Funeral Formalities

This article was posted on 01 September 2016

Posted in Funeral Cover

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Living in a diverse country such as South Africa, with its many different cultures religions and traditions, we all have one thing in common. Death. However, the way in which we handle the formalities when having a funeral, differ according to each of our beliefs.

No one wants to talk about death and funerals but it is certain that at some point each of us will have to deal with it and it is imperative that you are prepared for the funeral arrangements that goes with it.

The arrangement of a funeral is different across many beliefs. Below is a brief description of how Christians, Jews and Muslims handle and attend to the burial of their loved ones.


Christian Funerals

Because it is such an emotional and trying time for the people left behind when a loved one passes on, it is customary with Christians to have the burial a week or two after the person has died. The days leading up to the burial will allow time for family who is in other parts of the country or world to make the necessary arrangements to get to the burial as Christians see it as a matter of utmost respect to pay tribute to the deceased. Friends, neighbours and extended family will help with the arrangements and often ‘look’ after the people immediately affected by the loss by providing them with their time by helping with things such as cooking every day, catering on the day of the funeral and generally helping where they can.

On the day of the funeral, the body would normally come to the house first, where the coffin would be left open for people attending the funeral to have a last look at and often touch the face of the person who has passed. There will be a brief service at the house of the deceased, where-after they will proceed to the main service at the church. Christians in Cape Town often hire busses to transport those who don’t have the means of travelling throughout the ceremony.

After the church service, the casket is taken to the either the crematorium or the cemetery as its final resting place.

The coffin is carried throughout the ceremony by different family and friends.

After all the formalities the mourners normally gather for what is often referred to as an ‘after-tears social’ where they would have something to eat and drink and share stories of the deceased.


Jewish Funerals

Deuteronomy 21:22-23

22 If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, 23 you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. – The Holy Bible (New International Version)

By decree of this scripture, Jews bury the deceased as soon as possible. The Taharah (where the body is washed with water and wrapped in clean linen) is performed to prepare the body for burial. The body is then placed in an unembellished and plain wooden coffin. During The Tahara the mourners recite prayers and ask for the body to be blessed and someone constantly needs to sit with the body to recite as it is customary for the body not to be left alone. Out of respect for the dead, the body is not viewed before the funeral.

The final funeral service takes place at the cemetery where the mourners recite Psalms and say prayers. Based on how they mourned in biblical times (Genesis 37:34, 2 Samuel 1:11, Job 1:20), the immediate family of the deceased tear apart an item of clothing. The body is then carried to the grave-site, lowered into the ground and covered. The Kaddish (also known as The Mourners’ Prayer) is cited after the coffin has been lowered.

The official mourners return home after the funeral where they have to mourn for a week.


Muslim Funerals

And this worldly life is not but diversion and amusement. And indeed, the home of the Hereafter - that is the [eternal] life, if only they knew. – Quran 29:64

Muslims are very accepting of death as they feel it is inevitable. They frown upon mourning in ways such as loud cries and or weeping profusely. Upon death the Shahadah (I bear witness there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is the messenger) is either recited by the person passing on or by someone who is with them at the time. The funeral is immediately arranged and the burial takes place in less than 24 hours as it is customary.

Muslims do not bury their deceased in a coffin. The body is washed by members of the family (of the same gender as the deceased) and wrapped in clean white linen. They then contact funeral undertakes in the area to assist with the necessary burial arrangements.

The burial is a simple ceremony where only the men attend the grave site. The body is placed in the grave in such a way that the right side faces Mecca.

Mourners recite from the Holy Quran and say a prayer thereafter.

The relatives of the deceased hosts all mourners after the formalities, where a meal is normally served. Visitors who came from afar are usually hosted for up to three days.


Yes, we all face death and the arrangement of the funeral/burial in different ways. At the end of the day we still suffer some sort of loss, emotionally and financially.

Be sure to have a Funeral Cover for when death comes knocking, usually at the very unpleasant time.

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