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Updated December 12, 2020

Lifecycle Rituals in Islam

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Lifecycle Rituals in Islam essay
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Islam is one of the three biggest religions in the world. It began in Arabia and was revealed to humanity by the prophet Muhammad, who was a messenger of God and a model of the life of faith. Those who follow Islam are called Muslims. Muslims believe that there is only one God, which is Allah. Over time, the lifecycle rituals of the Islamic religion have had a lot of changes just like any other religion. Lifecycle rituals are ceremonies that mark a change in a person’s biological or social status at various phases throughout life.

Such practices are found in many societies and are often based on traditions of a community. For example, the reformation of the Quran and the Hadith had a huge impact on the Islamic religion. When looking at the individual Muslim lifecycle traditions, how did it change the way traditions in Islam are performed in an individual life practices. How can rituals be analyse? By a theory developed by Van Gennep called rite of passage. His analysis of rituals has three stages which are separation, liminality and incorporation. Applying those stages to the Islamic religion would be at the stage of birth, marriage and death.

The Quran is the central religion text of Islam meaning it is the sacred text of Islam. The Hadith is a record of the traditions or sayings of the prophet Muhammad, it is respected and received as a major source of religious law and moral guidance. It is second only to the authority of the Quran, the holy book of Islam. It might be defined as the life story of Muhammad continued by the long memory of his community for their exemplification and obedience.

The development of Hadith is a vital element during the first three centuries of Islamic history and its study provides a broad index to the mind and ethos of Islam. Charles – Arnold Kur Van Gennep also known as Van Gennep was born in 1873 and died in 1957. He was a French ethnographer and folklorist best known for his studies of rites. He found a three-way order in a ritual observance which was separation, transition and incorporation. Gennep offered a clarification of the implication of these rites forms of social regeneration on such natural symbols as death and rebirth.

Muslims believe that the gift of life is valuable. The Quran does not provide exact instructions on how to celebrate the birth of a child but on the other hand the hadith provides three visibly recognizable rituals linked to infancy. The first ritual occurs soon after birth, it requires the father to say the Adhan in the baby’s right ear. The Adhan is the Muslim call to prayer. The second ritual is the aqiqah meaning to cut or break occurs approximately seven days after the birth, it contains quite a few ritual actions.

The first action involves shaving the baby’s head as a sign of purification. Prior to disposing of hair, the parents weight it and give the same weight in silver to charity. The child is also named during the aqiqah, the name is usually a name that has a meaning either in the Quran or the Prophet’s family. The aqiqah is an act of sacrifice. For a boy, two sheep are slaughtered but only one is required for a girl. The meat is divided by the halal butcher into three portions: one for the family, another for friends and the third for the poor. This is symbol of sharing the family’s good fortune with others.

The third ritual is the Khitan. The Khitan is the term for male circumcision carried out as a part of Islamic culture by Muslims. The shafi’l school considers circumcision compulsory while the Maliki and Hanafi schools only recommend it. Female circumcision is widely practised in North Africa and parts of the Middle East, it is not required or recommended by the Quran or Islamic tradition instead derives from tribal or cultural practices.

According to the Quran, men and women were created to be partners in life and marriage is intended to bring peacefulness, love and protection for both partners. Marriage is very an important material in both the Quran and the hadith, it plays a part in the life of the faith. Some Muslim marriages are totally arranged and in other unions the parents are involved to ensure that a suitable partner is found because romantic love alone is never seen as sufficient indication of a successful marriage. An agreement for both partners is required before the wedding. Marriage is seen not just as the union of a couple but as a joining of the families.

Islamic marriage contracts are compulsory for both parties and include financial responsibility for the wife and children irrespective of the wife’s personal wealth. A dowry or mabr, in the form of money or education, must be paid to a wife for the marriage to be valid. The mabr remains part of the wife’s personal property even if the couple divorces. In Islam it is relatively simple for a man to get a divorce but it is not so simple for a woman because she has to establish grounds for a divorce while men can just tell their wife if they want to leave them. Weddings in Islam have two stages. The first one is the signing of the marriage contract, the nikah, in a simple ceremony involving the two parties and two witnesses. The signing of the nikah takes place in the presence of an imam and is accompanied by readings from the Quran and a sermon. The second stage is the walima or banquet which is when presents are given.

Polygamy is one of the interesting features in Islam which is stated in the Quran: ‘and if you fear that you will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry such women as seem good to you, two, three or four; and if you fear that you will not do justice then marry one or what your right hand possesses’. This verse permits men to take up to two wives as long as they are treated equally. Some marriage contracts specify that the husband must obtain permission from the first wife before getting married again. Mixed marriages exist in Islam but they are not encouraged. Muslim men may marry Christians and Jews but Muslim woman must always marry a Muslim because the children have to take the religion of the father.

Muslims believe that there is life to come after death and what they do in this life will determine what happens to them when they die. For Muslims, death ushers in the next stage of existence known as barzakh, life in the grave. The immortal soul parts from the body and is questioned by two angels, Nakir and Munkar. It is common for Muslims to prepare the dying person of their encounter with the angels by whispering the shahadah into their ear because it will be the last words they will hear.

It is hoped that they will then be ready to answer the questions from the angels. The Quran has no guidelines regarding funeral rites. In the Islam traditions, the body is washed and clothed in a simple white burial shroud, except for sacrifices who are buried in the clothing in which they died as a symbol of the blood they shed for the faith. The washing is done by the same gender, no alcohol is allowed in the procedure and preserving is strictly banned.

The burial should occur as soon as possible after death because Muslims believe that the body must be buried not cremated. The imam leads the service and stands beside the corpse with everyone facing Mecca. As the body is lowered into the grave the following phrase is recited: ‘ from the earth we did create you and into it we shall return and from it shall we bring you out once again’. The corpse is laid on its right side with the head facing toward Mecca. Mourners sprinkle dirt into the grave while suitable verses from the Quran are read. Funerals should be simple to avoid any hint of idolatry/worshipping.

Placing flowers, plants, candles or any objects on the grave if forbidden because it is believed that the dead person needs nothing. A three day mourning period follows, except for a widow who should grieve for ten days (iddah). The widow should not wear jewellery, move house or marry during this ten-day period. Visiting the gravesite is an honourable deed but it should not be accompanied by wailing or crying out. In Islam, life after death is called Akhirah.

Therefore it is clear that since the revelation of Mohammed the Muslims have passed through many stages and different circumstances. Some individuals limited their practice to the saying of the affirmation of faith and others elaborated the foundation of religion by drawing upon the traditions of the prophet, his companions, and their followers. But the original idea of unity is dominant among the majority of Muslims, and is still the most important characteristic of Islam. When looking at Birth, Marriage and Death, Van Gennep’s theory applies to the Islamic rituals when looking at a Muslim’s life. The three stages of the rite of passage – separation, liminality and incorporation have not really change in the Islamic traditions and rituals.

In conclusion, the Hadith is another valuable book of Islam and is the second to the sacred text the Quran. The Islamic religion lifecycles uses the three rite of passage developed by Van Gennep. His theory gives us an explanation of how lifecycle rituals are applied in religions, culture and traditions. Although much has not change, the Islam religion sees birth as precious and is a gift of God thus it should be valued, marriage as an important life event and death as an afterlife, depending on what you do in this life. These rituals are still in use today.

Lifecycle Rituals in Islam essay

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Lifecycle Rituals in Islam. (2020, Dec 12). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/lifecycle-rituals-in-islam/

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