May 25, 2009

Caskets


I have always wondered about this, I just want to get some insight. I really don't want to offend anyone and we all have our beliefs so, no disrespect intended and sorry for the morbid topic.

So caskets. I don't get them. I don't understand why, when people die they bury them in a fancy, expensive box, satin lined, with a pillow. It just seems so weird to me. I mean, the person is dead, they don't need soft lining and a varnished cherry wood box, right?

Also, the idea of embalming and open casket funerals seems so...creepy? Embalming is actually pretty gross. Besides, all that formaldehyde, varnish, glue and stuff can't be good for the environment.

Just to touch on what we believe, in Islam we don't allow embalming and the body is washed and buried within 24 hours or as soon as possible. We are buried wrapped only in a white cloth and without a casket if law allows. If not, the simplest wood box is used. To Allah we belong, and to Him we shall return.

I hope I haven't offended anyone and maybe someone could shed some light on the tradition. I know we all have or believe in things that may be difficult for others to understand.

28 comments:

  1. CareMuslimah12:27 AM

    Salam alaykum sis!..
    Pretty interesting, since I'm a convert and I didn't know what was the policy for corpses in Islam

    It's SO MUCH what I've always thought. I mean seriously.!! I grew up in a catholic family. And when people die, they make all this prayers during 9 days, and the 1st day (before they start counting the 9 days) the body is there, and people stare at it :S.. it's just.. CREEPY!, to me at least.

    (In Islam there's something like those prayers for the soul of that person?, or how does it work?)

    I've always thought that people should bury the body asap!, and that staring at the dead body is weird, because some people just want to be like "eww, look at his/face" or something. So that's also pretty disrespectful.

    And fancy caskets?, I mean seriously!!, what for? For the people that go to the funeral say how pretty it was?, Allah is not going to care about your casket (or if you had one) it's about the way you lived your life.

    And one question sis, what does Islam say about cremation?


    Then again, like my sis said before, NO intentions to hurt other people if they have different opinions, we're all free to think whatever we feel like thinking :)

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  2. Care Muslimah, thanks for your comment. Cremation is forbidden in Islam but this link will give you info about Islamic funerals, prayer and more.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_funeral

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  3. CareMuslimah12:41 AM

    Thanks a lot! :)

    Salam alaykum

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  4. Well, being a former Christian, and both of my parents were much older when I was born so both are deceased, we grew up believing that you buy the nicest, most comfortable resting place for your loved one to be "comfortable" in their waiting place... as waiting to be brought into the afterlife. I dunno what other Christians have been taught but this is what we believed (well, my family still does)

    Interesting topic... ya know, the Jews do it the same as we do. My former VP at the company I used to work for even told me that they drill holes in the box so the body would decompose faster...

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  5. I never got the casket thing either. And when I go to an open-casket funeral, I try not to think too much about it because it IS creepy. I personally would just want to be cremated, but I probably shouldn't. Thing is though, here it's so cold most of the year they can't dig up to bury the people very quickly at the beginning of cold season. I don't know what Muslims dying here do though. I wonder.

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  6. This is an interesting topic. I've often wondered the same things as you, Mona. I know that caskets can be very costly, as well as burial plots, and funerals. So, often times, the immediate family of the deceased can be forced into debt after the death of the loved one. I like the simplicity of Islamic burials; it makes so much sense to me.

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  7. I was raised catholic and never really understood the whole funeral process until my grandfather died. For me and my rather large extended family (who couldnt all get there quickly), it was a final chance to say goodbye. That we had to follow him through to the end of his life, to the cemetery and all. I'm sure its the same belief with everyone, just a different manifestation of it. The open casket thing, I think, is just a different take on saying goodbye. It helps make the process just a bit easier. For my grandfather, who died after an illness, it was nice to see him look peaceful rather then sick. I realize that its all done for the family left behind, but its just our way to help the person along to the next life. But it helps us to celebrate the life of the person rather than mourn the death.

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  8. My late (muslim) husband was embalmed. (And way to blog-crash, right? "Hi, you don't know me ... now let's talk about the death of a loved one!" Oi.) He was buried I think about three days later. I'm still not sure we did the right thing with that, but I don't think his mother would have ever believed he was gone if she couldn't see for herself, and being across international lines they wouldn't let us send his body without embalming and paperwork delays. Point being, I think sometimes there can be mitigating factors that make those things ok, or at make them least seem ok. When it became proper ritual vs. the well being of his family, well-being won. And I think it can be the same outside of Islam, too ... I think some people emotionally need to physically see their loved one, and to see them in a way that looks comfortable, irrational though that may be. Like it's ok that they're gone so long as they look ok. It's a grief culture centered on those mitigating factors.

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  9. its a total waste of money! they can cost in their thousands here - buying a bed for a person who will never even feel it. total waste!

    i dont even want flowers at my funeral.

