The shroud and the ritual washing: The Quran does not contain anything about funerals so we have to turn to the body of Islamic law (fikh books) which describe them in detail. As soon as a Muslim dies he is laid out on a stretcher with the head placed in the direction of the qibla. Then begins the ritual ghusl washing. The ‘washers’ are commonly the same gender as the deceased and immediate family members but the practice may differ in different areas. Ideally, this occurs as soon as possible, within hours of the actual death when the deceased is washed an odd number of times (Muslim Volume 2, Book 23, Number 347). Then the body is enveloped in a shroud (kafan) and the hair of the women is divided into three (odd) parts.
The books of fiqh say that a man should be enveloped in three shrouds (or less preferable) five shrouds, a woman in five shrouds, however, the shroud should be simple and modest. It is for this reason that Muslims have generally preferred to use white cotton cloth to serve as the shroud. The deceased is in a state of ihram. There are also differences concerning the type of shrouds – a tradition says that Muhammad was enveloped in three white cloths from Sahul (a town in Yemen) – (Muslim Volume 2 Book 23 Number 354)
The funeral prayer: The Muslims of the community gather to offer their collective prayers for the forgiveness of the deceased. This prayer has been generally termed as the Salat al-Janazah. The Janazah prayer is equal to the ordinary salat but it incorporates an additional four takbirs (proclamation of Allah’s greatness), there is no ruku’ (bowing) or sujud (prostration). Prayers for the deceased and mankind are recited. It takes place at the house of mourning or the mosque (Muslim Volume 2, Book 23, Number 359).
The funeral procession: The stretcher is born by men to the place of burial even if the deceased is a woman. The corpse of a woman must be hidden from the eyes of the public. The burial is done by an odd number of men usually family members. The head faces the qibla and three handfuls of earth are cast on the grave while reciting “From the (earth) did We create you, and into it shall We return you, and from it shall We bring you out once again” (Ta-Ha 20:55). On this occasion the confession of faith is spoken in the ear of the deceased, if this has not been done on the deathbed, in order that he might give the right answers when the angels Munkir and Nakir interrogate him in the grave.
Mourning: The books of Fikh give details as to how condolences (ta’ziya) should be made. The holding of a banquet (walima) should be made after the burial, except on the day of burial, on that occasion passages of the Quran are recited and the good works of the deceased are enumerated. Loved ones and relatives are to observe a three day mourning period. It is not legal for a woman to mourn for more than three days for any dead person except her husband, for whom she should mourn for four months and ten days (Muslim Volume 2, Book 23, Number 370) – the four months and 10 days is the idda waiting period.
Wills: Husbands are recommended to make a will in favour of their wives for the provision of one year’s residence and maintenance, except if the wives themselves leave the house or take any other similar step (Al-Baqarrah 2:240).
Graves and Punishment in the grave: The ornamenting, even the inscribing of graves is completely prohibited despite the embellished tombs of saints and holy men and nowadays monuments are erected. The visiting of graves was forbidden first but then permitted. Arabs appeared to have had a primitive conception that the dead had a continued and conscious existence of a kind in their graves which is the basis of the two judgements of punishment in the grave (azhab al qabr) and the bliss of the grave namely, that the grave is a preliminary of hell or Paradise. Some 70,000 Muslims will enter Paradise without any punishment without rendering any account (Muslim Book 1 Number 422).
The dead are examined by the two angels Munkar and Nakir who examine and if necessary punish the dead in the grave. They question the deceased about their opinion of Muhammad. Those who do not answer that he is the Apostle of Allah will be beaten severely as long as it pleases Allah, those who are positive in their confession of Muhammad will be left alone until the Day of Resurrection. The punishment in the tomb is not plainly mentioned in the Quran but there is a possible basis for it in “But how (will it be) when the angels take their souls at death, and smite their faces and their backs?” (Muhammad 47:27 c/f Al-Anfal 8:50, Al-Ana’am 6:93). It is frequently mentioned in the Traditions but often without mentioning the angels. The names of Munkar and Nakir do not appear in the Quran and only once in canonical Tradition (Tirmidhi Jana’iz chapter 70 – The Book of Funerals). The origin of these names is uncertain and their function is disliked by many however, the idea of the examination of the dead in their tombs is found in the Jewish sources of hibbut hak-keber.
The Soul: The ijma’ of Islam are not agreed as to the state of the soul during the time when the body is dead, or concerning its revival. However, they do assert that Muhammad will come first in order at the resurrection, and will be the first also to enter Paradise. It will be a general resurrection of men, angels, Jinn and animals. At the Resurrection the body will be raised and united to its soul. One bone of the body, the Os Sacrum, will be preserved uncorrupted until the Last Day, at which time the rest of the body will grow from it.
Death and The Book of Deeds: There is no way of salvation in Islam other than by works, and is personal account between Allah and each man is kept. Two recording angels (safara katibun), one the man’s right side records his good deeds one on the left side records his evil deeds (Qaf 50:17,18). Nothing is omitted and all actions are preserved in the Book of Deeds (Az-Zukhruf 43:80; Al-Intifar 82:10-12; Al-Muttaffafin 83:7-10; Al-Muttaffafin 83:18-22; Al-Anbiya 21:94; Yunus 10:61). Each person will be examined from his own book (Al-Isra 17:13, 14; Al-Kahf 18:49). The righteous will receive their book in their right hand, but the unrighteous will be forced to take their books with their left hands which will be tied behind their backs (Al-Haqq 69:19, 20, 25-27; Al-Inshiqaq 84:7-11)
The eschatological balances/scales: The individuals deeds will be weighed in a kind of balance (mawazin) and the Quran pronounces a woe upon those whose deeds weigh lighter than his evil deeds. He is lost! It is said that one balance will be over paradise and the other over hell. The good deeds are “heavy,” the bad deeds “light” (Al-‘Araf 7:8,9: Al-Muminun 23:102,103; Al-Isra 17:8, 9; Al-Qariya 101:6-9). Prophets and angels and according to some authorities, believers also, will be exempt from this trial.
Limbo – al-Ghazali developed a theological fiction, the doctrine of limbo, for those who by reason of youth, mental affliction, and historical and geographical context had not been able to come Muslims and therefore had no works of obedience to their credit. He found a place for them in the Quranic chapter Al-‘Araf 7: 45-47, which he described as heights where those in limbo looked down on both heaven and hell and their inhabitants.