illness caused by this coronavirus. Like so many other events during this pandemic, the taharah, the name for the ritual, is performed virtually, with a bit of ingenuity and help from undertakers.

While Frank and her fellow volunteers visualize washing and drying the body, D’Alessandro walks with them through the ritual step-by-step.

“We consider them partners in what we do,” said Frank.

Ancient rituals have been forced to change

Religious rites evolve over time, said David Zinner, president of Kavod v’Nichum, a national group for Chevra Kadishas, which is Hebrew for “sacred society.”

The resurgent pandemic, which has hammered the US with new urgency in recent weeks, has sent that evolution into hyperspeed.

While public health officials are still learning about how Covid-19 spreads, the CDC has said “it may be possible” that people could become infected by touching the body of someone who has died of the virus.

“We went from caring for a person’s body the way we have for four hundred years to suddenly not being able to do that anymore,” Zinner said.

The coronavirus has changed so much about how we live, it was inevitable that it would alter how we die as well. The graveside gatherings, shoulder-to-shoulder prayers, consoling hugs and timeworn rituals have been canceled or curtailed for fears of contagion.

Orthodox Jewish men move a wooden casket from a hearse at a funeral home on April 5, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

But grief abhors a vacuum. So traditions have been adapted, as clerics turn to emergency measures prescribed in their religious laws. That’s especially true of rituals, as in Judaism and Islam, that rely on touch and intimacy with the deceased. In some instances, funeral home directors and burial societies across the country are crossing religious lines to help perform the sacred rites of passage.

D’Alessandro, who has participated in 12 burial purifications, said Frank’s society taught him about the meaning behind the rituals, imparting a sense of their importance to the living and the dead.

“I’m glad they’re allowing me to do it, despite not having a background in Judaism,” said D’Alessandro. “It’s just an incredible thing to be a part of.”

He’s insisted on providing full Islamic burials

When Covid-19 raged through New York City earlier this year, Imtiaz Ahmed was proud that his was one of the few funeral homes that still offered ghusl, an Islamic purification ritual performed on the recently deceased. As in the Jewish tahara, the body is cleansed, usually by a close family member and burial expert, then dressed in simple white robes before it is buried.

It was quite a turnaround for the Pakistani-American, who used to drive a cab and was squeamish about touching dead bodies. Now, Ahmed says, he has a clear mission.

“Once Covid started I realized that I had made the right decision,” said Ahmed, 39, “because people need my help.”

A casket of a Muslim man who died from what was believed to be the coronavirus is prepared for burial at a busy Brooklyn funeral home on May 9, 2020.

But some of the employees at his Al-Rayyan Funeral Services in Brooklyn’s “Little Pakistan” neighborhood were more reluctant. Several quit, citing health conditions or fear of contagion, Ahmed said.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends taking precautions with rituals that involve touching the dead and urges funeral homes to suit up with proper protective equipment. It is not yet known whether dead bodies can transmit the disease, according to the CDC.

The Fiqh Council of North America, a group of scholars who offer opinions on Islamic law, said there are several alternatives to touching the bodies of Covid-19 victims. In a “worst case scenario,” the council said, Muslim leaders should adopt a different method of cleansing, using sand instead of water and not opening the body bag.

Others, such as Ahmed in Queens, consider Covid-19 victims martyrs, following the Prophet Muhammad’s teaching about believers who die in plagues.

“We believe that God forgives you for whatever you are not able to do,” said Yasir Qadhi, dean of academic affairs at the Islamic Seminary of America in Dallas and a member of the council of scholars. “If the government is asking you not to wash deceased bodies, as psychologically painful as that might be, it will not affect the deceased.”

Still, many Muslims feel guilty for not being able to provide full Islamic burials, said Dr. Edmund Tori, a medical doctor and president of the Islamic Society of Baltimore.

“When you modify the prayer, you are messing with something that is very, very dear to people,” said Tori, who said his society spent several months educating the community about changes to religious practices because of Covid-19.

Muslims in Baltimore were nearly as upset about alterations to the funeral prayers. In Islam, the funeral prayers, called janazah, are a communal obligation and typically draw large crowds to mosques.

