Burial rituals differ among religions

May 15 2011 - 3:02am

In Islam, the deceased are to be buried within 24 hours.

This was highlighted in media reports of the death of Osama bin Laden. And controversy arose over bin Laden's burial at sea.

Each major religion has customs concerning burial. Although they vary widely, the one common denominator is respect for the body.

Islam

Russell Mohammed, a director of the Mid-America Muslim Cemetery, said the 24-hour burial is not in the Qur'an but is a cultural practice from the faith's desire to respect the body and to avoid decay.

Since autopsies would injure the body, those are to be avoided, he said.

"Also, we don't embalm," Mohammed said. "This is disrespecting the body."

Since the cemetery is near the Islamic Center in south Kansas City, Mo., washing of the body is done at the center, he said. Then it is wrapped in a white shroud.

After that are prayers, and the body is taken to the cemetery.

"We don't normally use caskets, just bury in the ground, where it (the body) becomes part of the soil," he said. "The upper part of the body, the head, is turned toward Mecca.

Mohammed said some Muslim countries do not allow women to go to the cemetery because they think they will be too emotional.

"We allow them to stand at a distance, and after the burial site is covered, they can come closer.

"And we do not do a eulogy," he said. "Whatever you are going to say about someone, you say it while the person is alive."

Judaism

Similarly, the traditional Jewish custom is to bury the deceased within 24 hours or if not, within 48 hours, said Rabbi Herbert Mandl of Kehilath Israel Synagogue.

"We don't embalm," he said. "Embalming is against Jewish law because you are not to tamper with the body. You are supposed to return the way you came, and embalming radically affects the body.

"Also, cremation is forbidden," Mandl said. "This is a major violation of Jewish law because you are destroying the body."

Wooden caskets are to be used so they deteriorate in the earth, he said. The deceased is buried in a white garment similar to a gown, and the casket is closed at the funeral, which is a simple service with Scripture, prayers and a eulogy.

Among Reform Jews, many of the deceased are buried in regular clothing, said Rabbi Mark Levin at Congregation Beth Torah in Kansas City. Burial generally is within two days, he said.

Following the funeral, traditional Jews would do an evening service at the home of the deceased's family for seven days, while Reform Jews do it for one, two or three days, he said.

Protestants

Requirements for Protestant Christian burials are few, said the Rev. J. Lowell Harrup of Northland Cathedral in Kansas City.

Although there is no required time frame, most funerals and burial are within three to four days, he said. Also, cremations are acceptable.

At the church, the tradition is for the funeral to recount the good of the person's life, and a Bible-based sermon is preached.

In most African-American churches, the funeral includes prayer, Scripture, music, condolences from organizations the person was involved in, remarks from family and friends and a eulogy.

Also, in the African-American tradition, "We dress them up," said the Rev. Brenda Hayes, a pastor in St. Louis. "Dressy dresses or suits, hair done, makeup, jewelry, things that were the person's favorite."

Catholicism

In the Catholic tradition, the deceased is buried as soon as arrangements can be made, said Deacon Ralph Wehner, director of sacred worship for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

"The church prefers that the body be present for the funeral and if the person is to be cremated, that is done after the funeral," he said. "We require ashes to be buried in an urn, not scattered or sit on someone's mantel."

A vigil most commonly is held the night before the funeral, he said. "Vigils used to be in the funeral home but a trend is to have it at the church.

"The funeral Mass includes the reading of Scripture and prayers for the soul of the deceased and the family, prayers that express the hope and mercy of God and prayers for the saints in heaven to assist this soul and for all who have died."

Hinduism

In the Hindu faith, there is no burial. The bodies are burned.

In India ceremonial customs vary depending on the region, said Atul Trivedi, an area Hindu priest.

And in India, the body is burned in a special ceremony, he said. In the United States, cremation takes place at a funeral home, and the ashes are put in an urn and given to the family, if requested.

At the ceremony before the cremation, everybody wears white, and the priest offers prayers that the soul finds peace, said Arvind Khetia, an area Hindu.

If possible, the ashes are taken to India to be spread in holy water.

"There is no burial because the soul already has moved out," he said. "The body is a temple as long as the person is alive."

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