Hindu and Muslim communities often live side by side, but their religious beliefs and rituals, including funeral customs, are very different. Both Hindu and Muslim funerals vary according to where in the world they take place, but each religion has important rituals relating to its basic tenets that are usually performed regardless of the region or dominant culture in which the funeral occurs.
In both the Hindu and Muslim traditions, close relatives wash the body of the deceased soon after death. This is usually done by someone of the same gender, but Muslims allow children to be washed by an adult of either gender, and a person may wash his or her deceased spouse's body. Neither religion traditionally embalms or preserves the remains of the deceased, so funerals often occur within one to two days of death. For Muslim funerals, the remains are wrapped in a white cotton shroud, while Hindus may put flowers and special beads called malas around the deceased's neck and place other symbolic items with the body.
Cremation is preferred in Hinduism, but a minority of Hindus choose burial instead, and infants are always buried rather than cremated. In India, Hindu funerals traditionally occur at the cremation site on the banks of the sacred river Ganges. A Hindu priest and the eldest son of the deceased preside over the ceremony, making offerings and saying vedic prayers before lighting the funeral pyre. In other countries, this service may occur at a crematorium. Historically, Hindu women do not attend cremations, but this is changing in modern times. In Muslim funerals, an Imam says a prayer for the deceased, then mourners accompany the body to the burial site and another prayer is offered. While many community members often attend a Muslim funeral, even people who do not know the deceased personally, Muslim women do not traditionally attend.
Cremation and Burial
After a traditional Hindu cremation, family members sprinkle the ashes of the deceased onto the Ganges. Many Hindus who do not live in India take the ashes to the Ganges or scatter them into another body of water. Muslims are buried facing toward Mecca. Four men carry the body to the burial site and lower it into the grave by hand. The grave is filled while mourners are present, and the family of the deceased may stay at the gravesite to mourn after the prayers have ended. Muslims are never cremated, as they see this as a desecration of the body.
Hindu families mourn the deceased for 10 to 30 days after death. On the 13th day, they perform a ceremony at the home of the deceased celebrating the deceased's reincarnation. Mourning may end after this ceremony or continue awhile longer. The widow of the deceased usually wears white. Other mourners may wear white or dress casually. In Islam, the official mourning period lasts 40 days, and the family of the deceased wears black during this time. The widow of the deceased traditionally wears black for one year.
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