Islamic Funeral and Burial Services
Syed A. Majid Shah and B. K. Ahmad
When it appears that death is near, recitation of Sūrah Yā Sīn (Chapter 36 of the Holy Qur’ān) is recommended. The topics dealt within this Sūrah are of a nature that alleviate the suffering of the dying and offer spiritual comfort. One should also recite, in a low but audible tone, the Takbīr and Kalimah Shahadah near the dying person. Once the person is dead, all present and those who come to know of the death should recite:
Transliteration: Innā lillāhi wa inna ilaihi Rāji‘ūn
“Surely, to Allāh we belong and to Him shall we return.”
The eyes of the deceased should be closed by hand and a cloth should be bound around the chin and head, so that the mouth remains closed. Instead of wailing and crying out loud, one should remain composed and attend to the funeral and burial arrangements. Islām instructs that Muslims should arrange the burial of a deceased person in a simple but dignified manner.
The performance of funeral rituals and burial service (washing of the body, shrouding, funeral prayer and burial) are obligatory for all believers but considered “Fardh Kafaiyya.” That is to say, if three or more persons undertake the observance, others are absolved. Otherwise it is obligatory on everyone. If no one offers the funeral prayer of a Muslim, the entire local community is considered to be sinful in this neglect. As such, it is essential for everyone to know the basics of how to perform this duty.
Bathing/Washing of the Body of the Deceased:
Fresh and clean lukewarm water should be used to wash the body. The practice of the Holy Prophetsa was to put some Beri (a type of jujube tree) leaves in the water to be used for washing the dead body. If Beri leaves are not available, a small quantity of an antiseptic could be used.
The private parts of the deceased should be washed first. Then, those parts of the body that are washed during wuḍu (ablution), i.e., the hands, face, arms to the elbows and the scalp. It is not required to pour water into the mouth or nostrils. Then, the rest of the body should be washed three times, the right side first and then the left. The private parts of the deceased should remain covered by a cloth at all times. Only men may bathe deceased males and women, the deceased females. However, if a woman is not available, the husband may bathe his wife’s body and vice versa.
Shrouding/Wrapping the Body
After the body is bathed and dried, the next step is shrouding, which involves systematically wrapping the body with white cloth (three pieces for men and five pieces for women). The shroud (kafan) should be unstitched inexpensive white cloth.
For men, the shroud consists of three pieces of cloth:
A bottom sheet/piece of cloth to cover the lower part of the body (front and back) completely, like a skirt.
A top sheet/piece of cloth to wrap the upper part of the body, like a shirt.
A large sheet/piece of cloth that covers the entire body from the head to the feet, and long and wide enough to tie the top and the bottom parts, with belts/strings made of the same cloth. All these pieces of cloth are pre-cut and kept ready to facilitate shrouding when the body is laid on them.
For women, two additional pieces of cloth are used, one for the chest and the other for the head.
The body of a martyr does not need to be bathed or shrouded and should be buried in the very clothes worn at the time of death.
Funeral Prayer (Namāz Janāza)
After bathing and wrapping the dead body in its shroud, it should be placed in a wooden casket and transferred to the place where the funeral prayer is to be performed. The funeral prayer is held in a suitable gathering place indoors or in the open. The casket is placed in front of the Imām so that the face of the deceased is in the direction of the Ka‘abah. Those present for the funeral prayer should arrange themselves in an odd number of rows behind the Imām.
The Imām commences the prayer by saying “Allāhu Akbar” (“Allāh is Great”) loudly while raising his hands to his ears. The followers say the same in a low tone. The Imām then silently recites Thanaa and Sūrah Fātiha. The followers should recite the same silently. He then says Allāhu Akbar without raising his hands. The followers also say “Allāhu Akbar” in a low tone without raising their hands. The whole congregation then recites Durūd Sharīf (Salutations) silently. After that, the Imām says “Allāhu Akbar” for the third time and everyone recites the specific prayer for the deceased silently (see below). The Imām then says Allāhu Akbar for the fourth and last time and turning his face towards the right says: “Assalāmo ‘alaikum wa Rahmatullāh” (“Peace be upon you and the blessings of Allāh”). Then turning his face towards the left repeats the same, to mark the end of the prayer. The followers do the same and repeat silently “Assalāmo ‘alaikum wa Rahmatullāh,” turning their faces to the right and left.
There is no Rukku or Sajdah in the funeral prayer. Namāz Janaza Ghaib (funeral prayer in absentia) may also be offered for a deceased person, especially for prominent or well-known people or when only a few Muslims were available to offer the funeral prayer initially. However, offering funeral prayer in absentia should not become a routine practice.
