(Editor’s note: This is the part-4 of Last Rituals Series published by INDIA New England News in collaboration with the Desai Foundation. There are many different religions and communities in India and each has different beliefs, customs, prayers, and practices regarding last rituals. In today’s series, we focus on last Islamic rites.)
When someone passes away in the Muslim community, he or she is buried. Before burial however, a few different processes must take place in this order: Ghusl (washing the body), Kafan (wrapping the body in white cloth), Salat-ul Janazah (funeral prayer), and then Dafan (burial).
All of these processes must be performed in a certain way.
Riaz Khan of the Islamic Council of New England describes these processes in her document titled “Islamic Funeral Guidelines.” We would like to give full credit to this source for providing us with the passage about each step as seen below.
First, we start with the Ghusl.
After the deceased’s body has been transported to a funeral home, the following manpower and supplies should be available for washing the body:
• Four individuals (minimum three) to do the washing
• A table or a board to wash the body on
• Pair of scissors
• Hot/cold water
• Soap and camphor (optional)
• Disposable gloves
• Cotton (roll/balls)
• Three/four white sheets • Towels
Males wash the male body and females wash the female body. The Satr (private area) of the deceased must remain covered at all times. The Satr of a male is from navel to knees and of a female from breast to ankles. Those handling the body should wear gloves. Use warm water for washing. First wash the table thoroughly with warm water/soap. Transfer the body gently on to the washed table. Cover the Satr with a white sheet and change it frequently as it gets wet. Cut the garments (if any) under the sheet and remove them carefully. Press the abdomen firmly but gently.
Wash off any emissions that might result from pressing the abdomen. Put cotton in mouth/ears/nostrils to keep water from entering. Now give Wadu (ablution) to the body by washing in the following manner: Face three times Arms up to elbows three times (first right then left) Perform Masah (passing wet hands over head, behind neck & around the ears) Feet up to ankles three times (first right then left) Using wet cotton, clean mouth/nose/ears, and close these areas again with cotton. Now wash the head (also beard for a male) with soap (and camphor). Wadu is done. Now perform the Ghusl in the following manner: Turn the body on its left side and wash it three times from head to toe. Turn it now on the right side and wash it three times from head to toe. Lift the head and bring the body to a sitting position and massage the stomach. Wash the private area if anything is expelled (no need to repeat the wadu/ghusl). Turn the body on left side and pour camphor water three times from head to toe
Turn the body on left side and pour camphor water three times from head to toe. Ghusl is now complete. Remove the cotton from mouth/ears/nostrils. Change the top sheet and wipe the body with towels or sheets. Generous application of non-alcoholic perfume can be made to the head and beard. Camphor can be rubbed on forehead, nose, hands, knees, and forefeet. The body is now ready to be wrapped in the Kafan.
Unstitched kafan is made out of white (preferably cotton) fabric about 4 feet wide. A male’s kafan consists of three pieces while a female’s of five as follows: Qamees (Shirt) 4 feet x 10 feet; Izar (Body Wrap) 4 feet x 6 feet; Lifafa (Envelope) 4 feet x 8 feet; Chest Wrap (only for female) 4 feet x 4 feet; Hijab (only for female) 4 feet x 4 feet.
Qamees covers the body from neck to the feet. Izar from head to feet. Lifafa from above head to below feet Chest Wrap from shoulders to knees Hijab goes around the head with the edges spread over the chest. In addition, tear off three or six strings of about 4 in.x 4 ft. each to tie the body at different places for holding the kafan together. Fold the Qamees over in half and cut a neck-size hole at the crease in the middle. One side will be the back of the shirt and the other the front. Cut a 4 in. slit in the front at the hole so that the head can go through the hole easily. Procedure for Wrapping the Body:
Spread the Lifafa on a clean flat surface Spread the Izar evenly on Lifafa Spread the folded Qamees evenly on Izar Roll up the front of Qamees toward the hole Transfer the body onto the back of the Qamees.
Unroll the upper of the Qamees on the front of the body with head through the hole Wrap the body with Izar, the left side being under the right in the middle of the body Wrap the body with the Lifafa similarly Gather the ends of the Lifafa and tie each with a string Tie one string in the middle The body is now ready for Salat-ul Janazah
Spread the Lifafa on a clean flat surface Spread the Chest wrap evenly on Lifafa Spread the Izar evenly on Chest Wrap Spread the folded Qamees evenly on Izar Roll up the front of Qamees toward the hole Lay the body on the back of the Qamees Unroll the upper of the Qamees on the front of the body with head through the hole Fold the Hijab in half and push half under the head Wrap the other half around the head without covering the face Spread the end of the Hijab over the chest Wrap the body with Izar, the left side being under the right in the middle of the body Wrap the body with the Chest Wrap similarly Tie one string under the shoulders, one in the middle, and one above the knees Cover the face with Hijab Wrap the body with the Lifafa similarly Gather the ends of the Lifafa and tie each with a string
Tie one string in the middle The body is now ready for Salat-ul Janazah
This salat is a community obligation and is a right of the deceased. Some members must perform it to fulfill this collective responsibility; otherwise everyone is guilty of noncompliance. It is silent and is offered only standing with four takbeerat (Allah O Akbar). Only the imam says a takbeer aloud and others repeat it softly. There is no azan, iqama, ruk’u, or sujood. An odd number of safouf (rows), three or more, are formed. Deceased’s body is placed in front of the imam in such a way that the right side of the body faces the Qibla. In case of a male, the imam stands in line with the head of the body, and moves to the middle if the deceased is a female. Niyah (Intention) for Salat:
The niyah for this salat is: I intend to offer salat-ul janazah for Allah with four takbeerat, facing the Holy Ka’aba, behind this imam.
