The bodies of the 50 people killed in the terror attack at Christchurch last Friday are being given back to their families for burial. The terrorist, who deprived the victims of their lives and ambitions, also deprived them of their right to be buried according to Islamic tradition. Formal identification and legal processes have delayed the usual procedure in which Muslims are buried within a day of death.
Violence has repeatedly reached into my own life, so the events of Friday triggered past traumas and resulted in a very physical reaction. I have spent the last few days in a state of unease, with the haunting sensation that violence is everywhere, and no one is safe. Jumpy, tired, and irritable.
This is a sentiment shared by friends and family, particularly migrants who have survived war and terror elsewhere only to learn that evil doesn’t subscribe to nations and borders, nor does it recognise the sanctity of our places of worship or even our homes.
Despite this recurrent nightmare, there is an undying resilience in Muslim communities which I believe is attributable, in part, to our core beliefs that we possess immortal souls and are inshallah destined for a paradisaical afterlife.
For people who have died because of acts of terrorism, this is not just a prospect but a promise because a person who dies due to violence or oppression is considered to have attained the saintly status of a martyr.
Practical and symbolic aspects of an Islamic funeral are not just about the material world; they allow the living to contemplate the next phase of the soul’s journey
Over the past few days, in between news of the carnage, we have taken some light comfort in this fact and I remember pondering this bitter-sweetly when I lost my mum.
One man in the evening news yesterday lamented the loss of his friend in Friday’s carnage but was quick to express that he would “wish” to die as bravely.
Islamic burial rituals reflect these core beliefs.
Muslims aren’t buried in a casket, we use a kafan, a white fabric shroud, instead. I recently learned that whilst our belief in an afterlife is unfashionable in secular spaces, our kafan is experiencing a revival. One American website advertises “100% European White linen shrouds” and “Green Burials” as a way of doing away with the need for toxins or manufactured materials in the burial process.
But the practical and symbolic aspects of an Islamic funeral are not just about the material world; they allow the living to contemplate the next phase of the soul’s journey.
Prior to an Islamic burial a body is usually washed and given wudu, a ritual cleanse, like that which is performed before prayer; as though the deceased themselves will be joining the congregation for the last time.
A janaza prayer is carried out communally and it is incumbent that members of the deceased’s community turn up. These congregational prayers are seen to be the rights of the deceased. As if right here with us, their souls are entitled to our presence and recitations. Once these duties have been exchanged the body is buried and condolences are usually offered at the home of the deceased’s family where people can mourn while listening to the comforting rhythms of Quranic recitations and prayers.
Healing from trauma is long and complex, but our burial traditions are minimal and simple. Wrapped in a shroud, we return to the Earth, as we are of it. We say, ‘to God we belong and to Him we return’, often having internalised that death is not final but a transition of the soul from one dimension to another, with the heart-bursting possibility of being reunited with loved ones in a realm free from sorrow and harm.
Amani Haydar is an artist, lawyer, domestic violence advocate and board member of the Bankstown Women's Health centre. You can follow her on Twitter @amani_haydar_