Islam & End-of-Life Care
Followers of Islam are called Muslims, and they aim to live a life of complete submission to God, known in Arabic as Allah. Practitioners of the Islamic or Muslim faith believe there will be a day of judgement and life after death, known as Akhirah.
When Muslims are facing serious illness, they are counseled to be patient and faithful, asking for Allah’s help in prayer. During end-of-life care, Muslim patients may ask for forgiveness and read or listen to the Qur’an. Family may give more in charity in the hope that healing and recovery may occur.
Muslims believe in seeking medical treatment for illness and the pain can and should be managed.
While there is great respect for the sanctity of life, in the case of terminal illness, Muslims may withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatments to allow natural death.
How Is Islamic faith incorporated into end-of-life care?
The key tenets of the Muslim faith are known as the Five Pillars of Islam – the declaration of faith, prayer, alms-giving, fasting, and pilgrimage. Observant Muslims will follow strict rules regarding diet and prayer which will be respected in the end-of-life care.
Part of the daily prayer process for Muslims includes a ceremonial washing called wudu. If a Muslim patient is too ill to perform wudu, they may touch a dry ablution kit of sand or stone. Patients may also request to lie in a bed facing Mecca, the site of the Holy Sanctuary built by Abraham.
Whenever possible, men should be treated by male healthcare workers and women should be treated by women. However, as life is valued above all else, a member of the opposite sex may provide medical treatment if necessary.
During the Holy Month of Ramadan, healthy Muslims will fast from dawn to sunset. This is not required of the sick.
Islamic end-of-life practices.
When a Muslim is approaching end of life, their family will typically recite the Shahadah, Islam’s testament of faith. If possible, in the moments before death, the patient will also declare their faith in Allah. The patient’s head should be elevated with a pillow and the feet should be pointing towards Mecca. Families may ask that non-Muslims leave the room so they are not present at the moment of death.
After death, the eyes should be gently closed and the jaw bandaged so the mouth cannot open. Arms and legs should be straightened, and the body removed as soon as possible. Non-Muslims attending to the body must wear gloves so they don’t directly touch the body.
In preparation for the funeral, the deceased is ritually washed by the family, men by men, women by women, before being wrapped in a white cloth.
Muslim funerals are typically very formal with ritual chanting and recitation from the Qur’an. Shoes are left at the door of the Mosque, and men and women sit in separate areas on the floor. Women must cover their heads and wear modest clothing.
Muslim burials position the body facing Mecca. Graves are marked with a flat marker. Elaborate tombstones and floral displays are discouraged. At the burial, the first Surah is read from the Qur’an, followed by prayers. Finally, three fistfuls of dirt are thrown by mourners.
How does Crossroads help address the spiritual needs of Muslim patients in hospice care?
Faith is a very personal thing, and our chaplains honor and respect the spiritual needs of all our patients. Many Muslims prefer an imam be called to visit the patient. If they do not have a relationship with an imam from their own mosque, our chaplains can assist in arranging for a visit from a local imam.
Additional Muslim and end-of-life care resources.
To provide additional information on how Crossroads supports Muslim patients at end of life, we have gathered the following resources: