During Ramadan, Islamic people observe a month-long period of fasting and prayer as a way to increase their focus on their faith. This is a sacred time for Muslims, and it sometimes can affect funeral practices.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Do Muslims Believe Happens When Someone Dies During Ramadan?
- How Does a Death During Ramadan Affect Funerals, Burials, or Mourning Periods?
In Islam, there are strict rules around funerals, caring for the dead, and the afterlife. Similarly, there are rules for practicing during the month of Ramadan. As you might expect, when these overlap, there are some small differences in funeral rituals.
Ramadan is seen as the month of blessings and is one of the most sacred times of the year in Islam. What exactly happens when someone dies during Ramadan? How does this time of year affect grieving, condolences, and funeral practices?
What Do Muslims Believe Happens When Someone Dies During Ramadan?
There are a few common myths about how Muslims feel about someone’s death during Ramadan. First, many mistakenly believe that death during this month of fasting and prayer is actually seen as a “blessing.”
To understand this, you’ll need to recognize that during Ramadan, Muslims believe the gates of hell are closed. Heaven (or Paradise) is the only open door, and that means these deceased souls continue directly to Paradise. This can be a safeguard for those who die during this time.
That being said, Muslims understand that God (Allah) does not favor any follower over the next. Nobody is holier because they pass during Ramadan, so this is nothing but a myth.
Islam and the afterlife
As mentioned above, there is a lot of misunderstanding around what happens when there’s a death during Ramadan. In reality, Muslim scholars greatly disagree about whether someone goes directly to Paradise or simply is safeguarded if they pass during this holy time.
Understanding the Islamic afterlife sheds some light on this. In Islam, there is life after death which is known as Akhirah. God (Allah) decides when a person dies, and this individual’s soul stays in their graves until the Day of Judgement. On this day, each person will be brought before Allah and judged on their earthly lives.
Like in Christianity, those who have lived a life of good deeds enter Paradise, similar to Heaven. This is a place free of sickness and sadness. Those who performed more bad deeds enter Jahannam, similar to Hell, a place of suffering.
It’s important to note that Allah is seen as forgiving, compassionate, and merciful. He is open to forgiveness for those who repent for their sins, though not everything is forgivable. Because life goes on after death due to Allah’s judgment, death is not something that’s seen as sad. Everyone must die and meet Allah, and this is one of life’s many certainties.
Ramadan and judgment
With final judgment in mind, do those who pass during Ramadan skip the line for Paradise, so to speak? According to most scholars, the answer is no.
Allah does not play favorites, and everyone must face judgment prior to entering Paradise. Since it is Allah who chooses when we pass, those who die during this time are seen as those who likely have already proven they’re fit for Paradise.
On the other hand, some believe a death during Ramadan is a small blessing. It’s a reminder that Allah watches over all, and that our time will ultimately come when he calls upon his followers.
How Does a Death During Ramadan Affect Funerals, Burials, or Mourning Periods?
Many mistakenly believe that funerals and burials can’t take place during Ramadan since this is a holy time. In reality, Muslims believe the body needs to be buried as soon as possible after death. This isn’t affected by Ramadan.
Both in “normal” times and during Ramadan, families bury their dead quickly. There is typically a funeral service held after the burial. With mosques already holding daily prayers during the month of Ramadan, this is the perfect time for families to reflect on their faith and grief.
Are families allowed to travel to funerals during Ramadan?
There are also a lot of misconceptions around travel during Ramadan. During this month, Muslims pray five times a day and fast from sunrise to sunset. This understandably makes travel more challenging.
However, it’s not as impossible as it sounds. Muslims are free to travel during this month as long as they continue to pray five times a day while away from home. In addition, they’re considered exempt from daily fasting while traveling though they’re encouraged to make up this time at a later date.
With this in mind, it’s possible and encouraged for family and friends to travel to be there with loved ones after a death. Ramadan is already a time to come together with loved ones, so paying respects and showing support comes naturally.
An informal gathering
In the Muslim faith, there are a few important facets of Muslim funerals worth recognizing. After a death, the family of the deceased typically hosts an informal gathering to honor the memory of their loved one. Friends, family, neighbors, and so on are invited to this casual setting, usually at the family’s home.
Outside of Ramadan, this is an occasion where guests are served food and drink while they pray and talk about the life and memory of the deceased. Guests stay all day, usually arriving in the morning and leaving later into the evening.
During Ramadan, things take place a bit differently to accommodate for fasting and prayer at the mosque. Guests still arrive to show support, but they will reach the family’s home later in the day. They might arrive close to sundown and stay until very late, often the early hours of the morning. Once the sun goes down, the guests will be offered food and drink.
How to offer condolences
A death during any time, even during Ramadan, is not seen as a mournful affair. While the family is understandably experiencing grief at the loss of a beloved family member, death is considered a natural part of life.
Islamic condolences don’t typically resemble condolences seen in other religions since death isn’t something to be sad about. This is a time to reflect on someone’s life and positive qualities. It’s also a time for prayer and reflection.
Muslims grieve in a quiet, respectful way. While it’s acceptable to cry silently or to speak kindly on the deceased, there are no grand displays of sadness or despair. Death is a normal part of life, and it’s not a permanent ending. It’s simply a new chapter, and this can be a peaceful occasion.
Remembrance and Ramadan
In Islam, remembrance plays a large role. There’s something known as the 40 days after death in Islam. This is the belief that the soul lives on after death and visits the family on the 40th day after separating from the body.
The best way to honor a loved one on and before this 40-day marker is to do good deeds. By practicing good deeds and good faith, the soul knows their family is in Allah’s hands.
During Ramadan, it’s also common to pray for one’s family members that have recently passed. This is the perfect time to reflect on the past year, past deeds, and all of those who came before you. Many find the process of fasting and praying for 30 days to be the perfect way to achieve mental clarity and understanding. Most importantly, it’s a reminder that life is short and temporary.
Ramadan: Death, Dying, and Remembrance
In Islam, everything is about intention. If you’ve never experienced Ramadan yourself firsthand, it’s understandable to be confused about how it affects the natural balance of life and death.
During such a holy time, does death mean something different? According to Muslims, death is unstoppable. It’s the great unifier, and it can’t be escaped. When your time comes, whether it’s during a “normal” time or Ramadan, it comes.
However, death isn’t something to be afraid of. The added support of the Ramadan time means it provides the right structure to help families grieve and come together. Losing a loved one is never easy, but it also doesn’t need to be a moment of overwhelming grief or sadness.
If you're looking for more on death works in different religions, read our guides on the Norse afterlife and the Sikh afterlife.
“What does Islam teach about life after death?” BBC: Religious Studies, BBC.co.uk.