Burial of the Dead

Posted on 03/19/2012 by marina

Wikis > Dictionary of Islam > Burial of the Dead

BURIAL OF THE DEAD جنازة
(Jinazah or Janazah). The term Janazah is used both for the bier and for the Muslim funeral service. The burial service is founded upon the practice of Muhammad, and varies but little in different countries, although the ceremonies connected with the funeral procession are diversified. In Egypt and Bukhari, for instance, the male relations and friends of the deceased precede the corpse, while the female mourners follow behind. In India and Afghanistan, women do not usually attend funerals, and the friends and relatives of the deceased walk behind the bier. There is a tradition amongst some Muslims that no one should precede the corpse, as the angels go before. Funeral processions in Afghanistan are usually very simple in their arrangements, and are said to be more in accordance with the practices of the Prophet, than those of Egypt and Turkey. It is considered a very meritorious act to carry the bier, and four from among the near relations, every now and then relieved by an equal number, carry it on their shoulders. Unlike our Christian custom of walking slowly to the grave, the Muslims carry their dead quickly to the place of interment; for Muhammad is related to have said, that it is good to carry he dead quickly to the grave, to cause the righteous person to arrive soon at happiness and if he be a bad man, it is well to put wickedness away from one’s shoulders. Funerals should always be attended on foot; for it is said that Muhammad on one occasion rebuked his people for following on horseback. “Have you no shame?” said he, “since God’s angels go on foot, and you go upon the backs of quadrupeds?” It is a highly meritorious act to attend a funeral, whether it be that of a Muslim, a Jew, or a Christian. There are, however, two traditions which appear to mark a change of feeling on the parts of the Prophet of Arabia towards the and Christians. “A bier passed by the Prophet, and he stood up; and it was said to the Prophet, this is the bier of a Jew. ‘It is the holder of a soul,’ he replied,’ from which we should take warning and fear.”‘ This rule is said to have been abrogated, for, “on one occasion the Prophet sitting on the road when a bier passed, and the Prophet disliked that the bier of a Jew should be higher than his head, and he therefore stood up.” (Mishkat v c.v.) Notwithstanding these contradictory traditions, we believe that in all countries Muslims are wont to pay great respect to the funerals of both Jews and Christians.
The Muslim funeral service is not recited in the graveyard, it being too polluted a place for so sacred an office; but either in a mosque, or in some open space near the dwelling of the deceased person or the grave-yard. The owner of the corpse, i.e. the nearest relative, is the proper person to recite the service; but it is usually said by the family Imam, or the Qasi.
The following is the order of the service: –
Some one present calls out,- “Here begin the prayers for the dead.”
Then those present arrange themselves in three, five, or seven rows opposite the corpse, with their faces Qiblah-wards (i.e. towards Makkah). The Imam stands in front of the ranks opposite the head (the Shi’ahs atand opposite the loins of a man) of the corpse, if it be that of male, or the waist, if it be that of a female.
The whole company having taken up the up the Qiyam or standing position, the Imam recites the Niyah.
“I purpose to perform prayers to God for this dead person, consisting of four Takbira.”
Then placing his hands to the lobes of his ears, he says the first Takbir.
“God is great!”
Then folding his hands, the right hand upon the left, below the navel, he recites the Sabhan: –
“Holiness to Thee, O God,
And to Thee be praise
Great is Thy Name.
Great Is Thy Greatness.
Great is Thy Praise.
There is no deity but Thee.”
Then follows the second Takbir: –
“God is great!”
Then the Durud: –
“O God, have mercy on Muhammad and upon his descendants, as Thou didst bestow mercy, and peace, and blessing, and compassion, and great kindness upon Abraham and upon his descendants.”
“Thou art praised. and Thou art great!”
“O God, bless Muhammad and his descendants, as Thou didst bless and didst have compassion and great kindness upon Abraham and upon his descendants.”
Then follows the third Takbir: –
“God is great!”
After which the following prayer (Du’a) is recited: –
“O God, forgive our living and our dead and those of us who are present, and those who are absent, and our children, and our full grown persons, our men and our women. O God, those whom Thou dost keep alive amongst us, keep alive in Islam, and those whom Thou causest to die, let them die in the Faith.”
Then follows the fourth Takbir : –
“God is great!”
Turning the head round to the right, he says: –
“Peace and mercy be to Thee”.
Turning the head round to the left, he says:-
“Peace and mercy be to Thee.”
The Takbir is recited by the Imam aloud, but the Subhan, the Slalam, the Durad, and the Du’a; are recited by the Imam and the people in a low voice.
The people then seat themselveS on the ground, and raise their hands in silent prayer in behalf of the deceased’s soul, and afterwards addressing the relatives they say, “It is the decree of God.” To which the chief mourner replies, “I am pleased with the will of God” He then gives permission to the people to retire by saying, “There is permission to depart.”
