The Islamic term for funeral is janazah. In Arabic this term for funeral is mainly the saying of special prayers over the deceased in accord with the traditions of Muhammed, peace be upon the Prophet.
The recent Islamic funeral of Safee-Ullah Abdulrahim was witnessed by hundreds of Muslims as well as believers of other faiths, mostly Christians. Naturally, as expected many questions arose from the time of entering the mosque, which was a first visit for many in attendance. Questions continued to come as we gathered at the “Muslim section” in Crown Hill Cemetery.
Some wondered, “Why must we remove our shoes? And some asked about the absence of a casket. Safee-Ullah, according to Islamic tradition was shrouded in cloth after being washed, groomed and scented. This is very similar to the Jewish tradition in which Christ Jesus was buried.
In the Bible, John 19:40 states, “Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.”
When most Christians learn that the Muslim funeral service is extremely similar to Jesus’ funeral, a sense of peace overcomes them and a kinship between people of faith is strengthened.
Muslims remove their shoes upon entering the musallah (the part of the mosque used for praying) because our prayer requires that we put our face on the floor. Our shoes track dirt and filth that we do not want transferred to where we will pray. Praying, or falling upon the face is the highest form of submission to G-d, as witnessed and performed by Christ Jesus in Mathew 26:39, and by Moses in Numbers 20:6.
The deceased Muslim, unless forced by extenuating circumstances, is never embalmed internally. Due to the fact that the human body is a special creation of G-d, although lifeless, it is still accorded every respect. No unnecessary autopsies are to defile or disfigure G-d’s creation. No unnecessary freezing of the body is to be done. Cremation is strictly forbidden in Al-Islam. We are not to burn or tarnish the body of the deceased. Prophet Muhammed ordered his followers to protect the remains and to give the deceased a speedy but respectful burial. It is reported that Prophet Muhammed said, “To honor the dead is to bury them.”
The Muslim funeral is designed to keep us in touch with the natural order of life. A trend is moving across America by non-Muslims who are opting to have “green burials.” They are concerned about the unnatural effects of toxic formaldehyde embalming fluid, air-tight caskets sheathed in steel that is as thick as car fenders and waterproof burial vaults of reinforced concrete.
It is part of the plan of G-d that we all return to “dust,” meaning that our current physical state is not eternal. The Islamic funeral is conducted in a manner that facilitates that natural process of return of the physical body to the physical earth. Both Bible and Qur’an recognize this natural returning process.
The Holy Qur’an replies to the disbelievers who begrudgingly ask, ‘Who can give life to dry bones and decomposed ones at that?’ The reply states, “…He will give them life who created them in the first time, for He is well versed in every kind of creation.” (Qur’an: 36:78-79)
The Bible in Genesis 3:19 also recognizes this natural returning process, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
In Al-Islam we believe that internal embalming and the use of caskets is man’s feeble attempts to artificially preserve a physical body that G-d has deemed to return to dust. As Muslims we do all that we can to conform to the natural order given to us from G-d in his scriptures.
The interment of the deceased Muslim requires that the body is laid on its right side with the front of the body facing Mecca; which is northeast from North America, not eastward. Every grave in the Muslim section is orientated northeast towards Mecca.
This is the direction that Muslims face when saying our five daily prayers. Mecca is the center of the Islamic world. For example, if a Muslim is in China they would face west when they pray and do the same for burying their loved ones.
However, for Muslims living in most parts of Europe they will face south. G-d says in the Holy Qur’an, “From whencesoever Thou startest forth, turn Thy face in the direction of the sacred Mosque; that is indeed the truth from the Lord. And God is not unmindful of what ye do. (2:149)
There is much more that can be shared on the Muslim funeral (janazah). Hopefully we can continue this discussion later.
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