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  10. Funny you should point this out as I discussed about this earlier with a friend. His dad recently died, and it cost their family around 35k for the funeral service + casket + cremation etc.

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  11. Hi there, I also think an expensive casket is ridiculous. A simple wooden one is sufficient ... as humble as possible. I was wondering though why a body should be buried within 24 hours or as soon as possible?

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  12. Empress - Anisa, Interesting, I knew Jewish people did it similarly to us but didn't know about the drilling of holes. It's interesting.

    Candice, I don't understand, why can't they dig up cause of the cold? The ground is frozen? Aren't there machines that do it? That's how it's done in the US, for the most part.

    Umm Omar, It makes more sense to me as well, but to each their own. I guess people have to do what they have to do to make peace with it.

    Regina, I'm sorry about your grandfather. I can understand that.

    Mishu, no problem, nice to have you. I think it's ok, inshaAllah, since it was required by law and he had to be transferred. I think what you said is right, like Regina said, people want to see them one last time.

    Ange, I agree, it is, but I guess some people have to do it out of tradition or it's just what's done.

    Hajar, Wow that's a lot, but why would they need a casket if there was going to be cremation? Do you mean an urn?

    Noblese, It needs to be fast because without embalming, the body is decomposing.

    Thanks everyone.

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  13. Salams,

    I've actually been Muslim my entire life but, as a child whose parents grew up non-Muslim I know the importance of both sides. From both sides of the argument death is seen as a physical competition, the end. A nice funeral involves a proper burial, casket or not. For most people the funeral/manner in which the person is buried is seen as a goodbye/farewell it indicates the level of honor or love between the individual who is deceased and those around him, i.e. you wouldn't bury a bum in a "satin-lined casket"

    As far as I know in the Christan faith there is not a 'standard' method of burial so to each his own. In faiths like Islam and Judaism however there is an exact ceremony and expectations within the funeral. One thing to keep in mind ...or rather two is that it depends on location and funding. Funerals (at least in the states) are rather pricey. And where I live it is required by law to bury in individual in casket BUT that is to keep the body from possibly resurfacing during floods or hurricanes. It's a protection. The type of casket however is not specified. It must be a certain length given the body with material a certain thickness.

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  14. As for embalming it depends mostly on the family of the deceased. My grandmother was emablemed by my aunt because they had a 'wake' or open-casket ceremony. It was important, as a sign of respect, to keep the body as close to it's living natural state for those people who wished to view the body. It's hard accepting an actual dead body...a living dead body however is easier to make peace with.

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  15. The way people deal with death is actually a fascinating subject and is studied by cultural anthropologists. The point of the casket, the pillows, the embalming, and all the rest of it -- and which evolved into a part of American society during and after the Civil War, when young men would be killed miles away from home and would need to be transferred back -- isn't for the dead. It's for the living, and says more about cultural expectations and mechanisms for dealing with grief.

    Muslims may find American traditions "gross" but it's a fair bet that the same can be said vice versa. It's all in what you've been taught to expect as normal and right.

    I attended my grandmother's open-casket funeral when I was 11 and thought that the body in the casket looked nothing like my grandmother. However, even at that age, I could tell that it was important for my father and especially for my aunt, to see their mother looking healthy and comfortable even though my grandmother herself was well beyond any of those considerations.

    I agree that the cost of a typical American funeral is completely outrageous, especially when you consider that many jurisdictions require embalming and particular types of caskets, putting families into a serious bind. People also feel a sense of obligation to the dearly departed, the need to do "what s/he would have wanted". It's an exploitive industry which takes advantage of people at their most vulnerable.

    Anyway! Yes! It would seem I have spent quite a bit of my time learning about funerary traditions and why they exist. :) Like I said: I find it all so fascinating. I am in particular drawn to those sad and morbid Victorian-era photographs of the dead; it is so odd and yet so touchingly human.

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  16. "Muslims may find American traditions "gross" but it's a fair bet that the same can be said vice versa. It's all in what you've been taught to expect as normal and right."

    This is true too. I once met a (Christian) woman in a grief counseling format who was absolutely torn up that she gave in to her (Muslim) husband's family on his manner of burial. To her view that there was no box was so undignified that it really pained her to think of him like that.

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  17. PerplexinTexan, I never knew the reason caskets were mandated by law, that makes sense.

    AlienBea, well said. I'm oddly curious about the Victorian photos.

    Mishu, Yea I guess it's a way to honor them.

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  18. I do not understand Christian burial procedures, and am put off and scared by them, even though I am a fairly religious (liberal Episcopalian) Christian myself.

    I feel it is wasteful, bad for the environment, and frankly creepy. When people in my family have died I have not been comforted by having to sit staring at their body while everyone we know marches through the room, telling us how sorry they are. I know they are sorry. I just want to be left alone without having to make nice to hundreds of strangers.

