Turkish Funeral Traditions: Customs, Etiquette & What to Expect

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More than 99 percent of people in Turkey are Muslim. Their religion—Islam—influences what and when they eat, how they dress, and the rituals surrounding death. 

We know that no matter what religion, traditions, or customs a family practices, death is hard on everyone. Whether you're planning a funeral or just attending one, our post-loss checklist can help you through the complicated process of loss. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

Funerals happen quickly in Turkey (usually 24 hours after death). This simple guide will prepare you for a Turkish burial, whether you’re planning or attending. We’ll go over Islam-specific traditions, customs, and Turkish etiquette. 

Share your final wishes, just in case.

Create a free Cake end-of-life planning profile and instantly share your health, legal, funeral, and legacy decisions with a loved one.

Turkish Pre-Funeral Traditions

First, let’s take a look at Turkish beliefs and pre-funeral customs. Turkish Muslims believe that this life is a trial for the afterlife. Depending on how well the deceased followed Islamic laws will dictate if they go to Jannah (the “garden”) or Jahannam (hell). The deceased’s soul will live in the garden until the day of Judgement, where they are before God. 

The moments after a person dies are a testament to the strong bonds in Turkish communities. The news of death spreads right away by the hodja, a village leader, from home to home. You’ll see friends, family, and neighbors gather in front of the deceased’s home within minutes of death. 

After news of the death has spread, the family follows Sharia law (God’s divine wisdom) when preparing the body for burial. Two angels question the soul of the deceased soon after death, so the family doesn’t delay burial preparations. Below are the pre-funeral traditions you’ll see: 

  • First, family members blindfold the body and tie the jaw so the deceased can rest in peace. 
  • To prepare their loved one for meeting the angels, the family bathes the body using perfumed soap.
  • Then, the family wraps the body in a shroud and places it on a clean bed. They turn the head toward Mecca—the holiest place in Islam.
  • The family keeps the lights on so the soul of their loved one can feel at home. They cook halva, a flour-based dessert, to keep the home smelling pleasant. 
  • Finally, the family has to apply for the necessary paperwork, including a death certificate and a burial license. 

Turkish Muslims believe that the evil part of their loved one’s soul will stay away if they follow the above practices. They are necessary for their loved ones to enter the afterlife.

Tip: If you're planning a virtual Turkish funeral using a service like GatheringUs, you can still partake in most rituals or traditions with some adaptions. Explain what traditions you'd like to have in the ceremony, and the planner will suggest adaptations. 

» MORE: Are you helping someone through a loss? Make sure you're on the right track with this post-loss checklist.

 

Turkish Funeral Ceremony Program & Customs

Now that you’re familiar with pre-funeral traditions let’s take a look at what happens during a Turkish funeral. Muslim funerals follow specific prayers and customs that you may want to know before attending.

Turkish funeral step-by-step 

After the family prepares the body and files paperwork, an ambulance or private vehicle transports the body to where the funeral will take place. This is a place of prayer, usually a mosque, but it can also take place at the gravesite.

An imam, a Muslim spiritual leader of the community, will say a prayer while friends and family follow along. While raising his hands, he says: Allahu Akbar or “Allah is greatest.” Prayers to Allah are common throughout the funeral ceremony. 

Next, the procession carries the body to the gravesite. Turkish Muslims are always buried with other Muslims or in a Muslim-only area of the cemetery. The family holds the burial during namaz or noon-time prayer. The grave is already pre-dug, and the coffin lies with the right side facing Mecca. Some families choose a natural burial, covering the body in a white shroud without a coffin. 

Finally, there are superstitions followed after the funeral. The deceased’s shoes may be thrown out. Family and friends give alms, or money, to the poor and recite the Quran, Islam’s holy text. These actions lessen the sins of their loved ones and are the family’s duty. 

Muslim funerals aren’t extravagant or loud. Instead, they are peaceful and calm ceremonies. You will find the grave markers are simple. Sometimes they place a red wreath or flag on the grave if the deceased was a maiden or a soldier. In this way, the entire funeral ceremony is focused on the deceased’s dedication to Islam.

Role of prayers and chants 

Family members do not usually play funeral songs at a Turkish funeral. Instead, they chant and pray.

The first chants take place before the burial and are called salat al-Janazah. This takes place at the mosque in a prayer room or courtyard and is performed by all members of the community. 

At the burial, the imam leads the person closest to the deceased in a talqin prayer. A family member chants la ilaha illallah (no one is God except Allah). Finally, the imam recites more prayers over the coffin. Muslims believe these prayers will help prepare their loved ones to respond to the angels’ questions in the afterlife.

