Tomorrow our beloved champ, G.O.A.T. and one of the most influential American Muslims of our generation — Muhammad Ali — will be laid to rest and have the Janaza prayer performed. It is a supremely solemn and profound moment for so many – Black Muslims, American Muslims, Muslims in general, sports fans and people the world who all felt a connection to the People’s Champ.
It’s also an intensely moving and significant moment because Ali passed away in the first week of Ramadan, a most holy month for Muslims. And, he passed away during a time when anti-Muslim rhetoric is sharply on the rise in the run-up to the presidential election. It’s been reported that presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump is interested in attending the memorial service, much to the anger of thousands of Muslims. Writes Dean Obeidallah in Mediaite:
Keep in mind Trump didn’t just stir up hate in general about Muslims throughout this campaign — he actually denied that Muhammad Ali was a person worthy of praise. That happened in December after President Obama declared in a speech that, “Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes.”
Trump would have none of that. So he took to Twitter mocking the very notion there were any Muslim sports heroes: “Obama said in his speech that Muslims are our sports heroes. What sport is he talking about, and who?”
It is within this charged landscape that Ali has afforded us all perhaps the last and best gift he could give us – a time to come together and mourn him, a time to present the best of ourselves and our Islamic rites on a world stage. The memorial service on Friday will feature prominent speakers and members of nearly all faith communities. The Muslim janaza (funeral prayer) will be lead by Imam Zaid Shakir and will no doubt be a beautiful, sorrowful affair.A Muslim burial and prayer is a precise set of humble rituals to prepare the body and send it back to its Maker. I was blessed with the opportunity to partake in the full rituals when my maternal grandmother passed away last fall, from the washing of the body to the janaza prayer. As Muslims, we are urged to perform the rituals as quickly as possible. Ali’s janaza has been delayed by a few days. Is this in violation of Islamic law? Writes Obeidallah:
Well, as Imam (Shamsi) Ali explained, “typically in Islam, like Judaism, the deceased should be buried as soon as possible.” But he noted that it’s not an absolute mandate, rather “it’s more about appropriateness.” He added that in Ali’s case, it was appropriate to wait so that the family could organize the funeral and memorial service so that the nation could pay their respects to one of its icons—a man who was proudly Muslim, proudly Black and proudly American.
What are the funeral rites exactly in Islam? This was neatly summarized in a press release from the Council on American-Islamic Relations:
1. WASHING THE BODY – Family members often assist in the washing. Men wash a man’s body. Women wash a woman’s body. Either men or women may wash a child’s body. A husband may wash his wife’s body and vice-versa if the need arises. [Those who partake in the washing are not to talk about/discuss what they saw to preserve the dignity of the person who passed.]
2. WRAPPING THE BODY – The shroud used for wrapping the body must be a clean (preferably white) cloth and should cover the whole body. The shroud is tied at the head and feet, with a piece of cloth (from the same shroud) in such a way that one can differentiate the head from the feet.
3. PRAYERS – Those praying stand in rows facing the direction of Mecca, with the prayer leader in front. The body (or bodies) is placed in front of the congregation. The worshipers make a personal intention to offer a funeral prayer. They say “God is Great,” then fold their hands on their chests. The opening chapter of the Quran, Islam’s revealed text, is read quietly. Prayers are recited for the deceased, the Prophets Abraham and Muhammad, and for the Muslim community. Saying “peace be to you” concludes the prayer. The entire funeral prayer is performed while standing.
4. FUNERAL PROCESSION – Mourners walk in front of or beside the body. Those who are riding or driving should follow it. Silence is recommended.
5. BURIAL – The body is laid in the grave. No casket is used unless there is a need for it, e.g., if the soil is very loose or wet. Each person present shares in filling the grave by pouring three handfuls of soil.
May Allah (swt) have mercy on Muhammad Ali’s soul. May He grant him the highest place in jannah (heaven), and may He ease the grief of millions around the world.