• “Death is a glass from which every man shall drink and it is a door through which every man shall have to pass.” (AP)Source: AP
"Death is a glass from which every man shall drink."
By
Thomas Cunningham

1 Feb 2017 - 11:01 AM  UPDATED 1 Feb 2017 - 11:12 AM

Death is one of life's unavoidable events. And while we may not have much choice about how or when we die, we can determine how we will formally farewell the world with a final burial or customary cremation as per our faith and personal beliefs. 

From the reflective practices of Judaism to the Hindu belief in reincarnation, here’s how people from three of Australia’s top non-Christian religions farewell their dead.

1. Judaism

Around 85,000 people living in Australia identify as Jewish, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). So how do all of these people continue to follow Jewish tradition, even after death? Most likely, it's with the help of their family and references to long-held burial customs.

When a Jewish person passes away the family’s first port of call to discuss burial arrangements is the Chevra Kadisha: an organisation of Jewish men and women who make sure the body of the deceased is prepared for burial according to the correct religious conditions.

Melbourne Rabbi, Gabbi Sar-Shalom, tells SBS that it’s customary for the body to always be guarded until someone from the Chevra Kadisha arrives. This practice dates far back into Jewish history and was originally a way to ensure the body of the deceased remained safe.

Rabbi Sar-Shalom says funerals are also held as quickly as possible, sometimes even the following day after death. This is because the family cannot officially enter the ‘mourning period’ until after the funeral, which lasts seven days.

All the mirrors in the home will also be covered up so the mourners cannot focus on their own image. Candles will also burn throughout the entire week.

Traditionally, Judaism also prohibits cremations because the desecration of a body is looked down upon, and for that same reason autopsies are not allowed. Instead, the body will undergo a ritual known as ’Taharah’, which is the religious washing of the body, and the dressing of it in the ’Tallit’: a plain cloth wrapped around the body so as every person who dies may appear equal in front of God.

Funerals are usually large, as people do not have to be invited, Sheikh Majidih says. Family, friends and others will gather to say prayers and honour the deceased and God. The most prominent prayer is the “Kaddish”, which is the sanctification of God’s name. Stones are also laid on the grave instead of flowers, as stones represent the permanence of memory and legacy.

Following the ceremony the family will enter “Shiva”, which is one week of mourning. During this time other members of the community may come by and offer food and condolences. All the mirrors in the home will also be covered up so the mourners cannot focus on their own image. Candles will also burn throughout the entire week.

2. Hinduism

With more than 95,000 people currently identifying as Hindu in Australia, the Hindu idea of reincarnation is one of the most popular afterlife beliefs in the country.

According to the Hindu faith, when a person passes away it is believed their soul will be reborn in another body. As one of the major Hindu texts, the Mahabharata says, “Just as a man discards worn out clothes and puts on new clothes, the soul discards worn out bodies and wears new ones.”

Hindu customs require the body to be cremated, most likely a day or two after the death. The family may also drop water from the Ganges River, which is available to buy in Australia, into the deceased’s mouth before the body is burned.

In India, after a funeral the ashes will be scattered into the Ganges. But here in Australia Awasthi says they are usually taken to the ocean or a lake nearest to the family home.

Executive director of the Melbourne Hindu Foundation Pandit, Abhay Awasthi, says the purpose of cremation is more about  hygiene than spirituality. 

During the funeral hundreds of people may gather, usually dressed in white or colourful clothing to celebrate the life of that person and sing Bhajans (Hindu prayers). 

In India, after a funeral the ashes will be scattered into the Ganges. But here in Australia Awasthi says they are usually taken to the ocean or a lake nearest to the family home.

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3. Islam

“Death is a glass from which every man shall drink and it is a door through which every man shall have to pass,” says  Sheikh Majidih, who works for the Islamic Council of Victoria, and shares the Muslim faith with around 300, 000 people in Australia.

Sheikh Majidih, tells SBS that there are four stages to a Muslim burial, known as the ‘Janaazeh’.

First is the ‘Ghusl’, the washing. Once a person passes away the body is taken to a mosque. Here, a family member and members of the mosque wash it. The body is cleaned from right side to left underneath a robe, to protect the modesty of the person. Sheikh Majidih says the washing is done out of respect and for hygiene. He adds that the body may even be perfumed.

From there it is covered in plain shrouds; three pieces for men and five for women. This is the second stage called “Kafan”.

The body is cleaned from right side to left underneath a robe, to protect the modesty of the person. 

The third stage is ‘Solaah Jonazah’, the prayer. This is done at the funeral. Prayers are said so Allah (peace be upon him) can give forgiveness to the deceased and safe passage into the afterlife. The Imam will pray facing the body, while male attendees will stand behind. The women stand in a separate area with a view of the proceedings.

During these ceremonies, the body is treated with extreme care, as Muslims believe the body can still feel what is being done to it even in death.

The final stage is the “Dafnul Mayit”, the burial. The body is transported from the mosque to the cemetery in a coffin, with the shrouds tied at the head and feet so they do not fall off. At the grave the body is taken out of the coffin and laid on its right side facing Mecca. An Imam will pray again while standing in the grave and planks of wood are laid over the body so dirt cannot touch it.

After ceremonies are finished Muslim families are encouraged to keep the names of close relatives who have passed in all of their prayers until they too pass away.

 

 

Join Shaun Micallef as he travels around the world, in search of spirituality in the documentary series, Shaun Micallef's Stairway to Heaven. The final episode airs on SBS on Wednesday 1 February at 8.30pm. Watch all the episodes online after they air on SBS On Demand.

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