“Funerals and Death Rites: Honoring the Departed”

by Amir Hussain

Chapter Summary

Amir Hussain presents research on how Muslim Americans at the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City, California, prepare Muslim bodies for burial, pray for the dead, and conduct burials in a Muslim cemetery. Hussain also includes coverage of what became the most watched funeral in history of a Muslim American. The funeral prayers and interfaith memorial service for Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Kentucky, not only memorialized the man who was likely the most well-known Muslim American in history, but also introduced millions of viewers to some of the basic rites of Sunni Muslim funeral prayers.

Discussion Questions

  • What are typical funerals like at King Fahad mosque in California? What elements are similar to and different from other American traditions caring for the dead? Be sure to pay attention to the way that the body is prepared for burial.
  • Describe burials at the King Fahad mosque in California. What elements are similar to and different from other American traditions?

Group Exercises

  • Watch the video of Muhammad Ali’s janaza, or funeral prayers above (or consider dividing it up since it is long). What elements of the service can you identity based on the reading? How is Ali eulogized?
  • Study the photo Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan’s grave below. What do you think is happening in this photo? Where do you think it was taken? Identify each element of the photo. Is this a significant photo of a Muslim grave? Why or why not?

Amir Hussain (Ph.D., Toronto) is professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University and former editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. His many books and articles include Muslims and the Making of America.