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Death/Dying in Islam/Hospice?


Article of the Month

Reviewed by: Mohammad Al-Shahri, MD

Death, Dying and Burial Rites in Islam

Authors: Al-Shahri MZ, Fadul N and Elsayem A.

Journal: European Journal of Palliative Care 2007; 13(4): 164-7

  The article provides an overview of Islamic rites pertinent to death, dying and burial in order to assist health care providers in enhancing their cultural competence when caring for dying Muslim patients and their families.
  Islam means submission to the will of the creator of the universe (Allah) by conforming to His law and worshipping Him alone. The two main sources of Islamic teachings are the Noble Qur’an (the holy book revealed to the last Prophet, Muhammad) and the Sunnah (prophetic sayings).
  Death, in Islamic jurisprudence, may be defined as complete irreversible cessation of heart beat and respiration and/or permanent cessation of all functions of the brain which has started to decay (as confirmed by specialist physicians).
  Muslims believe in an afterlife but do not believe in the reincarnation of the soul of the dead person into others. Life is sacred in Islam and people do not own their lives and, therefore, they have no right to end their lives. Hence, forbiddance of euthanasia.
  Muslims are likely to be more comfortable with non-definitive expectations of longevity, as they believe that the longevity of a person is known only to Allah and determined by Him. However, they need to be kept updated about the progression of the disease and whether death is clinically approaching. Muslim families may want to position the bed of the dying to face the Holy Mosque in Makkah.
  The body of the deceased should be handled and transported with the highest possible degree of dignity, as the sanctity of the dead person is considered the same as the living. Autopsies are strictly prohibited unless they are required by law.
  Muslims are prohibited from eating pork or drinking alcohol. Although exempted from certain worship practices, terminally ill patients may express strong desire to fulfill these duties.
  The whole dead body must be washed and shrouded and then carried by the relatives and Muslim community to the mosque to perform funeral prayers before burial.

Why I chose this article.
Addressing spiritual and cultural concerns of our palliative care patients and their families need not be overemphasized. Muslims are living as large or small minorities in almost all non-Islamic countries. It has been reported that minority groups may be at increased risk of receiving suboptimal healthcare. I believe that we need to improve our awareness of the cultural background of various minority groups who may need our specialized palliative care.
Mohammad Al-Shahri, MD
Palliative Care Program
King Faisal Hospital
Riyadh 11393
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Dr. Al-Shahri is also a member of the IAHPC Board of Directors

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