The Islam periods of mourning provide ritual and structure for the Muslim believer going through the process of grieving the loss of a loved one. The customs and traditions, 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.

Types of 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 offered to present petitions to God asking for the forgiveness of 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 at this service. While tears are expected, loud and lengthy outbursts of grief would be considered inappropriate and evidence of a lack of faith.

It is common for family and friends to continue a time of prayer together following the burial. 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.

Mourning Traditions, Customs & Rituals

Rituals of mourning for individuals 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.

The dress of people in mourning is not 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.

Friends and family mourn together the loss of a loved one for three days. During this time the responsibilities for the immediate family are kept to a minimum. Most will stay together in a family home and receive guests of friends and more distant family. Mourners will take care of the basic needs of the family, including the meals and food during this time.

Widows have additional rituals and customs that govern their behavior. Widows are expected to stay in a period of mourning for four months and ten days. In order for proper mourning to take place, the husband should set aside money to provide for the wife for a year’s time in the event of his premature death.

Length of Islam Periods of Mourning

The length of the periods of mourning required in Islam is dependent upon the relationship that one shared with the deceased. The normal amount of time set aside for mourning is three days following the death. During this time family and friends may visit the family home and express condolences and offer prayers on behalf of the deceased and family. Extended periods of mourning may be necessary given unusual circumstances surrounding the death or relatives traveling a great distance for the visit.

The widow will have an extended mourning period of for four lunar months and ten days following the death of the husband. During this time, they are to have limited involvement with the outside world. They should avoid contact with any man who would be seen as a possible candidate for a marriage relationship.

The widow will generally stay at home during this entire period of mourning. Family and friends will take care of the basic needs of the woman during this time. 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.

Comforting the Bereaved

Condolences offered to the family and friends of the deceased 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.

Condolences could be offered through sympathy cards and notes, or from a personal phone call. 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. The companions of the Prophet consider gathering for visiting the deceased’s family or bringing food to them acts of wailing. Others say that it at least renews the family’s feelings of sorrow.

Offering condolences often takes place within a 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. The needs of the family should be of upper concern.