Case study: How should baby Bashir be buried?

Tahir sat in a state of total shock. The wailing of his wife reached his ears, but he was helpless to respond to her or to even look at the too-tranquil face of his beloved only child, Bashir.

What a joy the eight-month-old baby had been to the whole family! Bashir was Tahir's parents' first grandchild. How could any of them have guessed that their joy would be so short-lived? Just three days previously, the baby had developed diarrhea. His bowel movements and vomiting had been uncontrollable. Bashir had died in the early hours of this morning.

Tahir was finally roused from his stupor when his father said: "We must begin the preparations for burial. We must call the Imam [local Islamic priest] and send some people to dig a grave in the graveyard. Bashir should be laid to rest beside his other grandmother."

Tahir now faced a problem he had never anticipated. He and his wife had very recently left Islam to become followers of Hazrat Isa (Jesus Christ). Would it be right for them to bury their son in the old Islamic way? Should they pray the Namaz-e-Janaza (Muslim burial prayer) over his body? If not, what should they do? How do the people following the path of Hazrat Isa -- "peace be upon him" -- bury their dead?

Tahir wished fervently that he could talk with Maulana Ahmed Ali. But today was Monday, and the Maulana (teacher) would not come until Friday. The burial must be done today, and his father was waiting for his response.

"Please be patient with me, father," Tahir said. "My grief has overcome me. Give me a few moments to control myself." His father nodded sympathetically and went to another part of the house.

As Tahir watched him go, the enormity of the situation almost overwhelmed him. His own parents were not even aware of his decision to follow the way of Isa. He had never told them about the fateful day four months before when a teacher named Ahmed Ali had come into his shop. The Maulana had been passing by and stopped to buy some puffed rice and sweets. He then sat down on the bench on the front veranda of the shop and began to eat. It was a hot day, so Tahir gave him a glass of water to drink.

Ahmed Ali lingered on the veranda to talk with Tahir. He asked Tahir if he prayed five times daily. Tahir mumbled that some days he did. Then the Maulana asked him if he was interested in learning how to pray so that he would get answers to the prayers. That interested Tahir, so Ahmed Ali invited him to come to Aminur Rehman's home the next Friday when he would discuss the matter of the five-time prayer and how to receive answers.

Tahir was a shop owner, and whenever he prayed, he prayed about making more money in his business. Since, like all the other merchants, he closed his shop on Fridays, he went to Aminur Rehman's home to hear the talk about answers to prayer.

Once there, Tahir found the Maulana had many new things to say, not only about prayer but about other things as well. He talked at length about Allah and his love for humankind. Then the teacher introduced Hazrat Isa. This Isa (Jesus) was the Word of Allah, said the teacher. Tahir was impressed when the teacher was able to prove this from the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an. He explained that Isa was the true revelation of Allah and that no one could approach Allah except through Hazrat Isa.

The teacher also showed them the Injil Sharif (New Testament Bible). It was all quite astonishing to Tahir. Nevertheless, both he and Aminur Rehman agreed that after each namaz (liturgical prayer) they would pray to Allah in the name of Isa Masih (Jesus Messiah) as the Maulana had encouraged them to do.

For a whole week, in fact, Tahir did exactly that. He prayed to Allah five times daily in the name of Hazrat Isa. Sure enough, his sales gradually increased as more and more people came to his shop. The jealousy of other shop owners sweetened the taste of his new success.

Gratefully, Tahir regularly attended the Friday Jama'at (assembly) and prayers in the house of Aminur Rehman. Tahir was amazed at the Maulana's knowledge of various matters of religion. Each Friday, he learned more about Hazrat Isa. The teacher explained that Hazrat Isa had really died on a Roman cross. That was very hard for Tahir to understand. He had always been told that Jesus was never crucified, but that when he was being held by the Roman and Jewish authorities, Allah had miraculously delivered him. Islam affirmed that a crucifixion of someone did take place, but that the crucified man was not Jesus of Nazareth. It was another man who happened to look like Jesus.

However, Maulana Ahmed Ali insisted to Tahir that it was Isa who was crucified and that he had died so that humanity could be redeemed from sin. Tahir was deeply impressed when the teacher showed from the Qur'an that Jesus had predicted his own death and resurrection (Maryam, chapter 19). When the teacher asked Tahir if he believed that Isa is the way, the truth, and the sacrifice for sin, Tahir thought about how his prayers had been answered and then said that he believed.

Tahir's wife, Amina, and Aminur Rehman's wife, Rukhsana, also began listening to the teachings of the Maulana. They hid on the other side of a bamboo fence that divided the room where the men sat.

After about ten of these Friday meetings, the two men and their wives decided to become followers of Hazrat Isa. They submitted to the ceremonial bath and washing (baptism). Maulana Ahmed Ali administered this to the two men, and they, in turn, did it for their respective wives.

Then, like a bolt of lightning from heaven, catastrophe hit Tahir and his wife when their only son, Bashir, died. What about the prayers that had gone up to Allah in the name of Hazrat Isa for the well-being of their family? Their teacher, Ahmed Ali, had promised that they would be heard and answered.

As Tahir reflected on these things this morning, however, he remembered another teaching of the Maulana. It was the story of Hazrat Ayub (Job). The teacher had explained that in the time of terrible disaster, Allah remains present through his Spirit. How did these two teachings fit together? Tahir was not only in anguish, he was also very confused. If only the teacher were here to talk with him.

His father's voice in another part of the house brought Tahir back to his immediate problem: How should Bashir be buried? If they wanted to do the burial in the Christian way, did the Maulana need to be present? If the Islamic Imam did it, the prayers would be to Allah in the name of Mohammed. Tahir had promised Maulana that his prayers would always be in the name of Hazrat Isa.

Thinking of the local Islamic leader made Tahir anxious. What would he say to the Imam? At this point in time, disclosure of Tahir's new faith could bring disastrous results. The Imam would probably refuse to bury Bashir. The village might decide to ostracize Tahir's whole family. His father, who was very old and weak, might even die of shock if Tahir revealed his departure from Islam to follow the true and straight path to Allah. Even the forthcoming marriage of his sisters could be in jeopardy. If people discovered that Tahir had changed religions, parents might not want their sons to marry Tahir's sisters.

Tahir sat with his head in his hands and heard with dread the approaching shuffle of his father. What would he say to him?

Discussion guide for using case studies.

This case study is a revised version of one by Syed Ratique Uddin in Case Studies in Missions, edited by Paul and Frances Hiebert, Baker Book House. It may be reproduced only upon payment of a 35-cent royalty per copy to Baker Book House, P.O. Box 6787, Grand Rapids, MI 49516 USA

    -- Howard Culbertson,

Christian and Muslim Burial Practices

Preparation of the Body

Funeral Rites and Services

Burial Practices:

Cemetery Practices

Mourning Period

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