A funeral is an extremely important ceremony in any culture. Thus, like many others, you might be the type who wants to be certain you understand the customs of anyone whose funeral you may attend one day.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Persian Funeral Ceremony and Traditions
- Etiquette at an Iranian Funeral
- Iranian Burial and Mourning Customs
For instance, maybe there’s a chance you’ll attend a Persian funeral sometime in the future. If you don’t know much about the culture, you may have questions about what to wear to the funeral, how to offer condolences, and more.
While you should remember that every family is different, and sometimes people modify funeral customs for various reasons, in general, it will help you better understand what to expect should you ever attend a traditional Persian funeral.
Virtual funeral tip: If you're planning a hybrid or fully virtual Iranian funeral, you can still include many of the traditions and customs included below. Working with a specialized service like GatheringUs will help you incorporate these details.
Persian Funeral Ceremony and Traditions
Many of us now refer to Persians as Iranians, most of whom practice Islam. That means most Persian funerals are technically Muslim funerals, with an order of service, traditions, music, and food to match.
Order of service
Here's what happens during a typical Persian funeral order of service.
The schedule for a traditional Iranian or Persian funeral tends to be fairly rigid. Before the funeral itself, someone will wash the deceased’s body with water and soap, before placing their hands in a prayer position and wrapping the entire body in a white burial cloth. The person responsible for washing the body is traditionally a family member of the same gender as the deceased.
The white cloth has symbolic importance. Because we are born into the world naked, Iranian Muslims believe it’s appropriate that we should be essentially naked when we leave the world as well, with only a white cloth covering our bodies.
That said, the custom of washing the body has evolved somewhat over the years. In the past, washing the body occurred in public. Now it’s more common to wash a body in private. However, in many cases, close loved ones can be present.
A public viewing of the deceased’s body is not customary in Persian culture. This is partially due to the fact that most Persians emphasize the importance of burying someone’s body as soon as possible after their death.
Instead, family members transport the body directly to a mosque for the funeral. In many cases, the funeral won’t actually take place in the main interior section of the mosque itself. It may take place in a courtyard, community square, or another similar area on the property.
Mourners will usually bring or receive a small Quran. This allows them to follow along with the funeral readings and prayers the Imam recites. In most cases, the body and all the mourners will be facing Mecca throughout the process, and the attendees will stand in three (or more if necessary) lines: adult men in front, children behind them, and women in the back.
Some Persian funerals allow for speeches. However, if anyone does make a speech, they’ll usually keep it short. Longer comments and speeches are more common during a gathering of friends and family after the funeral. Additionally, instead of family members speaking for themselves at a loved one’s funeral, a mosque leader will often speak on their behalf.
Procession and burial
Muslim Iranians try to bury a person’s body within 24 hours of their death if possible. Thus, as soon as the funeral service ends, mourners transport the body to the burial site in a silent procession.
Traditionally, only adult men will attend the burial after a Muslim Persian funeral, but sometimes women and children can attend. They bury the body without a casket, and some practice the custom of every mourner throwing three handfuls of dirt into the grave. A mullah will usually lead another reading of prayers at the burial.
After the burial
Following the burial, mourners at a Persian funeral may return to the mosque to continue praying.
Loved ones might also invite mourners to a lunch or dinner at the mosque or a nearby restaurant, but sometimes they may not if they can’t afford to do so.
The types of food someone might serve for a Persian funeral can vary on a case-by-case basis, but they’ll usually exclude any foods that Islam prohibits eating. That said, halva is a traditional choice. There’s no one official recipe for this sweet, but it almost always includes sugar, butter, and flour. A recipe may also feature such ingredients as tahini or semolina.
It’s also not uncommon for Iranians to snack on dates during times of mourning. Along with being a staple of Persian cuisine, dates provide a lot of energy, which can be helpful when mourning the loss of a loved one, as a grieving person may not have much appetite for a more substantial meal.
The music at a Persian funeral will usually consist of Persian classical selections. This highlights the importance of the funeral ceremony and ritual. Many other important Persian ceremonies also include Persian classical music.
Because classical music tends to be exclusively instrumental, there may not be any actual funeral songs at a Persian funeral, so you probably won’t need to sing along to any.
