6.   Birth, Marriage and Death

6.1 Birth

6.1.1 Abortion

6.1.2 Male and Female Circumcision

6.2 Marriage

6.2.1 Marriage Partners

6.2.2 Marriage Rites

6.2.3 Arranged Marriage Customs

6.2.4 Polygamy

6.2.5 Divorce

6.2.6 Domestic Violence and Family Breakdown

6.2.7 Arranged Marriage and Honour Crime

6.3 Gender Issues

6.3.1 Conduct Between the Sexes

6.3.2 Sexual Harassment

6.3.3 Homosexuality

6.4 Death

6.4.1 Dying

6.4.2 Speedy Burial

6.4.3 Respect for the Corpse

6.4.4 Preparation for Burial

6.4.5 Funeral Prayer

6.4.6 Burial

6.4.7 Cremation

6.4.8 Organ Donation

6.4.9 Blood Donation

6.4.10 Mourning

6.1       Birth

Muslims consider all children to be born in a state of sinlessness; implicitly therefore they are perfect Muslims.

Immediately after birth the father recites the words of the Adhaan, the call to prayer, in the infant’s ear.  This is the only ceremonial element of childbirth.

At seven days old, the baby’s hair is shaved, weighed and discarded.  A small amount of charity is disbursed by the parents equal in value to the baby’s hair’s weight in silver.  One or two sheep are also bought from the butcher as sacrifices, with the meat being distributed to relatives, friends and the poor.

6.1.1       Abortion

Abortion is forbidden in Islam except where the mother’s life is in danger.  Even in this circumstance there are numerous cases, including in Britain,  where a mother has voluntarily sacrificed her life for the sake of the baby.

The Qur’an has numerous verses which rail against female infanticide, which was an acceptable practice among the Arabs before Islam, but which make it highly topical for Indian and Chinese society today.  Because of this very clear injunction condemning it, pressure for female infanticide or gender-specific abortion is not considered a problem among Muslims in the way it has become in the Hindu community.  Traditional Asian culture, Muslim and non-Muslim, favours male children, so there will undoubtedly be families among the Muslim community that are drawn to gender-specific abortion, but the religious injunction is clear enough to be able to cite it to discourage this practice.

Non-destructive forms of contraception are permitted in Islam.

6.1.2       Male and Female Circumcision

Boys are circumcised, preferably at seven days old.  A number of the many Muslim GPs make this service available for a nominal charge, so there is no reason for a family to resort to an unqualified practitioner.  In UK law, male circumcision by a lay practitioner is legal although on occasions that have gone wrong, the lay practitioner has been prosecuted for related offences.  The BMA states “The medical harms or benefits have not been unequivocally proven except to the extent that there are clear risks of harm if the procedure is done inexpertly. The Association has no policy on these issues.”  Their website[1] states,

-       The welfare of child patients is paramount and doctors must act in the child’s best interests.

-       Children who are able to express views about circumcision should be involved in the decision-making process.

-       Consent for circumcision is valid only where the people (or person) giving consent have the authority to do so and understand the implications and risks.

-       Both parents must give consent for non-therapeutic circumcision.

-       Where people with parental responsibility for a child disagree about whether he should be circumcised, doctors should not circumcise the child without the leave of a court.

-       As with all medical procedures, doctors must act in accordance with good clinical practice and provide adequate pain control and aftercare.

-       Doctors must make accurate, contemporaneous notes of discussions, consent, the procedure and its aftercare.

It is normal for adult male converts to Islam to be advised to arrange their circumcision.  The extent to which this advice is acted on is not known.

Female circumcision is not a feature of Islamic religious practice.  It is a traditional practice among some African communities, Muslim and non-Muslim, especially around East Africa and the Horn of Africa, and some Arab communities, but very rare elsewhere in the Muslim community.  The Messenger of Allah Darood graphic gave explicit advice to be sparing in the operation, advice that is normally interpreted as his accepting but not recommending the practice.

6.2        Marriage

6.2.1       Marriage Partners

Once a child attains puberty, according to Shari’ah, he or she may marry.  Marriageable age varies between countries, so it is not unknown for couples with one or both partners to be below the legal age for marriage in the UK to nevertheless have a legally recognised marriage abroad.

The Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah Darood graphic was that he married Khadija, his first wife, when he was 25 and she 40.  She died when he was 50.  He remained alone for several years, but a succession of marriages took place in his last few years in Madinah.  Each marriage, being a Sunnah, served the purpose of demonstrating that there are no unreasonable Islamic taboos in marriage.  He married Ayesha when she attained puberty and Sawdah as an aging spinster.  Umm Salmah had been widowed and Zaynab was divorced and also his first cousin.  Umm Habibah was the daughter of one of his (at the time) greatest enemies and Safiyah was the daughter of a Jewish leader and who had been abused as a slave as well.  The dispensation for a total of nine wives was a revelation from the Qur’an and exclusively for him, and served to bind warring communities together and change unreasonable taboos into worthy acts of Sunnah.

6.2.2        Marriage Rites

Marriage itself is a civil contract in Islam, not a religious rite.  In Muslim countries it is very unusual for marriages to take place in the masjid, but since in Britain the masjid serves as a community centre, it is quite common for at least the groom’s pledge, the nikkah, to be conducted in the masjid.  The more substantial masjids have made arrangements for their imams to act as official marriage registry officials.  However there is no Islamic requirement for an imam or any other official to be present to solemnise a marriage, merely that suitable witnesses are present on behalf of the bride and the groom.

Marriage customs naturally vary between Muslim communities, but the essential Islamic ingredients are the pledge or nikkah, a dowry (mehr) from the husband to the wife, and after consummation of the marriage, a feast (walimah) given by the husband to the community to publicise the fact of the marriage.  The nikkah involves the bride and groom separately giving agreement to the marriage and a pledge by the groom to maintain his wife properly.  (By Islamic custom, a virgin bride is too shy to give her consent aloud, but were she not to consent, the Shari’ah would recognise her verbal refusal, in which case the nikkah cannot legitimately proceed.)  The imam’s role is merely to provide an accurate rendition of the traditional marriage sermon, but this can be done by any knowledgeable person present.

Recent changes in marriage law now permit masjid officials to perform civil marriage registrations, so nikkah can be combined with registration. 

There is a practice recognised among some Shi’a of a temporary marriage, called muta.  The man pronounces a declaration of fidelity for a temporary period to the woman.  Sunni scholars do not accept that there is an Islamic source to validate this practice and therefore reject it.

Policy Note: As with a bride making a verbal refusal, no case of forced marriage has any basis in Shari’ah except to the degree that the bride was prepared to go along with it.  In other words if the bride claims that she did not agree to the nikkah, an Islamic judge is obliged to dissolve it unless she nevertheless feels that it is appropriate to continue with the marriage.  She is provided with three witnesses to hear her consent (or otherwise) to the marriage so in normal circumstances is adequately protected to the extent that the witnesses are responsible people.  Similarly because an imam has no fundamental or prior role in the arrangements, he is unlikely to be culpable of any blame in a forced marriage.

6.2.3        Arranged Marriage Customs

Arranged marriages are very common in Muslim communities because of (i) restrictions on mixing between men and women, (ii) cultural traditions, especially matriarchal influence, and (iii) economic self-interest of the parents.  Shari’ah law allows for the immediate dissolution of arranged marriages where either partner claims that it was against her or his will.

In some very close communities a nikkah is performed between children both as young as three or four.  Consummation does not take place until after puberty (naturally, perhaps), and although the nikkah is valid, in this case it is essentially a family tradition that is being maintained.  There is no record of any case in the UK where this situation has been misused or abused, and if in due course the partners are unwilling to complete the marriage, it would be dissolved as a matter of course.

6.2.4        Polygamy

Polygamy in the west is usually a serial and informal custom, practised secretly when not serial, and with a long and not very honourable history.  Polygamy in Islam is confined to polygyny with four partners, i.e. one male and no more than four females.

