Islamic mourning traditions provide ritual and structure for Muslims going through the process of grieving the loss of a loved one. Islamic mourning rituals, which vary slightly by sect and location, provide comfort and strength for the family. A firm belief in life after death is a foundational truth in Islam. Grief should be processed with the understanding that death is not the end of life, but a transition to an eternal one.

Islamic Funeral Services

There is no wake or viewing of the body in the Islamic tradition. The body is to be buried as soon after the death as is possible. The funeral service, called the Salat ul Janazah, is actually a prayer service in which petitions are offered to God asking for forgiveness for the sins of the deceased.

The burial service is filled with ritual and customs to be performed as the body is laid to rest. Prayers and recitations of words and phrases from the Qur’an are common expressions of mourning the dead at this service.

It is common for family and friends to continue a time of prayer together following the Islamic funeral service. This is usually held at the family home, or somewhere away from the cemetery. Friends and extended family members will provide the food and other basic necessities for the immediate family during this time. Visits of comfort from friends may continue for up to three days following the death.

Islamic Mourning Traditions and Customs

Islamic mourning rituals include prayer, readings from the Qur’an and moments of private meditation and reflection upon the goodness of God and the brevity of life. While sorrow and tears are an expected response to the loss of a loved one, Muslims will strive to express grief in a reserved and dignified manner. Loud wailing or prolonged outbursts of grief would be considered inappropriate because they demonstrate a weakness of faith.

While there is no Muslim funeral dress code specifically outlined in Islam’s sacred writings, clothing should be conservative with subdued, darker colors. Women should wear ankle-length skirts, high-necked tops and a headscarf. People attending the funeral will be asked to remove their shoes before going into the time of prayer. Socks or stockings should be conservative and presentable. Visiting some homes will require the same tradition. Widows have additional mourning rituals and customs that govern their behavior.

Length of Islamic Periods of Mourning

The length of periods of mourning required in Islam is dependent upon the relationship that one shared with the deceased. The general mourning period is three days following the death. Most families will stay together in a family home and receive guests- friends and more distant family coming to express condolences and offer prayers on behalf of the deceased and family. During this time the responsibilities of the immediate family are kept to a minimum. The community will take care of the basic needs of the family, including providing the meals and nourishment.

Extended periods of mourning may be necessary given unusual circumstances surrounding the death or relatives traveling a great distance for the visit.

Widows are expected to stay in an extended period of mourning- for four lunar months and ten days. The widow will generally stay at home during this entire period of mourning and have limited involvement with the outside world. Family and friends will take care of the basic needs of the woman during this time. While it is permissible for her to leave the house for special needs, like a doctor’s visit or a business transaction, her activities out of the home should be kept to a minimum and should reflect a humble, somber spirit rather than one of celebration. She should avoid contact with any man who would be seen as a possible candidate for a marriage relationship.

In order for proper mourning to take place, the husband is expected to set aside enough money for a year’s time to provide for his wife in the event of his premature death.

Comforting the Bereaved

Condolences offered to those mourning the dead are considered valued acts of kindness. When offering expressions of sympathy and sorrow, it is also appropriate to remind those grieving of the shortness of life and that everything belongs to Allah. Emphasis can be placed upon the merciful nature of God and the hope that one day they will be reunited with the departed loved one.

Offering condolences often takes place within the three-day period following the death, but it can be extended much longer depending on the circumstances of the family and the convenience of those coming from an extended distance.

Condolences could be offered through sympathy cards and notes, or from a personal phone call. Sending flowers to the family’s home may be appropriate for some families, but not others, so it is best to ask a local religious leader or someone close to the family if you can. While many friends will make an in-person visit to the home, cemetery or mosque, the practice is not actually prescribed in the Qur’an. It is believed, however, that socializing helps the family cope with their loss. 

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