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Stories of Cloth


Mrs Khan: An Asian Funeral

Mrs Khan

An Asian Funeral

My husband died 22 years ago. After he died, words were recited from the Qur’an and we wept whilst his body was taken to the mosque to be prepared for burial. Seven male members of the family took part in the ceremonial washing and wrapping of his body in white unstitched cloth that had been washed in Holy water (Abe Zam) in preparation for his burial.

In our Asian culture, death rituals are very personal. Close members of the family attend to the deceased as an act of love and respect. Sisters, daughters and daughters-in-law attend to the mother’s body, and sons and brothers look after a father’s body. Burial takes place within 48 hours and only the men can attend the gravesite. It is forbidden in Islam for women to go, instead they either wait at home or nowadays many mourn at the gateway to the cemetery.

Our families are very supportive at this time. Family and friends visit to cook and care for the bereaved family and on the third day a feast is prepared of roast chickpeas. As soon as someone dies the furniture in the main room is cleared and a large white sheet is laid on the floor where all the mourners sit. Every Thursday until the 40th day after death the sheet is laid out again and the deceased’s favorite meal is prepared for all the family. Prayers are said and stories told in remembrance of the one they love. I still do this, even 22 years later.

Like all Muslim women, I was forbidden to go out in public for 4 months and 10 days after my husband’s passing. If a man visited my home I had to cover my face. This tradition is very difficult to fulfill for Asian women in England, especially those who have jobs. Instead, they attend their place of work but do not socialize or shop during the 40 days. During this period of mourning the widow wears white or cream garments and no jewellery, bangles or earrings. This is significant, because all married women wear these to show their status. After this period of mourning the widow must leave the home of her in-laws and return to her maternal home. This can sometimes lead to the widow becoming homeless in Asia.

Muslims believe that the grave is a place of waiting and of punishment. After death, two angels visit the deceased recalling their good and bad deeds until judgment day, when the prophet will decide whether they enter heaven or descend to hell. As the deceased cannot ask for forgiveness from the grave, the family visits the graveside and asks for forgiveness on his behalf.

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