End of life care is at the heart of the Muslim community. Dying at home with members of the family around keeping vigil is seen as the ideal.
A Muslim who is nearing the end of their life, is kept at the heart of their community. If possible, they should die at home with their children or other members of the family around them.
Imam Yunus Dudhwala, Head of Chaplaincy at Barts Health NHS Trust in London says that, in principle, care of the dying is a duty of the dying person’s children, their family or the wider community.
There is no strict stipulation in Islam that an imam has to accompany the dying person but Yunus has found that the family greatly appreciates having an imam with them who can explain exactly the prayers and rituals that need to be performed.
“Though my presence as hospital chaplain is not strictly necessary, the family derives great comfort from my being there,” he says.
They can say the prayers silently and lying down if necessary. If they are unable to perform the ritual washing prior to prayers, there is a substitute for the sick called the Tayammum. This is a dry ablution using a clean rock or stone. The patient puts their hands on the stone and passes it over their face and arms in a symbolic act of washing. If possible the bed, or at least the patient’s face, should face Mecca.
Yunus explains that when a Muslim is approaching death, they often reflect on and review their lives and seek God’s forgiveness for anything they have done wrong. This is something private between them and God.
He says: “They don’t need to confess to another person but they will ask forgiveness from God himself without any sort of mediator. Those around the bed do not need to know what it is that the dying person is seeking God’s forgiveness for. However, if the patient wants to discuss something that is troubling them, I am always prepared to have a conversation with them.”
He also encourages them to be reconciled with any family members with whom they have quarrelled or had disagreements with.
In a Muslim’s final days, members of the family maintain vigil. There may be a group of 10 or more relatives around the bed. If the patient is in hospital, staff should be made aware that there may be a large group of people present.
Visitors should be aware that they may need to step outside from time to time so that healthcare staff can attend to the patient.
In particular, they read the 36th chapter (surah) which is known as the heart of the Quran.
When the end is near, the family member closest to the patient asks them to make Talqeen (in Arabic literally ‘encouraging someone to read some words’). Talqeen is term for urging the dying person to say the Islamic declaration of faith known as the Shahada.
A Muslim achieves a good death if the last thing they say is the Shahada: “I bear witness that there is no god except Allah; One is He, no partner hath He, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His Messenger.”
“Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.”
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