Etiquette at an Iranian Funeral
The religious nature of a Persian funeral ceremony makes proper etiquette very important. These tips will help you understand what you should and should not do at a Persian funeral.
Note: No matter what a family's culture and traditions are, planning or attending a funeral is hard. If you'd like some help and guidance through the process, check out our post-loss checklist.
What do you wear?
Mourners typically wear black at a Persian funeral. This is the traditional mourning color in Persian culture.
That said, if you expect to attend a Persian funeral in the near future, you may want to ask the loved ones of someone nearing death if they recommend any specific garments. Because Persian funerals take place so soon after a person’s death, if you’re not prepared with the right clothing ahead of time, you might not have the chance to go out and get it on the day of the funeral.
In general, your attire should be modest. Men tend to wear trousers and a plain black shirt. Women usually wear a headscarf, a shirt with long sleeves and a high neck, and a skirt that’s at least ankle-length.
Make sure your socks are clean, too! This is an easy detail to overlook, but an important one, as most Persian funerals require mourners to remove their shoes before prayers begin.
How do you offer condolences?
The next section of this blog will describe how you may have more opportunities to offer condolences to grieving loved ones during an extended mourning period that takes place after the funeral.
That said, if a mourner invites you to their home immediately after the funeral, it’s not only proper etiquette to accept the invitation and spend the entire day there, but to use this as your first opportunity to offer condolences. When you do so, consider saying “Tasliat arz mikonam,” a traditional way to let someone from this culture know you’re there for them during a difficult time.
You should also refrain from excessive displays of emotion at the funeral. You can cry, but dramatic displays of grief aren’t appropriate.
Should you bring a gift or money?
It’s traditional for mourners at Persian funerals to bring white flowers or to have them delivered to the home of a deceased person’s loved ones after the funeral.
Iranian Burial and Mourning Customs
The mourning customs of Iranians are usually as formalized as the funeral customs. That said, they do give you even more opportunities to offer your support.
How long is the mourning period?
The traditional mourning period in Iranian culture lasts 40 days. Immediate family members of the deceased may wear black every day during this period. There are also instances when those who’ve lost a spouse will wear black for an entire year after their death.
This is an appropriate time for friends and relatives to send flowers or food to the mourning family members. In certain Muslim communities, you might also notice banners with words of condolence decorating the area outside a mourner’s home. This is another example of a gift a friend, relative, or coworker might give.
In some cases, the extended mourning period gives those who couldn’t attend the actual funeral an opportunity to pay their respects anyway. Iranians may also host mourning ceremonies on the third, seventh, and fortieth days after a funeral. Sometimes guests can participate in these ceremonies if they miss the funeral itself.
The mourning period typically ends on the fortieth day, when a friend or family member visits a mourner in their home. When doing so, they may bring gifts or make some other gesture meant to spark a sense of joy after several weeks of grief.
How are Iranians usually buried and remembered?
As is the case in many cultures, Iranians will visit lost loved ones at their burial sites. This may happen on special anniversaries, or simply whenever they please.
When doing so, they may tap the headstone with their fingers or a rock while saying a fâteheh. This gesture is meant to let the deceased know they have a visitor.
Persian Funerals: Traditions Rooted in Religion
Again, while there’s a chance the information here might not apply to every single Persian funeral, for the most part, odds are good it will apply to any Persian funeral you may attend.
Because religion plays such an important role in Persian funeral customs, the way in which Iranian Muslims say goodbye to lost loved ones hasn’t changed very much throughout history.
- Aghajian, Liana. “How Armenian Funeral Halva Helped My Family Find Home in America.” Food52, Food52, 23 October 2018, food52.com/blog/23226-my-family-recipe-armenian-funeral-halva
- “Culture Class: Holidays in Iran,Season 1, Lesson 25 - Funeral Ceremony.” PersianPod101, Innovative Language Learning, www.persianpod101.com/lesson/culture-class-holidays-in-iran-25-funeral-ceremony/
- Pointa. “IRANIAN CULTURE BOOT CAMP: FUNERAL CUSTOMS IN IRAN & HOW TO GIVE CONDOLENCES IN PERSIAN.” My Persian Corner, My Persian Corner, 27 October 2019, www.mypersiancorner.com/iranian-culture-boot-camp-funeral-customs-in-iran-how-to-give-condolences-in-persian/