Muslims believe that life and death are in God’s hands, and that God appoints a time for each person to pass from this existence into the next. Muslims are reminded regularly that death is inevitable and that the actions of this life determine one’s status in the Hereafter. When a person dies, his or her relatives are urged to be patient and accepting of God’s decree. It is permissible to cry and express grief at the death of a loved one, though excessive lamentation is discouraged. Though grieving may never fully end, the period of outward mourning typically lasts no more than three days.
“Every human being is bound to taste death; and We test you (all) through the bad and the good (things of life) by way of trial: and unto Us you all must return.” (Qur’an, 21:35).
As soon as possible after death, the body of the deceased person is washed and wrapped in plain white linen and placed in a simple wooden coffin (if one is necessary). The body is then taken to the cemetery, where it may be carried by community members on a bier to the gravesite. Before burial, a special congregational worship service is offered, and prayers are made for God’s mercy upon the deceased. For Muslims, burial represents human beings’ return to the most elemental state, since we were fashioned from earth by the Creator. Thus cremation, preservation of the body, internment in above-ground mausoleums, or other methods are not allowed in Islam.
The affairs of the deceased may be handled via a will or testament. The Qur’an prescribes specific means for disbursing of inheritance to spouses, children and relatives. Many scholars have indicated that organ donation is permissible in Islam, and is considered a profound charitable act.
When a married man dies, his wife must not remarry until at least four months and ten days have passed. This period of waiting, known as iddah, allows her to determine whether she may be pregnant with her deceased husband’s child, which would affect issues of inheritance, lineage, and related matters. Even in an age of sophisticated DNA technology, in which the identity of parents can be ascertained quite accurately, the waiting period serves to honor the deceased husband and preserve the dignity of the marriage bond.