Syrian Funeral Practices

by K-Berens

An old cemetery in Damascus, Syria. Damascus was first settled in the second millennium BC. Today it has an estimated population of just under two million people.

In a country that is primarily Muslim, the people of Syria’s mourning practices have a few country-specific details that distinguish their grieving style from the Islamic religion.

The body is prepared with linen or satin cloth. Before the final bind of cloth, the mghassel, or the person who cleansed the body, asks if the deceased has any debts to pay, and who will be responsible for them. Generally the eldest family member takes on the debt in order to allow the soul to rest peacefully.

Wealthy families would construct a sabeel, a water fountain, with the deceased’s name carved into it. Each person who would use the fountain would be asked to say the first verse of the Koran, the fateha, for the soul.

Sacrificing livestock for the deceased is also common in smaller villages. Then the family would feed the poor as the mourning period begins, an odd number of days, five for women and seven for men. Women wear black and the men grow beards as a sign of mourning.

The funeral is attended exclusively by men. An arada, otherwise known as a band, will usually be commissioned to play traditional music, the sounds intertwining with the joyful cries in the air as the coffin arrives on the shoulders of men in traditional black clothing. The corpse is clothed in white, and the grave is covered. Only when the grave is covered are the women permitted to visit.

Three days later, the family returns to place flowers on the grave, however, traditions indicate that a tombstone will only be placed as a marker for the grave after 40 days. Syrians believe that the soul resides by the grave for 40 days, and putting a tombstone will only trap the soul.

Pregnant women and young mothers are buried with song and dance, celebrating the life that they had no time to live. Similarly, young bachelors are given the same treatment, their funerals are celebrated like a wedding, giving him the party that he never had.

However, Syria is currently in a state of civil unrest. Violent protests are scattered country-wide, some even choose to target funeral services.

In recent news, the funerals of several Syrian activists were targeted with an estimated 15 people murdered while in attendance.

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