Funeral Traditions in Nigeria

A funeral is a ceremony connected with the final disposition of a corpse, such as a burial or cremation, with the attendant observances. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember and respect the dead, from interment, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals performed in their honor.

Customs vary between cultures and religious groups. Common secular motivations for funerals include mourning the deceased, celebrating their life, and offering support and sympathy to the bereaved; additionally, funerals may have religious aspects that are intended to succour the soul of the deceased reach the afterlife resurrection or reincarnation.

The funeral usually includes a ritual through which the corpse receives a final disposition. Depending on culture and religion, these can involve either the destruction of the body (for example, by cremation or sky burial ) or its preservation (for example, by mummification or interment).

Differing beliefs about cleanliness and the relationship between body and soul are reflected in funerary practices. A memorial service or celebration of life is a funerary ceremony that is performed without the remains of the deceased person.

The word ‘funeral’ comes from the Latin funus, which had a variety of meanings, including the corpse and the funerary rites themselves. (Source: Wikipedia)

Funeral Rites in Islam

The word “Islam” means the “achievement of peace with Allah [God] and man, and complete resignation to Allah in thoughts, words, beliefs, and deeds.”

In Islamic culture. death is accepted and viewed as a natural part of life. The belief that the deceased has moved on to a pleasant afterlife is an important belief and helps the bereaved cope with their suffering. There is a day of judgment and a life after death.

Under Islamic funeral customs, the mourning period for a relative is typically 3 days. A widow may mourn for 4 months and 10 days. How an individual expresses mourning in appearance or clothing is not defined by the teachings of the religion but rather on local, regional, or family custom.

Muslim mourners in Nigeria

Funeral Stages in Islam

1. Care for the Dying

When a Muslim is near death, those around him or her are called upon to give comfort and reminders of God’s mercy and forgiveness. They may recite verses from the Qu’ran, give physical comfort, and encourage the dying one to recite words of remembrance and prayer.

It is recommended, if at all possible, for a Muslim’s last words to be the declaration of faith: “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah.”

2. Immediately Upon Death

Upon death, those with the deceased are encouraged to remain calm, pray for the departed, and begin preparations for burial. The eyes of the deceased should be closed and the body covered temporarily with a clean sheet.

It is forbidden for those in mourning to excessively wail, scream, or thrash about. Grief is normal when one has lost a loved one, however, and it is natural and permitted to cry.

When the Prophet Muhammad’s own son died, he said:

“The eyes shed tears and the heart is grieved, but we will not say anything except which pleases our Lord.”

This means one should strive to be patient, and remember that Allah is the One who gives life and takes it away at a time appointed by Him.

Muslims strive to bury the deceased as soon as possible after death, which eliminates the need for embalming or otherwise disturbing the body of the deceased.

An autopsy may be performed if necessary, but should be done with the utmost respect for the dead.

3. Washing and Shrouding

In preparation for burial, the family or other members of the community wash and shroud the body. (If the deceased was killed as a martyr, this step is not performed; martyrs are buried in the clothes they died in.)

The deceased is washed respectfully, with clean and scented water in a manner similar to how Muslims make ablutions for prayer. The body is then be wrapped in sheets of clean, white cloth (called the kafan).

4. Funeral Prayers

The deceased is then transported to the site of the funeral prayers (salat-l-janazah). These prayers are commonly held outdoors, in a courtyard or public square, not inside the mosque.

The community gathers, and the imam (prayer leader) stands in front of the deceased, facing away from the worshippers.

Muslims performing funeral prayer in Nigeria

The funeral prayer is similar in structure to the five daily prayers, with a few variations. (For example, there is no bowing or prostration, and the entire prayer is said silently but for a few words.)

5. Burial

The deceased is then taken to the cemetery for burial (al-dafin). While all members of the community attend the funeral prayers, only the men of the community accompany the body to the gravesite.

It is preferred for a Muslim to be buried where he or she died, and not be transported to another location or country (which may cause delays or require embalming the body).

If available, a cemetery (or section of one) set aside for Muslims is preferred. The deceased is laid in the grave (without a coffin if permitted by local law) on his or her right side, facing Mecca.

Muslims’ cemetery in Maiduguri, Nigeria

At the gravesite, it is discouraged for people to erect tombstones, elaborate markers, or put flowers or other momentos. Rather, one should humbly pray for the deceased.

6. Mourning

Loved ones and relatives are to observe a three-day mourning period.

Mourning is observed in Islam by increased devotion, receiving visitors/condolences, and avoiding decorative clothing and jewelry.

Widows observe an extended mourning period (iddah) of four months and ten days in length, in accordance with the Qur’an 2:234.

During this time, the widow is not to remarry, move from her home, or wear decorative clothing or jewelry.

When one dies, everything in this earthly life is left behind, and there are no more opportunities to perform acts of righteousness and faith.

The Prophet Muhammad once said that there are three things, however, which may continue to benefit a person after death: charity given during life which continues to help others, knowledge from which people continue to benefit, and a righteous child who prays for him or her. (Source: Learn Religions)

Funeral Rites in Christianity

Christians believe that dying is the end of a person’s life on earth, but that the soul lives on in an afterlife. An attendee of a Christian funeral should therefore expect an abundance of prayer and references to Heaven.

Traditionally, Christian funerals serve to reflect on the righteousness of the life that has ended. This provides the family with hope that their loved one’s soul will go to Heaven. In that way, praying for the deceased is meant to be comforting to the family.

At the same time, it is meant to be inspirational to the Christian community at large. The message is one of hope: live a righteous life without sin and you will live in Heaven in the afterlife.

Christians attending burial in Nigeria

It is not required that everyone in attendance share those beliefs, but it is expected that everyone will be respectful of the Christian traditions during the funeral and burial.

The funeral is typically held about one week after the time of death. There may also be a wake or viewing, depending on the family’s preferences.

The Christian funeral does not provide a platform for informal exchanges between mourners. Instead, it’s customary for friends and family to attend the wake or viewing in order to say goodbye and to offer condolences to the family at this time.

Funerals are usually held in a church and led by a minister or a priest. The service may also be followed by the burial, which usually includes a short graveside service.

Christian burial traditions allow for embalming, so attendees of the viewing before the funeral may have an opportunity to say goodbye to the deceased, if the viewing is open-casket.

At the funeral, you should expect:
The service to open with prayer, readings, and a sermon.

Remembrances by minister and/or pre-selected family and friends who read aloud from verses, poems, or stories they have prepared ahead of time.

More prayers and a moment of silent reflection.

Closing words from the minister, which serve to officially hand over the soul to God.

Hymns may also be sung by everyone in attendance, who can sing along using hymnals provided by the church.

If cremation has been chosen, there may be a cremation urn, which is a special container for the loved one’s ashes, in place of or in addition to the casket.

Christians’ cemetery in Nigeria

Burial flowers may be sent to the church via a florist who can help make the appropriate selections. Some families may indicate they’d prefer donations to a particular charity in lieu of flowers, so check first.

The funeral service is led by an officiant (usually a minister), prayers and hymns are uttered communally, and much of the service is spent listening to the minister or quietly reflecting to oneself.

Funeral etiquette at a Christian service dictates that guests—even if they are not Christian—are encouraged to read and sing along. It’s not required, of course, but it’s encouraged out of respect for the family. (Source:

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