Muslim funeral homes and mosques have tried to accommodate mourners by holding the prayers outdoors, in parking lots or other open spaces hospitable to social distancing.

But the desire and obligation to attend the prayers are so great, Tori said, that the Islamic Society of Baltimore has stopped sending funeral notifications — or sends them only to a small group of people close to the deceased.

When the architect of the Islamic Societies campus died of Covid-19, Tori said, leaders kept the news quiet, leading to some upset feelings.

“Let’s just say people were not happy,” said Tori. “Everyone wanted to be there. It took a lot for the community not to come.”

This group provides ‘midwives for the soul’

Zinner, the president of the national group for Chevra Kadishas, said the risks are too high for Jewish burial societies to perform the ritual purifications in person.

The live people in the room, not the deceased body, pose the greater danger, he said. Taharahs are often performed in small rooms, with people working and singing in close proximity.

“We have to recognize that the risk is high,” Zinner said, “and we have to wait until it’s reduced.”

Instead, Zinner recommends “spiritual taharas” like the virtual service in Pennsylvania.

But the Chevra Kadisha of Greater Washington, near the nation’s capital, is continuing to conduct in-person purification rituals, said Devorah Grayson, leader of the women’s section. (Women wash and dress women; men do the same for men.)

Grayson said her society has consulted with the National Institutes of Health and CDC and volunteers wear masks, face shields, two gowns and pairs of gloves, rain boots and disposable shoe coverings. Still, 35-45% of the society’s volunteers will not perform the ritual in person.

Grayson compared participating in the ritual to going grocery shopping in the pandemic.

“The first time I did it,” she said, “it was terrifying.”

But Grayson, who belongs to the Orthodox strand of Judaism, said she feels a holy obligation to help Jews on the threshold between this world and the next. One name for burial society volunteers is “midwives for the soul.”

When souls meet God, Grayson said, they should be dressed with dignity — pandemic or not.

And so, the volunteers will continue to perform the rituals. They have survived plagues before.

When the body is properly prepared, Grayson will help place it in the coffin, adding a little soil from Israel, and softly close the lid. The midwife’s job is over, and now the soul’s must begin.

Complete Article HERE!

The daunting task of holding an Islamic funeral in a pandemic

For some Muslims, the pandemic strips away their ability to mourn

COVID-19 has upended the Islamic burial.


Grieving is difficult. Grieving during a pandemic even more so.

In the Islamic tradition, a person’s passing is marked with an elaborate and symbolic funeral. But what happens to those traditions when the world is put on pause, and when tragedy seems never-ending?

Two Muslim leaders, Ahmed Ali and Payman Amiri, share their stories on how they’ve had to adjust their practices in the time of COVID-19, and how mourning has changed in their communities. They tell Scienceline about the symbolism involved in a typical Islamic funeral, what the transition has been like as the pandemic has ramped up and their experiences of having to deal with the dead while mourners grieve from afar.

Hannah Seo: Each of our lives are marked with landmarks in time: birth, maybe a graduation, perhaps a marriage and a few anniversaries…In the Islamic tradition, one of the most important of these events is actually someone’s death.

Payman Amiri: In our culture and tradition. Dying is part of life.

Hannah Seo: This is Payman Amiri, he’s the chairman at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California, where he also works as an Imam. Imams are community leaders in Islam whose duties include teaching the Quran, leading prayers, and generally guiding the members of their communities. One of his duties is managing Islamic funeral services.

Payman Amiri: When somebody dies, you know, we try to sort of do that celebration of life, you know, like very formal in a big event and you just look at these family members that they are traveling with their loss.

Hannah Seo: But since COVID-19 spread across the nation, these funerals look vastly different.

(Guitar music)

Hannah Seo: This is Distanced, Scienceline’s Special Project about how different communities are responding to the coronavirus pandemic. In this installment, we’re looking at how the Islamic community has had to adapt its funeral services, which are important religious events.

Hannah Seo: Islamic funerals aren’t simple. They’re involved, meaningful, and the whole process can span up to several days.

Payman Amiri: The services include the washing of the body for the deceased person has to be washed in a proper way and they get treated with proper spices and herbs is a traditional thing for you. You put it on your skin and then you cover them in a white shroud…

Hannah Seo: He says that all the steps in a proper funeral service are imbued with history and symbolism.

