Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Muslim Purification Death Ritual

The crescent moon and star symbolize the Muslim faith.

In my last post, I talked about embalming and preparing the body of the deceased for the wake, funeral, and burial. This excerpt from my book “Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes” describes the death ritual preparation experience of a friend of mine whose husband was a Muslim. No embalmment and make-up were used. The body was washed, covered, and buried as soon as possible. I write this with respect for Melvin and in my continuing efforts to inform others of the many facets surrounding death.

“Muslims wash the body of the deceased during a special purification ritual. My friend Carolyn, who is not a Muslim, participated in the washing of her Muslim husband’s body and received great comfort through her involvement. I asked her about her participation in this moving death ritual.

She explained, “The Imam, a Muslim leader, mentioned that three adults, including a spouse, could wash the body of the deceased during a ritual that prepares the loved one for being with Allah. He asked if I wanted to go to the funeral home and be a participant in washing Melvin, my deceased husband. I welcomed this opportunity. I knew Melvin would have wanted me to be actively involved.

In a private room at the funeral home, I used soap and water to clean Melvin’s upper body, while the Imam and another gentleman washed his lower body. During the washing process, I spoke tenderly to Melvin. I told him how wonderful he looked and how much I loved him. Even though he was dead, he wore the most beautiful smile. I knew he heard every word I said. The room was very quiet and serene. After three complete body washings, Melvin’s body was dried, oiled, and wrapped in two pieces of plain white cloth. A final covering displayed writings of the Holy Quran.

“How did you feel about your role during this ritual and afterward?” I inquired.

“What I felt most while washing Melvin was an inner sense of calm. I knew his wishes were being carried out, not only with that ritual, but with all the Muslim rituals related to his death. As I washed him, I knew he was at peace. I remembered how bad his pain had been sometimes before he died. He had prayed aloud to Allah to have mercy on him during his suffering. I felt relief knowing his distress was over. I appreciated the respect he was given. Washing Melvin’s body was a blessing that helped me in my healing.”

© Frances Shani Parker

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback at many online and offline booksellers in America and other countries and in e-book form at Amazon and Barnes and Noble online stores.

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