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Exploring Religious Funeral Customs: From Catholic to Islamic Practices

Every religion approaches death in meaningful and sacred ways to its believers.

Different Religious Funeral Traditions

Every religion approaches death in meaningful and sacred ways to its believers. A closer look at different religions' funeral traditions can lead to greater understanding and acceptance. Keep reading to learn how different – yet similar – we are in our beliefs, funerals, and rituals. 


Most Christians believe that after death, the soul goes to Heaven or Hell based on their faith in Jesus Christ and their deeds on Earth. The resurrection of Jesus is a fundamental concept representing hope for eternal life. 

Catholics adhere to the teachings and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, including the authority of the Pope and the sacraments. At the same time, non-Catholic Christians follow various denominations that interpret and practice Christianity differently, often without recognizing papal authority.



Like other branches of Christianity, Protestants believe in an afterlife. Most think that after death, the soul goes to Heaven or Hell based on their faith in Jesus Christ as their savior.

The central tenet of Protestantism is "sola fide" or "faith alone," suggesting that faith in Jesus Christ is the primary means of salvation rather than good works or deeds. This belief, however, upholds the importance of living a moral and righteous life.


Upon death, it's common for family members and close friends to gather for a viewing or wake, where they can pay their respects to the deceased. This can be either at the family's home or a funeral parlor.

The body may be buried or cremated based on personal preference and sometimes denominational guidance. Both methods are generally accepted within Protestantism, though specifics might vary by denomination.


Funeral services are conducted in a church, chapel, funeral home, or sometimes at the graveside. They typically include hymn singing, prayers, and a sermon or eulogy that speaks to the hope of resurrection and eternal life in Christ.

Scripture readings are an essential part of the service, with passages often chosen that speak of the hope of resurrection, God's love, and comfort in times of sorrow. 


Catholicism is one of the largest religions in the world, with believers across different cultures and regions.


In Catholicism, there is a belief in the afterlife and the hope of eternal salvation. Catholics believe in the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment, where individuals will be held accountable for their actions in life. The Catholic Church teaches that the soul's ultimate destination is Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory, a spiritual limbo. 


Catholicism places great importance on honoring the deceased's body. The body is treated with respect and dignity, and the clergy and family members perform specific rituals.

One of the rituals is the anointing of the sick, also known as the Last Rites or Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. It involves anointing the dying person with blessed oil and prayers for forgiveness, healing, and spiritual strength.


Catholic funerals typically take place within a few days of a person's passing. The casket is covered with a white linen pall, also called a mort cloth, as a symbol of baptism. 

Once expressly prohibited, Catholics may now choose cremation. However, most churches prefer cremation after the Funeral Mass, with remains buried in the ground or interred in a columbarium. Catholic cemeteries are consecrated ground, considered holy, and set apart for the faithful departed.


The Jewish religion has different branches, including Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. 


Jewish beliefs about the afterlife are diverse and less centrally defined than in other religions. The concept of the "World to Come" (Olam HaBa) is prevalent, but interpretations vary. Some believe in a resurrection of the dead in the messianic age, while others focus more on the legacy one leaves in the world.

Jewish people believe that the soul (neshama) exists after death, and there's a tradition that the righteous are inscribed in the "Book of Life."


The body is treated with great respect and prepared for burial by the Chevra Kadisha (holy society) with a ritual purification bath known as "tahara." Family members of the same gender as the deceased then dress the body in a plain white shroud (tachrichim).


Jewish funerals typically occur as soon as possible, often within 24 hours. The funeral is a simple ceremony that might include readings from the Psalms and the Book of Proverbs. The main ritual is the "Keriah," where mourners tear a piece of clothing or a black ribbon as a sign of grief.

Burial follows, and it's customary to place the body in the ground without a coffin in Israel and simple wooden coffins outside Israel. Although Conservative and Orthodox Jewish people typically choose burial, some Reform followers opt for cremation. 

A mourning period known as "Shiva" follows the burial, lasting seven days, during which the bereaved remain at home and receive visitors.


Islam is the second-largest religion in the world after Christianity. There are nearly 1.9 billion practicing Muslims (followers of Islam). 


Muslims believe that after death, individuals are judged by God (Allah) and sent to either Paradise (Jannah) or Hell (Jahannam) based on their deeds and faith. The concept of the Day of Judgment is central, where all souls will be resurrected and judged.


The deceased's body is given a ritual washing (ghusl) and wrapped in a simple white shroud (kafan). Muslims believe in burial as soon as possible after death.


Funeral prayers (Janazah) are offered for the deceased and are a community event. The body is then taken to a burial ground and placed in the grave facing the Kaaba in Mecca. Islam forbids cremation. 


Hindus worship many gods, unlike monotheistic religions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The three primary gods are Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer).


Hindus believe in reincarnation. The soul (atman) is eternal and reborn after death in a new body. One's karma, or the accumulated deeds from previous lives, determines the nature of the next life.


The body is usually kept at home until cremation, allowing family and friends to pay their respects. The body is then bathed and dressed in new clothes. Rituals might vary based on regional and caste differences.


Cremation is the preferred method in Hinduism (except for very young children and saints). After cremation, the family scatters the ashes in a sacred river or body of water. A mourning period follows, during which specific rituals help the soul's journey and provide solace to the family.

Native Americans 

Native American cultures are incredibly diverse, with each tribe or nation having traditions, rituals, and beliefs. Specific beliefs and practices can vary significantly from one nation to another.


Many Native Americans believe in an afterlife. Some believe in a spirit world, others in reincarnation, and others in lands where spirits rest. 


Close family members prepare the deceased by washing, dressing in special garments, or adorning with sacred objects. Many tribes have specific ceremonies to honor the dead and help guide their spirits to the afterlife. These ceremonies can involve singing, dancing, drumming, and other rituals.


While some Native Americans traditionally practice ground burial, others choose cremation. 

Many Southwest Native Americans have all-night wakes with prayers, songs, and smudging (burning of herbs). The funeral service, led by native spiritual leaders and sometimes Christian clergy, coincides with the Milky Way being most visible in the sky, usually around 4:00 a.m. The Mojave believes this time to be holy and helps the spirit of the loved one ascend. 

Afterall: Dignified, Compassionate Care for All

No matter what religion you practice or do not practice, Afterall offers dignified, compassionate funeral arrangements that we customize to suit your personal beliefs. To find an Afterall partner near you, click here

If you'd like to learn about how different cultures view cremation, take a look at our article Ashes to Ashes: Unpacking the Divine Debate on Cremation Across Cultures.