If the deceased is an adult, male or female, the following prayer is recited:
Transliteration: Allāhumaghfir lihayyina wa mayyitina wa shahidina wa ghaibinā wa saghīrinā wa kabirinā, wa Zakarinā wa unthānā. Allāhumma man ahyaitahu minna fa ahyihī ‘alal Islām, wa man tawaffaitahu minna fa tawaffahu ‘alal Imān. Allāhumma lā tahrimna ajrahu wa lā taftinna ba‘dahu.
Translation: “O Allāh, forgive our living ones and our deceased ones and those of us who are present and those who are absent, and our young ones and our old ones and our males and our females. O Allāh those of us whom You grant life, keep them firm on Islām, and those of us whom You cause to die, cause them to die in Faith. Deprive us not, O Allāh, of the benefits relating to the deceased and subject us not to trial after him.”
Funeral Prayer for a Male Child (to be recited instead of the aforementioned prayer):
Transliteration: Allāhumaj ‘alhu lanā salafanwa forotan-wajalhu lanā ajranwa zukhran-wajalhu lanā shafianwa mushaffan
Translation: “O Allāh, make him our forerunner, and make him for us a reward and a treasure and make him for us a pleader and accept his pleading.”
Funeral Prayer for a Female Child (to be recited instead of the aforementioned prayer)
Transliteration: Allāhumaj ‘alhā lanā salafanwa furutan-wadukhran wajranwa shafiatanwa mushaffah
Translation: “O Allāh, make her our forerunner, and make her for us a reward and a treasure and make her for us a pleader and accept her pleading.”
After the funeral prayer, the body should be taken to the cemetery for burial without delay and all should accompany the body to the cemetery. Those who follow the funeral procession should continue to remember Allāh (Zikr-e-Ilahi) as well as pray for the forgiveness of the deceased in a low tone. The grave may be prepared either as a dug up area, which contains a further niche on the side for the body to rest on or it may be just a dug up area. It is essential for the grave to be wide and spacious. In extreme cases more than one body may be buried in a single grave. The body must be lowered into the grave with proper care. As the body is placed in the grave, the sheet wrap should be loosened a bit at the opening and the face tilted a little towards the Ka‘abah.
As the body is lowered into the ground the following should be recited:
Transliteration: Bismillahi wa billahi ‘alā millati rasulillāhi sall Allāhu alaihi wa sallam
“In the Name of Allāh and with His blessings upon the path set by the conduct of the Messenger of Allāh, May Peace and Blessings of Allāh be upon him.”
When the casket is covered up with loose soil the following should be recited:
Transliteration: Minha khalaqnākum wa fīhā nu‘īdukum wa minhā nukhrijukum tāratan ukhrā.
Translation: “We have created you out of this (dust) and we shall return you to it and it is out of the same that we shall revive you in the end.”
It was the practice of the Holy Prophetsa to make the grave somewhat higher than ground level (like a raised arching curve or hump).
When the burial is complete, a brief silent congregational prayer with raised hands should be offered for the forgiveness of the deceased.
The mourners should leave the cemetery reciting the following:
Transliteration: Assalāmo ‘alaikum wa innā Insha’Allāhu bikum la-lāhiqun
Translation: “Peace be upon you and God willing we are certainly bound to join you.”
Community members must offer condolences to the relatives of the deceased. It is recommended that near and dear ones or neighbors provide meals to the bereaved family for three days. Offering of personal condolences and bereavement should be maintained for a period of three days. After that life should resume as normal. One must not give in to superstitions.
The period of bereavement for the widow of the deceased is four months and ten days. According to the Holy Qur’ān, this period is prescribed to stabilize her mentally and emotionally. Women are under a great deal of stress, more so than men in this situation and need protection from others who may exploit them, when they are most vulnerable. During this period, a widow should not leave her home except for unavoidable reasons.
If the widow is the only earning member in the family and has to maintain her job obligations, she is allowed to go out to perform essential professional responsibilities. She should dress in a simple manner, abstain from wearing make-up or perfume or take part in festive activities. She should observe patience, offer gratitude to her Creator and spend this time in the remembrance of Allāh.
In case of converts to Islām, the next of kin may be Christian, Jew, Hindu, or of some other faith. After death, the dead body legally belongs to the next of kin. The Muslim’s wishes for his/her funeral and burial arrangements should be discussed beforehand with the legal next of kin. It is best to make a will for all funeral and burial rights, and provide one copy to one’s relatives and another to the Aḥmadīyya Muslim Community. Adequate funds should be set aside for one’s burial arrangements. The relatives should also be made aware that the estate should be divided as per Islāmic laws of inheritance stated in the Holy Qur’ān. A legal professional should be consulted for making the will.