Islamic Funeral Traditions

Jun 8, 2010 | 3 comments

Crescent and StarThis post highlights general funeral practices of Muslims. The actual practices of Islamic individuals, families, and congregations may vary.

Treatment of the body: The body is never viewed, and embalming is prohibited. The body is washed and wrapped in a white cloth shroud. Muslims are never cremated. Autopsy is prohibited, unless it is requested by court order. Click here to listen to this interview on A Good Goodbye Radio with more details about Islamic funeral traditions.

Funeral or memorial services: Funerals usually take place within two to three days at a mosque or funeral home. The service usually lasts about 30 to 60 minutes, but sometimes longer. The funeral is a very simple ceremony conducted by an imam and no program is provided. Readings from the Qur’an may be used.

Do’s and Don’ts: If there is a guest book, sign it. An usher will advise guests on where to sit. If arriving late, enter quietly. It is not appropriate to take pictures or record the service (both audio and video). Guests of other faiths are not expected to do anything other than sit.

Interment: Guests should attend. At graveside, the imam leads the Janazah prayers for the dead and the deceased is buried. It is prohibited to step over, lean, or sit on a grave. In the United States, it is traditional for the deceased to be buried facing east, toward Mecca.

Post-Event Reception: It is appropriate to visit the home of the bereaved during the 40 days of mourning which follow a death. Individuals can set the number of mourning days they actually observe. Talk quietly with the bereaved and other visitors. Food may be served. Often women in the local Muslim community prepare food for mourners and their guests. No religious service is held in the home.

Gifts: Upon learning about the death, telephone or visit the bereaved. If visiting, shake hands or hug and kiss family members of the same gender, sit and talk quietly and offer quiet prayer. It is appropriate to send flowers or food.

Mourning period: The mourner usually returns to work after a few days. There is no Islamic prescription on when to return to a normal social schedule, which is more culturally than religiously determined. Women may refrain from normal social activities for 40 days after the death of a member of their immediate family, although men may not observe that norm. The Qur’an dictates a waiting period, called the Edda, of four months and ten days for women to mourn the death of their husband. During this time she does not wear bright clothes, use any makeup or perfume, or put on adornments.

Mourning customs: One cultural norm is for the bereaved to wear black. There are no rituals to observe the anniversary of the death.

Notes: Appropriate attire for men is a casual shirt and slacks. A dress that covers the arms, with a hem below the knee is recommended for women, and a scarf is required to cover the head. Dark somber colors are advised. Regarding jewelry, openly wearing crosses, Stars of David, jewelry with the signs of the zodiac, and pendants with faces or heads of animals or people is discouraged.

For more details on this religion’s history, beliefs, and funeral practices, you may wish to consult this excellent resource: The Perfect Stranger’s Guide to Funerals and Grieving Practices: A Guide to Etiquette in Other People’s Religious Ceremonies (SkyLight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, VT), or visit

Please post a comment to let me know if you find this information helpful, or if there are specific details you were looking for that this post did not address.

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