Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Somali funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Filipino funeral traditions and Balinese funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
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Islam is the most popular religion in Somalia with 99.8% of the population practicing it. Muslims believe Allah controls life and death, and death is the end of physical life, but the soul lives on. After the funeral and burial are complete, families may feel peace knowing their loved one’s soul is in the afterlife.
Preparation of Body
The body is hand-washed with warm water while saying prayers and verses from the Quran, Islam’s central religious text. If the deceased is female, the women family members wash the body and vice versa if the deceased is male. The limbs are straightened and the eyes and mouth are closed.
Embalming isn’t practiced and makeup isn’t applied to the deceased, but a perfume called Adar is sprayed on the body. After washing and other preparations are complete, the deceased is wrapped in white cotton from head to foot.
A Somali funeral involves taking the deceased to a mosque where prayers are said, including the Janaaso good-bye prayer. Then, the deceased is covered in a green cloth with Allah’s name embroidered in gold. A part in the cloth is made by the face so it has direct contact with the Earth when buried. Cremation isn’t typically practiced, so the deceased is prepared for burial.
In Somalia, it’s not typical to fill out paperwork to document someone’s death. But if they do, they usually put the cause of death as “God’s will” since they believe Allah controls death.
The body is buried on the same day as the death. The Somali people believe it’s not necessary to spend a lot of money on funeral expenses if the deceased lived a full life. The deceased is buried without a casket in a large rectangular hole in the ground. They’re covered with layers of grass, leaves, and sometimes sawdust and soil. Then, they’re covered by wood and more soil to fill up the hole.
Traditionally, children under 16 years old didn’t attend and men buried the deceased while women watched or stayed home. However, these traditions may be changing in today’s funerals.