The death and burial traditions of a religion can provide assurance and hope for the grieving family during their time of loss. While coping with the loss of a friend or family member is always difficult, Islam funeral and burial customs often relieve the stress of decision making by outlining the preparation and procedures necessary.

Death is considered one of the most important stages in a person’s journey to God. Muslims believe that judgment comes following death where the eternal destiny will be either Jannah (paradise or heaven) or Jahannam (punishment or hell). By accepting Islam, even if only moments before death, and saying the Shahadah, the dying person will go to Jannah after judgment.

When Death Is Near

When death is near, the family and friends should make every effort to be present. The family can surround the dying person with comfort and love. The dying person should feel safe and that he is not alone. Prayers are often said on behalf of the person, for strength and to relieve the pain, for comfort and hope in facing the future and for the forgiveness of sins. Appropriate passages from the Qur’an are read and if possible, purification rites are performed.

As death becomes very close, the closest relative should take a place close in order to whisper the Shahadah quietly in the ear of the dying person. The dying person can be encouraged to repeat the words together with other family members. If at all possible, it is suggested that the last words from a Muslim be “There is no true god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger or Prophet of God.”

Once the Death Occurs

When the loved one passes away, the family and friends gathered should remain calm by praying for the deceased or reciting Scriptures. The eyes of the deceased should be gently closed. The body should be wrapped in a clean sheet and be prepared for the ceremonial washing.

The family and friends should recite together a simple prayer for those who are grieving because of a tragedy. Often the words repeated are “To God we belong and unto Him is our return.”

Preparing for the Funeral

According to Shariah Law, the body should be buried as soon as possible from the time of death. Once the prayers have been said, some should begin to take care of paying any debts that the deceased had not paid off. Someone else should contact a local Islamic community. They will begin to help make arrangements to coordinate the funeral. If a funeral home had not been prearranged, the local community leaders should be able to recommend a funeral home that is acquainted with Islamic tradition.

Organ donation is an acceptable meritorious work in most traditions. If the deceased had expressed the desire to donate organs and there is question about its acceptance within the faith’s traditions, an imam (religious leader) or a Muslim funeral director should be contacted.

The Islamic faith holds a high respect for the physical body. As such, autopsies are seen as a desecration of the body. Unless circumstances and the law demand an autopsy, Muslims may decline routine autopsies being performed on the body of the deceased.

In addition, embalming or other cosmetic enhancements may be avoided unless required by law. The practice of cremation for the final resting state is traditionally forbidden by Islamic law.

What Should Be Done

Islam has very specific funeral and burial rituals which should be performed as soon as possible after the death. These include the Ghusl (washing of the body), Kafan (shrouding the body), funeral and prayers, and the burial.

Ghusl or Washing of the Body

Islamic tradition has several ways that the body should be prepared for the burial and final resting place. Close members of the family who are of the same gender take the responsibility of performing the Ghusl (washing) and Kafan (shrouding the body). If a spouse has died, it is permissible for the spouse to perform the Ghusl.

The Ghusl is to include three ceremonial washings. If for some reason there is concern that the body is not completely clean after the three washings, the body may be washed more. The body should always be washed an odd number of times.

The body is to be washed in an orderly, ceremonial fashion, always following the order of upper right, upper left, lower right and lower left sides of the body. The hair should also be washed, with a woman’s hair shampooed and braided into three braids. The washings are very thorough and specific details about the washing are outlined by the companions of the Prophet. Phrases are to be repeated following every section’s washing.

Washing the body of the dead is considered a meritorious work and every Muslim should be encouraged to participate when asked. It is recommended that two or three persons be involved in the washing.

Special circumstances often occur, requiring slight alteration of the traditions. If a Muslim dies and all of the relatives are non-Muslim, leaders from the local Islamic community can perform the Ghusl. If a child passes away, the parents can perform the ceremonial washing.

Kafan or Shrouding the Body

Once the Ghusl is completed, the body should be covered in a clean white sheet. To perform the Kafan or shrouding, for the burial of men, three large white sheets of common, inexpensive material should be laid on top of each other. Expensive or extravagant coverings would not be considered appropriate. Traditionally, for the burial of women, five sheets are used. The sheets should be approximately 7 by 7 feet square. Larger sheets may be used to assure that the body is completely covered.

The body is then placed on its back on top of the sheets. Some scents or perfume may be placed upon the forehead, nose, hands, knees and feet if desired. If possible, the left hand of the deceased should be placed upon the chest, with the right hand then placed on top of the left. This resembles the posture of prayer.

The edge of the sheet is then folded over the body, first over the left side, then the right. Each sheet is folded separately. The body is then bound by four ropes, each seven feet long. The ropes are placed at the head, the feet, and two over the torso of the body.

When the body of a female is shrouded, the body is first clothed in a loin cloth and a sleeveless shirt that covers from the shoulder to the ankle. A veil is also used to cover the head. The sheets are then wrapped as outlined above.

Funeral Service and Funeral Prayers

After the shrouding of the body, the body should be transported to the Mosque for the funeral service. The funeral home or mortuary often provides this service in a hearse.

The funeral service for a Muslim who dies is a prayer service known as Salat ul Janazah. The services are normally held outside, either in the courtyard or natural areas. If circumstances require the service to be indoors, a prayer or study room should be used.

The Salat ul Janazah is a collective responsibility of all Muslims. Any Muslim should participate when possible, whether they were acquainted with the deceased and family or not. Prayers are offered silently, except for those presented aloud by the leaders of the Mosque. Those praying should face toward Mecca and form at least three lines. The first line would consist of males who were related to the deceased, followed by a line of males who were friends and other Muslims. The final line would be comprised of women and children.

There are times when the Salat ul Janazah are not to be performed, unless unique circumstances or the condition of the body make it necessary. If this occurs, the prayers are to be offered quickly and the body buried without delay. The prohibited times include from sunrise until the sun is fully risen, at the sun’s zenith (usually around noon), and when the sun dims until sunset.


After the Salat ul Janazah have been offered, the body should be transported to the cemetery. Traditionally only men are to be present at the burial service. Some communities, seeking to be more responsive to the needs of the followers, have begun allowing women to come to the gravesite. Local Muslim leaders should be consulted for the specific traditions.

The grave would have already been dug, perpendicular to Qiblah. Qiblah is an Arabic word meaning “direction” and refers the direction facing Mecca. The body should be placed in the grave on its right side, facing Qiblah. Unless physically unable, the closest male relatives are to place the body in the grave. As they are doing so, they are all to say in unison, “In the name of Allah and in the faith of the Messenger of Allah.”

Once the body is in place, the ties binding the feet and head should be loosened. They should leave the grave and place a layer of wood or stones on the body so that there would be a barrier between the body and the soil that will be used to fill the grave. Each mourner present will place three handfuls of soil into the grave while reciting the words, “From the earth did we create you, and into it shall we return you, and from it shall we bring you out once again.”

A small, humble tomb marker is allowed to identify and mark the grave. It is prohibited to place a large or elaborate tombstone on the grave or to decorate it or adorn it in anyway.

When It Should Be Held

Islamic tradition requires that the burial of the deceased take place as soon after death as is possible. In some areas the burial will take place the same day as the death, especially if the death occurred in the morning. In most places, the burial will take place on the second or third day following the death. Exceptions are made when circumstances dictate, like the requirement of an autopsy or legal issues surrounding the death.