Maryam Imam (pseudonym) is a 45 year old doctoral student and assistant professor in the education department of a Chicago-based university. She was raised in the Midwest in the Methodist tradition. As an adult, she embraced the teachings of Islam, married a Muslim and has taken on Muslim dress and traditions.
What kind of traditions and rituals do you have to commemorate a death?
To commemorate death, we often read or recite particular verses of the Quran. We have remembrances of death anniversary dates, but this is more traditional than religious, I think. We have no headstones at all on the burial sites, but we want greenery growing on the graves to indicate lasting growth or the life in the hereafter. A treeís shade is nice over a grave to give the feeling of comfort that the person who has passed may have peace or the attainment of heaven, not punishment of the hellfire (if in an open glaring sunny space).
We would call together friends and divide up the books of the Quran. People would sit and read and collectively we could finish the reading of several Qurans to send as a blessing for the person who has passed. This too is traditional--not all Muslims do this. We might do this again after 40 days.
What are some of the beliefs you hold that offer comfort in times of loss?
Prayer would be the comfort. We should read or recite certain verses of the Quran. We should ask God (Allah) for the personís forgiveness and peace in death or heaven. We would think that men would be stronger to carry out the funeral and the women more sheltered or comforted, even though the men could cry; the tears asking for the forgiveness of the dead person would be meaningful.
What about beliefs that could add to the pain of loss?
When death comes, verses add to the peace and loud crying or disrespect would add to the grief and pain. Knowing that the loved one was a good person who would be blessed with heaven would add to peace, so the fear that the person had not been a dutiful Muslim would add to the pain or loss. More pain would come at the time of death if the mourner knew that the death had been a painful one.
The most traumatic experience in having my feet in two worlds is that my father was cremated. In Islam we believe that the body needs to go back to the earth. That was hard for me. My grandparents also were cremated.
What are your beliefs about life after death?
Of course we believe there is life after death. Muslims believe that there is a period for the consequences of bad deeds and a period for the consequences of rewards. Much is written about the appearance of heaven and hell. Heaven has beautiful trees, flowers, streams, etc. and is peaceful and attractive. Hell is much more than fire. It is a deep, deep black or darkness and is an ugly abode.
Muslims do believe that in the hereafter we would meet again with those who have attained heaven, or if we are in hellfire, we could meet there as well.
How would you define healthy and unhealthy grief?
There is a forty day period of grief where one can alter routines before just moving on. There is a hope that people will grieve through prayer, not extenuous weeping or waiting, which is unhealthy for sure. At length, the 40 day period seems most reasonable.
What is the relationship between your private grief and your public mourning?
The prayer is usually done within one to two days and is public. Then, within family, there is friend and family type of gathering. The body of the dead is not shown to all, men, only to men and the members of the family; women, only to the women and members of the family. In other words, modesty is carried out there as well. Often the women would only be part of the private portion of the grieving. Even if they went to the funeral home, they would be in a separate place or room. Women would probably go to the funeral home if it was their family member (man) who had died. But men would attend the prayer and cemetery of all those who die in the community. Again, I think this is more traditional than religious.
Cemetery visits are the same. Men only would go. Of course, the women would be more likely to go if the death was a child.
How useful do you think group support is in facilitating successful resolution of grief?
I think that a support that is most appropriate is one that agrees with the faith. In Islam it would revolve around prayer. Sadness, of course, is human nature, but we try to be positive as well. We would say that tears do not help the person who has passed, so prayer is advised. Prayer always give the one grieving his or her own antidote to grief. In the same way, we would remind the person grieving that the person who has passed away was prepared to meet God and that he/she is in a good place. So people who could/would support as a group would always be helpful. The resolution of grief is very important.
Could you tell me a little bit more about the resolution of grief...for a Muslim, what does that mean?
I am not an expert on Islam, but a personal perspective is that it would be no different. Grief allows closure and acceptance of a loss. I know it is considered too much for us as human beings if we do loud crying and become too emotional and stressed.
Again, the prayer and the Quranic reading is advised to alleviate the pain and suffering in loss. Not all cultures, but some Islamic cultures stress that we continue (it is almost therapeutic) the special reading and prayers for 40 days after death. Then usually another gathering would take place to remember, to pray, to be silent and thoughtful.