The funeral practices of any faith reflect the universal human instinct to react to the physical reality of death. The body must be dealt with somehow, and the rites that accompany its disposal reflect the values and traditions of a society. As both Islam and Christianity are Abrahamic religions, they share some similarities in terms of funeral practices, but there are also several fundamental differences between the two.
Diversity vs. Consistency
The religious laws of Islam, called Sharia, dictate many specifics of how Muslims should prepare for a burial, from the steps of preparing the body, to the words to be prayed at the funeral and burial. Many of the specifics of Muslim funeral practices come from the words of the Prophet Muhammad. On the other hand, Christian funeral practices are diverse across denominations, regions and local traditions. The Christian Bible calls for respectful burial of the dead, but does not prescribe the specifics for funeral services.
Purpose of the Funeral
Islam and Christianity similarly use the funeral service to comfort the bereaved with recognition that the deceased is with God. Funerals in both faiths pronounce belief in the afterlife. The Quran states that when upright believers die, they are escorted to paradise to be with Allah; this is remembered in the prescribed funeral prayers. The Bible declares that the death of Jesus Christ ransoms the faithful from death and gives them eternal life; Christian funerals, while varied, all celebrate the welcoming of the deceased into heaven, and connect this to the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
Muslims and Christians both believe in bodily resurrection, and therefore treat the body with respect during the funeral, preparations and burial; however, they express this respect in different ways. Muslims forbid cremation, viewing it as disrespectful to the body, and have detailed rules for the washing and wrapping of the body after death by close family members. In Christianity, cremation is permitted by most Protestant denominations, but not by the Catholic nor Eastern Orthodox Churches. In the Western world today, bodies are generally prepared for Christian funerals by funeral home directors and morticians.
A final difference between the two faiths’ funeral customs is the timetable. An Islamic funeral service takes place as soon as possible, ideally on the day of death. Modern Christian funerals, on the other hand, are commonly held three to five days after death in order to allow time to notify and gather family members who do not live nearby.
- Accompany Them With Singing: The Christian Funeral; Thomas G. Long
- Living as a Muslim: Funeral Ceremonies and Prayers
- The Quran
- The Holy Bible, New International Version
- Cremation Society of St. Louis: Religion & Cremation
- Emily Post: Religious Customs in Funerals
- A Christian Funeral: Witness to the Resurrection; Melinda Quivik
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