Malay Muslim funerals
The Malays think of death as part of a life cycle predestined by God.1 Malay Muslim funerals follow specific Islamic rites in accordance to syariah (religious laws), and are solemn and dignified affairs. The body of the deceased must be treated with honour and reverence, and handled gently with utmost care at all times. The deceased must also be buried as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours of their death.2 Anyone attending Muslim funerals is expected to dress appropriately and modestly in white or dark-coloured clothes. For both men and women, their clothing should cover the knees. A headscarf is also encouraged for women.3
The three main processes involved in Muslim funerals are (1) washing and shrouding the body of the deceased; (2) performing the funeral prayer; and (3) the burial process.4
The washing and shrouding of the deceased’s body is known as the ghusl procedure. This is performed by family members or other Muslims of the same gender according to Islamic rites. The body of the deceased is washed with water and the steps are repeated at least three times until the body is clean before being dried. Immediately after this, the shrouding process, known as kafan, begins. The deceased is wrapped in plain white cloth that has been coated with camphor, powdered sandalwood and non-alcoholic perfume. The kafan protects the deceased’s privacy and dignity.5
Upon completion of ghusl, a congregation is formed to perform the jenazah prayer for the deceased. The prayer is led by an Imam facing the Qiblat (direction of Mecca), and is usually performed at home or at the mosque. After the prayer, the body is brought to the cemetery in a coffin for burial. The burial process involves gently lowering the body into the ground. This is done without the coffin and with the deceased facing the Qiblat. The grave is then fully covered with soil. The completion of the burial process is followed by a talkin, a funeral sermon, which is read at the grave of the deceased.6
Some Malay families organise a tahlil on the 3rd, 7th, 40th and 100th day after the funeral. The tahlil comprises the recitation of prayers and supplications for the deceased, and is usually followed by a simple meal prepared by the bereaved family for their guests.7
Burial policy in Singapore and the Crypt Burial System
To address land scarcity issues in Singapore, the National Environment Agency introduced a burial policy in 1998, which limits the lease of graves to 15 years. Graves that have exceeded this lease are exhumed in phases. As such, remains from Muslim graves are re-interred in crypts at Choa Chu Kang Muslim Cemetery.
In 2007, the National Environment Agency introduced the Crypt Burial System, where the deceased are buried in pre-fabricated concrete crypts that are laid out in grids and without a base. This system allows for a more efficient use of land, provides a neater burial and cemetery appearance, and makes the burial plots more accessible to visitors.8
1. Hidayah Amin, (2014). Malay Weddings Don’t Cost $50 and Other Facts about Malay Culture (Singapore: Helang Books, 2014). 43. (Call no. RSING 305.8992805957 HID)
2. Amin, Malay Weddings Don’t Cost $50, 43–44; Mathew Matthews, ed., The Singapore Ethnic Mosaic: Many Cultures, One People (Singapore: World Scientific, 2017), 132 (Call no. RSING 305.80095957 SIN); Tham Seong Chee, Religion & Modernization: A Study of Changing Rituals among Singapore’s Chinese, Malays & Indians (Singapore: G. Brash, 1985), 74 (Call no. RSING 301.295957 THA); “Attending a Muslim Funeral: A Guide for Non-Muslims,” Muslim Burial Council of Leicestershire, n.d.
3. Amin, Malay Weddings Don’t Cost $50, 44; Muslim Burial Council of Leicestershire, “Attending a Muslim Funeral.”
4. Amin, Malay Weddings Don’t Cost $50, 43; Muslim Burial Council of Leicestershire, “Attending a Muslim Funeral.”
5. Amin, Malay Weddings Don’t Cost $50, 43; Matthews, Singapore Ethnic Mosaic, 133; Tham, Religion & Modernization, 74; Muslim Burial Council of Leicestershire, “Attending a Muslim Funeral.”
6. Amin, Malay Weddings Don’t Cost $50, 44–45; Matthews, Singapore Ethnic Mosaic, 133; Tham, Religion & Modernization, 74; “Burial of Muslims,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 18 November 1932, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Amin, Malay Weddings Don’t Cost $50, 45; Tham, Religion & Modernization, 74.
8. Nadzri Eunos, “Sistem Pengebumian Baru Mula Pertengahan 2007,” Berita Harian, 25 December 2006, 3 (From NewspaperSG); “Crypt Burial System,” National Environment Agency, accessed 8 December 2017; “Kaedah Baru Untuk Kebumi Mayat Muslim,” Berita Harian, 23 July 2002, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
The information in this article is valid as at20 December 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.