(Guitar fades out)

Payman Amiri: So in our tradition, we believe we came from God, and our return is towards God. And so when you want to give them back, you want them to be washed clean. It has to be a white shroud, it has to be simple because every man and woman will go back to that white shroud. So it’s a symbol of humility.

Hannah Seo: Every aspect of an Islamic funeral is thought through, even the material…

Payman Amiri: It has to be cotton, it’s just everyone is treated equally because, you know, in God’s eye, everyone is equal.

Hannah Seo: Once the body is washed, the next part of the ritual can begin.

Payman Amiri: The body gets transferred to the cemetery, the body gets buried, facing toward Mecca, which is the direction all Muslims pray. And then you get the family members to, to say goodbye by putting flowers in the grave.

Hannah Seo: Or at least, that’s how things are supposed to be done.

(Guitar music)

For Payman, everything changed starting in early February, when he got a surprising call from a family in Santa Clara.

Payman Amiri: When she passed away and her family contacted us. It was the first case of community infection, and so it was a big deal.

Hannah Seo: Azar Ahrabi, a 68-year-old muslim woman from Santa Clara, California was initially diagnosed with pneumonia, but passed away from COVID-19 on March 9th. At the time, people thought she was the very first case of local community transmission of the new coronavirus in the county, but later, local health officials found two other cases who passed away before Azar’s case even came to light.

(Guitar music fade out)

Originally, Payman was supposed to arrange Azar’s funeral. But the virus, and fear of transmission meant that everyone had to take new precautions.

Payman Amiri: What happens if somebody dies with COVID they have to be in body bags, which were a thick bag with a zipper, and the body was in there. And then there are certain people who could only handle the body they have to be fully covered in PPE.

Hannah Seo: PPE is personal protective equipment: masks, gloves, etc. Suddenly mourning went from something close and intimate to something clinical, impersonal.

Payman Amiri: In our tradition, when somebody passes away, you greet the family with hugs and kisses and you hold on tight. And, of course, post COVID-19 nobody could do this.

Hannah Seo: And the moment that helps bring closure to the whole thing is usually a gathering.

Payman Amiri: Usually a lot of people show up in these memorial services, and it’s always the dinner. At the dinner table a lot of people share memories of the deceased person and it sort of helps the survivors put an end to that  chapter.

Hannah Seo: But of course the pandemic has rendered these practices impossible. With mosques, funeral homes, and various businesses shut down, that closure is hard to come by.

Payman’s struggles in the throes of the pandemic are not unique — far from it. Imams across countries have had to adjust in ways they never imagined.

Ahmed Ali: We had to go in people’s home, pick up the deceased. We went into the hospitals, we pick up bodies from there.

Hannah Seo: That’s Ahmed Ali, an imam in Brooklyn, NY. He says imams, as leaders of the community, have had to step up and show up for their people. Masjids and mosques, the usual places of worship and congregation for muslims, closed. Communities were left floundering, and only a few people were left to pick up the slack. For Ahmed, it’s been a lot to take over.

Ahmed Ali: Usually the imam’s job is to just lead the funeral prayer and rest the work is done by the funeral home, but all the employees left in the very beginning of this pandemic. And people were scared because they didn’t know how to protect themselves from this virus and nobody knew what actually this virus is. So, they called me and they say, ‘Imam, can you come and help?’ 

Hannah Seo: Shouldering all the roles himself, Ahmed became body collector, mortician, funeral director — you name it. And at times, it was gruesome.

Ahmed Ali: When we receive the body from hospital, usually they have all the IVs attached. And if the person was in critical condition, then they have tubes inside their mouth. And some time, when we remove the IVs, the blood start coming.

(Guitar music)

Hannah Seo: Ahmed says there were times he’d have to enter storage units with racks of bodies, checking toe tags to find the right person. It took its toll, and the burden was immense.

Ahmed Ali: It’s not an easy thing. So you can say it takes about two hour to wash one body. This was really difficult because picking up a body and taking it into the funeral home then unload it then put on a table, wash it, put inside the piece of cloth and then put it back inside the casket, then take it for the funeral prayer, then go to the cemetery lower down the body inside the grave. So this all work is actually really difficult.

