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Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

When the soul departs from the body at the moment of death, and that which is left behind is nothing but an empty shell. The mortal remains are treated with dignity, love and respect. In Islam, the disposal of the dead body and funerary rites normally include: washing the body, shrouding and prompt burial.

Firstly, to preserve dignity, the eyes of the dead body should be closed, and sometimes a cloth is tied round the lower jaw to bind it up, so that the mouth does not sage open in an ugly and undignified manner. Sometimes, suitable is recommended to be placed over the abdomen, so that it does not become inflated. Straight after death the deceased's joints are loosened up if possible, which is not something that should be forced. This is not compulsory, but is done to facilitate the washing and shrouding by preventing the body from stiffening. The person who washes the body of a dead should be an adult in full possession of senses. He should first mentally form the resolve of carrying out the washing. In doing the wash, he should not make public any of the deceased's imperfections in this most private moment, and should conceal any shortcoming he observes. When it is begun, the deceased should be covered from naval to knee, and the washer cleans away impurities from the dead body. It is recommended to have incense or other sweet-smelling substance at hand, so that no offensive smell should be perceptible. A sweet-smelling substance, like camphor, can be put in the final washing water. The body should then be dried. The body is then shrouded. A man's preferred shroud should be three white winding sheets. The shrouding could, however, be two sheets, or even one, provided it covers the whole of the body. Soon after the rites, the body is put into the bier. The people should stand in respect when a funeral procession passes, even if they do not know who is being buried. The lifters swiftly carried the bier to the awal manzil.

Amir bin Rabai related that the Prophet said, “Should anyone of you come across a funeral procession, even if he does not intend to accompany it, he should stand up until it passes by him or is lowered on the ground” (al-Muslim, 2091). Jabir bin Abdullah relates that a bier passed by and the Prophet stood up for it, and we also stood up along with him. We said, “O’Prophet! that was the bier of a Jewess!” Upon this, he said, “Truly, death is the matter to be concerned about, so whenever you come across a bier, stand up” (Ibid. 2095). Once the Prophet stood up for a Jewish man, and when he questioned said, “Was he not a human being, and does he not have a soul?” (Ibid. 2098).

Funerals should be simple and inexpensive. Extravagance is forbidden in Islam, and since there is no class system for the dead, there should be no special cemetery for the rich people. Mourners should be humble and not ostentatious; they should pay heed to their own end in due course, and take warning from the fact of death and from the fate of the dead.

The grave should reach the depth of man’s chest, and should be well dug and large. It should be deep enough to prevent any bad smell coming out, to stop animals disturbing the body. The surface of the grave should be raised a hand’s breadth from the ground, not more than 25-30 cms., so that it will be recognized. The body should be lowered in the grave legs first. The fastenings of the shroud at the head and feet are untied. Once the body is placed in it, a wooden cover is fixed to prevent any earth from falling on to it. The Prophet had advised to make the grave like the back of the camel. It should not be of square form or horizontal. The water is sprinkled over the grave.

It is forbidden in Islam to make any structure over the grave or to plaster it – this was the pre-Islamic practice. It is also considered wrong and disrespectful to sit on or lean against a grave, and also seeking sanctuary among the graves is forbidden. Jabir records that the Prophet forbade that the graves should be plastered, or that they be used as sitting places, or a construction should be made over them (Abu Daud, 3222). It is also not recommended to light lamps over the graves. The visitors should not kiss or touch the grave. Its dust also should not be besmeared over the faces. No one should laugh and cut jokes in the grave-yard.

One should recite invocations for the benefit and forgiveness of the deceased. The fellow-mourners should be asked to supplicate to God to shower His blessings for the eternal peace of the departed soul. The period of mourning for the dead should not exceed three days. Atiyya reported that the Prophet said, “It is not lawful for one who believes in God and the last day to mourn over a dead body for more than three nights.”

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