The Journey of Life
Birth: When a Muslim child is born the adhan (call to prayer) is whispered in its right ear and the ‘iqamah (command to rise and worship) in the left. This means that the first words the baby hears are: ‘Allahu Akbar’. The words are usually said by the oldest male present but can be said by a Muslim woman.
In India, Pakistan and Bangladesh the tahnik ceremony is held. Sugar, honey or a squashed date is rubbed on the baby’s gums by an elderly relative. This expresses the hope that the baby will be sweet-natured, kind, obedient and considerate.
Aqiqa: Seven days after birth is the Aqiqa ceremony where the father announces the name of the child to friends and relatives. The parents or the grandparents choose the name. The baby is being welcomed into the ummah. Prayers are recited asking for Allah’s blessing and for the child’s future health, prosperity and spiritual growth. The baby’s head is wiped with olive oil then washed or shaved. The equivalent weight of the shaven hair, in gold or silver, is then given to the poor.
Some Muslims offer a sacrifice after the Aqiqa ceremony. A sheep or goat is offered for a girl and two animals for a boy.
The khitan, or circumcision, may be performed at the aqiqa ceremony or at twenty-one days or even later. It can be done any time up to the tenth birthday.
Bismillah: The Bismillah ceremony is the beginning of the religious education of the child. It takes place when the child is four years old: sometimes when the child is exactly four years, four months and four days. The child must be able to recite ‘Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim’ (In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful).
By the age of seven the child will be able to take part in the five daily prayers and, by the age of ten, to fast, though usually not for the whole month of Ramadan. By the time a child is twelve Muslims are usually considered old enough to be responsible for their own religious activities.
Marriage: Marriages in the Muslim community are often arranged but they can only take place with the consent of both parties. All Muslims are expected to marry. Men may have up to four wives but each must be treated equally:
If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice. (Surah 4:3)
A Muslim man may marry a Jew or a Christian but a Muslim woman may only marry a Muslim man. Divorce is regarded as a last resort.
A Muslim marriage usually takes place in the home or the mosque and the couple give their consent before at least two witnesses. There are readings from the Qur’an and the imam and the guests pray for the couple.
The Aqd Nikah (contract of marriage) is spoken and written. The bride and groom sign three copies to ensure that they have both agreed to the marriage.
The groom gives mahr (a sum of money, property or other valuable gift) to the bride and this remains her property for life. Often a walimah or nuptial feast follows the ceremony.
Sometimes the bride does not attend the ceremony. She may remain at home while the bridegroom goes to the mosque and she appoints an agent and two witnesses to represent her part of the contract.
Death: The funeral rites for Muslims are not in the Qur’an but in law books. Rituals vary according to the customs of the country. Muslim graves in the UK run from north-east to south-west, so the heads can be at the south-west end facing right towards the direction of Makkah and the Ka’bah.
Muslims are buried and not cremated as they want the bodies to be intact for the resurrection of the dead from their graves at the Day of Judgement.
When Muslims are dying, they say the words attributed to Muhammad (pbuh) (‘Allah, help me through the hardship and agony of death’). They also try to repeat the Shahadah (declaration of faith): ‘There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the messenger of Allah’.
Relatives recite verses from the Qur’an to call on the barakah (grace) of Allah and they repeat loudly, ‘la-ilaha-illallah’, ‘there is no god but Allah’ so that Satan will have no opportunity to confuse the dying person with doubts.
The dead body is placed on a stretcher with the head in the direction of the Qiblah. Ghusl a ritual washing is done by relatives of the same sex as the deceased. The corpse is washed three times, perfumed with scents such as camphor, wrapped in a shroud, a single piece of unsewn cloth, and placed in a coffin.
Laws in many countries require coffins but in some Muslim countries the body is placed straight into the ground, protected by planks or with a coffin inverted over it and then covered with earth. Salah is then performed in the house of the dead Muslim or in the mosque.
The funeral takes place as soon as possible, usually the next day, but certainly within three days.
At the graveside in the cemetery, funeral prayers Salat-ul-Janaza (which is salah with no prostrations), and al-Fatihah (Surah 1) are said.
When the corpse is lowered into the ground, the body is committed to the earth with the words, ‘In the name of Allah, (we bury) according to the Way of the Prophet of Allah’ and the ‘From the (earth) did We create you, and into it shall We return you, and from it shall We bring you out once again.'(Surah 20:55).
Seven days after the burial, relatives try to visit the grave as a mark of respect.
Generally, mourning does not last more than three days.
Shi’ah Muslims have different traditions including rawdahs (memorial gatherings) on the fortieth day of mourning.
It is traditional for the grave to be raised a little above the level of the ground, simply to stop people from walking on it or sitting on it.