Hannah Seo: If this seems like so incredibly much for one person to take on, that’s because it is. But Ahmed couldn’t turn away…

Ahmed Ali: I didn’t say no because this is a responsibility of an imam, that whenever things go, this kind of pandemic, then we have to show that we actually care for our community.

Hannah Seo: Comforting others is easier said than done, especially when you see your community hurting, with no power to change things.

Payman Amiri: I get emotional when [I know when] I do these services to start with because you see, you know, the family is crying and grieving when you feel for them.

(Guitar music fade out)

Hannah Seo: Recreating that connection and support during the pandemic, a time of intense disconnection, is challenging. The emotional burden of conducting a funeral is hard enough without the impediments of social distancing and Zoom preventing everyone from mourning the way they deserve to.

Ahmed Ali: Well, a lot of family members, they did use the Zoom and FaceTime and other apps to show the funeral service to their families around the world. I think, that’s an honor for me that I was able to help those families.

Hannah Seo: Ahmed Ali has led countless services all by himself, with no mourners or relatives around to claim the decedent as their own.

Ahmed Ali: Whenever I got a body with no family member, then I used to record a clip when we lower the body inside the cemetery.

Hannah Seo: Ahmed recorded these services in case friends or family came later, in case they came and wanted something to remember their loved one’s passing.

Ahmed Ali: But there are many clips I recorded and nobody ever asked for them. It’s sad because, you know, I was leading the prayer, I don’t know that person. But I was just there because, you know, I know that that person is a Muslim and a family to me.

Hannah Seo: With many states reopening, Payman and Ahmed’s lives have returned to some form of normalcy. In fact Payman recently had to organize the burial for another COVID-19 victim; this time, however, he was able to carry out a full service for the grieving family.

Things may have gotten better, but Payman and Ahmed are still anxious about the situation. The worst may be behind them, but  helping families process their loss is work that is never done.

Ahmed Ali: I as an imam just was able to stand next to them and tell them that, you know, this is reality of life. And now all we can do is pray for this deceased brother or sister.

(Prayer and guitar music in background)

Hannah Seo: This episode was reported by Jonathan Moens and me, Hannah Seo, for Scienceline. Thanks to both Payman Amiri and Ahmed Ali for sharing their stories.

Complete Article HERE!

As a Muslim Mariam lives the ‘five before five’

— and finds meaning and balance as a death doula

Mariam’s serious car accident led her to engage with Muslim attitudes to death.

By Alice Moldovan

“I collided head on with a truck, the car caught on fire. It was a huge emergency operation,” says Mariam Ardati.

It was one of those car accidents “you think nobody could have survived.”

When she crawled out of the wreckage of her car, Mariam was amazed to see that she didn’t have a single scratch on her.

As a body builder, Mariam had considered herself invincible at the time — at the peak of her fitness.

The close brush with death turned her thoughts to what would have happened to her body under Islamic tradition if she had in fact, died.

“I walked away thinking, ‘where would I have been buried? What would have happened to all my things?'”

After recovering from the trauma of the accident, Mariam says she walked into a funeral parlour and said, “teach me, show me what happens when someone dies”.

The experience prompted a spiritual journey to reconnect with the Sunni Muslim faith she had grown up with.

“I was largely self-centred up until that accident happened,” she told RN’s Soul Search, “and it helped me find purpose and meaning.”

For the last 15 years she has helped other people in the Muslim community through the transition from life into death — as a doula.

Mariam supports the dying and their families in the lead up to death, then leads the ritual care for the body of the deceased.

Anyone can take part in death care

Mariam says women have always performed the final rites for other women.

She wants people to know that there is a range of jobs that family members can do to assist after their loved one has passed away.

Supporting the head, washing the body and brushing the hair are all meaningful ways to care for the deceased.

Mariam describes how she bathes a body an odd number of times, starting with three.

“The first wash is done with soapy water. The second is with clean fresh water. And the third is water that’s poured over the body that’s been infused with camphor.”

Then family members will wrap their loved one in a death shroud that has been perfumed with incense.

“This is afforded to every Muslim that passes away,” she says.

