Q. My colleague, who is Muslim, just lost his wife. I will attend the funeral, but feel uneasy because I’ve never attended a Muslim service before. Can you educate me on what to expect and any etiquette I should know about?
In our fluid multicultural society, more and more of us are attending funerals that may include unfamiliar customs, rituals, or prayers. In the case of a Muslim funeral, Islamic law prescribes that the deceased be buried as quickly as possible. Cremation is forbidden because Muslims believe the body is returned to the earth.
The funeral is held in a funeral home, where an imam or prayer leader will conduct the service. There is no visitation, viewing, or wake. On arrival, you will be directed or led to a seat. No one expects you to do anything but be present. To feel more comfortable, you might wish to arrange in advance to arrive and/or sit with coworkers or acquaintances who will also attend. Note that photos, videos, and tape recording are not permitted.
The dress code for men is simple. Jackets and ties are not necessary, but do leave the jeans at home. Women must cover their heads with a scarf. A knee-covering dress with sleeves or a skirt and top is suitable, as are dark or muted colors. The book How to Be a Perfect Stranger: A Guide to Etiquette in Other People’s Religious Ceremonies” advises guests to avoid wearing a visible cross or a Star of David.
Burial takes place immediately after the funeral, and male guests can attend the graveside service as observers. Women are not included, although this tradition may be changing these days. The body, which has been washed by a family member of the same sex, and is shrouded, will be buried without a casket.
It is appropriate to express your condolences to the bereaved as you would at any funeral. Mourning usually lasts for three days, although widows are expected to mourn for forty days. If you wish, you can send flowers or food to the home of the bereaved after the funeral. You may also visit during the mourning period.
Incidentally, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the country, according to the 2010 U.S. Religious Census. (Mormonism is runner-up.) An estimated 2.6 million Muslims now live in the U.S. vs. 1 million in 2000.
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons / YIM Hafiz