News & Islam From the Imam’s desk... How we go about death wrong… By Mawlana Abdul Munim Murad, resident scholar at Eternal Gardens As human beings we naturally desire a happy and successful life. This often includes a university education, well paid job & a happy marriage etc. We therefore make plans and take active steps towards achieving these aspirations. Despite the fact that such outcomes are not guaranteed, we nevertheless actively chase after them. In contrast there is one particular event and outcome which is certain and guaranteed for each and every one of us, death! We therefore need to ask ourselves the following critical questions: What is our current approach to planning and preparing for death and the afterlife given the inevitable nature of death? How does this compare with our plans for worldly events, such as earning vast sums of money, which are not guaranteed? Working within the Muslim end-of-life sector, we have consistently noticed a number of reoccurring issues faced by our community in relation to death which deserve dire attention: Issue 1: The taboo of death The topic of death is often avoided and when discussions around death do become necessary the topic is discussed amongst certain family members only within a private context. Consequences Due to lack of knowledge and exposure, family members struggle to cope with the death of loved ones from an Islamic and emotional perspective. This distress is further exacerbated by the lack of familiarity regarding funeral procedures, including how to wash and shroud the deceased thus requiring non-family members to undertake these rites. Failure to discuss and legally secure in advance the wishes of the deceased in relation to procedures and inheritance often leads to heated arguments and bitter fights resulting in relationships being affected in the long term. Solutions In contrast, Islam encourages us to reflect and prepare for death. We can work towards this by developing an understanding of the Islamic perspective on death through attending talks and courses and by reading relevant materials. Similarly, familiarisation with local procedures and services is also important which can be achieved by accessing local government websites and liaising with local Islamic funeral service providers. These two steps will provide a framework for discussing and agreeing a family protocol for when loved ones pass away. Given the sensitivities involved each family will need to reflect on the best way to work towards this. Issue 2: No Islamic and legal will Although this falls into the above, it is a critical issue which relates to many important areas hence addressed separately. Consequences The primary consequence is that the obligation of distributing wealth according to Islamic laws of inheritance is not fulfilled which is a grave sin. Due to the absence of a legally-valid Islamic will, the wealth will be distributed according to British intestacy laws. Disagreements and conflicts over debts and inheritance are commonplace and have serious ramifications on family ties. The absence of prior planning also means that beneficiaries will lose money due to high inheritance tax. Solutions In the first instance, Islamic and legal experts on inheritance and tax should be consulted to discuss individual circumstances. After due deliberation and consideration, an Islamic will which is legally binding should be drawn up. Where appropriate the wishes regarding end-of-life, funeral and inheritance should be shared with family members to avoid conflict after death. The chances of family feuds are reduced due to prior planning, knowledge and legal procedures being in place. Successors will also benefit from more inheritance due to inheritance tax planning. Issue 3: Mixed faith marriages and reverts Where family members are of different faiths or none, differences and arguments are common in regard to the nature of the service and funeral. Reverts who are survived by non-Muslim family members may decide to give a Christian or secular service. This is particularly the case when individuals have not declared their entry into the fold of Islam. Consequences In many cases loved ones are not given an Islamic funeral. Whilst some are given a non-Islamic service, others are cremated or buried in non-Muslim areas of the graveyard. Once again arguments and fights over procedures are typical resulting in bad blood amongst family members. Solutions Legal experts should be consulted to ensure an Islamic funeral. This should be enshrined in a legally valid Islamic will. As with previous issues, the wishes regarding end-of-life, funeral procedures and the particulars of the will should be shared with family members. Common misconceptions at funerals 1) A final home visit for the deceased Did you know that taking the deceased back to their homes for a final visit is not a requirement in the Islamic funeral process? A swift burial in reality is a honour for the deceased and a simple way about this is to have the final farewell at the location where the deceased has been washed and shrouded. 2) Feeding attendees Feeding the bereaved family members and assisting them in their needs is recommended in Islam rather than the family members feeding attendees. Not only does it raise expenses but causes additional stress for the bereaved. 3) Funding Meals from the Estate of Deceased Grieving families may prepare average meals for distant guests but must pay for the expenses from their own wealth. This cannot be taken from the deceased’s wealth as it commonly is, since the estate now belongs to the survivors. 4) Crying is prohibited No, not only is it natural but allowed as the Messenger (saw) shed tears out of mercy when his son, Ibrahim passed away. To express grief is an acceptable form of expression. However, the prohibition lies in wailing, tearing hair & clothing, breaking objects and uttering words of discontent. 5) Condolences can’t be carried out after 3 days The sunnah duration of condolences (ta’ziya) is from the moment of death up to 3 days. However, if the condoler or bereaved is absent then there is no problem in visiting after 3 days. There is much more that can be said, but this serves as a reminder for each one of us to ensure that they have taken adequate steps to prepare for their departure, whenever that may be. Mawlana Abdul Munim Murad graduated from Lantern of Knowledge, London. He is furthering his studies in Iftah, Hanafi Fiqh specialisation and has received a BSc in Psychology & Sociology. Currently, at Eternal Gardens, his primary focus is in Islamic research projects & developing services for Muslim community. Previously, he has been active in dawah & teaching Islamic Sciences.