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Funerals in Gambia
Culture & Traditions    Rites of Passage    Muslims    Religion
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Burial Procedure:
An individual who discovers a death would inform the rest of the family in the house and elders then would inform the wider relatives and friends who may be widely dispersed. It is common to hear an obituary announcements in the early morning on the radio about a loved one who has passed away giving friends and relations the time and funeral arrangements.

Burials and funerals in Gambia (known locally as 'dech') follow the Muslims practices and rituals as stated down by Islamic Sharia. The corpse of the deceased is ritually washed as a last, purifying ablution then perfumed. This act is by custom supposed to be carried out by someone of the same sex as the deceased person except in the case of a child under 8.

The body is then wrapped in a white shroud and the dead person's hands are crossed over their chest. A special prayer called salat ul jenazah made over their remains.

Custom dictates that the burial should takes place as soon as possible preferably within 24 hours of death, even if necessary in the evening time. Religious custom as says that only men can make up the funeral procession that accompanies the dead person to the cemetery. Prayers are normally performed firstly in the local Mosque then the body is taken to their local cemetery in a wooden coffin or stretcher which will be re-used for the next person. When the mourners reach the grave prayers are said then the body is taken out of the coffin and placed in the ground on his or her right side and facing the direction of Mecca. Planks are laid usually at soil level  then leaves are placed in wide gaps and over the planks. Finally the soil is pushed over by relatives and not the grave diggers.  Finally a very simple marker is used to identify the grave as elaborate grave stones are generally frowned upon as it is believed the money saved can be put to better use in the community.

After the body's internment the men return to the family house to express their condolences (Jalé) and usually contribute any amount of money (Sarahh) by placing it on a sheet where the women related to the deceased would be sitting. Koranic recitals are done in which the whole of the Koran is read out by numbers of people.

Mourning Period:
This is sometimes followed by 3 days of mourning which is followed by a 40 day charity. The fortieth day is said to be the day their soul enters heaven and so more prayer vigils are performed.

In the case of a widow she must remain indoors for her mourning period of 4 months 10 days and should dress very simply, not wear any jewellery or make-up. The reason for this is to ensure that if she is pregnant it will become obvious during this time and everyone will know who the father is. If she is not then she can re-marry. In the case of a widower he is expected to at least keep a low social profile for the next few months.

Not all burial rites are strictly followed as laid down in Sharia Law and it is often common to see variations within the Muslim community in Gambia itself not to mention the Muslim world at large.



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