x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Ask Ali: Islamic rules for burials

Ali Alsaloom explains Islamic funeral rites, and discusses travelling to the UAE as an unmarried couple.

Dear Ali: What is the procedure for Islamic burials? Can Muslim people be buried anywhere, and is there a particular tradition? LT, India

Dear LT: When a Muslim dies, there are strict rules and procedures that dictate how he or she should be buried. Islam places great importance on respecting the deceased, so this matter is not taken lightly. Burials are done at the soonest time possible and preferably within 24 hours.

Unlike in other religions, Muslims do not have the option to choose how the deceased should be buried (cremation or burial at sea, for example), because there is only one way to do it, assuming the proper methods are available.

When a Muslim dies, prior to burial, the body must first be purified with clean and scented water, a procedure known in Arabic as ghasl al mayyit. It is almost the same as how we perform ablution before daily prayers. This procedure must be done by a Muslim. Three ghasls are performed on the deceased: the first with water mixed with sidr al barri leaves; the second with water mixed with camphor; and the third with plain water only.

The body is then wrapped in sheets of clean, white cloth called kafan and the deceased is then transported to salat al janazah, or the funeral prayers, where his or her loved ones perform a ritual prayer, asking God to bless and forgive the deceased. This prayer is different from our daily prayers, in that there is no prostration or bowing.

After the prayers the deceased is taken to the cemetery for dafn, or burial. While all members of the community can attend the funeral prayers, only men accompany the body to the grave site while women receive guests who come to give their condolences. Once the burial is finished women can visit the grave.

Muslims must be buried only in graveyards dedicated to Muslims. If that is not available, the next best option would be in a graveyard for religions of "people of the Book" (Muslims, Christians and Jews). The deceased is laid in the grave on his or her right side, and must be facing the direction of the Qibla, which is in Mecca. The Qibla is very important to us and we face it when we pray.


Dear Ali: I have never been to the UAE, but would love to visit your country. Is it advisable to visit as an unmarried couple? NM, Cologne

Dear NM: The UAE is a relatively open country and welcomes everybody. In terms of visiting as an unmarried couple, I can't tell you it's OK nor can I say you'll get into a lot of trouble - it all depends on how you behave in public.

Most hotels won't question your relationship but you may face greater scrutiny if you're caught kissing or engaging in other displays of affection, which could land you in trouble with the law. We welcome thousands of visitors from around the world to spend their vacations here and enjoy our beaches, nightlife and attractions, but I doubt that all the couples who holiday here are officially husband and wife.

Emiratis also travel around the world with colleagues for business, which is acceptable in our religion and culture. We just don't stay in the same room as co-workers of the opposite sex. So you see, we don't have a problem seeing unrelated men and women visiting our country together. Just remember to be modest and respectful in your behaviour and appearance.


Language lesson

Arabic: Ina lillah wa in Elaih Raje'oon

English: From Allah we came, and to him we return

This a common phrase we use when we learn that someone has passed away. It is also a phrase you can say when you shake hands with relatives of the deceased when visiting them.