English law does not recognise polygamy, and registering a second husband or wife is an offence.  Home Office discretionary conventions may often permit entry to multiple wives of one husband where the wives have been married in accordance with the law of the country of origin, i.e. where polygamy is legitimate.  English law certainly gives legal equivalence to British registered marriage of the overseas marriage certificate of the first wife.  However there are a number of situations where the law is vague or untested, partly because nikkah alone and performed in Britain without registration does not constitute registered marriage although it does when performed overseas and recognised by law overseas.  So a second wife, married by nikkah alone within the UK, is not legally married but has the status of ‘common-law wife’, whereas a second wife with a registered marriage in the UK will be legally married if the first wife was married legitimately by nikkah overseas and was overseas at the time of the second marriage.  While polygamy among Muslims in Britain is rare, among those who practice it these two situations are quite common.  Also common as a result is a lawful abuse of the situation such that wives in different countries may have no knowledge of each other.

Policy Note: Thought might be given to giving “civil partnership status” to polygynous wives as a step towards regularising their otherwise vulnerable status.

6.2.5        Divorce

It is ultimately true that a man can dispense with his wife merely by the pronouncement of “Ta’alaq, Ta’alaq, Ta’alaq” – ‘I cast you off’ repeated three times.  However Islamic law is much more subtle and the pronouncement of "Ta’alaq, ta’alaq, ta’alaq" in one instance is a grave sin in Shari’ah, even though divorce must still follow.

Firstly in Islam, although divorce is permissible, it is regarded as the most abhorrent of permissible acts.  Therefore it is incumbent on anyone close to the family threatened by divorce, to do whatever they can to reconcile the couple or make reconciliation easier for them before a divorce is made.

There are four variations of divorce in Islam, three of which have approximate equivalents in English law and the fourth is the ‘Ta’alaq’.

Firstly if the couple agree to divorce by mutual consent they can petition a Qadi (someone learned in Shari’ah to hear the case) to annul the marriage in front of two witnesses.

Secondly if one partner wishes but the other does not, he or she can still petition the Qadi for the same end.  In this case the aggrieved party takes an oath that he or she has been betrayed by the partner, repeated three times, and the fourth time adds an oath that the aggrieved party him/herself deserves the punishment of the Fire if lying.  The partner then repeats the same oaths against the instigating partner, from which the objective judgement is that an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage has occurred.

The third case is a de facto separation.  If a couple have been living apart for at least two years and one partner has no intention of returning to the other, the other partner can action a divorce by petitioning a Qadi to annul the marriage unilaterally.

Finally the ‘Ta’alaq’ divorce.  The procedure is that the husband may pronounce one “Ta’alaq” to the wife.  They must wait one month (equal in fact to the period between menses) before he pronounces the second “Ta’alaq”.  Meanwhile they must live in the same household as before without physical contact between them.  Also the relatives and friends will now be on hand to try to bring about understanding and try for reconciliation.  If there is any physical contact between the two, the marriage resumes unbroken.  Otherwise, after the first month the husband pronounces a second “Ta’alaq” and similarly after 2 months the third “Ta’alaq”.  When three monthly courses have passed in this way with no reconciliation, the divorce has been completed.

“A divorce (Ta’alaq) is only permissible twice: after that the parties should either hold together on equitable terms, or separate with kindness.” (Holy Qur’an, Surah Baqarah, v 229)

Marriage and divorce according to Shari'ah is intended to be as humane and fair as possible for both partners while maintaining the integrity of the family.  In the context of the Islamic social structure in which men and women have separate social lives, the degree of mutual support and co-operation among women and among men is usually high.  This is why the role of relatives and friends is very significant.

6.2.6        Domestic Violence and Family Breakdown

Most ethnic communities among the Muslim population have very close family structures.  This in itself should be a strong stabilising factor.  However it is put under strain in poorer communities by the corrosive effects of racialism, unemployment and social deprivation, and in first-generation migrants by the need to maintain immediate family connections overseas.

It is probably fair to assert that overall, the Muslim population is no more prone to domestic violence than any other community in Britain, and that family breakdown is less common than in other communities.  (The lack of statistics based on faith groups makes these assertions hard to prove or disprove.)  However some ethnic groups within the Muslim community are very much more prone to domestic violence than others (though further work needs to be done before clearer advice can be given).  In those groups where domestic violence is endemic, a multi-faceted approach needs to be taken.  Direct intervention by the criminal justice system on an individual case may be proper and successful, but may then cause the more pervasive problems to be buried deeper in the community.  A multi-faceted approach would include:

  • education to raise awareness of the criminal nature of domestic violence in the ethnic language of the target group,
  • involvement of the younger generation in campaigning on the issue, since among the younger generation there is less acceptance of the tolerance of ‘cultural norms’ of domestic violence,
  • co-option of Muslim religious authorities, i.e. local imams and more notable figures that are respected by the target community, who can verify that Islamic practice is opposed to domestic violence,
  • involvement of GPs and other health workers that serve the target community or who are ethnically rooted in it, to demonstrate that the effects of domestic violence aren’t as well hidden as perpetrators suppose,
  • involvement of relevant community bodies such as Muslim Community Helpline [2] (formerly Muslim Women’s Helpline), who for all their efforts, are little known among first generation migrants.

There is no correlation between any particular Islamic factor and proneness to domestic violence.  Some might suppose that the existence of the Shari’ah Hudood penalty of death for adultery, and specific sanctions in certain Hadeeth of chastisement of wives for some misdemeanours might create an environment that leads to domestic violence.  But apart from some cases of obsessive behaviour, those Muslim men who have a religious-based understanding of these sanctions are most likely to be aware of stringent conditions that go with them and exhortations towards compassion. 

On the other hand most domestic violence is impulsive, not pseudo-judicial, and probably occurs as frequently in the Muslim community, practising or knowledgeable or not, as the rest of the population.  The Ta’alaq divorce has been described above, and it is noteworthy that a husband may declare a ‘Ta’alaq’ in the same circumstances as he may become violent.  One could therefore consider the ta’alaq as an institutional safety-valve by which wives may become detached from their violent husbands before serious harm is caused.  Obviously that is only part of the domestic violence issue, but knowledge of this factor might also assist in persuading religiously inclined victims that there is a decent way of ending a violent situation.

6.2.7        Arranged Marriage and Honour Crime

Arranged Marriage Revisited

See also links referenced in the Resources section in the footnotes to this page.

Arranged marriage is common among Muslims because of the conscious restrictions on mixing between the sexes.  Furthermore, close-knit and insular communities and extended-family structures also create the conditions in which arranged marriage becomes an acceptable norm.  The stability of these communities  also depends on arranged marriages because the marriage is not simply between the two individuals but sets up obligations between layers of in-laws.  If a partner or a partner’s family doesn’t fulfil the expectations of the other side, whole extended family structures unravel.  Extended families and traditional communities appear more insular, inward-looking and resistant to newcomers because their members suppose, with some justification, that marriage partners from outside the community are unaware of or unable to take part in all the tangled mutual obligations that their society expects of a marriage partner.

Marriage Outside the Clan

Nowadays there is much greater acceptance within the Muslim community of marriage across ethnic divisions, including with converts to Islam.  From a purely religious perspective there is no question – from the outset Islam has been emphatically opposed to ethnic and racial distinction, even with explicit recommendations to marry away from ones own clan in preference to within it, and converts have always been held in high esteem.  However in communities with traditional extended families, the mutual obligations described above are real obstacles and awareness of them still creates strong resistance to marriage to people outside the ethnic community or family clan.

‘Honour’ Crime

Most instances of violent crime that are nominally associated with family honour have their roots not, as is commonly supposed, in traditional pressures to maintain a certain status of the family, but in domestic power struggles, usually between father and daughter.  In this respect they are the extended-family equivalent of ‘tug of love’ crimes of Western society, where young children are often the victims of one of their (usually estranged) parents.  In Western families the tension that leads to murder in the family is usually between the spouses/partners, and involves issues of control of young children (usually in terms of parental access).  The similarities are important – to assume that a father murders his daughter in order to save ‘family honour’ according to some mysterious oriental conviction, is to misunderstand the crime and potentially therefore to misapply justice as well as possibly misunderstand the criminology and possibly the evidence too.  In extended, insular families such as in those Muslim families which have strong first-generation clan traditions (not only Muslims of course), the tension shifts to the generations, and the most vulnerable fracture is between father and daughter.  The issue is the same, control over family members, but the break is initiated by the adolescent or adult child, rather than by one partner as in the western equivalent.  The issue of control typically concerns the father’s loss of control over the daughter.  This may be manifested by the child using cultural, ethnic or religious shifts as a tool, e.g. conversion to another religion, or more commonly, sexual relationship outside the ethnic group.  Such ‘tools’ however are secondary to the issue of loss of control, because invariably where religion is the driving issue the family is not staunchly religious, or where sexual relations are the driving issue, if the same sexual mores were applied inside the ethnic group the matter would be resolved easily, or brushed over if it were a son rather than daughter in the relationship.  (These issues are explored briefly in a newspaper article that reviews a spate of recent suicide-murders among parents and young children [3]

On the other hand the kind of ‘honour crime’ that really is tied to a perverted sense of honour, is typified by its apparent lack of emotion rather than by an extreme emotional response.  Members of the family or more significantly, the community, perceive a callously “surgical” need to remove a wayward child in order to maintain the status quo.  That degree of callousness and implicated community is much rarer among families that have been uprooted by immigration, because the traditional community bonds are much weaker and the emotional bonds within the family are much stronger (though of course the very intensity of emotional bond may drive people towards instability).

In short, what is popularly described as ‘honour crime’ in Britain usually has little to do with honour and status in the clan and a lot to do with parental insecurity and control over their children, the same factors as motivate family murders in Western society.

6.3       Gender Issues

6.3.1       Conduct Between the Sexes

Islam prescribes quite precise rules for conduct between the sexes, requiring that men and women do not mix together in ways that compromise their integrity.  Given that this is one of the most acute differences between Muslim and non-Muslim society, it is not surprising that Muslims interpret this dictum in a wide range of ways, from maintaining total separation to cultivating token gestures of coyness. 

Many Westerners’ descriptions of their relations with the Muslim world have been couched in terms of the invariably male, Western observer’s inability to gain access to Muslim females.  Such writing should be seen not as a measure of Muslim oppression, but as an indicator of Western male chauvinism with its assumption that for men to observe women is a sign of progressiveness.

Muslim conduct, male and female alike, requires modesty – lowering the gaze is explicitly enjoined.  It should not be supposed, but frequently is, that Muslim women lowering their gaze indicated their subservience and Muslim men looking away from women indicated their contempt.  Patently this is not the case if the same conduct is interpreted with the roles and supposed reactions reversed!  On arriving at a Muslim house, men will notice that the women of the house disappear into a back room.  The less frequently noted converse situation occurs just as often, where women guests arrive and the men of the house disappear into another room instead.

Western society regards as normal behaviour of men to be extra attentive to the opposite sex whether the attention is intended as chauvinistic or chivalrous.  However in traditional Muslim society this is regarded as offensive to the woman herself.  This can lead to some surprising reversals of etiquette.  For example a man might step out to go through a door before a woman, because to stand waiting for her and hang around behind her is suggestive of an impolite degree of attention.  A queue of Muslim men may be pushed aside by a woman going to the front of the queue because it is demeaning for her to wait in the queue with many men’s attention on her.

The author is unaware of any Islamic basis of the arrangement of the wife walking several paces behind the husband.  While this conduct may be observed among a few Bangladeshi families in Britain it is unknown in the other Muslim communities.

When greeting a Muslim of the opposite gender it is not always acceptable to shake hands and not customary to do so in Muslim countries.  There are differences of opinion among Islamic scholars; some practices prevalent in Arab and African countries state that skin contact with anyone of the opposite sex, outside of family, renders wudhu invalid, wudhu being the ritual washing required for Salaah.  Other practices consider that this interpretation is wrong and that wudhu is unaffected.

6.3.2        Sexual Harassment

Muslims’ interests are served by general trends against sexual harassment in the workplace.  It must be recognised that conscientiously Muslim women are likely to be far more conscious of and less tolerant of offence than is the social norm.  This situation is not one-sided because many non-Muslim male colleagues respond to the adoption of modest Islamic dress and unwillingness to mix socially with men, as a challenge.  Some of them take up the challenge by being extra provocative towards Muslim women while still staying below the threshold at which non-Muslim women would consider making a formal complaint.