    I agree with "to Allah (although in my religion we'd say God) we belong and to Him we will return." There's something in our scriptures that says pretty much that, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return." We say that during Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the beginning of the forty day solemn period of reflection and preparation before Easter.

    I am angered by the fact that funeral homes take advantage of a family's devastation to push the most ostentatious casket on them as a necessity. I do not believe in fancy caskets and it is sad that people feel they "need" them because "it's what everyone does." The funeral business takes advantage of that. Christian funerals today cost something close to fifteen THOUSAND dollars and for what? It's sick.

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  19. P.S. While we're on the topic of religion....! Sometimes you use words or phrases that I do not understand. Is it okay if I ask for a little guide or something? :-)

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  20. @Dayna

    Please see this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Islamic_terms_in_Arabic

    This mini-dictionary lists practically EVERY Arabic Islamic term and its English translation. Just scroll down to whatever you're looking for :)

    -Abid

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  21. Anonymous5:49 AM

    I am a Christian and totally agree with you Mona!

    When my father passed, we had an open casket viewing, but then he was cremated and buried on consecrated ground, as approved by the Catholic church, according to his wishes. If I had been given the choice, I would never have had the open casket viewing. It was not my father in that box. My step-mother made that choice and I disagreed. My sister had a harder time dealing with death, so for her, it might have made an impact in accepting his passing, but for me it felt wrong.

    When my mother passed away several months ago, and we abided by her wishes to be cremated as soon as possible, with no casket except what was required by law (a simple box)and no body viewing.

    Her belief was much akin to Islam's view. She felt that we return to where we came from, God - and the shell of our body is no longer important. So why waste money and emotion mourning over it? She also didn't like the idea of being embalmed with chemicals that are bad for the environment. Historically it was done for health and safety reasons, but those reasons are really no longer valid.

    Even with a simple cremation, no casket and the most basic funeral within 3 days of her passing, it cost nearly $5,000. The funeral industry in this country is a travesty.

    To answer another's question - there are times when the ground is so frozen, that you really can't even use a machine to bury someone. It is like trying to dig through a 20 foot deep block of ice. It doesn't work. In those cases, bodies are stored in above-ground crypts, and when it is warm enough they do the ground burial. Another burial factor in northern climates is that when things are buried, repeated freeze/thaw cycles and flooding can make things buried in the ground rise to the surface. Thus, in many areas, it is law that bodies be buried in a specific size box at a certain depth, etc. to try to prevent this from happening.

    I'm glad you chose this topic Mona and I always love reading your blog. Lizzegrl

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  22. Dayna, It's sad that the funeral business takes advantage of mourning families. Abid posted a link below but in general I use InshaAllah which means "God Willing" and Alhamdulillah means "Thank God or Praise God"

    Thanks for posting that link Abid.

    Lizzgrl!:) I'm sorry about your parents. Thanks for the comment and I didn't know about the frozen ground/crypt thing. Thanks for reading:)

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  23. More than anything caskets absolve the family of worry over the outcome of the dead body. We feel comforted that they have a pillow, and aren't being eaten as quickly (sorry for this extra info.)

    Caskets and their heavy metals are polluting the environment and so does the embalming. Embalming was done originally because it was thought that a dead body carried lots of bacteria, and needed to be buried immediately. It was a health concern since many wanted fancy funerals.

    The comfort of a casket is also that it stands the test of time a little more. This person will remain encased in casket for future preservation and scientists. I do feel this is important. Removing the blood also will create less rapid decay of the body. And finally, in the event of a natural disaster these cemeteries will remain comparitively.

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  24. Anonymous11:55 PM

    Well, I think is not only a good topic but quite appropriate.
    I have been involved with both sides of the coin. Being Muslim has helped me to accept death in ways that I never thought that I would.after being a washer for over 5 years it is so beautiful to see that the person is really prepared in the least obtrusive way. Wash and wrapped. Family members view the body and say their final goodbyes.Nothing more natural than that. I have also seen when people are embalmed for the purpose of shipping them and it is not a nice sight to see to me anyway. Because they have to be dressed. Which is totally like not a thing I would want to have done to me. Insha'Allah.
    Cremation as far as I know is not acceptable Islamically.

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  25. Anonymous, Thanks for your input, interesting to hear it from someone who's done it.

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  26. The casket was for the open-casket ceremony, for relations and friends to offer their last respects before the deceased is cremated. The urn itself can fetch up to 5k, but this is a Chinese/Buddhist funeral in case you're wondering. Spending 30k above is considered as a standard price.

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  27. Abid and Mona, thank you!

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  28. Lisa, yea, it's weird. Thanks.

    Hajar, Wow that's so much.

    Dayna, you're welcome.

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Thanks for commenting!