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Death in Islam
1. Death in the Koran
“Wherever you are, death will reach you, even if you were in tall castles” (Surat 4.78). Many passages in the Koran speak of the inevitability of death. As in Judaism and Christianity, no one can escape death, for only one person is immortal - God. It is true that “everyone is liable for what he has committed” (sura 52:21), but that does not apply to death as such, but to fate after death. For man, earthly life is a gift from God. It is a time-limited period of probation, the conclusion of which is determined by Allah, so that in the end man can return to him. Death is therefore also called “recall”. Accordingly, it is not a sinking into nothingness, but continuing to live according to the will of God: “We, yes, we make the dead come to life again” (Sura 36:12). That is why for the Muslim, despite all the pain and grief, death is not a catastrophe, but primarily the fulfillment of divine will. Clearly, death is understood as the separation of body and soul. The body is an external form and a prerequisite for earthly life. He is mortal and his corruption is a sign of death. But the soul is immortal. Body and soul reunite on Judgment Day at the general resurrection of the dead. The separation of body and soul is not a natural process. Allah sends his death angel Izrail, who has to execute this separation on his command in a certain hour: “Say: The angel of death, who is entrusted with you, will be recalled from you. Then you will be brought back to the Lord ”(Sura 32:11).
2. The afterlife
The angel leads the soul to a preliminary judgment. If the deceased has lived his life in deeds and faith according to the will of Allah, he will be informed that his sins have been forgiven. But he is not yet allowed to enter paradise. However, if his life has not lived up to the demands of Allah, the soul is destined for eternal damnation.
After this judgment in the intermediate state, the soul is returned to the body of the dead. The angel of death subjects the deceased to an interrogation and asks him four questions: 1. Who is your God? 2. Who is his prophet? 3. What is your religion? 4. Where is the direction of your prayer pointing? If the interviewee answers the questions correctly in the Islamic sense, two other angels named Mubashar (“Good News”) and Bashir (“Herald of the Good News”) will make the time in the grave easier, for example by taking the weight of the burden on him Reduce grave soil or create more space around it. They also give him a brief glimpse into his later life in Paradise. Otherwise, if the interrogation turns out to be in his disadvantage, he will be maltreated in the grave by the angels Munkar ("The Reprehensible") and Nakir ("The Negative"). This exam is followed by a period of waiting until the resurrection on the Last Judgment. This interval is like a sleep for the souls. It is experienced as a very short time. At the end of this time Allah brings about the resurrection and thus ends life for good. From the remains of the rotten body he creates a new body and unites the soul with it. The time of the last judgment is not accessible to anyone, but becomes clearly visible in moral decline and natural disasters. After this end of the world, Allah will be enthroned as judge over all people. He reads the indictment from a book that lists the deeds of the people. Actions are weighed against each other on a scale.
Witnesses appear who testify for or against the accused. Here Jesus appears as the accuser against Jews and Christians. The Prophet of Allah Muhammad appears both as an accuser and as a defender of man. The final and decisive judgment is made by Allah. After the verdict, the delinquents are led away by angels and driven across a bridge that is narrower than a hair and sharper than a sword. Those who fail the judgment of Allah fall down into a blazing fire. The righteous go on safely and are allowed to enter paradise. This area is described very graphically in the Koran, especially with its proverbial sensual pleasures. Above all, however, man is near God in Paradise. After all, this is the reward for his devotion to God in life. Hell is the area of eternal punishments, which are also very clearly described in the Koran. But it is only eternal for the unbelievers, the Muslims who serve their sentence there have the hope that they will later come to Paradise after all:
“Verily, he who does evil and is entangled in his sins - these are the inhabitants of the fire; they have to stay there. But those who believe and do good works - these are inhabitants of heaven; in it they shall remain ”(Sura 2,82-83).
3. The burial ritual in Islam
Death as the transition from an earthly existence to the otherworldly eternity is reflected in the Muslim funeral ceremonies. If the person feels that it is coming to an end, he must no longer be left alone. It is considered an act of piety when Muslims gather at the dying person. They want to remind the deceased of his good deeds and the happiness of life so that he may leave the world grateful to Allah. The assembled ask God for forgiveness of sins. They lay the dying man face down to Mecca. As a consolation, he is told the Quranic words “We belong to Allah, and to him we return” (Sura 2, 156). Now the creed is spoken and the relatives hope that the deceased can also pray. Ideally, he ends his life with the Islamic creed "I testify that there is no god but Allah."
