Tuesday, March 31, 2009


It was only when I mentioned the words, "she'll be mourning for fourty days" to a westerner and they didn't know what I was talking about did I become aware I'd taken on some of the Gulf/ khleej [KH-lee-jee] thought processes.

When in mourning the customs between the west and the Gulf are enormous and I'll try to shed some light on the differences; when someone dies in the Gulf, funerals are held on the same day.  Always.

The body is washed, wrapped in a shroud or thin white cloth (perfume can be put over the body if wanted) and then laid in the ground facing Mecca.  Only men will attend the graveyard to bury the body.

Mourning: 3 days
The initial mourning lasts for three days during which time the body is buried and the female family members gather in one house to share their loss, the males will gather in a specified mosque ~this is something I have never understood, or had adequately explained, why when you've lost someone you care for can you not share that grief with your male relatives?~

Mourning: 40 days
On the fourtieth day the family will once again receive visitors and condolences in the house. It is a key time during the mourning process.

Mourning: 4 lunar months & 10 days
Widows observe an extended mourning period [idd-dAH] of four lunar months and 10 days, as stated in the Qur'an (2:234). This is enforced to ensure the lady in question is not pregnant with the dead man's baby (al-Talaq 65:4).and so consequently she can not marry during this time.  Obviously this ruling doesn't apply to men.

In Arab society as soon as someone dies, they are buried; often within hours but always on the same day. I always put it down to the fact that it was just so hot here and decomposing bodies are not good in any sense of the word.

I remember waiting to bury my grandfather in England and having to wait 17 days from the day he died until the day of the funeral. It felt in-human and it was only then I began to understand the other reason for burying a body so quickly, to allow the mourning and healing process to begin.

The entire body of the deceased is wrapped washed, scented and wrapped in a thin white cloth and taken to the cemetery where the body is placed in the ground with the head facing Mecca and a passage from the Koran is recited by all the men present. Women are not allowed to attend the ceremony at the graveyard even if it is a woman being buried, they will mourn seperately at the family house.

During the three days of mourning [azz-za] which follow the death, the family members sit with each other and come to terms with what has happened. As an aside, the more religious Muslims believe mourning shouldn't occur as the dead are now in heaven.

Everyone, who knows the person who died or one of their relatives, comes to pay their respects. In the house food and drinks are provided at all times for all visitors and so consequently, with big families and a strong sense of duty, the houses are stuffed full of food, drinks, people and chairs. There are now specialist companies providing chairs, catering and waiting staff to grieving families.

Visiting the family at this time is an absolute must, even if the deceased and one of the family members weren't speaking to each other.  Everyone who is still alive must go to pay their respects to the wife or husband of the deceased.  Should it be impossible to visit the family members a telephone call offering condolences is an acceptable alternative.

Sunni and Shi'ites have separate graveyards, in a similar fashion which seperates Catholic and Protestants in death, but neither puts headstones at the top of the grave, all graves are unmarked. Cards are not sent and flowers are not put on the grave.

Time off Work
Notices of the death are often posted in the local newspapers and the Government allows all workers three days leave following the death of a close family member (to the third degree).

Personal Recollection
When I received a text message telling me to go to a specific mosque to give condolences to a friend whose father had died, I naturally went to the mosque. When I arrived I realized I’d obviously got it wrong. Mosques, when condolences are involved, are for men only. As a woman I was supposed to visit my friend’s house. Luckily a man who knew the family was standing outside the mosque and asked me if I needed help; he phoned the family to tell them where I was and that I was on my way.

So I got in my car and started to drive to my friend’s sister’s house, as I got closer I realised they’d thoughtfully put up notices at junctions to direct mourners to the house. It was easy to spot the house once I was in the right road. There were endless cars and streams of women going in and out of the house entrance. I parked the car, put on my abiya and hijab and walked to house {see wgaw blog archive: o5/o1}.

Before I was able to enter the house or even get to the door I was greeting women who had paid their respects and were leaving. Once inside the house I met my friend, said my condolences and then had to kiss a lot of women I didn’t know. This involved the same problem I have encountered many times at weddings; in which direction do I start kissing and how many kisses am I supposed to give? This time I was pleased that I knew enough Arabic to ease my way around this situation.

My friend’s house is big, and when I arrived there must have been 150 women dressed from head to toe in black although not all had hijabs on – this was not a conservative family and I was welcomed with an open heart. The women were all sitting on chairs throughout the three lounges making up the downstairs of the house. Many of them were praying, many were having a chat with friends they hadn’t seen for a long time and many like me, were meeting lots of people for the first time.

You sit, you chat, you remember the deceased and then you leave. And you come back the next day and then you return once again on day three.

Many years ago when I first came to the Gulf I was driving through the suq and I remember being held up in traffic whilst we waited for a group of mourners to pass. The deceased was wrapped in white cloth and was being carried, with no coffin, on the shoulders of the mourners. This no longer happens, bodies are now taken to the cemetary in cars.


*~Ange~* said...

yah the only thiing i amnot happy with is that women cant attend the burial. if it was my husband i would want to see him laid to rest. i think its a huge part of the grieving process.

Tove Noori Elise Thue Dale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wgaw said...

In reality I find the seperation of the sexes at this time quite cruel ~same goes for weddings, why on earth can't you share the most important times in your life with your male relatives?~ And all because women might cry, become hysterical? So what if they do? Emotions, aren't they an integral part of life and death? And showing them, isn't that part of life and death too? However, I'm in favour of holding the funeral on the same day, no matter what.

Gardens of Sand said...

Mmm I think Sunnis discourage women from attending the burial and visiting cemetries. My cousin's father recently passed away (God rest his soul) and when my cousin demanded to attend the prep and burial of her father, all hell broke loss. She attended nevertheless and much to ppl's dismay visited his grave weekly.

I don't know if the no women principle is for Shias though. When my granma passed away, several aunts and cousins attended her burial. Also its a common practice in my father's family to visit (men and women go) deceased family members on the major holidays.

Gardens of Sand said...

Oh, separation during the wedding is so that the women who hijab and what not can dress up in evening clothes and dance, generally in mixed weddings, muhajaba women have to cover their beautiful evening gowns or forgo them entirely and not dance. I personally prefer mixed weddings.

Anonymous said...

OMG women might cry. Heaven forbid. :p
That doesn't seem fair to me as well ... the total gender segregation thing is a hot topic with me.

Maverick said...


Just some of my thoughts:

a) In Islam mourning a dead person is advised to be limited to what the heart feels and the tears that come from your eyes. What's discouraged or even forbidden is the wailing, cursing, and beating oneself, as in women who slap their cheeks or chests out of grief. Prophet Muhammad [saws] said, paraphrased, that at the time of someone's death, what comes from our heart and from the eyes is from God, but what comes from the mouth and the hands is from Shaytan - i.e. wailing and beating oneself.

b) Women are not allowed to attend the immediate burial right at the grave for this very reason, to prevent them from becoming overly hysterical. You asked "so what if they do?" well if you think about it, any time a person becomes overly hysterical (man or woman) they often end up doing something they'll regret. That being said, I've seen young men lose their composure at burials and its really sad. Women can congregate at a nearby distance, in the graveyard itself.

c) Women are allowed to go to the graveyard afterwards and pray for the deceased.

d) Islam doesn't actually stipulate same-day burial, but its recommended to have the burial ASAP so you'll find that often the funeral and burial are done within 24 to 48 hours max. There's been times when I'm at the office and I get a call that so-and-so died yesterday evening and the burial is today, like just after the noon or late afternoon prayers, and often I dont have time to go attend. Thankfully, others from teh community do attend.