If you’re going to an Islamic funeral for the first time you might have questions about what to expect. This article will help you understand what happens, what to wear and what to say. We’ll also look at beliefs about life after death in Islam.
What is an Islamic funeral?
An Islamic funeral is a ceremony that takes place after a Muslim person has died. Muslims follow Islam, a religion that started more than 1400 years ago.
Islamic funerals are quiet and serious occasions. People might cry, but they’re unlikely to sob loudly. This is because Muslims are encouraged to show patience and accept that it was God’s will for the person to die.
Islamic funerals take place quite soon after a person has died. It’s not unusual for the funeral to happen within 24 hours of the person’s death. Muslims throughout the local community often attend – not just close friends and family members.
What do Muslims believe about life after death?
Like Jews and Christians, Muslims strictly believe in one God. Muslims use the name Allah to refer to God.
Muslims try to lead a good life that follows the rules set by Allah in the Quran – the Islamic holy book. They believe that living religiously and performing good deeds will lead to rewards in the afterlife.
When someone dies in Islam, it’s believed that their soul goes to a place of waiting called Barzakh. Eventually, their soul will be judged and sent to Jannah (Heaven) or Jahannam (Hell).
What happens at an Islamic funeral service?
Muslim funeral rites begin as soon as a person is thought to be dying. The funeral then happens in three stages – preparing the body, saying prayers and burying the body. A period of mourning may follow.
Before a person dies
Family members and friends will come to the dying person’s bedside. They’ll do their best to make the person comfortable. They might offer water and reassuring words, including verses from the Quran.
Ideally, the dying person’s last words should be the Shahada, which is the Islamic declaration of faith. In English, this is ‘I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God’.
Preparing a Muslim’s body for burial
Islamic law says that a person’s body must be washed before it’s buried. This process is called Ghusl al-Mayyit. Close family members often do the washing. These family members are usually the same gender as the person who has died.
The body is washed at least three times, or until the water runs clear. It is always washed an odd number of times – for example, five times is okay but six times is not.
After the body is washed, it’s wrapped in a simple, plain cloth. This completes the Muslim burial preparation process.
The funeral service
Islamic funerals consist of quiet prayers, including Ṣalāt al-Janāzah – the Islamic prayer for the dead. The funeral service happens at a Mosque, but not inside it. Instead, people recite prayers in a prayer room or the Mosque’s courtyard.
A Muslim religious leader called an imam usually leads the funeral. The people at the funeral form at least three lines, with close male relations at the front. Everybody prays in the direction of Mecca, the holiest site in Islam.
Traditionally, the body is carried to the burial site by the people at the funeral. At modern funerals, the body may be transported in a hearse.
The person who has died is placed in the grave on their right-hand side, facing Mecca. Muslims don’t use coffins – instead, the body is buried wrapped in a simple cloth.
The people at the graveside say more prayers for the person who has died. People might throw three handfuls of soil into the grave. This is a Muslim burial custom that symbolises the body returning to the earth.
Muslims are almost always buried. Cremation is forbidden in Islam. Headstones may be allowed, but it’s more common to mark the grave with a stone or number.
After the funeral
Some Muslims observe a period of mourning after a funeral. A period of mourning is a time to express grief and pay respect to the person who has died. For most people, the mourning period lasts three days. Widows sometimes mourn for several months.
While they’re mourning, Muslims try to stay at home as much as possible. It’s typical for members of the community to visit mourning families. The visitors offer words of sympathy and bring food and other essentials.
What is correct Muslim funeral etiquette for non-Muslims?
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re going to an Islamic funeral as a non-Muslim:
- Showing grief: it’s okay to cry at an Islamic funeral service. However, loud sobbing or wailing is not considered appropriate.
- Praying: only Muslims are allowed to say the Islamic funeral prayer. It’s fine to quietly observe people praying, but you shouldn’t take part if you’re not Muslim.
- Bringing flowers: flowers are not part of Islamic funeral. However, some families might accept flowers after the funeral. If in doubt, it’s best to ask.
- Giving gifts: you’re not expected to bring gifts to the funeral. If you want to visit the family after the funeral, you might want to prepare some food as a small token of sympathy. Be sure that the food is Halal, meaning it complies with Islamic rules about what to eat.
What should I wear to a Muslim funeral?
Islam teaches the importance of modesty and simplicity. These values are reflected in the kinds of clothes people wear to funerals.
Smart but simple clothing is a safe bet. Men should wear a plain shirt and a pair of dark trousers. For women, an ankle-length skirt, long-sleeved top and headscarf are recommended.
It’s the same for shoes. Keep them simple, modest and presentable. And remember that shoes must be removed when entering a mosque. It’s a good idea to wear clean, plain socks or tights.
What should I say when a Muslim dies?
It’s normal to offer condolences (words of support) following an Islamic funeral. A good time to do this is after the burial ceremony or when visiting the mourning family at home. It’s best not to offer condolences during the funeral service itself.
If you’re a practising Muslim, you could say the Arabic phrase Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un. This is a verse from the Quran, which means ‘surely we belong to Allah and to him we return’. This verse is often used at funerals and other times of tragedy.
If you’re non-Muslim and want to express condolences to a Muslim friend just say what you’d say after any funeral – it’s unlikely you’ll cause offence. Common condolences are ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ and ‘you have my deepest sympathies’.
Written condolences are often appreciated too. If you’re visiting the family after the funeral, you might want to bring a handwritten sympathy card or note.
How much does an Islamic funeral cost?
The cost of a Muslim funeral in the UK varies depending on where the funeral takes place and what the family want to include.
In 2022, the average cost for a ‘basic funeral’ was £3,953 (SunLife, 2023). This doesn’t include costs for ‘optional extras’ like flowers, food and a headstone. Islamic funerals usually include some, but not all, of these extras. This means the total cost is likely to be more than the £3,953 average.
When a Muslim man dies, they’re expected to pay for their own funeral using their savings. In some traditions, a husband will pay for his wife’s funeral too. Some Muslims open a funeral savings plan – commonly known as ‘Islamic funeral cover’ – to help pay these costs.
Get help arranging a Muslim funeral in the UK
Are you arranging an Islamic funeral service? It’s a good idea to find a funeral director who has experience organising Islamic funerals. This might be easy or hard, depending on where you live.
A good first step is to reach out to people in your local Muslim community or speak to someone at your mosque. They might be able to recommend a suitable funeral director.
You could also try our funeral director search tool to find a list of funeral directors near you.
Funeral Choice helps people find and compare funeral directors in their area. For more information and support, visit our advice centre.
Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash