It is uncanny that when someone dies and we attend the funeral we are starkly reminded of the gift of life and what is at the end of the line for all of us. We take life for granted. We don’t ‘save up’ good deeds when we are in the midst of life because we don’t spend much time thinking about it. During our lifetime we save up money in the bank for future needs; we don’t save up good deeds and kindnesses to take with us to the grave. My late South African grandmother, a very religious woman who died decades ago, was quite unique. Like all the older people of her time, she had bought her own burial cloth and had it in a special section of the bedroom cupboard. She told us children to remember that when she dies we are to look for the dried rose leaves and the kafan – white linen burial cloth – in the box in the back of the cupboard. She was mindful and religious and thankful for every day of her life.
The Muslim funeral machine
On the weekend we had a death in the family and as Muslim funerals go, my stepmother passed on in the morning, and a few hours later she was in the ground. The Muslim funeral machine goes into full operation when someone dies. One person takes care of signing the papers and getting the body from the hospital. Another person takes care of getting benches and chairs and removing all furniture from one of the bedrooms and setting up the kat’l – the metal bath on which the body will be placed for the washing ritual. Food is ordered. An imam is contacted. Muslim radio is informed so that the news can go out. The mosque is on alert that a funeral will take place at whatever time is stipulated – sometimes at night. Everything works with clockwork precision getting the planks, the kafan, ordering food – always there must be food – and everyone knowing exactly what is required of him to facilitate a smooth funeral. Only when you are standing in the room paying your last respects to your deceased relative do you think about your own death, and you vow to lead a more spiritual life. There are prayers on the third night, the fortieth night, and on the hundredth night. When the hundred days are over, you have forgotten everything – until later, when it is your turn, to lay on the kat’l.