There is a light that never goes out
With many faiths to consider in this multicultural world, it’s comforting to know we have expert members in our midst…
The Muslim community
Chaplain Ahmed Alsisi, White Rose Funerals
Ten years ago, I was in a local mosque and the Imam mentioned that, in Wales, no funeral director catered for the Muslim community’s specific needs when it comes to funerals. There were no shroud burials or same-day burials, and at the time all post-mortems were invasive, something which is against our faith.
I felt something had to be done – I thought I could help – so I founded White Rose as a self-sponsored service for the Muslim community. That led us to being established as a company dealing with not only Muslim funerals, but those of all faiths and none.
Muslim funerals should be the same day whenever possible. As soon as the death happens the body is covered, eyes are closed, the deceased’s head is tilted to the right to face Mecca in the East and the legs are crossed. The body is then washed and shrouded. Muslims don’t use caskets or coffins, instead we believe in natural burials. It’s all very different from non-Muslim funerals and I could see the need for our community to have their religious needs respected.
I realised someone needed to be an advocate for the Muslim community, someone had to be able to speak to the council, coroners or local hospitals – at first it was very frustrating because the community was bombarding the council with complaints. They needed same-day funerals and their traditions were being ignored. There were rumours circulating that other funeral directors’ protocol was to strip the deceased naked upon taking them into care – something which is against our faith, especially when it is a woman and the funeral directors were men.
There were lots of things, large and small, all adding up to a gulf in understanding.
In 2010 we managed to implement the same-day burial law and we have achieved agreement for shroud burials to be accepted and weekend burials as well. I’ve worked hard to talk to hospital staff, coroners and cemeteries to put the Muslim point of view across and have everyone meet on middle ground. I’m very proud to have brought harmony to the community. My father is originally from Palestine and he said I have to leave a good imprint wherever I am.
Now I have a very close relationship with the senior coroner, Graeme Hughes, whom I have found to be both incredibly understanding and humble – he sits with me and community leaders of all faiths on an informal level – in fact he came to my house for dinner a couple of nights ago.
Last year we had four stabbings in Cardiff, two from the Muslim community, and the families had to wait weeks upon weeks for their loved ones to be released. Thanks to the Chief Coroner, Judge Mark Lucraft, whom we have had the immense pleasure of working with on several previous occasions, the senior coroner has now explained that the defence has five days to put in a request for post-mortem. This means the body can be released back to the community within less than 14 days.
We’ve seen with our families that the people who have a faith – any faith – manage to deal with bereavement quicker. My own faith helps me – I pray five times a day and I know that we are all here to help others. This life is a test, the bad and the good will not last forever.
The Catholic community
A France has had a long history since being established in 1764. Previously holders of the Royal Warrant as ‘royal upholsterers’, the firm was tasked with furnishing the North Wing of Queen’s House (formerly Buckingham House). France and Son was later given the title of ‘Royal Upholder’ which meant we were responsible for looking after the funeral arrangements of the Royal Household.
Over the years the firm was entrusted with the funerals of King George III and King George IV in the early 19th Century, among other members of the Royal Family. 1806 saw the five-day state occasion of the funeral of Lord Nelson. William France was tasked with arranging the lying in State at the Royal Naval Hospital in Greenwich as well as the construction of the coffin which contained 10,000 brass nails.
The Sunday Reporter is quoted as saying: “Mr France, Upholder to the King, in Pall Mall, was on Thursday so obliging to the public that he permitted all ranks of people, without distinction, to go into his house for the purpose of having a complete and close view of the magnificent State Coffin.”
My Grandfather, Bernard France, worked in the family business since he was 14 – the same age I started in the trade. Bernard, or Bunny as he was known, retired about six years ago, in his late eighties. He was deeply rooted in Catholicism and was a member of many Catholic societies, as well as being recognised for his work by the church through two Papal orders – Knight of St Gregory and Knight of the Holy Sepulchre. His relationship with the clergy wasn’t just a working one and many of his friends were priests who would come to dinner at his home.
Grandad arranged and conducted the funerals of three Cardinals – Cardinal William Godfrey in 1963, Cardinal John Carmel Heenan in 1975 and Cardinal Basil Hume in 1999. More recently the firm was entrusted by the Cathedral to look after the funeral for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, which was conducted by my uncle Michael in 2017.
In our work alongside the Church we have had the privilege of arranging funerals for many families of the faith. Before a Catholic dies the last rites are usually administered – a priest will anoint the person and give them Communion. This could be in hospital, by the Chaplin, or at home by the sick person’s priest.