6.3.3        Homosexuality

Like most faiths that have the concept of external, objective morality, Islam is deeply antipathetic to homosexuality.  This highlights the social conundrum of providing inclusivity for strongly held, opposing views, and this conundrum has not yet been worked out either by liberal Muslims or community institutions, and this booklet cannot offer a solution.  Muslims and non-Muslims alike have to keep this in context – by analogy, Muslim law has strict penalties for possession, consumption and dealing in alcohol, yet Muslims and alcohol users are able to maintain perfectly acceptable relations in most circumstances.  Indeed a far more heinous crime (to Muslims) than homosexuality or alcohol use, is that of believing Jesus to be the Son of God, yet Muslims generally maintain benign relations with Christians.

Islam is at least consistent, in that, to Muslims, overtly sexual or lewd behaviour would be offensive whether heterosexual or homosexual.  In Islam, all sexual relationships are forbidden outside of marriage.

Recent years have seen dramatic changes in society's tolerance and acceptance of gender diversity, and to some extent Muslim communities in the UK have quietly accepted this.  However, quiet acceptance disguises an undercurrent of more 'traditional' views that persists within the more introspective Muslim communities.

Gender re-assignation presents many challenges in society generally when work involves matters that cross 'personal space', e.g. in medical examination, personal care, single-sex accommodation and security situations. It is not recognised at all by Sunni Islam.  Professionals working in such circumstances need to be mindful of the extra challenges that such situations will create, and accommodate them constructively.

6.4       Death

6.4.1        Dying

Up to the point of death relatives will gather around the dying person and recite verses of the Qur’an with the intention that the Divine reward of the reciting is added to the good deeds of the dying person.  It is hoped that the last words on the lips of the dying are the Muslim statement of faith, confirming that he or she has indeed died as a believing Muslim.

There are a number of situations where sudden death of a practising Muslim is treated as shaheed, (i.e. equivalent to a martyr in battle) such as a violent accident, death under a collapsed wall or by drowning or by burning.

Miscarried fœtuses over four months into term should also be buried ceremonially.

Suicide is condemned by Islam – the Messenger of Allah Darood graphic refused to perform the funeral of a suicide.

6.4.2        Speedy Burial

It is an Islamic tradition to bury the body (the mayat) as quickly as possible after death, with a strong emphasis on it being done the same day.  Muslim graveyards always have one freshly dug grave ready.  Delay in burial can cause families a lot of extra grief.

6.4.3        Respect for the Corpse

Interference with the corpse is deeply resented – Muslim belief is that the corpse, while inert, is nevertheless sensitive in that particular tribulations of the afterlife start immediately after death and are received as much magnified versions of bodily pain of the living.  Therefore miss-handling of the corpse, or incisions whether for medical reasons or not, are profoundly disturbing to the bereaved family.  This particularly includes post-mortems, and Muslim families will always do their utmost to avoid a post-mortem.  If aware of this, there are often steps that medical staff can take in the last stages of someone’s life to ensure that medical records are complete enough to avoid a post-mortem.  When a body is repatriated by air, deep incisions are made in the corpse that prevent problems caused by air pressure changes, but not many families are aware of this in advance and are often deeply distressed by the state of the corpse when they receive it after a flight.

6.4.4        Preparation for Burial

When the body is made available for the funeral, unless it is a shaheed, it is given a ritual all-over wash equivalent to a Ghusl (see below), and dressed in a kaffan of five plain cloths comprising a crude shirt and lower wrap, a head covering, and two sheets to wrap the whole body, plus a third for a woman’s body.  Rules concerning separation of the sexes apply to the corpse as well, so include who is allowed to wash or see the corpse uncovered.  Aside from this there are no cultural taboos over seeing the dead body or remaining with it.

Larger, purpose-built masjids often have a room with a genuine or makeshift mortuary table set up to perform the Ghusl.   This facility is normally available for any Muslim family who needs it.  They also have volunteers assigned to be ready to assist with most of the funeral arrangements.  Some masjids also run their own hearse and ‘private ambulance’ to recover the body from the mortuary.

6.4.5        Funeral Prayer

The Islamic funeral or Janazah is extremely simple and is over in a couple of minutes.  The prepared, dressed body is placed in front of the rows of the congregation, and the imam and the congregation recite silently certain prayers from among those recited in the every-day salaah (but not the words or actions of praise of Allah, Qur’an recitation, the bowing and prostration, because worship is for Allah alone).  The funeral can take place anywhere decent, but is usually done in or around the masjid.  There is a slight technicality – the body must not be placed in front of people making normal salaah because there must be no suggestion that they are worshipping it, bowing to it etc.