As soon as death is determined, the body of the deceased must be ritually washed, leaving the mouth and nose spared. After that, the whole corpse is washed thoroughly with soap. No area should remain dry. Women wash women and men - men. Orifices are closed. The dead person is wrapped in white linen cloths so that the whole body is no longer visible. Here, too, men envelop men and women envelop women. When the deceased has made the pilgrimage to Mecca, the pilgrimage robe should be the shroud. (Every believer who has visited Mecca buys his own shroud there. He also brings relatives or friends who are unable to make a pilgrimage to Mecca from there with him. Providing the shroud to a poor person is a highly valued benefit). The burial must take place as quickly as possible, at the latest on the next day, preferably on the same day. This is due to the warmer climate in most of the Islamic countries. There is no commandment in the Koran or in the theological tradition. Cremation (burning) is not allowed. It is seen as an obstacle to the physical resurrection of the dead. The Islamic Religious Society does not raise any objection to the laying out in morgues, which is customary in Austria, but it should only take place in a locked coffin. Decorations of the burial room with flowers, flags and symbols of any kind are not desired, as are candles and bells.
The corpse is taken to the cemetery on foot on a stretcher, because the idea is that the angels of the dead walk on foot. Carrying the stretcher and burying it is the sole responsibility of the men and is considered an honorary post. Therefore, passers-by who happen to come across the funeral procession are also advised to carry the corpse a little way around.
Metal coffins or expensive wooden coffins are not used, but simple softwood coffins. In many places a coffin is not even common, but only allowed in particularly difficult soil conditions. Only men are allowed to be present in the cemetery
The prayers for the dead are said before the burial. They consist of the creed, the opening sura of the Koran, prayers of supplication and intercession and end with the greeting of peace. The funeral prayer is led by the imam (prayer leader of a mosque). He stands at the head of the grave, the believers are arranged in three rows behind him. Then he speaks:
"Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest!
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful!
Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, the Merciful, the Merciful, the Ruler on the Day of Judgment! We serve you and we call for help to you.
Guide us on the right path, the path of those to whom you are gracious, not those to whom you are angry and those who go astray.
O Allah, give your forgiveness to our living and dead, our witnesses and those absent, our young and old, our men and women.
O Allah, which of us you let live, let him live in Islam and which of us you call, let him die in faith.
O Allah, do not deny our deceased the reward and do not subject us to trials after our death. "
“God alone is my Lord, Muhammad is my prophet, Islam is my religion, the Koran is my book of guidance, and Muslims are my brothers, the Kaaba is my direction of prayer and I have lived and died believing that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet ”.
Now the mourning period of three days begins. Sending sponsors is not very common, but it can be done at the express request of the relatives. The acquaintances make condolence visits. The closest relatives wear dark mourning clothes 40 days after death. Weddings and other celebrations and conversations are avoided. This period of mourning ends with a family meal, a visit to the grave, and handing out of alms. It is imperative to restrain complaints. To this end, a saying from Mohammed is handed down: “The dead are punished for the complaints that their family brings up for them.” This tries to ward off the pagan custom of the deadly complaint and to emphasize that the deceased can only find his way to Allah through prayers should be supported. In a year this custom of mourning is repeated and the mourning is considered complete. Islam does not know memorial services.
According to Islamic belief, the peace of the dead must no longer be disturbed. For this reason, their graves can only be reoccupied after 20 to 30 years. Planting and caring for the graves are also not planned. As a rule, only one stone is placed on the grave, which is otherwise left to its own devices. This view can lead to conflicts, because in Austrian cemeteries the time limit is a maximum of 10 years and graves have to be cared for. Another contradiction is the location of the grave, which must be oriented towards Mecca and then possibly not be at the right angle to the paths and parcels. More than ¾ of all deceased are transferred to their home countries. There are special companies for this purpose that make repatriation easier for relatives financially and organisationally. In contrast to Judaism, where these transfers of the deceased to Israel are only customary because, according to Jewish belief, the resurrection is only possible in the Land of Israel, Muslims are buried in their home countries because the Austrian cemetery regulations sometimes conflict with Islamic tradition .
Even if no one can escape death, there is hope in Islam that death does not have the last word. Belief in the absolute power of God is the assurance of survival after death. This confidence makes the believer calm about death and teaches him to see life as probation in view of the Last Judgment as the last, outstanding settlement.
Harold Coward (Ed.): The Afterlife in World Religions. Freiburg i. Br. 1998.
Birgit Heller (Ed.): All contemplation is death. Interreligious Approaches to Dying, Death and Mourning. Freiburg i. Br. 2003.
Adel Th. Khoury (Ed.): Living on after death? The answer of the world religions. Freiburg i. Br. 1985.
Hans-Jürgen Klimkeit (Ed.): Death and Beyond in the Faith of the Nations, Wiesbaden 1978.
The Koran. Translation by Adel Th. Khoury. Gütersloh 1987.
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