Allah says in the Quran in Surah aal-Imraan that every soul will taste death. He also says that people will get compensation for how they lived on the Day of Resurrection. Whoever did good deeds and obeyed Allah will get closer to Paradise, while those who sinned will be closer to Hellfire. Thus, death and funerals are an undeniable part of life for any living creature.
Allah Himself is the only Being that lives for eternity. Some of His creation may delude themselves into thinking that they can avoid death somehow. Perhaps they dream of someone developing a magical anti-aging pill. Or maybe they think they are too great to die, as has been the case with some tyrannical rulers of the past. However, death is a reality, and for humans, a funeral follows it.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) told us to often remember the destroyer of pleasures, which is death. However, nowadays, many Muslims are detached from the reality of death because they aren’t often exposed to dying people or funerals. Most people on the verge of death go to hospitals and pass away there. Meanwhile, people usually only attend funerals of immediate relatives.
How Muslims should behave near a dying person
If the sick and dying person can understand people and still has the ability to see and hear, a Muslim needs to reassure him and pray for him. We should let the person know that the sickness can result in Allah forgiving his sins. We must be extremely gentle and supplicate for the person’s forgiveness.
If the person on the verge of death is a non-Muslim, we should urge them to accept Islam. This is for their sake, in the hope that they may gain salvation. As Allah has informed us in the Quran, He will forgive any sin besides taking partners with or worshiping someone besides him.
When a person faces death, he may undergo a lot of struggle or pass away peacefully. Once death is inevitable, we must realize what is about to happen and ready ourselves for rituals such as the funeral. We should encourage the person to say La ilaha il Allah, which are the ideal last words, meaning there is no God but Allah.
Once the person has passed away, those near them should close their eyes and pray for them. Allah tells us to say ‘Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun’ when we’re afflicted by a calamity. It means that we belong to God, and we return to Him. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also encouraged us to pay off any unpaid debts of the departed person as soon as possible.
As preparation for the funeral, we must cover up the body completely. However, first, we must prepare the body for washing. Persons of the same gender as the deceased should partake in the washing ritual, besides a husband for his wife and vice versa, or in the case of young children. There is a precise method for washing the body according to Islam, which we must follow.
It is customary for relatives and friends to cry and feel sad at the loss. However, it’s essential to show patience and fortitude in such situations. The Prophet (PBUH) discouraged emotions that included wailing and crying in loud voices, beating chests, or pulling hair and clothes out of misery.
Once the body is in a shroud, then the next step is to offer the funeral prayer. This is the right of every Muslim that departs this world. The maximum number of people should attend it. Nowadays, the common practice is to spread the news about the prayer among friends, relatives, and the public via technology, which is ideal. The funeral prayer and funeral should be held as soon as possible.
Muslims should perform the funeral prayer in the congregation. You can even attend the funeral prayer of someone who you have never known. The Prophet (PBUH) encouraged this and said people would get great rewards. A large number of congregants during the prayer will also result in reward for the departed person. The Prophet (PBUH) said if 40 persons pray in a funeral prayer, Allah will accept their prayers.
The method of the funeral prayer is very different from the standard prayer. The Muslims should place the body in front of the congregation, then an Imam leads the prayer. First, the Imam and the Muslims say takbeer. Then, everyone says Surah Fatiha silently. Then, the Imam says takbeer once again. After that, we send salutations to the Prophet (PBUH). Then, the Imam says the third takbeer. After that, we pray for the departed person. Then, the Imam says the fourth and final takbeer, after which we pray for the Muslim ummah. After this, we turn toward the right and end with ‘Assalamu alaykum wa rahmat Allah.’ Note that there is no ruku, sujood, jalsa, etc., in the funeral prayer.
When the funeral prayer is complete, then Muslims immediately prepare for burial. In most cases, they transfer the body to a waiting car or bus. People wishing to partake in the burial go to the location for it.
It is rewarding to carry the deceased, even if that is just from the place of prayer to a car, as is often the case nowadays. The Prophet (PBUH) said that whoever follows the funeral of a Muslim until they offer funeral prayer will have one qeerat. Meanwhile, the person who stays until the burial will get two qeerat. When asked, he stated that a qeerat is like a huge mountain.
The Muslim should be buried in a Muslim graveyard. The Sunnah is to place the body into the grave and then turn the person to his right side, with the face facing the Qibla. The person who lowers him into the grave should say, ‘Bismillahi wa ala sunnat Rasool Allahi,’ meaning, ‘In the name of Allah and according to the Messenger of Allah’s Sunnah.’
Those gathered at the grave for the funeral should then throw handfuls of earth, preferably at least three each, that they scoop up into both hands. The people should ensure that the grave is completely covered with soil to complete the burial. It’s best to make the grave a little higher than the ground so that it’s clear it’s a grave.
This is the method of burial for every Muslim person unless there is another specified method in a foreign country that is obligatory to adhere to. Whether he had one dollar or one billion dollars, it’s of no consequence—every Muslim finishes in a shroud and in a small grave under the earth.
Offering condolences after the funeral
After the burial and associated rites are complete, Muslims should offer condolences to the family of the person who passed away. We should do this in a way that comforts the family members and helps them to cope with the loss. We must also realize the sensitivity of the situation.
Much of what we see around us nowadays after the funeral is not part of the sunnah. One of the most common things is people gathering at the house of the deceased’s family. Often, the bereaved family has to make arrangements for food for all the people gathered. Instead, the people who are offering condolences should make arrangements for food.
The Prophet (PBUH) said that the deceased person suffers when a person wails loudly to mourn. Hence, mourners should avoid making a lot of noise. A woman can mourn for three days, as the Prophet (PBUH) outlined in a Hadith.
However, if a woman loses her husband, she must observe an iddah period of four months and ten days, during which she can’t receive any marriage proposals. If there is any pregnancy confirmed, then the mourning period should extend until the child’s delivery.
A funeral is an emotional period for everyone. It’s a trying time for the family of the deceased, and even more so for the dead person themselves as they begin to undergo the trials and tribulations of the grave. However, Islam has outlined a clear path for people to mourn and accept the reality and move on, hoping that Allah forgives the person who has passed away.