For Muslims in Pakistan, providing food for guests at funerals is a cultural obligation, not an Islamic one
Recently, my friend attended the funeral of her grandfather, the former Federal Minister Khalid Kharal. During the funeral, she realised the immense pressure on the family of the deceased to provide food for the mourners and the people attending.
When she came back home and discussed this with me, we both concluded that the idea of providing food for the guests at funerals is more of a growing cultural obligation for Muslims in Pakistan rather than an Islamic one.
The death of a loved one in the family or close friends is already the cause of severe grief and pain. Adding another responsibility of making sure that people who come to condole are properly fed is, to say the least, unfair and unnecessary.
Furthermore, it contradicts the Prophet’s (PBUH) strict instructions to relatives, friends and neighbours to send food to the bereaved family.
In the Holy Quran and hadiths, it has been made clear that mourning or grievance over a deceased person is only permitted or allowed for three days. In addition, it is also forbidden to cry continuously, wail loudly or have prolonged outbursts of grief, because these reactions demonstrate a weakness of faith. In this difficult time, the responsibility of taking care of basic needs of the bereaved family in fact lies with the mourners, close friends and distant family, and not the other way round.
Therefore, gathering with the family after the burial and eating food in their house is actually classified as a form of wailing. It is not only burdensome; it preoccupies them despite the fact that they are already preoccupied with the death of their loved one.
Organising feasts or gatherings is actually a tradition of the days of ignorance that Islam prohibits strictly. Jarir Ibn Abdillah (RA) said that the companions of the Prophet (PBUH) considered gathering with the family of the deceased and preparing food after the burial a form of wailing.
Sayyid Sabiq (RA) elaborated on this issue saying that the sunnah way to go about this is to offer condolences to the bereaved family and leave immediately. Neither the consoler nor the consoled should sit down unnecessarily. This is the lesson we learn from the example of our righteous predecessors.
Ash-Shafi’i in his book al-Umm talked about how he hated gathering in groups together to give condolences, even if those gathered do not cry or mourn. Gatherings such as these revive nothing but sorrow, and add grief and burden to the already mourning family.
An-Nawawi also claimed that Ash-Shafi’i and his companions disliked sitting for condolences, where members of the bereaved family stayed in their homes only to receive people who came to give their condolences. Both men and women should instead go about their usual tasks and needs.
Al-Muhamili states this explicitly and transmits it in reference to a text from Ash-Shafi’i. He says that this is makruh tanzihi (undesirable yet closer to the lawful) unless it is coupled with some other innovation. If it is accompanied with another forbidden innovation (bid’ah), as is generally the case, then it is regarded as one of the strongly forbidden acts.
Let’s also not forget the financial implications of this trend. My friend raised a very good question when she asked me,
“What happens if the deceased was the only care taker or bread winner of the family? How, then, will the deceased’s family provide food for the guests?”
It was essentially this point of our conversation that encouraged me to write about this topic.
Therefore, not only is the family burdened with having to host the guests, but they are also burdened financially. These gatherings serve the exact opposite purpose of the Sunnah, which is to lighten the load of the family.
Having said that, different people deal with grief in different ways; some find comfort in being alone and others like to be distracted by being surrounded with company. Either way, as mentioned above, the act of sitting down for hours to pay condolences is not even a mandatory task in Islamic culture, so why then should anyone expect to feed or be fed?
Muslims in Pakistan and other countries as well have managed to misconstrue the major objective of the funeral and turned something such as death into a means of displaying wealth. A better use of resources would be to give money and provide food to the needy instead.
What we can do as mere citizens of this country and as a part of the Muslim community is to limit these highly unreasonable expectations from the families of the deceased. Let us also not judge people who cannot, out of sheer helplessness caused by financial restraints, provide food for condolers.
The main intentions of the condolers should be to make sure they say a prayer for the deceased, say a few condoling words to the deceased’s family and continue on with their day normally. The death of a loved one is a time for reflection and about adjusting to life without the deceased person, so the least anyone and everyone can do is not make a party out of it.