The Washing: In the Muslim Custom Of Bathing the Dead, She Found a Deep Sense Of Reward -- And Shaved Off 40 Sins

March 21, 2010

Author: Reshma Memon Yaqu

Source: The Washington Post

I hadn't planned to wash the corpse.

But sometimes you just get caught up in the moment.

Through a series of slight miscalculations, I am the first of the deceased woman's relatives to arrive at the March Funeral Home in west Baltimore on this Monday morning. The body of the woman whom everyone in the family refers to simply as Dadee, which means "grandmother" in Urdu, is scheduled to arrive at 10 a.m., after being released from Howard County General Hospital in Columbia. I get to the funeral home at 10 a.m. and make somber chitchat with the five women from the local mosque who have volunteered to help with funeral preparations, which includes washing the deceased's body.

According to Islamic practices, family members of the same gender as the deceased are expected to bathe and shroud the body for burial. But because it's such a detailed ritual and because so many second-generation American Muslim families have yet to bury a loved one here, mosques have volunteers to assist grieving families. These women have come from the Islamic Society of Baltimore, where Dadee's funeral prayer service will be held this afternoon.

When the body arrives at 11:30 a.m., I am still the only family member here, and the body-washers naturally usher me in to join them for the ritual cleansing.