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Overview of religious funeral traditions

By Erica Lamberg
Preparing the body for a funeral, how the beloved is remembered, interment or cremation and tributes are all important parts of end-of-life practices. Pixabay

Funeral traditions vary by faith, in such areas as preparing the body, how the beloved is remembered, the structure of ceremonies, and the final resting place for the body. Here are brief overviews of how several major religions honor the deceased.

Buddhist funerals

Buddhist funerals are typically straightforward. Buddhists believe in samsara, which means reborn after death. Thus, they believe in reincarnation and eternal enlightenment. Although burial of the body is accepted, most Buddhists are cremated. As part of Buddhist tradition, the circle of family and friends often chant. Another custom is that guests traditionally wear white.

Christian funerals

Because there are several dominations within Christianity, end-of-life practices can vary. One common theme, however, is that Christian belief centers on an eternal life embracing Jesus Christ. It is common practice for a body to be visible during a funeral service or ceremony. Attendees are welcome to approach the casket with prayers or thoughts. The service is led by a clergy officiant who can incorporate prayers, scripture, hymns and words of comfort based on the family’s selection and choosing.

If the family selects cremation, there is often a service incorporating prayer and scripture led by clergy. It is also common to have post-service receptions or a celebration of life.

Jewish funerals

According to Jewish tradition, the body is buried as quickly as possible -- and cannot be left alone until burial. Funeral services can be held in synagogue, at a funeral home, or graveside. The service includes prayers, remarks from family, eulogies from the rabbi and friends and family and a reading of psalms and prayers. Generally, Jewish tradition is that a person is buried. Following a funeral, Jewish custom includes "sitting shiva" where family assembles, creating an environment of comfort and community for mourners. Throughout this shiva period, mourners come together to offer condolences and support.

Muslim funerals

Muslim tradition outlines that a body should be buried as soon as possible after death. Mourners gather for reflection and recite Islamic funeral prayers. The body is washed and shrouded, and then taken for interment. Often, Muslims attend the funeral of other Muslims they may not know as a sign of support within the local Muslim community.

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