Typical funeral food

Extended family members prepare traditional Turkish meals. Sometimes, restaurants make funeral food for the family’s convenience. Most likely, you may find yourself cooking in the kitchen with the family. 

Usually, the family serves halva after and before the burial and lokma, balls of sweet fried dough. Other foods include delicious candies and drinks like lemonade—the sweetness of the food tones down the bitterness of losing a family member.

Role of flowers

Funeral flowers are a thoughtful token of your respect for the family. They are less prevalent in Turkish culture. You can order flowers ahead of time at a local flower shop or after the burial. There is a 40-day mourning period for the deceased. It’s best to send flowers then. 

Mevlit

The Mevlit is a ceremony to remember the deceased. It’s usually held on the 52nd day after death. You can expect Quran reading narrating the life and death of the Muslim prophet Mohammad. Family, friends, and neighbors gather in a circle to share food and drink and remember their loved one.

Funeral reception

A Turkish funeral reception is a time to reflect on death and connect with family and friends. You can expect the imam to lead prayers while the family serves sweet food and drinks. 

During the reception, the imam reads passages from the Quran. Women cover their heads for this reading. Sometimes headscarves are distributed for the women, but it’s best to be prepared and bring your own. After the reception, neighbors and friends bring food to the home for 10 to 15 days to show their respects.

Turkish Funeral Etiquette

In Turkish funerals and Islamic culture, in general, certain funeral etiquette is followed. There is elbow room for mistakes, especially if you’re visiting from another country. Still, it’s best to familiarize yourself with etiquette before you attend.

If you’re a woman 

Traditionally women weren’t allowed to attend Muslim funerals. Physical work like digging the gravesite, lowering the body, and covering it was reserved for men. The women were expected to cook and take care of children instead. 

Times have changed, and women are commonly seen at funerals now. 

You can expect women and children to stand in the back of the mosque, and if you’re a woman, you might not be invited to the burial ceremony. It’s best practice to check with the deceased’s family about their preferences.

Dress code

Turkish Muslims dress to regard themselves and others with respect, especially during funerals. You can choose modest clothing that covers the legs and neck. 

For women, this may be a high collared blouse with an ankle-length skirt. For men, expect to wear a shirt and long trousers. Remember that shoes are removed for prayer, so long, clean socks are a good idea, too. When you’re deciding what to wear, modesty is essential.

Gifts, money, or flowers

A thoughtful gesture like sending flowers is always appreciated, but less so in the Muslim culture. Most likely, the family won’t have the time or energy to cook, so food gifts are a better choice. 

Muslims need to donate to the poor, so donating to a charity in the deceased’s name is also a good choice. Check in with family members to decide where to donate or what to give before you attend the funeral.

Turkish Burials and Mourning the Dead

Turkish burials are a quiet time and abide by the law of the Quran. God prohibits cremations, so families bury Turkish Muslims in Muslim-only cemeteries. There has been a rise in cremations recently due to a lack of space in Turkey. The small country is currently struggling with finding space to bury their people.

Final Thoughts on Turkish Funerals

Death is the beginning of eternal life for Turkish Muslims. You can expect a somber and simple occasion that celebrates the life of the deceased. Remember, customs vary in the region and country. Turkey has a mix of secular and Islamic law. The cosmopolitan capital of Istanbul will be more lenient to foreigners than more remote areas of Turkey.

Whether you’re religious or secular, it’s a good idea to think about end-of-life planning. With a free Cake profile, you can share your funeral wishes with your loved ones and have peace of mind that they will be followed.


Sources  

  1. Varli, Reyhan. “Death and funerals in Sunni Communities of Turkey.” Academia, www.academia.edu/904094/Death_and_Funerals_in_Sunni_Communities_of_Turkey?source=swp_share
  2. “Laws and Practices: Why Do Muslims Have a Dress Code.” Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project, www.al-islam.org/articles/laws-and-practices-why-do-muslims-have-dress-code
  3. “After Death Project.” Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project, www.al-islam.org/burial-rituals-muhammadhusein-kermali/after-death-rituals#method
  4. Bahar, Beşer, Ersin, Kıssal, Aydoğdu. “Traditional and Religious Death Practices in Western Turkey.” September 2012, Dokuz Eylul University www.asian-nursingresearch.com/article/S1976-1317(12)00051-5/fulltext
  5. Muhammad, A. “Is cremation prohibited in the Quran?” www.quran-islam.org/articles/part_5/cremation__(P1503).html

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