Those who wish to return to their houses do so at this time, and the rest proceed to the grave. The corpse is then placed on its back in the grave, with the head to the north and feet to the south, the face being turned towards Makkah. The persons who place the corpse in the grave repeat the following sentence: “We commit thee to earth in the name of God and in the religion of the Prophet”
The hands of the shroud having been loosed, the recess, which is called the lahd closed in with unburnt bricks and the grave filled in with earth. [GRAVE.] In some countries it is usual to recite verse 57 of the xxth Surah of the Qur’an as the clods of earth are thrown into the grave; but this practice is objected to by the Wahhabis, and by many learned divines. The verse is as follows: –
“From it (the earth) have We (God) created you, and unto it will We return you, and out of it will We bring you forth the second time.”
After the burial the people offer fatihah (i.e. the first chapter of the Qur’an) In the name of the deceased, and again when they have proceeded about forty paces from the grave they offer another fatihah for at this juncture it is said, the two angels Munkir and Nakir examine the deceased as to his faith. [PUNISHMENTS OF THE GRAVE.] After this, food is distributed to beggars and religious mendicants as a propitiatory offering to God, in the name of the deceased person.
If the grave be for the body of s woman it should be to the height of a man’s chest if for a man, to the height of the waist. At the bottom of the grave the recess is made on the side to receive the corpse, which is called the lahid or lakd. The dead are seldom interred in coffins, although they are not prohibited.
To build tombs with stones or burnt bricks, or to write a verse of the Qur’an upon them, is forbidden in the Hadis; but large stone and brick tombs are common to all Muslim countries, and very frequently they bear inscriptions.
On the third day after the burial of the dead, it is usual for the relatives to visit the grave, and to recite selections from the Qur’an. Those who can afford to pay Maulavis, employ these learned men to recite the whole of the Qur’an at the graves of their deceased relatives; and, the Qur’an is divided into sertions to admit of its being recited by the several Maulavis at once. During the days of mourning the relatives abstain from wearing any article of dress of a bright colour, and their soiled garments remain unchanged.
A funeral procession in Egypt is graphically described by Mr. Lane in his Modern Egyptians. We give the account as it contrasts strikingly with the simple processions of Sunni Muslims in India.
The first persons are about aix or more poor men, called ‘Yamaniyah,’ mostly blind, who proceed two and two, or three and three, together. Walking at a moderate pace, or rather slowly, they chant incessantly, in a melancholy tone, the profession of faith (‘There is no deity but God; Muhammad is God’s Apostle; God favour and preserve him!’). They are followed by some male relations and friends of the deceased, and, in many cases, by two or more persons of some sect of darweshes, bearing the flags of their order. This is a general custom at the funeral of a darwesh. Next follow three or four or more schoolboys; one of them carries a mushaf (or copy of the Qur’an), or a volume consisting of one of the thirty sections of the Qur’an, placed upon a kind of desk formed of palm-sticks, and covered over, generally with an embroidered kerchief. These boys chant, in a higher and livelier voice than the Yamaniyah, usually some words of a poem called the Hashariyah, descriptive of the events of the last day, the judgment, &c. The school-boys immediately precede the bier, which is bourne head-foremost. Three or four friends of the deceased usually carry it for a short distance, then three or four other friends bear it a little further and then these are in like manner relived. Casual passengers, also, often take part in this service, which is esteemed highly meritorious. Behind this bier walk the female mourners; sometimes a group of more tham a dozen, or twenty; with their hair disheveled, though generally concealed by the head-veil; crying and shrieking as before described and often, the hired mourners accompany them, celebrating the praises of the deceased. Among the women, the relations and domestics of the deceased are distinguished by a strip of linen or cotton stuff or muslin, generally bound round the head, and tied in a single knot behind: the ends hanging down a few inches. Each of these also carries a handkerchief, usually dyed blue, which she sometimes holds over her shoulders, and at other times twirls with both hands over, her head, or before her face. The cries of the women, the lively chanting of the youths, and the deep tones uttered by the Yamaniyah, compose a strange discord.
The funeral procession of a man of wealth, or of a person of the middle classes, is sometimes preceded by three or four or more camels, bearing bread and water to give to the poor at the tomb, and is composed of a more numerous and varied assemblage of person’s. The foremost of these are the Yamaniyah, who chant the profession of the faith, as described above. They are generally followed by some male friends of the deceased, and some learned and devout persons who have been invited to attend the funeral. Next follows a group of four or more faqihs, chanting the ‘Suratu ‘l-An’nam (the vith chapter of the Qur’an); and sometimes, another group, chanting the ‘Surat Ya-sin’ (the xxxvith chapter): another, chanting the ‘Suratu ‘1-Kahf’ (the xviiith chapter); and another chanting the ‘Suratu ‘d-Dukhan’ (the xlivth chapter). These are followed by some munshids, singing the ‘Burdah;’ and these by certain persons called ‘Ashabu-l-Ahzab; who are members of religious orders founded by celebrated shaikhs. There are generally four or more of the order of the Hizbu ‘s-Sadat, a similar group of the Hizbu ‘sh-Shazili., and another of the Hizbu ‘sh-Sha’rawi; each group chants a particular forna of prayer. After them are genera1ly borne two or more half-furled flags, the banners of one or other of the principal orders of darweshee. Then follow the school-boys, the bier, and the female mourners, as in the procession before described, and, perhaps, the led horses of the bearers, if these be men of rank. A buffalo, to be sacrificed at the tomb, where its flesh is to be distributed to the poor, sometimes closes the procession.
