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Customs and Culture >
How does Islam handle burial and cremation?

Guidelines for burial and funeral rites are explicitly defined in Islamic law. The burial process is to begin as promptly as possible, usually within twenty-four hours after death. The body is first washed, often by family members or members of the community who are of the same sex, in a manner similar to the ablutions for prayer, and then wrapped entirely in a white cloth or shroud, tied at the head and feet. The body is then transported to another site where a special congregational prayer (Salat al-Janazah) is performed. It is distinct from other Muslim prayer services. It is very brief, never lasting more than a few minutes; most of it is not recited aloud, and the entire prayer is conducted while the congregation is standing (not bowing or prostrating).

After the prayer, the body is taken to the cemetery and laid in the grave without a coffin, with the head of the deceased positioned to face Mecca. No casket is used unless there is a need for it. Each mourner then shares symbolically in filling the grave by pouring in three handfuls of soil. Tombstones and other large markers are discouraged, as are excessive forms of mourning such as loud lamentations.

Cremation is forbidden in Islam because it is considered to be disrespectful to the deceased. Some religious scholars who believe cremation is contrary to the teachings of Islam and is a violation of Islamic law cite Quran 80:21, “Then He causes him to die, and places him in his grave,” and a hadith in which the Prophet is reported to have said, “The way of honoring the deceased is to bury him.” Thus, it is considered an obligation of Muslims as a community to ensure that every Muslim who dies is properly washed, shrouded, and buried according to the teachings of Islam.

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