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In the Name of Allāh ﷻ, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Islamic (Muslim) funerals
This short explanation will try to give you some basic information of the beliefs and traditions which occur in an Islamic funeral and what to will explain what happens at Muslim funeral and what to expect at an Islamic burial.
Muslim law and tradition have endowed a Muslim's funeral with profound religious significance and it should, in every respect , express the dignity, sanctity and modesty of a solemn religious service.
The five stages that follow the death of a Muslim are:
The final bathing (ghusl) of the deceased - tajheez.
The shrouding (kafan) of the deceased - takfeen.
The funeral prayers - janazah salah.
The funeral procession - carrying the bier to the grave.
The burial of the deceased - tadfeen.
It is very important to complete the above stages as quickly as possible, for Rasulullah (saw) has emphasised:
"Make haste at a funeral; if the dead person was good, it is a good state to which you are sending him on; but if he was otherwise it is an evil of which you are ridding yourselves."
Islamic beliefs about death
A Muslim funeral is known as a “Janazah” and is recommended to be performed as soon as possible after the deceased’s passing. There are obvious and acceptable exceptions such as delays with the coroner’s service, cemetery availability and delays in the hospital releasing the body. Islam asks all Muslims to adhere to the law of the land and so one should not get distressed if there is a delay due to such procedural issues.
Muslims believe that the present life is a trial in preparation for the eternal life to come. According to the Quran, Paradise will be granted to those whose good deeds in life outweigh the bad.
What to do after a death in the UK
What happens, and things you might need to think about, after someone dies.
Registering the death
The registration of the death is the formal record of the death. It is done by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages and you will find the address of the nearest register office in the telephone directory.
When someone dies at home, the death should be registered at the register office for the district where they lived. If the death took place in hospital or in a nursing home it must be registered at the register office for the district in which the hospital or home is situated. In England and Wales, if it is convenient, you can go to a different office to register the death and the details will be passed on to the correct office.
A death should be registered within five days but registration can be delayed for another nine days if the registrar is told that a medical certificate has been issued. If the death has been reported to the coroner you cannot register it until the coroner's investigations are finished.
It is a criminal offence not to register a death.
The death should be registered by one of the following (in order of priority):
a relative who was present at the death
a relative present during the person's last illness
a relative living in the district where the death took place
anyone else present at the death
an owner or occupier of the building where the death took place and who was aware of the death
the person arranging the funeral (but not the funeral director).
You cannot delegate responsibility for registering the death to anyone else.
You must take with you the medical certificate of death, since the death cannot be registered until the registrar has seen this. If possible, you should also take the person's NHS medical card and birth and marriage certificates. The registrar will want from you the following information:-
date and place of death
the full name of the person (including maiden name) and their last address
the person's date and place of birth
the person's job
the full name, date of birth and job of a living or dead spouse or civil partner
if the person was still married, the date of birth of their husband or wife
whether the person was receiving a pension or other social security benefits.
Forms you'll be given
After you've registered the death, the registrar will give you a Green certificate which allows a burial to go ahead. There’s no charge for the certificate. You should give this to the funeral director.
The registrar will also give you a form to send to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). This allows them to inform
The relevant authorities in order to deal with the person's pension, benefits passport and driving licence,
The death certificate is a copy of the entry made by the registrar in the death register. This certificate is needed to deal with money or property left by the person who has died, including dealing with the will. You may need several copies of the certificate, for which there will be a charge.
When a coroner is needed
Anyone who is unhappy about the cause of a death can inform a coroner about it, but in most cases a death will be reported to a coroner by a doctor or the police.
A coroner is a doctor or lawyer appointed by a local authority to investigate certain deaths. In Northern Ireland, the Lord Chancellor appoints a coroner. They're completely independent of the authority and has a separate office and staff. You will find the address of your local coroner's office in the telephone directory.
