The Islamic term for funeral is janazah. It is a simple and very natural funeral service consisting of special prayers over the deceased in accord with the traditions of Muhammed, peace be upon the Prophet.
Maybe many of you reading this column have witnessed a Muslim janazah (funeral). Naturally many questions may arise from the time of entering a masjid (mosque), especially for first time visitors. And the questions may continue to come as family and friends of the deceased gather at the “Muslim section” in the cemetery. Both Crown Hill Cemetery and New Crown Cemetery have sections dedicated for Muslim only burials to accommodate the Islamic requirement of facing the Muslim’s right side towards Mecca.
If the janazah is held at a local masjid (mosque) we remove our shoes upon entering the prayer area. As mentioned the Islamic service is simple and natural. Most Muslim services you’ll see the absence of a casket with the body of our loved one — according to Islamic tradition — shrouded in cloth after being washed, groomed and scented, 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. A kinship between people of faith is strengthened.
The reason we ask everyone to remove their shoes upon entering the musallah (the part of the mosque used for praying) is because our five daily prayers require that we put our face on the floor. Our shoes track dirt and filth that we do not want transferred to where we 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 growing trend by many non-Muslims is to have “green burials” that avoids contaminating the earth with the unnatural effects of toxic formaldehyde embalming fluid and the ultimate deterioration of metal from caskets.
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.
There is much more that can be shared on the Muslim funeral (janazah). Hopefully we can continue this discussion later.
Michael “Mikal” Saahir is the resident Imam of Nur-Allah Islamic Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 317 753-3754.