Mariam recalls a woman she worked with who didn’t think she could enter the room where her mother’s body was undergoing the ritual washing.

“She stood at the door of the mortuary and said, ‘I don’t think I can do this, this is just too much for me’.”

Mariam reassured her that she could just watch.

Mariam Ardati says becoming a death doula has helped her find purpose and meaning.

The woman saw the water running, saw Mariam stroking her mum’s hair and talking to her, offering prayers.

By the end of the whole process, the woman had taken over.

“I took a step back and watched her — with a lot of tears and a lot of emotion — go through each ritual in its entirety.”

Mariam says seeing a daughter perform these last rites for her mother “as she’s working through her emotions and coming to terms with her grief is such a powerful thing to witness”.

She recalls many women who say, “I’m so grateful for the fact that I was able to honour my mother in that way,” or “I was able to hold my sister one last time”.

The ‘very human touch’ of burial

Muslim burial rituals have a “very human touch”, says Professor Mohamad Abdalla, referring to the practice of men going down into a grave to lower a body in with their hands, sans coffin.

Mohamad is the director of the Centre for Islamic Thought and Education at the University of South Australia.

He explains that the body is positioned with the head facing Mecca, the traditional direction of prayer.

“With the soil of the grave they make a small pillow to lay his or her head,” Mohamad says.

Mohamad says Muslim funeral practices revolve around honouring and caring for the dead.

Three quarters of the way up the grave, small edges are carved out to hold several planks of wood.

“The soil is poured over the planks of wood, not touching the body of the deceased, essentially leaving about half a metre … for the circulation of air for natural decomposition.”

Muslim death ritual requires the body be buried as quickly as possible, which can be difficult in the event of a sudden death.

“It’s an honour to bury the deceased within 24 hours,” Mariam says.

She’s referring to the belief that after death, the soul ascends and is given “the glad tidings of heaven”.

When the two are reunited in burial, the soul shares that news with the body, remaining connected throughout the process.

Organ donation and autopsies can complicate the ritual and throw timing off.

“We do exercise our rights to object to an invasive post-mortem, as do other faiths and communities,” Mariam explains.

“We believe that process is an undignified act.”

However, there are alternatives for Muslims, for instance in the case of an unexplained or suspicious death, explains Mohamad.

“In the classical Islamic civilisation, autopsy was undertaken to understand the human body and blood circulation.”

Beyond autopsy, medical procedures after death are technically allowed, because preservation of life is one of the most important objectives of Islamic law, Mohamad says.

He explains that as long as the donor or their family consents voluntarily, organs are not sold, and the organs are healthy, it is a highly virtuous act.

“But the minority viewpoint says a person has no right to dispose of their body as they wish, because it is a trust from God,” he says.

Much of Mariam’s energy is directed to increasing death literacy in the community — helping people become accustomed to the idea of dying.

She encourages the same open approach at home with her own children, in a “mother-daughter bonding exercise”.

“I have cut my own [death] shroud, and I had my daughter by my side with the measuring tape saying, ‘No mum, that’s too short, we need to make it longer this way’.”

‘Five before five’

Mariam sees her job as an opportunity to serve God through caring for other people.

“When you’re living the life of a Muslim, you’re living between two states,” she explains.

One of those refers to “fearing retribution or the accountability of your sins”, and the other is “believing in the hope and mercy of God”

Mariam says she looks for the balance between the two.

It’s a sense of purpose that leads to an understanding that “your actions have consequences, and that you’re part of a larger social context”.

A Muslim is encouraged “to take advantage of what’s known as the five before five,” she explains.

“Your health before sickness, your life before you’re overcome with death, your free time before you become busy, your youth before your old age and your wealth before you become poor.”

Mariam says Muslims’ relationship with God is “underpinned by the understanding that God is the provider of infinite love, compassion and mercy”.

But for a person to earn that favour, she or he must live a life that’s conducive to those values.

In death, Mariam sees our final transition as a deeply communal responsibility, one that she is humbled to be part of.

She says she’s glad her own encounter with a near-fatal accident showed her that she wasn’t invincible.

Rather, it gave her a sense of purpose and meaning.

“I didn’t find that in the world of the living — I found it in the world of the dead.”

Complete Article HERE!