Facing Mecca: Islamic burial for Christchurch mosque attack victims

18.03.2019

Grieving families of 50 worshippers killed in the Christchurch mosque attacks are anxious to bury their loved ones according to Islamic custom. Graves are being dug in a local cemetery, but under-pressure authorities say they need time to make sure no mistakes are made and that the complex investigation is not harmed.

Here are some facts about Islamic funeral and burial rites:

Burial doesn't have to be within exactly 24 hours, but the sooner the better as it is seen as showing respect for the dead. Preparations typically start right away and that can mean not waiting for far-away relatives to attend the funeral.

The custom comes from the Prophet Muhammad's instruction: "When one of your men dies, do not keep him in the house for long. Make haste in taking him to the grave and burying him."

Families of Muslim passengers who died in the Indonesian Lion Air disaster last year were also upset with the time it took to release the remains of loved ones, which had to be identified first through DNA testing.

A Muslim deceased's body must be bathed prior to burial. Males are supposed to wash men, while women are left to do the same with female deceased. However, a man is allowed to wash a woman in special cases, such as the body of his wife.

The deceased is stripped of all clothing except for a small covering over the genitals. They are washed three times from head to toe and dressed with fragrances or perfumes. The body is then covered with a shroud made of white fabric.

Mourners at the funeral service are advised not to wail too loudly or let their tears touch the body as it could interfere with the deceased's journey to the afterlife.

An imam leads prayers in front of the shrouded deceased before the body is taken to a cemetery.

The dead are not placed in a coffin, but instead lowered into a dug hole and placed at an angle facing the holy city of Mecca – as is customary for Muslims' daily prayers.    (AFP)

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