Sunday, December 30, 2007

How to Bury a Muslim...

The other day, Daddy's aunt passed away in Peshawar and so on September 11th, we headed to Peshawar...the place one would least want to be in on September 11th!

Muslim women are not to head to the graveyard for the burial and so I asked Daddy how the burial was done. Trying to explain it as best as I can:

Firstly, when a Muslim dies, he is to be buried as soon as possible as Islam considers the process of balming and preservation as a discomfort to the body. Respect for the dead is of utmost importance. Hence, preparations for a funeral are to be done asap. Which is why Dodi Al-fayed was buried within hours whereas Diana's funeral was stretched till a week or so after her death or why Saddam was buried the next morning whereas President Ford's burial carried on into 2007. Anyhow, the immediate burial is what is prescribed.

The body is washed by family and relatives in a manner similar to the Muslim way of ablution. Women are washed by women and men by men. Washing the deceased is considered to bear a great reward.

The body is then wrapped in unsewn pieces of white cloth called "kafan" in Urdu - the shroud. The pieces are tied together.

The head is kept uncovered during the hours before the funeral whilst the body is sprayed with rose petal water to curb the smell of the deceased. The body is surrounded by the grieving who utter the "Kalima" loud and clear:

"There is no god but Allah and Prophet Muhammad was his last messenger."

That is what makes a Muslim aka this is what someone has to believe in and recite if one wants to convert to Islam and this is what one is to recite before breathing his last, if death is coming naturally and he can foresee it. In fact, some people say that one should recite it every night before going to bed. I am scared and I don't because then I feel that I might not wake up the next day!

Anyway, extreme grieving is discouraged in Islam as one is to believe that Allah has taken back what belonged to him in the first place and that the soul is up with Him. In fact, it is said that one should not mourn more than three days, after which, one should go about his usual life. This is another reason why the immediate burial is prescribed.

Once the men come to take the body for the graveyard, the head is covered and the shroud is tied above the head. This is usually the most sentimental time as the women are saying a final goodbye to the bodily cavity that held their loved ones. Chants of "see her for the last time", "she is leaving us forever" go up in the air, despite being discouraged, to an unleashed mourning body. Cries, screams, shouts, sobs.

The men then take the body to the mosque or the graveyard, where the funeral prayers are offered. They are similar to the five daily prayers. After that, the body is lowered into a 6 ft dug out grave that is tiered such that the first cavity at the very bottom is narrower than the second, higher tier. The body tightly fits in the lowest cavity after which a higher step, much wider, around 4 ft higher than the body is used as a balance for slabs to cover the body below. Stone slabs are used - the more natural substances, the better.

After the slabs are put, the body is fully covered when viewed from the top and there is still 2ft of depth left. This depth is filled by throwing loose sand over the grave. The children and close ones of the deceased take fistfuls and cover the departed and in the end the graveyard worker shovels the sand fully to make a neat mound.

Oh, this is interesting - once the body is placed in the cavity. The head of the deceased is turned towards Mecca! It is thought that after burial, Gabriel visits the dead and interviews him. There are also common rumours, that a window to one's right opens up and shows a preview of heaven and one on one's left opens up and previews hell. However, the final decision and "judgment" is to be made on the final Day of Judgment by Him.

Hence, most Muslim graveyards are orthogonal to the direction of Mecca which means the bodies are laid orthogonal to the direction so that the head can be turned towards the Holy Mosque. I never knew that!

As said in an earlier note, the graves are usually left uncemented and natural with soil. At most the sides are covered with marble stone. The top is usually left uncovered.

I am particularly terrified of being buried but when I heard what Zoroastrians/Parsis do, I was grateful for what we do to ourselves. They leave the body on a tower to be eaten by vultures. Their logic is that we don't want anything to be a waste and want to keep life going on aka feeding the scavengers. I thought, burying is not a waste. It provides fertilizer if done in the proper prescribed way where the body is decomposed.

Ideally I would like to be cremated but that is not allowed in Islam. God knows what would happen down there. I would be satisfied if I were burnt (even if it hurt a lot then..who knows?!) but then I would just be ash and no insect or vulture could tear my flesh away, slowly and in bits.

Mama says that Muslims are allowed coffins if they want. So my plan is an air tight, super nice one to keep the insects away...atleast for some time?

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