Muslim Funeral Traditions: Everything you should know

It is natural to want to console those who have lost a loved one. However, every culture has its own way of handling a death, and they may be very different from our own ways. Knowing a culture’s funeral traditions can help you honor one who has passed. 

Islam is a monotheistic faith based on the revelations received by the Prophet Muhammad. The followers of this religion are called Muslims. The Islamic culture treats death with great respect that begins before the moment of death.

Frequently Asked Questions
How long does a Muslim funeral last?
Typically, the service lasts 30 to 60 minutes.
How should you dress?
Mourners should dress modestly. Men should wear a simple shirt with long sleeves and plain pants. Women must wear loosely fitting clothing and a headscarf.
What do you bring to a Muslim funeral?
Food, meals and sympathy baskets are acceptable during the three day mourning period. Do not bring non-halal food or alcohol.

What Happens Before The Funeral

If the death is not sudden, members of the Muslim community gather around one who is dying. They give comfort, recite verses from the Qur’an, the Islamic religious text, and pray.

After death, the loved one is positioned to face Mecca if they aren’t already. Then family members will wash the body three times. This ablution is a religious ritual that spiritually cleanses the loved one. They are then ceremonially wrapped in a white cloth. 

The Muslim Funeral

The funeral itself may be very brief and take place shortly after death, sometimes within twenty-four hours. It is a simple, but powerful, ceremony. Each community has its own nuances regarding the funeral, but there are some general things to be aware of.

Death and the subsequent funeral and morning period involve the entire local Muslim community. It is not uncommon that people who don’t know the deceased attend the funeral.

The shrouded body is presented. It is not usually cremated or in a casket.

Men, women, and children all have their own places to stand during the funeral. Men are at the front, children are in the middle, and women are at the back. 

The funeral is for asking for forgiveness of the sins of the deceased as well as for safe travel to the afterlife. In light of this, several prayers are silently said. The Imam, the Muslim religious leader, will mark the beginning and end of each prayer by saying, “Allah Akbar”, which means “God is greater” or “God is [the] greatest”. It is acceptable to stand silently through the funeral if you feel uncertain.

Funeral Proprieties

Mourners should dress modestly. Men should wear a simple shirt with long sleeves and plain pants. Women must wear loosely fitting clothing such as a long-sleeved shirt with a high neck and an ankle-length skirt. They should also cover their heads. In addition, women should wear muted makeup and not wear any jewelry or accessory that is flashy. It is also customary for all participants to remove their shoes in the mosque.

Displays of grief are not common at a Muslim funeral. It is a quiet ceremony. While it is alright to cry, wailing or other unrestrained forms of mourning are not appropriate. Also there is no talking during the funeral.

It is forbidden to take video, record, or photograph a Muslim funeral. Remember to turn off your cell phone or leave it in your car.

Since funerals are for asking forgiveness, it is not the place to offer condolences. It is also improper to bring flowers or other expressions of sympathy.  Similarly, it is unsuitable to bring flowers or other remembrances to the gravesite.

Traditionally, only men were allowed at the burial of the body. Things have changed and in some cases, women and children are allowed at the interment of the body.

Paying Condolences

The funeral is not the place to express condolences. After the funeral, there is a remembrance period of three days. During those three days, family members and friends will intone prayers continuously. The mourning period can vary and be extended up to forty days.

As with the funeral, no loud or disruptive shows of grief should take place when paying your respects to the family.

It is inappropriate to bring gifts, money, or flowers when visiting the grieving family. It is fine to bring food. Remember that food must be “halal” meaning permitted. In general, most food, including most meats, is halal. Do not bring, alcohol since it is not halal. 

What to bringWhat not to bring
Food or drinks (halal)
Food baskets
Flowers
Money
Alcohol

Attending a Muslim funeral can be a beautiful and powerful experience. Because there are different customs, don’t hesitate to contact the Imam or other members of your local Muslim community if you have questions about the service and practices.