Diversity in death
May 21, 2007
The rituals of death vary greatly from one religion to another, one culture to the next.
Here is a small sampling of the beliefs that help guide the way people deal with the deceased.
Islamic law prohibits cremation. Unless forbidden by local law, Muslims are buried directly in the ground, not in a casket.
While all members of the community attend the funeral prayers, only the men are allowed to accompany the body to the gravesite.
Muslims believe the dead can hear the living. Therefore, when visiting a grave, it is customary to greet the deceased.
- A Guide for the Muslim Funeral
- Islam Burial Rituals and Practices
- Funeral Rites and Regulations in Islam
Traditionally, the coffin is often left open before burial so that loved ones can say their final goodbyes to the departed.
People often send flowers to a funeral as a tribute. Flowers are said to symbolize both new life and the beauty of heaven.
The dead are placed in plain wooden caskets, which remain closed. There is no viewing of the body. Customarily, Jews are buried in simple linen shrouds, showing that rich and poor are equal in death.
It is customary to leave small stones at a Jewish gravesite. Not only does the stone show that someone has visited the grave, it also represents permanence. This contrasts with the Christian custom of leaving cut flowers, which live for only a short period of time.
Traditionally, Hindus cremate their dead, believing that the fire releases the soul from the body.
In preparation for cremation, the body is bathed, anointed with a mixture of water and sandalwood, and wrapped in white cloth. The body is then decorated with flowers and garlands.
In traditional cremation ceremonies, the body is carried three times counterclockwise around the funeral pyre before being placed upon it. Whenever possible, cremation takes place on the banks of a river, ideally India's sacred Ganges River. Afterwards, the ashes are collected and sprinkled on the water.
- Hindu Death Rituals and Beliefs
- Hindu Rituals for Death and Grief
- Cremation and its origin in Hinduism
At the funeral ceremony, the temple's spiritual leader recites from holy texts. Monks play wood blocks, gongs and drums. And a large bell is rung to summon the spirit of the departed. The living offer the spirit instructions on maneuvering in the spirit world so it won't lose its way.
Typically, a large photograph of the deceased is displayed next to a Buddha figure on an altar. Flowers, candles and incense are also placed at the altar along with offerings of fruit, cookies, soup and rice.
Many Hmong believe that one soul of the departed will return to the land of the ancestors where it will be reborn, a second soul will stay at the grave, and a third will remain with the immediate family.
A typical Hmong funeral lasts three days. In Laos, as many as 10 oxen may be slaughtered to guarantee the soul a safe journey.
The Hmong hold a ceremony on the first anniversary of death to invite the soul back for one final feast.