Middle Eastern Funeral Rites Today

A lone person stands in a the desert sand dunes at sunset.

Funeral rites and rituals show great variation around the world. In the Middle East, most funeral rituals stem from the Islamic belief that the deceased will remain in their tombs until the Last Day, upon which they will be sent either to paradise or to hell. Here is a closer look at how modern families and loved ones mourn and honor the deceased in the Middle East.

Prior To Death

The time leading up to death is a special time to Middle Eastern families. They gather around the family member who is about to pass on, offering them comfort and religious prayer. When the person passes, family members close their eyes and cover the body with a sheet.

Funeral Preparations

In the Muslim faith, which is predominant throughout the Middle East, it is traditional to begin funeral preparations as soon as the family member has passed on. Local organizations may assist the family in planning a funeral service, which often takes place at the mosque.

Embalming is not routinely practiced in the Middle East, and the deceased is usually left "natural" rather than being decorated with cosmetics. Instead, the body is washed and shrouded by close family members. White sheets are carefully folded around the body in a specific pattern, and the shroud is secured with ropes.

The Funeral

Since Muslims believe in burying the body as soon as possible, wakes are not common in Middle Eastern countries. Instead, the prepared body is taken directly to the mosque. During the funeral service, members of the community enter a special prayer room, face mecca, and recite prayers. Then, the body is transported to the grave site. In some countries, only men are allowed at the grave site; others allow women and children to attend.

A grave is dug, and the body is placed on its right side within the grave. The deceased's head always faces mecca. A layer of stones or bricks are placed on top of the body to prevent direct contact with the soil, and then mourners each add three handfuls of soil to the grave as they pass. The grave may be denoted with a small marker. Following the funeral, the family remains in mourning for 40 days, during which friends bring them food and comfort.

Middle Eastern funerals are steeped in years of religious tradition. They are not ornate occasions, but rather an opportunity for prayer and mourning.