Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Funeral Debate

Published January 25, 2011
There's no denying the fact that in Dhofar everyone knows everything about everyone else. When something interesting happens, word spreads immediately and it becomes the talk of the town. This can be horrible at times and quite useful at others. By useful, I mean funerals. When someone dies, within an hour every relative, friend and acquaintance is informed and people start flocking to the funeral. Unlike other countries, funerals in Oman happen very quickly. The body of the deceased is washed, wrapped in a shroud immediately, and kissed goodbye by the closest family members. It is then taken by the men of the family to the graveyard where the burial takes place on the same day in the Islamic way followed by special funeral prayers at the mosque performed by all the male mourners. Meanwhile, the females hastily prepare the house for the funeral. Personal belongings are shoved into closets, bedding is rolled up, and the kitchen is stocked with drinks, fruit, and tea. Prayer beads, chapters of the Qur'an and boxes of Kleenex are placed at every corner, and the neighbors and close relatives send their housemaids over to help with the preparation.
While the men are at the graveyard burying the deceased, a huge tent is being installed outside the house to accommodate them upon their return. Tent companies can set up a huge funeral tent outside your home at a moment's notice. Within an hour or two, hundreds of men will have flocked to the tent to pay their respects. Meanwhile, the house will be bursting at the seams with female mourners. Close relatives spend all day at the funeral whereas distant relatives and acquaintances come to pay their respects and leave within an hour to make room for more mourners. Some women take shifts in the kitchen preparing refreshments and meals while others walk around the house with trays of coffee, tea, and drinks offering them to guests. In the house, the women usually talk quietly, cry, or read the Qur'an and pray. Some of the older women wail like banshees despite the fact that funeral wailing is un-Islamic and quite frightening. For immediate family members, the hours go by in a blur of greetings, condolences, noise, and chaos. This goes on for three long days from early morning to late at night. Everyone is expected to come and pay their respects during those three days and by the end of it all life supposedly goes back to normal.
I have mixed feelings about the whole funeral system in Oman and particularly in Dhofar, and I'm sure many of you Omanis out there share my sentiments. First of all, funerals are extremely costly. Not only do you have to serve refreshments to hundreds of people but in Dhofar usually several animals are slaughtered to feed the guests at meals. Providing lunch and dinner to that many people is no joke. Who can afford that kind of expense these days?
Furthermore, after losing a loved one, the thought of facing hundreds of people within a few hours is emotionally and physically draining. Because men and women mourn separately, when can immediate family members comfort one another? Recently I was at a funeral where a couple had lost their child. The mother was receiving guests all day while her husband was outside in the tent doing the same. They did not see each other until midnight when everyone had left. Despite the fact that she remained strong and greeted people with a smile, I could tell all she wanted was to be alone with her husband to mourn the loss of their child. It was written all over her face. In my opinion, I don't think anyone should have to go through that.
On the other hand, the support provided by the local community is amazing. Having hundreds of people come to let you know you’re not alone in your suffering and knowing they're all praying for you and your loved ones is extremely touching. I also feel that the transitional three day mourning period is a good form of closure for the family. Recently and to the horror of the old fashioned elders in Dhofar, some families have announced they're holding shorter funerals that last only a day or two. Other families have made it clear that no meals will be provided. I don't know how they would implement that rule, but I think it's extremely sensible. How else can we improve the funeral system in Oman? Any ideas?

1 comment:

  1. Well Susan thank you for this great article. I have few points:

    - not all Omanis do the funerals the way you mentioned in terms of money spending and tents, in Dhakhlia for example we usually have big village halls we hold all kind of social activities for free and we also have what we call a funeral fund system where everyone in the village pay around 1-2 rials per month. This fund take cares of all funeral expenses from burial to meals and drinks, the relatives do not have to do a single thing, it is all taken care of. The fund has a committee doing everything.

    - Another point is that we have a timing system where the village hall closes by sunset time so that the relatives can go home to their families and rest a bit.

    - About the women, all the women in the village will go to the house of the deceased and take with them all kind of drinks and meals plus they will help cleaning and preparing anything that house need. in addition to that all the main meals like lunch will go under the funeral fund, which is usually ordering the food from restaurants so no one will have to do anything.

    Finally I am really pleased with the support that all people give during any crises.

    Sulaiman Al Toubi