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The funeral

Yesterday I had an interesting experience that I feel I must share with you all. The encounter indicates a profound change in the Muslim ...


Yesterday I had an interesting experience that I feel I must share with you all. The encounter indicates a profound change in the Muslim society and sadly a shift away from Islam. 

A friend of mine messaged  me on Thursday and it read:
“Assalamualaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuhu
Bhai (brother) Need to ask,  are you available tomorrow for a funeral?
11:00 @ x cemetery
The family need a janaza prayer and speech / sermon in Arabic and English and a sense of humour the family are Pakistani origin. If your available I need to give your number to the funeral director who will give to the family to speak to you too.”

I said of course he could pass on my number and I will be delighted to help. My phone rang very soon after that and I spoke to the funeral director. He explained to me that they were dealing with a burial of a Muslim gentleman but could not find a suitable Imam who could satisfy the families needs for the funeral. He was not sure want they wanted but was seeking my permission to pass my details to the family. I said that was fine. 

My phone range a short while after and I heard a lady’s voice. She introduced herself as the eldest daughter of the deceased. She explained the whole situation and also stated what she was looking for.
Her father was of Pakistani origin but had lived in the UK for nearly 50 years. He was Muslim but non traditional Muslim. He was open minded and inclusive. He was not that religious though he believed in God. He did not bring his children up with any religions but has reminded them that their family background was Muslim. She was looking for Sunni Imam who could speak well and address a mixed crowd. 

I asked her what she wanted from me. She said, “we have booked the chapel and would like a service there. We have a few of our family members who would like to talk about our dad. We have chosen a few of his favorite songs that we would be playing. Can you come and offer a prayer for him. A Muslim prayer, a humorous speech and not too religious sending off!”

I was amused by this requested but perplexed too. So I asked, “do you want an Islamic funeral prayer?”

She said, “I do not think that will be possible. We are a very integrated family. We don’t want to make it appear different to what people are used to.”

I said, “I have to be straight with you. I have a few questions for you?”
She said, “yes OK”.
I asked, “was your father a Muslim?”

She replied, “yes”.
“Did he ever state what kind of funeral he wanted?”
She paused for a few minutes and said, “a muslim one of course!”
I said, “in that case let me help you do that. We need minimum of three people to perform his Janaza prayer. As Muslim community we have a collective obligation to ensure that a Muslim gets a dignified and Islamic burial.”

“But we do not have three Muslims who can take part in the prayer”, she said.
I paused to think what do I do now. I said, “don’t worry about that. I am a Muslim, you are a Muslim and I will bring my son with me. Leave the funeral prayer bit in my hand. I will be there at the chapel and I will speak about life and death, how we should make the best of our life. Will I be able to hold his Janaza prayer inside the chapel?

She said, “no but we could do that at the graveside!”
I said thank you to her and agreed to be there at 11 am on Friday morning. I was happy that she has agreed to offer the Janaza prayer for her father, the basic right of every Muslim.
When I arrived at the chapel the families had gathered all around. It was a mixed group of people, predominantly people from other faiths and no faith. I looked around to see if I could find anyone who was Muslim so that I could offer the janazah prayer for this man. As I walked through the crowd a few people came forward and greeted me with traditional Islamic greeting and said, “Imam saab, it is so good to see you here!”

I replied to them and felt delighted that we would be able to pray Janaza prayer on this man. I could also hear in their voices a sense of relief that as Muslims they would be able to offer their duty towards the deceased.

In the chapel I began the proceedings with a few verses from the Quran and it’s translation. I gave a speech about how life on this earth was temporary and a stepping stone for a life that will never end. I spoke about how our legacy on this earth would determine our position in the hereafter. I reminded everyone that that God created us all from soil, we would all return to this soil after death and it is from this soil God will raise us again. I invited the family to lead a God conscious, virtuous and beneficial life. 

Various members of the family spoke about his life and his love for his children and grandchildren. It was extremely heart touching to hear the grandchildren speak so affectionately and highly about their grandfather. How he played crucial role, was the rock in their life and how he became their best friend. He gave all he had to his family, as I heard them speak my mind could not stop the thought that sadly, he did not give them any Islam.

It was time to head to the graveyard. His favourite song by Louis Armstrong - “what a wonderful world” was played loudly, his body in a casket was raised to the shoulders of family members carrying the body and they all followed the dead to his life’s end destination, his grave.
I located the directions of Makkah, the Qibla, and requested the body to be laid accordingly. I invited the Muslim members in the gathering to join in the funeral prayer. I also requested those who were from other faiths or no faith to spend their time reflecting on something good or in their heart wishing the deceased well.

There were about 10 men who came forward and formed a line behind me. I explained to them how funeral prayer was performed. I led the Janaza prayer and prayed for God’s mercy and grace for the deceased. We were doing our duty and handing back the body He gave for the earthly existence. He had already taken the soul, the element that kept him alive. Now we were preparing for our death.
The body was lowered to the grave and I read the Du’a “Bismillahi wa’ala Sunnati Rasool Allah” in the name of Allah and according to the teachings of the prophet of Allah. This was the final act of earthy journey that the deceased or alive would ever need to experience on each other.

The 8 feet deep grave looked extremely scary and dim prospect. We complain when we a box room as our bedroom in a house. This was not only a confined space but a room with no windows, doors, air or light.  Darkness of death would prevail from hereon until the heavenly light is beamed into this narrow 8 feet deep, 6 feet long and 2 feet wide peace of earth that we are laid to rest.

A handful soil was then placed by each members of the families and friends who had gathered around the grave. I quietly left the families to their own thoughts and practices. One of the granddaughters sang a song by the grave.

As I left the graveyard I thought to myself about how important it was for me to teach my children everything about life and death including how to perform funeral prayers so that when I am dead, they could be the righteous children who would offer my Janaza prayer and pray for my wellbeing, God’s mercy and forgiveness for me. I thanked God for giving me the honour and opportunity to relieve the entire Muslim ummah of its collective duty.

My 10 years old son was with me. He sat in the car and I could see him in deep thoughts. He broke his silence and said, “daddy, that was really strange, why didn’t the families know anything about Islam? They were not even sure if they were giving their father an Islamic burial?” His voice was full of concern. 

I explained to him that it was not their fault. They probably did not know much about Islam. It was our responsibility to offer help and support to families when they are facing such difficult times in their life. I also told him, “I am so glad you came with me and you were part of those who prayed his Janaza prayers today. I hope you are around to lead my own janaza prayer!”

Inside my head I also thought how tragic it is to witness Muslim families with no knowledge or even inclinations about the basic teachings of Islam. It is a tragedy when Muslim parents fail to give their children a wholistic understanding of Islam and thus help them grow up as confident Muslims. I wonder how many Muslims out there are on the same boat as this family!

I headed to the mosque where I was booked to lead the Friday prayers but my feelings could not betray me - I felt sad, heavy in my heart and deeply concerned. I was more certain than ever before that the key to making Muslims great again was knowledge of and confidence in Islam and their identity as Muslims.