Muslim funerals are large community events. It’s common for every member of the mosque to attend, even if they did not know the person who died.
What happens at a Muslim funeral?
Muslim funerals start with the funeral prayer
When a person from the Muslim community dies, friends and family come together at the mosque to say ‘Salat al-Janazah’. In Islam, ‘salat’ means prayer, and ‘janazah’ means funeral.
In these prayers, Muslims ask their god Allah to have mercy on the soul of the person who’s died. Muslims believe that if they live a good life, their souls will go to paradise or heaven when they die. Muslims call this heaven or paradise ‘Jannah’.
The Salat al-Janazah prayer is not just for the person who’s died. It’s also for the souls of people who’ve died before. Muslims believe that praying for the souls of everyone who has died will help them get to Jannah.
An imam leads Muslim funerals
The Arabic word for ‘leader’ is ‘imam’. An imam usually leads all prayers, services, and ceremonies. But sometimes a member of the Muslim community will lead the funeral prayers.
Muslim communities share their grief
Muslim funerals are not usually private. They’re large events where every member of the community is welcome. Everyone attending will pray together.
Depending on the size of the community, there can be hundreds of guests at a Muslim funeral. Some of the guests may not know the person who’s died.
Some people get confused about ‘Muslim’ and ‘Islam’
Islam is the name of the faith or religion. A Muslim is a person who follows the religion. In other words, Muslims are followers of Islam. It works the same way as a Jew following Judaism, or a Hindu following Hinduism.
The word ‘Islam’ comes from the Arabic word ‘aslama’, which means to submit to God.
Muslim beliefs about death
Women do not always attend Muslim funerals
This is a very old rule that dates back centuries. Some Muslim families will follow it and some will not. If you’re a woman whose partner is attending a Muslim funeral, it’s not unusal for them to go alone. It just means the family is following tradition.
Whether women attend Muslim funerals will depend on how religious the family is, and the rules their mosque follows. If women do attend the funeral, they’ll usually sit separately from the men.
Muslims do not believe in cremation
Cremation involves burning a person’s body in a cremation chamber rather than burying it in the ground. It’s now the number one funeral choice in the UK-but in Islam it is traditionally not acceptable.
Muslims believe in treating the body of a person who’s died with care and respect. They feel that cremation ‘destroys’ the body. As such, cremation is ‘haram’ or forbidden by the Muslim faith.
At a Muslim funeral, you can almost always expect a burial to follow the service.
Muslim funerals happen very quickly after the person has died
Muslims often bury people the day after they’ve died. At the very latest, a Muslim funeral will happen within 3 days after death.
This is because Muslims do not believe in embalming (using chemicals to preserve the body). Islam says that the body should decompose naturally in the ground.
What’s expected of me at a Muslim funeral?
White or dark coloured clothing is common at Muslim funerals
Some Muslim families will wear white. Some will wear darker colours like blacks, browns, and greys. A shirt and trousers in dark colours are best if you're not sure. The most important thing is to cover your arms, legs, and chest.
This rule applies to both men and women. Trousers and skirts are okay as long as they cover your ankles. When entering the mosque, women should cover their hair with a scarf. It's best to do this even if you're not a practising Muslim. This shows respect to the mosque and to the followers of the Islamic faith.
For both genders, the clothes you wear should not be tight-fitting or see-through. It’s also respectful to avoid heavy makeup or lots of jewellery.
Every funeral is different
It can be hard to know what to expect. Head over to this guide if you’d like some general guidance on funerals in Britain.
Muslims do not believe in questioning God's will
It’s okay to express your grief or condolences at a Muslim funeral. But it’s best to avoid suggesting the death was a “tragedy”, “too soon”, or wrong in some way. Muslims believe in accepting the choices they believe God has made.
Because of this belief, guests should not be very expressive of their emotions. Those who are overcome with emotion may choose to leave the room. Mourners maintain a respectful quietness to show their acceptance of God’s will. But it is okay to shed a tear and comfort someone who’s crying.
You can also share kind words or fond memories about the person who’s died. Because Muslim funerals are very large, you might not get a chance to speak to the family. You might like to put your thoughts and condolences into a card.
If you’d like to bring something, food is a good option
It’s not commonplace to bring flowers to a Muslim funeral. Muslim funerals are simple events where guests focus on their faith rather than gifts or decoration. But food-based gifts are welcome.
If you’re bringing food to a Muslim family, make sure the food meets Muslim rules. Any meat you bring must be ‘halal’. This means a Muslim butcher has blessed the animal and killed it in a specific way.
Some suitable ideas for a food-related gift are:
A fruit basket
When choosing your food donation, remember that Muslims do not eat any pork products, and they usually do not drink alcohol.