Following the Janazah, the body is taken straight to the burial ground.  There is great reward for carrying the body, but carrying the body invariably descends into undignified commotion as scores of people try to arrange themselves so as to have the body passed on to their shoulders.  This can be quite alarming for non-Muslim guests, and Muslim communities could benefit from making more disciplined arrangements.  There is no special sense of slowing the journey of the hearse.

6.4.6        Burial

Islamic burial rites stipulate the shape and size of the grave – this does not conflict with local authority requirements.  Wooden coffins are not used in Islam – the cloth kaffan is sufficient.  Some local authorities permit this, but others insist on a wooden coffin.  The body must be arranged to lie on its side, with the chest facing the qiblah, i.e. towards Makkah.  When a wooden coffin is used, sometimes a clod of earth from the dug grave is placed inside the coffin as a token of burial directly in the earth.  Only men are permitted to be present at and perform the  burial itself, the assumption being that women will be too distraught.  The burial party may be quite large and will expect to fill the grave with earth themselves, often by hand as this is considered more respectful than using a shovel.

6.4.7        Cremation

Cremation is forbidden in Islam.  If someone has died in a fire, they are shaheed, as if martyred, but still the body must not be damaged further before burial.  Cremation amounts to total desecration of the body.  Complications have sometimes arisen with converts to Islam who have died, when their non-Muslim relatives anticipate a cremation.  Muslim friends of the deceased have then struggled hard to persuade the relatives to allow a normal burial.

6.4.8        Organ Donation

Religious opinion on donation of organs after death is generally that this amounts to damage to the corpse and is therefore discouraged, even though there is no religious objection to receiving and therefore benefiting from transplanted tissue in medicine.  Muslim medical students are faced with contradictory moral choices in their course when entering those parts requiring dissection of donated bodies.

6.4.9        Blood Donation

Donation of tissue from a living person does not raise these moral dilemmas, and donation of blood can be considered a Sunnah, in that the traditional treatment of cupping, medical blood-letting, was recommended by the Messenger of Allah Darood graphic, and that acts such as blood donation, which save a life, count as eternal charity.

6.4.10    Mourning

Following death, there is a specific mourning period of forty days.  The point of its specificity is that the Messenger of Allah Darood graphic forbade anyone to think ill of a widow or widower who remarried soon after the spouse’s death, and he stipulated that forty days is a minimum decent interval before remarrying.  Similarly he criticised people who overindulge in the pity of mourning by prolonging it.  Custom has then led to the fortieth day after death as being the culmination of mourning, marked with special gatherings of friends and family on that day, usually to complete the collective recitation of the Qur’an.

[1]www.bma.org.uk/ap.nsf/Content/malecircumcision2006

[2]Muslim Community Helpline 020-8904-8193 or 020-8904-6715 (last verified September 2008)

[3]The Guardian, G2 Supplement, 24th September 2008. A careful reading of the article while keeping in mind the position of 'honour' crime victims, will quickly demonstrate the close similarity. In the article, the director of the Greater London Domestic Violence Project is quoted, "Domestic violence, whether sustained or carried out in a single killing, is essentially about power and control. If you think of the violence as a continuum, with murder at one end and minor abuse - for want of a better description - at the other, abusive men will go as far down the continuum as they need to establish the power and control to which they feel they're entitled. If the woman leaves the relationship - the ultimate challenge to his control - he will sometimes come back with the ultimate sanction and sometimes the only way to get back at her is through the children." http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/sep/24/children.mentalhealth

Resources

A.     Centre for Social Cohesion has published a comprehensive report which discusses the issues around 'Honour' Crime, domestic violence and forced marriage with numerous pertinent anecdotes: Crimes of the Community (PDF file, 169 pages, 720 KB) January 2008.

B.     ACPO has sponsored production of a brief leaflet on Honour-based violence (HBV): Honour-based Violence and 'Murders in the name of so-called Honour' (MS-Word file, 2 pages, 80KB) 2006.