A coroner can investigate a death if the body is in their district, even though the death took place somewhere else, for example, abroad.
A death must always be reported to a coroner in the following situations:
the person's doctor had not seen them in the 14 days before they died or immediately afterwards (28 days in Northern Ireland)
a doctor had not looked after, seen or treated the person during their last illness (in other words, death was sudden)
the cause of death is unknown or uncertain
the death was violent or unnatural (for example, suicide, accident or drug or alcohol overdose)
the death was in any way suspicious
the death took place during surgery or recovery from an anaesthetic
the death took place in prison or police custody
the death was caused by an industrial disease.
In some cases the coroner will need to order a post-mortem, in which case the body will be taken to hospital for this to be carried out. You DO NOT have the right to object to a post-mortem ordered by the coroner, but should tell the coroner if you have religious or other strong objections. In cases where a death is reported to a coroner because the person had not seen a doctor in the previous 14 days (28 in Northern Ireland) the coroner will consult with the person's GP and will usually not need to order a post-mortem.
For more information about post-mortems and your rights to know what happens with organs and tissue, go to the Human Tissue Authority website at www.hta.gov.uk.
A death reported to a coroner cannot be registered until the coroner's investigations are complete and a certificate has been issued allowing registration to take place. This means that the funeral will usually also be delayed. Where a post-mortem has taken place the coroner must give permission for cremation.
What is the law and what are the options for Muslims regarding post-mortem?
What is a post-mortem?
A post-mortem, also known as an autopsy is an examination of the (dead) body carried out to determine the cause of death. Post-mortems are carried out by pathologists (doctors who specialise in understanding the nature and causes of disease). Pathologists work to the standard set forth by the Royal College of Pathologists and the Human Tissue Authority (HTA). The objective of a post-mortem is to try to understand how, when and why someone has died or to obtain a better understanding of how diseases spread.
A post-mortem is usually carried out as soon as possible, usually within two to three working days of a death.
Why and who orders post-mortem?
A post-mortem examination will be carried out if it’s been requested by:
a coroner – because the cause of death is unknown, or following a sudden, violent or unexpected death. A coroner is a judicial officer responsible for investigating deaths in certain situations. Coroners are usually lawyers or doctors with a minimum of 5 years’ experience. In most cases, a doctor or the police refer a death to the coroner.
a hospital doctor – to find out more about an illness or the cause of death, or to further medical research and understanding. Post-mortems are sometimes requested by hospital doctors to provide more information about an illness or the cause of death, or to further medical research
What happens in an (invasive) post-mortem?
The post-mortem takes place in an examination room that looks similar to an operating theatre. The examination room will be licensed and inspected by the Human Tissue Authority (HTA). During the procedure, the deceased person’s body is opened and the organs removed for examination. A diagnosis can sometimes be made by looking at the organs. Some organs need to be examined in close detail during a post-mortem. These investigations can take several weeks to complete. The pathologist will return the organs to the body after the post-mortem has been completed.
Can a post-mortem be denied?
The determination of the cause of death is a legal requirement. Therefore, the coroner is required by law to carry out a post-mortem when a death is suspicious, sudden unexpected or unnatural. The family of the deceased will not be asked for consent and have no legal standing to deny a post-mortem ordered by a coroner.
Post-mortem not requested by the coroner in most cases require consent and cannot be carriedout without consent. The next of kin of the deceased may have the right to deny consent for a post-mortem if the post-mortem has been requested by the hospital unless the deceased had himself/ herself given consent.
Our advice is for families to check with the relevant (local) authorities about their legal rights regarding the post-mortem of their loved ones. We also advise individuals to state in their Will whether or not they would not like a post-mortem to be carried out on their body, and, that if it is legally required a non-invasive post-mortem such as a MRI scan or digital scan be performed.
What are our legal options for post-mortem?
The established position in normative Islam is that the human body is sacred and cutting it is contrary to its sanctity. We advise that the family members should inform the coroner of the sensitivity of the issue from an Islamic perspective as early as possible.
