Imagine a time, say, in an English village around the thirteenth century. Life revolved around the church and services were held on sundays and holy-days. For better or worse the priest was the guide and mentor. Death was common and unlike today the format of the funeral service followed a strict pattern. Certain prayers were said and hymns sung, and at the graveyard there was a ceremony. A person would typically attend many funeral services in their lifetime: grandparents, parents, friends and many babies and children who would die young.

Most people aren’t immediately aware when they die. Certainly if the death is sudden, such as a car accident, the spirit can be trapped on earth attempting to return to their life. In the days when people were more religious than they are now, when it came to their own death they would find themselves present at their own funeral. Being familiar with the process it would gradually dawn on them that they are dead. This realisation would allow them to move on to the next world, which many sermons and bible readings had already prepared them for.

Nowadays funerals don’t follow a fixed format. I’ve even heard of a group of Atheists who took great delight in packing the dead body of their friend into a car and taking him on a pub crawl. People who are dead don’t realise they are dead this process simply affirms to them that they are still alive. These people don’t believe in God or the next world, so even when they find themselves at a funeral service they don’t realise it’s for them.

In Islam there is a simple funeral for the dead and at prescribed periods particular verses of the Quran are recited. Muslims who have been brought up with this and are familiar – at least in theory – with the concept of an afterlife, are then able to move on.

Phil Braham – 28 Mar 2022