Funeral Etiquette

Musa Kâzım GÜLÇÜR

It is a Muslim’s duty to another Muslim who has died to go to their funeral, to stay until they have been covered with earth, and to pray for that they will be forgiven. In a hadith God’s Messenger said, “Whoever attends a funeral until the prayers are finished receives one carat of reward. Whoever stays at a funeral until the dead person is buried earns two carats of reward. And a carat is like the size of Mount Uhud.” [Bukhari, Janaiz, 69; Muslim, Janaiz, 57, 946; Abu Dawud, Janaiz, 45, 3168; Nasai, Janaiz, 54, 59; Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 49, 1040; Ibn Maja, Janaiz, 34, 1539]

The purpose of attending funerals is both to do our duty by our brothers and sisters in faith, by burying them, and to be reminded of death by seeing the graves of others.

The Prophet taught us, “Do not follow a funeral (procession) with noisy laments or with fire.” Another narration adds, “Do not walk in front of a funeral procession.” [Muwatta, Janaiz, 13/1, 226; Abu Dawud, Janaiz, 46, 3171] He also taught that it was necessary to think of death often, which “sours worldly pleasures.” In Islam this meditation on death means that each person should consider that they will not be benefited by anything —family, friends, or possessions— when they draw their final breath; with the expiration of that breath, the body and all its organs will be left behind by the spirit.

In several different places in the Qur’an we are told, “Every human being is bound to taste death.” [See Al Imran 3:185; Anbiya 21:35; Ankabut 29:57] In addition to these, other verses point out that no person will remain in this world forever, [Anbiya 21:8, 34] that people come into the world to be tested, [Insan 76:2] and that fleeing from death will not profit anyone. [Ahzab 33:16] Furthermore, we are told that everyone will return to God [Baqara 2:28, 281; Anbiya 21:35] and that the purpose of life is to remember and mention God much, reflecting on the blessings God provides. [Ahzab 33:41; Fatir 35: 3]

According to Sunna four people carry the coffin on four sides. The Prophet instructed, “Whoever goes to a funeral and takes three turns bearing the remains (to the grave), has completed his duty to his brother/sister (in faith).” [Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 50, 1041] It is better for those who follow a funeral procession to walk behind the pallbearers. However, it is not reprehensible to walk in front of the coffin, as this is what God’s Messenger, Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman did. [Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 26, 1007]

When following a funeral procession, we should meditate on the end of our lives, as is appropriate for the occasion, and take this as a serious lesson. It is unseemly to talk and laugh or be preoccupied with trivial worldly matters in such circumstances. Even to recite the Qur’an or prayers in a loud voice is discouraged, as loud noise should be avoided, including weeping. Those in the procession should try to prevent such acts. Anyone who has started out in the procession should continue to the end, barring an emergency.

Naturally, there is no reason one should not weep for grief. It is simply best to avoid unnecessary words or excessive wailing, and to remember that God is ultimately the Giver of Life and the Dealer of Death.

The Prophet said in a hadith, “Speak well of the dead; do not mention their faults.” [Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 34, 1019] On another occasion, a funeral procession passed by the Prophet. The people were speaking of the good qualities of the person who had died. He said thrice, “It is so!” Then another funeral procession passed. The people then said how bad the dead person had been. And the Prophet said again, “It is so!” When they asked him, “O Messenger of God! What is so?” he answered, “The first person had good things said about him; for him Heaven is waiting. But they had bad things to say about the second person; for him Hell is waiting, (for) you are God’s witnesses on the face of the earth.” [Bukhari, Janaiz, 86; Shahada, 6; Muslim, Janaiz, 60, 949; Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 63, 1058]

Translated by Jessica ÖZALP

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