In the High court ruling 2015 (Charles Abe Rotsztein vs Her Majesty’s Senior Coroner for Inner North London) Judge Mitting stated where there is an established religious tenet that invasive autopsy is to be avoided then a non-invasive autopsy should be carried out as long as there is a realistic possibility that non-invasive autopsy would lead to establishing a cause of death.
Alternative: Non-invasive or post-mortem or Digital Autopsy?
Digital Autopsy explains the procedure for the (non-invasive) post-mortem examination as follows:
Unlike a traditional autopsy, which involves dissecting the body, a Digital Autopsy potentially eliminates the need for the scalpel. Instead the process is carried out on a computer, in two stages:
First the body is scanned using a CT scanner, which takes less than ten minutes.
The data from the scan is then processed to create a detailed 3D whole body reconstruction of the body. Specially trained radiologists and pathologists can then examine the visual to look for clues as to the cause of death.
Who pays for non-invasive or post-mortem or Digital Autopsy?
In Britain, the families will have to bear the costs of a digital autopsy.
Muslim funeral rituals
Muslim funeral rituals are present throughout the burial process, from death to mourning. Usually these are consistent for the majority of Muslim funerals but may vary slightly due to family wishes and circumstance. These include the preparation of the body, funeral prayers and the post funeral reception.
What happens before a Muslim funeral service?
According to Islamic law, the deceased should be buried as soon as possible.
Prior to a Muslim funeral, the body of the deceased must be washed (Ghusl) three times and shrouded (Kafan). Same-sex family members usually give Ghusl. However, some Muslim communities will allow the husband or wife of the deceased to take part in the preparations.
Once cleaned and prepared, the deceased is covered in a white sheet and is laid upon three large white sheets of material.
Before being transported to the mosque, the deceased is wrapped in the sheets and secured with ropes; one tied above the head, two tied around the body, and one tied below the feet.
How long is does a Muslim funeral service last?
Due to the necessity of a quick burial, the lead up to a Muslim funeral is short. The ceremony itself will last from half an hour to an hour, consisting of prayers, chants and Muslim funeral rituals.
What happens at a Muslim funeral service?
What happens at a Muslim funeral service is usually ruled by traditions of the Islamic faith. Family and friends of the deceased will gather in the prayer room, study room or courtyard of the mosque to perform Salat al-Janazah (funeral prayers). Every male must participate in the Salat-al-Janazah, but women may only participate if they are willing to do so. The final prayer is offered from the family and community to ask for forgiveness of the deceased.
The funeral service is led by an Imam (Islamic leader) and includes readings from the Quran. If you are of a different faith, you are encouraged to quietly listen to the readings and prayers.
Following on from a Muslim funeral service, the deceased is taken to the cemetery for burial. Traditionally, only men are allowed to attend the burial, though some Muslim communities may allow women to attend.
The grave should be at right angles to the direction of Mecca, with the deceased placed on their right side facing the Islamic holy city. Wood and stones should be placed on top of the body to prevent direct contact between the person and the soil. All mourners will pour handfuls of earth on top of the grave, before it is filled in.
What happens after a Muslim funeral service?
Like the ceremony itself, what happens after a Muslim funeral service is dictated by the Islamic faith, and the family's wishes. After a Muslim funeral service and burial, family will typically gather in their home and receive guests. During the first three days of mourning, the community usually provides food for the family. Mourning typically lasts for 40 days but can vary depending on the family.
A Muslim widow is allowed 4 months and 10 days of mourning, during which she is not permitted to re-marry or interact with other men. This tradition is to rule out whether she is pregnant, as well as give her time to come to terms with the loss.
Other Muslim funeral traditions
Some other Muslim funeral service traditions may include the following:
Attendance from the entire community
No photography or video recordings
No loud emotional expressions or sacrilegious speeches