In terms of preparation of the deceased, it doesn’t differ hugely from non- Catholic funerals. We carry out embalming when asked to do so and dress the deceased in clothes provided. It is common for families to have prayer cards or rosaries placed in the hands of the deceased. Families may also request prayer cards with a picture of the deceased on to be handed out at church alongside the order of service. These cards usually have a prayer on one side and a religious icon such as a representation of Christ or the Madonna on the other.
While Catholic funerals have traditionally consisted of a funeral Mass followed by a burial, we are seeing more and more cremations taking place. It is still more common to have a Mass then a cremation rather than a service based exclusively in a crematorium, however Catholic services at the crematorium are becoming more popular. The main difference being that funeral Masses in a church will see the priest administer communion to the congregation.
Clerkenwell has a long association with the Italian community. We have St Peter’s Italian Church down the road so we carry out a lot of Italian funeral Masses. Aside from the rosary in the days before the funeral, we often take the coffin into church the night before so the deceased can lay in church overnight. It is also common practice, particularly within the Italian community we serve, to have a mass the night before and a mass the following day before the interment.
When Grandad died earlier this year at the age of 93, he had seen a lot of changes in his lifetime. The family arranged a Requiem Mass at St Peter’s Italian Church, then at Our Lady of Dolours, Hendon, which was his parish church. The Cardinal celebrated the funeral mass at Grandad’s church and many of the priests he had known over the years concelebrated. It really was testament to him and the work the firm has done alongside the Catholic community over the years.”
The Orthodox Christian community
With this multicultural, diverse country we live in now, we as the funeral directors must be able to adapt and take on the funeral rites of any and all faiths, religions and cultures. Originally our business, based in a traditional British town, carried out very similar funerals day to day.
Now with the business spread into the cities of Birmingham and Wolverhampton we are called upon to carry out funerals for a more diverse community.
One of these is the Christian Orthodox faith with their funeral rites.
This gives an idea of the traditions we adhere to when we are carrying out a Greek Orthodox funeral.
A multi-day wake is held prior to funeral service for the family, with the head of family generally taking the lead to arrange the funeral. There is a quick turnaround from point of death to the funeral.
An ornate coffin or casket is generally selected and this, in my experience, will have the last supper etched on it.
The family and the priest will visit the funeral home to wash the deceased – this is an important part of the ritual.
The funeral service itself is always held at an Orthodox church, with the coffin generally lying open in church, with the family paying respects to the deceased. There is a focus on religious readings, more so than about the deceased. Candles are held during the service and incense is also burned around the coffin.
At the graveside, there are certain rites to perform, which include bread being placed in the grave and wine and olive oil being poured over the coffin.
A food table will also be set up at the cemetery, with wine, bread and olives being served to the mourners.
These rites are very traditional, however, in my experience so far, a lot of the more westernised orthodox will pick and choose what they want. Unless there is a stalwart member of the family who wishes it to be done in the traditional way.
Those of the Hindu faith prefer to die at home, surrounded by their family who will keep vigil.
Although the physical body dies, the individual soul has no beginning and no end. It may pass to another through reincarnation, depending on one’s karma. A viewing will normally take place before a Hindu cremation, but since the cremation typically happens within 24 hours after death, they are usually brief.
Typically, the casket is carried into the crematorium feet first, while mourners recite prayers. Then the bereaved will circle their loved one in prayer and observe the cremation.
The Sikh funeral is known as Antam Sanskaar, meaning “the last rite of passage”. The focus of the funeral ceremony is not loss and grief, but celebration that the soul has an opportunity to re-join Waheguru (the Wondrous Giver of Knowledge, the Sikh name for God).
Before a Sikh funeral service, the body is bathed and the articles of Sikh faith, called the Kakaars, which the person would have worn during their life as an Amritdhari (initiated) Sikh, should not be taken off nor the hair cut or removed from any part of the body.
The format for Sikh funerals can vary widely. Sometimes there will be a service before the cremation, the cremation, and then another service at the gurdwara (the Sikh place of worship). Sometimes there will only be a cremation, with a few prayers recited. After the cremation, the ashes are usually buried in the earth or scattered, often in a body of flowing water, such as a river or the sea.
Traditionally parent, child, spouse, or sibling are “officially” designated as mourners (avelim) and have specific responsibilities and prohibitions.
Just before the beginning of the service, the officiant gathers the mourners together and places a black ribbon on their outer garment, in some cases this is torn (called Keriah, or tearing).
The act of tearing is an ancient ritual that serves several functions: 1) Since we are physical beings, we need to do something physical to express our grief; 2) It is a symbol of the tear in the fabric of the family after the death of a loved one; 3) It sets up a separation of status: prior to this moment, the mourners have had the responsibility of taking care of all of the details of the funeral and now their responsibility shifts to allowing the community to take care of them.Tags: Christian, community, Funerals, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox, religion, Sikh