Method of performing Salat:
Form safouf behind the imam.
- At the first takbeer, raise hands up to the ears and fold as usual in daily salat and quietly read the thana. Some also read the sura Fatiha in addition to the thana.
- At the second takbeer, repeat the takbeer quietly without raising hands (some raise hands) and read Tashahood – Durood Ibrahimi (invoking greetings on to the Prophet)
- At the third takbeer, similarly, make du’a for the deceased.
- After the fourth takbeer, repeat it quietly and invoke Tasleem by turning the face to the right following the imam.
Salat-ul janazah is over.
Every effort should be made to bury the body in a Muslim cemetery or in a cemetery that has a designated Muslim section.
The grave should be opened in such a way that when the body is placed in it its right side faces the Qibla. It should be large enough to accommodate the body without a casket. Typically, for an adult, the opening is 3½ ft W x 7 ft L x 6 ft D. The grave should be excavated in two parts depth-wise. The lower (about 1 ½ ft deep) part is dug narrower, by allowing a ledge (about 6 inches) all around at the bottom, than the upper (about 4 ½ ft) portion. The ledge is used to support large stone or strong wood slabs.
Lowering the Body in the Grave:
Slowly and gently lower the body in the lower chamber of the grave .
Untie the strings. Turn the face toward the Qibla. Raise the head slightly by placing a stone or hard soil under. Now put a roof over the body by placing large stone or strong wood slabs on the ledge around it. Everyone in the funeral now should pour three handful (using both hands) of soil on the roof.
Now fill the rest of the grave with soil shaping the top like a hump of a camel, but not raising more than a foot from the ground. In concluding, one person should stand by the head of the grave and recite the first five verses of sura al’Baqr and then move toward the other end and recite the last three verses of it. The funeral is now complete. May Allah (SWT) accept our services and supplications and make the journey easy for the deceased in the grave. Ameen!
Special Cases of the deceased:
Miscarried Fetus: If the fetus is less than four months old, it should be wrapped in a white piece of cloth and buried. There is no ghusl, kafan or salat-ul janazah for this fetus. If the fetus is more than four months old, it may be washed, covered with one or two sheets, and buried with or without salat-ul janazah.
Child: Before reaching the age of puberty, a child may be washed by males or females. After reaching the age of puberty, however, a child will be treated like an adult. Shaheed (Martyr): The body of a shaheed should be buried in the clothes it was found without ghusl, kafan or salat-ul janazah.
Notes: – If the deceased body is bleeding or leaking, cotton padding should be used to prevent it and for keeping the kafan from getting wet. – Those who give the ghusl to the body should make wadu. – Those who have given the ghusl should take a bath and change clothes. – No reading of the Qur’an during the ghusl or any zikr (remembrance of Allah). – Unless necessary, funeral services are prohibited during sunrise/sunset/noon. – It’s prohibited to build any kind of structure on the grave. – Women are not allowed to attend the funeral. Um-Atiyah reports: We were prohibited to accompany funeral processions (Bukhari & Muslim). – It’s prohibited to cremate the body. – Unless required by law, autopsy is prohibited. – The body should be buried locally. – There are no Islamic teaching to o Transfer the body to another country. o Reveal the face of the body in the grave. o Shout with any special zikr during and after the burial. o Read the Qur’an in the cemetery. o Place any flowers or water around the grave. o Wear black clothes.
Iddah (Waiting Period) for a Widow: The Iddah for a Muslim woman, who has lost her husband, is four (lunar) months and ten days. If she is pregnant, the iddah ends at the delivery. During this period she must stay in her home and may leave only when it’s absolutely necessary (e.g., medical emergency).
For the Muslim community in Boston, the Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland, Massachusetts recommends that you first contact Dr. Imam Talal Eid of the Islamic Institute of Boston at 617-471-8019 or 617-365-7427 before contacting a funeral home. He will help you with all funeral procedures and arrangements.
Please remember that these rituals vary depending on what the Decedent’s family and/or friends feel comfortable doing and appropriate for the person they are honoring. As with this whole process, there is no specific ritual or practice, social or religious, that you have to do; you should do what you feel will honor the memory of your loved one and what will help you cope best.