What you need to know:
- For Muslims, it remains a community obligation to bury their deceased, notwithstanding the status of the person.
- Even if the deceased is a stranger or without a family, the community is under obligation to ensure they get a decent burial.
- No coffins are used. Instead, the shrouded body is placed on a bier, which is carried by mourners to the grave.
The trending video of the Nairobi Regional Police Commander digging the grave of former Cabinet minister Mohammed Yusuf Haji exemplified the simplicity of Islamic burials.
In his police uniform, Mr Rashid Yakub was seen inside the grave at the Lang’ata Muslim Cemetery preparing the final resting place of the Garissa senator and chairman of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), who died on Monday morning after a long illness.
Despite being among the prominent political shapers of the nation and his high standing in the Muslim community, where he was a trustee member of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (Supkem), the burial of Mr Haji was marked with utmost simplicity in adherence to Islamic teachings.
His death evoked emotions among thousands of Muslims who came out to participate in his final burial rites, which followed the same sequence every Muslim goes through upon breathing their last.
Despite the available government facilitation that could have seen his body flown for burial to his home county of Garissa, the family chose to have him buried in Nairobi in adherence to Islamic teachings, which recommend the dead be buried in the locality in which they die.
Burying the deceased within hours of their death is one of the salient features of Islamic burials. Hours after he died, Mr Haji was buried at the Lang’ata Muslim cemetery, and prominent mourners, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, altered their schedules to attend the burial.
For Muslims, it remains a community obligation to bury their deceased, notwithstanding the status of the person. Even if the deceased is a stranger or without a family, the community is under obligation to ensure they get a decent burial.
Before burial, a deceased is given a ritual bath (ghusl) by family members from the respective gender, which, among other things, aims at removing any impurities from the body, ensuring that it is in a clean state.
The body is then shrouded in a simple three-piece white cloth for a man, and five-piece for a woman. The shroud (kaffan) should be an inexpensive material and not bear any splendour.
No coffins are used. Instead, the shrouded body is placed on a bier, which is carried by mourners to the grave. The funeral prayer, which usually takes not more than three minutes is held just before burial. Anyone with basic knowledge of Islam can lead the prayers.
Close family members place the body into a dug out chamber in the grave, with the deceased facing the direction of Mecca. The chamber is then covered with timber, leaves and other materials to protect the body before the grave is covered with soil.
The burial is a short religious ritual devoid of long speeches, eulogies or the political rhetoric and antics that have become the hallmark of burials, especially for prominent personalities.
While in many communities, burials have become an expensive affair and a financial burden to the bereaved, this is not so among Muslims where the total costs of interring the dead in a Muslim cemetery is about Sh15,000.
For those who cannot afford the amount, the community readily comes in to give a helping hand. Several mosques in Nairobi and Mombasa have special areas for washing the dead and also offer free shrouds and hearse services.
While burials of prominent personalities in many societies are elaborate events stretching for days, this is not the case among Muslims. After the Saudi King, Fahad bin Abdul-Aziz died, there were no national days of mourning declared, there was no lowering of flags and life in the country continued as normal. Just like for ordinary people, the king’s body was carried on an open bier from the mosque to the cemetery and buried in an unmarked grave.
Such is the simplicity of burial rites in Islam, which was witnessed during the burial of Muhammad Yusuf Haji -- may Allah have mercy on his soul.
In Islam, all people are born equal and they will return to the Creator the way they came -- equal beings with nothing but their deeds towards the Creator and to humanity.