The funeral of a devout shaikh, or of one of the great ‘Ulama, is still more numerously attended, and the bier of such a person is not covered with a shawl. A ‘wali’ is further honoured in his funeral by a remarkable custom. Women follow his bier, but, instead of wailing, as they would after the corpse of an ordinary mortal, they rend the air with the shrill and quavering cries of joy called ‘zagharit': and if these cries are discontinued but for a minute, the bearers of the bier protest that they cannot proceed, that a super-natural power rivets them to the spot on which they stand. Very often, it is said, a ‘wali’ impels the bearers of his corpse to a particular spot. The following anecdote, describing an ingenious mode of puzzling a dead saint in a case of this kind, was related to me by one of my friends. Some men were lately bearing the corpse of a ‘wali’ to a tomb prepared for it in the great cemetery on the north of the metropolis, but on arriving at the gate called Babu ‘n-Nasr, which leads to the cemetery, they found themselves able to proceed further, from the cause above-mentioned. ‘It seems,’ said one of the bearers, ‘that the sheik is determined not to be buried in the cemetery of Babu ‘n-Nasr, and what shall we do?’ They were all much perplexed, but being as obstinate as the saint himself, they did not immediately yield to his caprice. Retreating a few paces, and then advancing with a quick step, they thought by such an impetus to force the corpse through the gateway but their efforts were unsuccessful; and the same experiment they repeated in vain several times. They then placed the bier on the ground to rest and consult; and one of them, beckoning away his comrades to a distance beyond the hearing of the dead saint, said to them, Let us take up the bier again, and turn it round several times till the shaikh becomes giddy; he then will not know in what direction we are going, and we may take him easily through the gate.’ This they did; the saint was puzzled as they expected, and – quietly buried in the place which he had so striven to avoid.
“In the funerals of females and boys, the bier is usually only preceded by the Yamaniyah, chanting the profession of the faith, and by some male relation,, of the deceased; and followed by the female mourners unless the deceased were of a family of wealth, or of considerable station in the world; in which case, the funeral procession is distinguished by come additional display. I shall give a short description of one of the most genteel and decorous funerals of this kind that I have witnessed: it was that of a young unmarried lady. Two men, each bearing a large, furled, green flag, headed the procession preceding the Yamaniyah, who chanted in an unusually low and solemn manner. These faqirs who were in number about eight, were followed by a group of fakirs, chanting a chapter of the Qur’an. Next afer the latter was a man bearing a large branch of ‘Nahq’ (or lote tree), an emblem of the deceased. On each side of him walked a person bearing a tall staff or cane, to the top of which were attached, several hoops ornamented with strips of various coloured paper. These were followed by two Turkish soldiers, side by side, one bearing, on a small round tray, a gilt silver ‘qumqum’ of rose-water, and the other bearing, on a similar tray, a ‘mibkharah’ of gilt silver, in which some odoriferous substances (as benzoin, or ‘frankincense’, was burning, These vessels diffused the odour of their contents on the way, and were afterwards used to perfume the sepulchral vault. Passengers were occasionally sprinkled with the rose-water. Next followed four men, each of whom bore, upon a smal1 tray, several small lighted tapers of wax, stuck in lumps of paste of ‘hinna’ The bier was covered with rich shawls, and its shahid was decorated with handsome ornaments of the head, having, besides the safa, a ‘quasah almas’ (a long ornament of gold and diamonds worn over the forhead), and, upon its flat top, a rich diamond qurs. These were the jewels of the deceased, or were, perhaps, as is often the case, borrowed for the occasion. The female mourners, in number about seven or eight, clad in the usual manner of the ladies of Egypt (with the black silk covering, &c.) followed the bier, not on foot as is the common custom in this country, but mounted on high-saddled asses; and only the last two or three of them were waiting these being, probably hired mourners. In another funera1-procession of a female, the daughter of a Turk of high rank, the Yamsniyah were followed by six slaves, walking two by two. The first two slaves bore each a silver ‘qumqum’ of rose-water, which they sprinkled on the passengers; and one of them honoured me so profusely as to wet my dress very uncomfortably; after which, he poured a small quantity into my hands, and I wetted my face with it, according to custom. Each of the next two bore a silver mibkharah, with perfume; and the other two carried a silver ‘azqi (or hanging censer), with burning charcoal of frankincense. The jewels on the shahid of the bier were of a costly description. Eleven ladies, mounted on high-saddled asses, together with several naddabahs followed.

Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam