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An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians$

Edward William Lane

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9789774165603

Published to Cairo Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.5743/cairo/9789774165603.001.0001

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Death, and Funeral Rites

Death, and Funeral Rites

Chapter 28 Death, and Funeral Rites
An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians

Edward William Lane

Jason Thompson

American University in Cairo Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter covers the subject of death and burial of Muslims. It starts with the last rites of a dying Muslim, and then the washing of the body, the cloth in which the body is wrapped, and notes that burial happens as soon as possible. It describes the recitation of the Qur’an for the deceased, the funeral procession (noting the differences according to class, gender and for holy men), and the rituals and ceremonies that take place both in the mosque and at the tomb. It also discusses the rituals of mourning and the days following the funeral.

Keywords:   Death, Burial, Rites, Funeral, Mourning, Rituals

WHEN a learned or pious Muslim feels that he is about to die, he sometimes performs the ordinary ablution, as before prayer, that he may depart from life in a state of bodily purity; and generally he repeats the profession of the faith, “There is no deity but God: Moḥammad is God's Apostle.” It is common also for a Muslim, on a military expedition, or during a long journey, especially in the desert, to carry his grave‐linen with him. Not unfrequently does it happen that a traveller, in such circumstances, has even to make his own grave: completely overcome by fatigue or privation, or sinking under a fatal disease, in the desert, when his companions, if he have any, cannot wait for his recovery or death, he performs the ablution (with water, if possible, or, if not, with sand or dust, which is allowable in such case), and then, having made a trench in the sand, as his grave, lies down in it, wrapped in his grave‐clothes, and covers himself, with the exception of his face, with the sand taken up in making the trench: thus he waits for death to relieve him; trusting to the wind to complete his burial.

When any one of the eminent ’Ulamà of Cairo dies, the muëddins of the Azhar, and those of several other mosques, announce the event by chanting from the mád'nehs the cry called the “Abrár;” the words of which I have given in the account of the customs observed during Ramaḍán, in the second of the chapters on Periodical Public Festivals, &c. (p.472)

The ceremonies attendant upon death and burial are nearly the same in the cases of men and women. When the rattles in the throat, or other symptoms, shew that a man is at the point of death, an attendant (his wife, or some other person,) turns him round to place his face in the direction of Mekkeh,1 and closes his eyes. Even before the spirit has departed, or the moment after, the male attendants generally exclaim, “Alláh! There is no strength nor power but in God. To God we belong; and to Him we must return. God have mercy on him.” The women of the family, at the same time, raise the cries of lamentation called “welweleh” or “wilwál;” uttering the most piercing shrieks, and calling upon the name of the deceased. The most common cries that are heard on the death of the master of a family, from the lips of his wife, or wives, and children, are “O my master!”2 “O my camel!”3 (that is, “O thou who broughtest my provisions, and hast carried my burdens,”) “O my lion!”4 “O camel of the house!”5 “O my glory!”6 “O my resource!”7 “O my father!”8 “O my misfortune!”9 —The clothes of the deceased are taken off as soon as he has ceased to breathe; and he is attired in another suit, placed on his bed or mattress, and covered over with a sheet. The women continue their lamentations; and many of the females of the neighbourhood, hearing the conclamation, come to unite with them in this melancholy task. Generally, also, the family of the deceased send for two or more “neddábehs” (or public wailing‐women10); but some persons disapprove of this custom; and many, to avoid unnecessary expense, do not conform with it. Each neddábeh brings with her a “ṭár” (or tambourine), which is without the tinkling plates of metal which are attached to the hoop of the common ṭár. The neddábehs, beating their ṭárs, exclaim, several times, “Alas for him!”—and praise his turban, his handsome person, &c.; and the female relations, domestics, and friends of the deceased (with their tresses dishevelled, and sometimes with rent clothes), beating their own faces, cry in like manner, “Alas for him!”—This wailing is generally continued at least an hour. (p.473)

If the death took place in the morning, the corpse is buried the same day;11 but if it happened in the afternoon, or at night, the deceased is not buried until the following day: in this case, the neddábehs remain all the night, and continue the lamentation with the other women; and a fiḳee is brought to the house to recite chapters of the Ḳur‐án during the night, or several fiḳees are employed to perform a complete khatmeh.

The “mughassil” (or washer of the dead) soon comes, with a bench, upon which he places the corpse, and a bier.12 The fiḳees who are to take part in the funeral‐procession (if the deceased were a person of respectable rank, or of the middle order,) are also now brought to the house. These, during the process of washing, sit in an apartment adjoining that in which the corpse is placed, or without the door of the latter apartment; and some of them recite, or rather chant, the “Soorat el‐An’ám” (or 6th chapter of the Ḳur‐án): others of them chant part of the “Burdeh,” a celebrated poem in praise of the Prophet. The washer takes off the clothes of the deceased; which are his perquisite. The jaw is bound up, and the eyes are closed. The ordinary ablution preparatory to prayer having been performed upon the corpse, with the exception of the washing of the mouth and nose, the whole body is well washed, from head to foot, with warm water and soap, and with “leef” (or fibres of the palm‐tree); or, more properly, with water in which some leaves of the lote‐tree (“nabḳ,” or “sidr,”) have been boiled.13 The nostrils, ears, &c., are stuffed with cotton; and the corpse is sprinkled with a mixture of water, pounded camphor, and dried and pounded leaves of the nabḳ, and with rose‐water. Sometimes, other dried and pounded leaves are added to those of the nabḳ. The ankles are bound together, and the hands placed upon the breast.

The “kefen,” or grave‐clothing, of a poor man consists of a piece, or two pieces, of cotton;14 or is merely a kind of bag. The corpse of a man of wealth is generally wrapped first in muslin; then, in cotton cloth of thicker texture; next in a piece of striped stuff of silk and cotton intermixed, or in a ḳufṭán of similar stuff, merely stitched together; and over these is wrapped a Kashmeer shawl. The corpse of a woman of middling rank is usually clothed with a yelek. The colours most approved for the grave‐clothes are white and green; but any colour is used, (p.474) except blue, or what approaches to blue. The body, prepared for interment as above described, is placed in the bier, which is usually covered over with a red or other Kashmeer shawl. The persons who are to compose the funeral‐procession then arrangethemselves in order.—The more common funeral‐processions may be thus described.

The first persons are about six or more poor men, called “Yemeneeyeh;” mostly blind; who proceed two and two, or three and three, together. Walking at a moderate pace, or rather slowly, they chant incessantly, in a melancholy tone, the profession of the faith (“There is no deity but God: Moḥammad is God's Apostle: God bless and save him!”); often, but not always, as follows: —

Death, and Funeral Rites

or sometimes, other words. They are followed by some male relations and friends of the deceased, and, in many cases, by two or more persons of some sect of darweeshes, bearing the flags of their order. This is a general custom at the funeral of a darweesh. Next follow three or four or more schoolboys; one of whom carries a “muṣ‐ḥaf” (or copy of the Ḳur‐án), or a volume consisting of one of the thirty sections of the Ḳur‐án, placed upon a kind of desk formed of palmsticks, and covered over, generally with an embroidered kerchief. These boys chant, in a higher and livelier voice than the Yemeneeyeh, usually some words of a poem called the “Ḥashreeyeh,” descriptive of the events of the last day, the judgment, &c.; to the air here noted: —

Death, and Funeral Rites


The following is a translation of the commencement of this poem. (p.475)

  • ‘[I extol] the perfection of Him who hath created whatever hath form;
  • And subdued his servants by death:
  • Who bringeth to nought [all] his creatures, with mankind:
  • They shall all lie in the graves:
  • The perfection of the Lord of the east:16
  • The perfection of the Lord of the west:17
    Death, and Funeral Rites


  • The perfection of the illuminator of the two lights;
  • The sun, to wit, and the moon:
  • His perfection: how bountiful is He!
  • His perfection: how clement is He!
  • His perfection: how great is He!
  • When a servant rebelleth against Him, He protecteth.’

The school‐boys immediately precede the bier, which is borne headforemost. Three or four friends of the deceased usually carry it for a short distance; then three or four other friends bear it a little further; and then these are in like manner relieved. Casual passengers, also, often take part in this service, which is esteemed (p.476) highly meritorious. Behind the bier walk the female mourners; sometimes a group of more than a dozen, or twenty; with their hair dishevelled, though generally concealed by the head‐veil; crying and shrieking, as before described; and often, the hired mourners accompany them, celebrating the praises of the deceased. Among the women, the relations and domestics of the deceased are distinguished by a strip of linen or cotton stuff or muslin, generally blue, bound round the head, and tied in a single knot behind; the ends hanging down a few inches.18 Each of these also carries a handkerchief, usually dyed blue, which she sometimes holds over her shoulders, and at other times twirls with both hands over her head or before her face. The cries of the women, the lively chanting of the youths, and the deep tones uttered by the Yemeneeyeh, compose a strange discord.

The wailing of women at funerals was forbidden by the Prophet; and so was the celebration of the virtues of the deceased. Moḥammad declared that the virtues thus ascribed to a dead person would be subjects of reproach to him, if he did not possess them, in a future state. It is astonishing to see how some of the precepts of the Prophet are every day violated by all classes of the modern Muslims; the Wahhábees alone excepted.—I have sometimes seen mourning women of the lower classes, following a bier, having their faces (which were bare), and their head‐coverings and bosoms, besmeared with mud.19

The funeral‐procession of a man of wealth, or of a person of the middle classes, is sometimes preceded by three or four or more camels, bearing bread and water to give to the poor at the tomb; and is composed of a more numerous and varied assemblage of persons. The foremost of these are the Yemeneeyeh, who chant the profession of the faith, as described above. They are generally followed by some male friends of the deceased, and some learned and devout persons who have been invited to attend the funeral. Next follows a group of four or more fiḳees, chanting the “Soorat el‐An’ám” (the 6th chapter of the Ḳur‐án); and sometimes, another group, chanting the “Soorat Yá‐Seen” (the 36th chapter); another, chanting the “Soorat el‐Kahf” (the 18th chapter); and another, chanting the “Soorat ed‐Dukhán” (the 44th chapter). These are followed by some munshids, singing the “Burdeh;” and these, by certain persons called “Aṣ‐ḥáb (p.477) el‐Aḥzáb,” who are members of religious orders founded by celebrated Sheykhs. There are generally four or more of the order of the Ḥezb es‐Sádát; a similar group of the Ḥezb Esh‐Sházilee; and another of the Ḥezb Esh‐Shaạráwee: each group chants a particular form of prayer. After them are generally borne two or more half‐furled flags, the banners of one or other of the principal orders of darweeshes. Then follow the school‐boys, the bier, and the female mourners, as in the procession before described; and, perhaps, the led horses of the bearers, if these be men of rank. A buffalo, to be sacrificed at the tomb, where its flesh is to be distributed to the poor, sometimes closes the procession.

The funeral of a devout sheykh, or of one of the great ’Ulamà, is still more numerously attended; and the bier of such a person is not covered with a shawl. A “welee” is further honoured in his funeral by a remarkable custom. Women follow his bier; but, instead of wailing, as they would after the corpse of an ordinary mortal, they rend the air with the shrill and quavering cries of joy called “zagháreeṭ;” and if these cries are discontinued but for a minute, the bearers of the bier protest that they cannot proceed; that a supernatural power rivets them to the spot on which they stand. Very often, it is said, a welee impels the bearers of his corpse to a particular spot.—The following anecdote, describing an ingenious mode of puzzling a dead saint in a case of this kind, was related to me by one of my friends.—Some men were lately bearing the corpse of a welee to a tomb prepared for it in the great cemetery on the north of the metropolis; but, on arriving at the gate called Báb en‐Naṣr, which leads to this cemetery, they found themselves unable to proceed further, from the cause above mentioned. “It seems,” said one of the bearers, “that the sheykh is determined not to be buried in the cemetery of Báb en‐Naṣr; and what shall we do?” They were all much perplexed; but being as obstinate as the saint himself, they did not immediately yield to his caprice. Retreating a few paces, and then advancing with a quick step, they thought, by such an impetus, to force the corpse through the gate‐way; but their efforts were unsuccessful; and the same experiment they repeated in vain several times. They then placed the bier on the ground to rest and consult; and one of them, beckoning away his comrades to a distance beyond the hearing of the dead saint, said to them, “Let us take up the bier again, and turn it round quickly several times till the sheykh becomes giddy; he then will not know in what direction we are going, and we may take him easily through the gate.” This they did; the saint was puzzled as they expected, and quietly buried in the place which he had so striven to avoid.

The biers used for the conveyance of the corpses of females and boys are different from those of men. They are furnished with a cover of wood, over which a (p.478) shawl is spread, as over the bier of a man; and at the head is an upright piece of wood, called a “sháhid.” The sháhid is covered with a shawl; and to the upper part of it, when the bier is used to convey the body of a female of the middle or higher class, several ornaments of female head‐dress are attached: on the top, which is flat and circular, is often placed a “ḳurṣ” (the round ornament of gold or silver set with diamonds, or of embossed gold, which is worn on the crown of the headdress): to the back is suspended the “ṣafà” (or a number of braids of black silk with gold ornaments along each, which are worn by the ladies, in addition to their plaits of hair, hanging down the back). The bier of a boy is distinguished by a turban, generally formed of a red Kashmeer shawl, wound round the top of the sháhid, which, in the case of a young boy, is also often decorated with the ḳurṣ and ṣafà. The corpse of a very young child is carried to the tomb in the arms of a man, and merely covered with a shawl; or in a very small bier borne on a man's head.

Death, and Funeral Rites

Bier used for the conveyance of the Corpse of a Female or Boy.

In the funerals of females and boys, the bier is usually only preceded by the Yemeneeyeh, chanting the profession of the faith, and by some male relations of the deceased; and followed by the female mourners; unless the deceased was of a family of wealth, or of considerable station in the world; in which case, the funeral‐procession is distinguished by some additional display. I shall give a short description of one of the most genteel and decorous funerals of this kind that (p.479) I have witnessed: it was that of a young, unmarried lady.—Two men, each bearing a large, furled, green flag, headed the procession, preceding the Yemeneeyeh, who chanted in an unusually low and solemn manner. These faḳeers, who were in number about eight, were followed by a group of fiḳees, chanting a chapter of the Ḳur‐án. Next after the latter was a man bearing a large branch of “nabḳ” (or lotetree), an emblem of the deceased.20 On each side of him walked a person bearing a tall staff or cane, to the top of which were attached several hoops ornamented with strips of various‐coloured paper. These were followed by two Turkish soldiers, side by side; one bearing, on a small round tray, a gilt silver “ḳumḳum” of rose‐water; and the other bearing, on a similar tray, a “mibkharah” of gilt silver, in which some odoriferous substance (as benzoin, or frankincense,) was burning. These vessels diffused the odour of their contents on the way, and were afterwards used to perfume the sepulchral vault. Passengers were occasionally sprinkled with the rose‐water. Next followed four men, each of whom bore, upon a small tray, several small lighted tapers of wax, stuck in lumps of paste of “ḥennà.” The bier was covered with rich shawls, and its sháhid was decorated with handsome ornaments of the head; having, besides the ṣafà, a “ḳuṣṣah almás” (a long ornament of gold and diamonds, worn over the forehead), and, upon its flat top, a rich diamond ḳurṣ. These were the jewels of the deceased, or were, perhaps, as is often the case, borrowed for the occasion. The female mourners, in number about seven or eight, clad in the usual manner of the ladies of Egypt (with the black silk covering, &c.), followed the bier, not on foot, as is the common custom in funerals in this country, but mounted on high‐saddled asses; and only the last two or three of them were wailing; these being, probably, hired mourners. —In another funeral‐procession of a female, the daughter of a Turk of high rank, the Yemeneeyeh were followed by six black slaves, walking two by two. The first two slaves bore each a silver ḳumḳum of rose‐water, which they sprinkled on the passengers; and one of them honoured me so profusely as to wet my dress very uncomfortably; after which, he poured a small quantity into my hands, and I wetted my face with it, according to custom. Each of the next two bore a silver mibkharah, with perfume; and the other two carried each a silver ’áz’ḳee (or hanging censer), with burning charcoal and frankincense. The jewels on the sháhid of the bier were of a costly description. Eleven ladies, mounted on high‐saddled asses, together with several neddábehs, followed.

The rites and ceremonies performed in the mosque, and at the tomb, and after the funeral, remain to be described.—If the deceased died in any of the (p.480) northern quarters of the metropolis, the body is usually carried, in preference, to the mosque of the Ḥasaneyn; unless he was a poor man, not residing near to that venerated sanctuary; in which case, his friends generally carry his corpse to any neighbouring mosque, to save time, and avoid unnecessary expense. If he was one of the ’Ulamà (that is, of a learned profession, however humble), his corpse is usually taken to the great mosque El‐Azhar. The people of the southern parts of the metropolis generally carry their dead to the mosque of the seyyideh Zeyneb, or to that of any other celebrated saint. The reason of choosing such mosques in preference to others, is the belief that the prayers offered up at the tombs of very holy persons are especially successful.

The bier, being brought into the mosque, is laid upon the floor, in the usual place of prayer, with the right side towards the kibleh, or the direction of Mekkeh. The “Imám” of the mosque stands before the left side of the bier, facing it and the ḳibleh; and a servant of the mosque, as a “muballigh” (to repeat the words of the Imám), at the feet. The attendants of the funeral range themselves behind the Imám; the women standing apart, behind the men; for on this occasion they are seldom excluded from the mosque. The congregation being thus disposed, the Imám commences the prayer over the dead; prefacing it with these words:21 —“I purpose reciting the prayer of four tekbeers,’22 the funeral prayer, over the deceased Muslim here present:”—or —“the deceased Muslims here present:” for two or more corpses are often prayed over at the same time. Having said this, he exclaims (raising his open hands on each side of his head, and touching the lobes of his ears with the extremities of his thumbs), “God is most great!” The muballigh repeats this exclamation; and each individual of the congregation behind the Imám does the same, as they also do after the subsequent tekbeers. The Imám then recites the Fát’ḥah, and a second time exclaims, “God is most great!” after which he adds, “O God, bless our lord Moḥammad, the Illiterate23 Prophet, and his Family and Companions, and save them”—and the third time exclaims, “God is most great!” He then says, “O God, verily this is thy servant and son of thy servant: he bath departed from the repose of the world, and from its amplitude,24 and (p.481) from whatever he loved, and from those by whom he was loved in it, to the darkness of the grave, and to what he experienceth. He did testify that there is no deity but Thou alone; that Thou hast no companion; and that Moḥammad is thy servant and thine apostle; and Thou art all‐knowing respecting him. O God, he hath gone to abide with Thee, and Thou art the best with whom to abide. He hath become in need of thy mercy, and Thou hast no need of his punishment. We have come to Thee supplicating that we may intercede for him. O God, if he were a doer of good, over‐reckon his good deeds; and if he were an evil‐doer, pass over his evil‐doings; and of thy mercy grant that he may experience thine acceptance; and spare him the trial of the grave, and its torment; and make his grave wide to him; and keep back the earth from his sides;25 and of thy mercy grant that he may experience security from thy torment, until Thou send him safely to thy Paradise, O Thou most merciful of those who shew mercy!” Then, for the fourth and last time, the Imám exclaims, “God is most great!”—adding, “O God, deny us not our reward for him [for the service we have done him]; and lead us not into trial after him: pardon us and him and all the Muslims, O Lord of the beings of the whole world!”—Thus he finishes his prayer; greeting the angels on his right and left with the salutation of “Peace be on you, and the mercy of God,” as is done at the close of the ordinary prayers. Then, addressing the persons present, he says, “Give your testimony respecting him.” They reply, “He was of the virtuous.”— The bier is now taken up; and if it be in the mosque of the Ḥasaneyn, or in that of any other celebrated saint, that the prayer has been performed, it is placed before the “maḳṣoorah” (the screen or railing that surrounds the sepulchral monument or cenotaph). Here, some of the fiḳees and others who have attended the funeral recite the Fát’ḥah, and the last three verses of the “Soorat el‐Baḳarah” (or 2nd chapter of the Ḳur‐án); beginning, “Whatever is in heaven and on earth is God's.”—These rites performed, the funeral‐train proceeds with the corpse, in the same order as before, to the burial‐ground.26

Here I must give a short description of a tomb. —It is an oblong vault, having an arched roof, and is generally constructed of brick, and plastered. It is made hollow, in order that the person or persons buried in it may be able with ease to sit up when visited and examined by the two angels, “Munkar” (vulgarly “Nákir”) and “Nekeer.” One side faces the direction of Mekkeh; that is, the south‐east. At the foot, which is to the north‐east, is the entrance; before which is constructed a (p.482) small square cell, roofed with stones extending from side to side, to prevent the earth from entering the vault. This is covered over with earth. The vault is generally made large enough to contain four or more bodies. If males and females be buried in the same vault, which is not commonly the case, a partition is built to separate the corpses of one sex from those of the other. Over the vault is constructed an oblong monument (called “tarkeebeh”), of stone or brick, with a stela, or upright stone (called a “sháhid”), at the head and foot. The stelæ are mostly plain; but some of them are ornamented; and that at the head is often inscribed with a text from the Ḳur‐án,27 and the name of the deceased, with the date of his death. A turban, cap, or other head‐dress, is also sometimes carved on the top of the head‐stone, shewing the rank or class of the person or persons buried in the tomb.—Over the grave of an eminent sheykh, or other person of note, a small square building, crowned with a cupola, is generally erected.28 Many of the tombs of Turkish and Memlook grandees have marble tarkeebehs, which are canopied by cupolas supported by four columns of marble; and have inscriptions in gilt letters upon a ground of azure on the head‐stone. There are numerous tombs of this description in the great southern cemetery of Cairo. The tombs of the Sulṭáns are mostly handsome mosques: some of these are within the metropolis; and some, in the cemeteries in its environs.—I now resume the description of the funeral.

The tomb having been opened before the arrival of the corpse, no delay takes place in the burial. The sexton and two assistants take the corpse out of the bier, and deposit it in the vault. Its bandages are untied; and it is laid upon its right side, or so inclined that the face is towards Mekkeh. It is supported in this position by a few crude bricks. If the outer wrapper be a Kashmeer shawl, this is rent, lest its value should tempt any profane person to violate the tomb. A little earth is gently placed by and upon the corpse, by one or more persons; and the entrance is closed by replacing the roofing‐stones and earth over the small cell before it. But one singular ceremony remains to be performed, except in the case of a young child, who is not held responsible for his actions: a fiḳee is employed to perform the office of a “mulaḳḳin” (or instructor of the dead):29 sitting before the tomb, he says generally as follows:—“O servant of God! O son of a handmaid of God! know that, at this time, there will come down to thee two angels commissioned respecting thee and the like of thee: when they say to thee, Who is thy Lord?’ answer them, God is my Lord,’ in truth; and when they ask thee concerning thy (p.483)

Death, and Funeral Rites

Sketch of a Tomb, with the entrance uncovered.

(p.484) Prophet, or the man who hath been sent unto you, say to them, Moḥammad is the Apostle of God,’ with veracity; and when they ask thee concerning thy religion, say to them, El‐Islám is my religion;’ and when they ask thee concerning thy book of direction, say to them, The Ḳur‐án is my book of direction, and the Muslims are my brothers;’ and when they ask thee concerning thy Ḳibleh, say to them, The Kaạbeh is my Ḳibleh; and I have lived and died in the assertion that there is no deity but God, and Moḥammad is God's Apostle:’ and they will say, Sleep, O servant of God, in the protection of God.’”—The soul is believed to remain with the body during the first night after the burial; and on this night to be visited and examined, and perhaps the body tortured, by the two angels above mentioned.—The Yemeneeyeh and other persons hired to attend the funeral are paid at the tomb: the former usually receive a piaster each. If the funeral be that of a person of rank or wealth, two or three skins of water, and as many camel‐loads of bread, being conveyed to the burial‐ground, as before mentioned, are there distributed, after the burial, to the poor, who flock thither in great numbers on such an occasion. It has also been mentioned that a buffalo is sometimes slaughtered, and its flesh in like manner distributed. This custom is called “el‐kaffá‐rah” (or the expiation); being supposed to expiate some of the minor sins30 of the deceased, but not great sins.31 The funeral ended, each of the near relations of the deceased is greeted with a prayer that he may be happily compensated for his loss, or is congratulated that his life is prolonged.

The first night after the burial is called “Leylet el‐Waḥsheh” (or the Night of Desolation); the place of the deceased being then left desolate. On this night the following custom is observed: —At sunset, two or three fiḳees are brought to the house: they take a repast of bread and milk in the place where the deceased died; and then recite the “Soorat el‐Mulk” (or 67th chapter of the Ḳur-án). As the soul is believed to remain with the body during the first night after the burial, and then to depart to the place appointed for the residence of good souls until the last day, or to the appointed prison in which wicked souls await their final doom,32 this night is also called “Leylet el‐Waḥdeh” (or the Night of Solitude). (p.485)

Another ceremony, called that of the “Sebḥah” (or Rosary), is performed on this occasion, to facilitate the entrance of the deceased into a state of happiness: it usually occupies three or four hours. After the “'eshè” (or nightfall), some fiḳees, sometimes as many as fifty, assemble in the house; or, if there be not a court, or large apartment, for their reception, some matting is spread for them to sit upon in front of the house. One of them brings a sebḥah composed of a thousand beads, each about the size of a pigeon's egg. They commence the ceremony by reciting the “Soorat el‐Mulk” (mentioned above); then say three times, “God is one.” After this they recite the “Soorat el‐Falaḳ” (or last chapter but one of the Ḳur‐án), and the opening chapter (the “Fát’ḥah”); and then three times say, “O God, bless, with the most excellent blessing, the most happy of thy creatures, our lord Moḥammad, and his Family and Companions, and save them:” to which they add, “All who commemorate Thee are the mindful, and those who omit commemorating Thee are the negligent.” They next repeat, thrice one thousand times, “There is no deity but God;” one of them holding the sebḥah, and counting each repetition of these words by passing a bead through his fingers. After each thousand repetitions they sometimes rest, and take coffee. Having completed the last thousand, and rested, and refreshed themselves, they say, a hundred times, “[I extol] the perfection of God, with his praise:” then, the same number of times, “I beg forgiveness of God, the Great:” after which they say, fifty times, “[I extol] the perfection of the Lord, the Eternal —the perfection of God, the Eternal:” they then repeat these words of the Ḳur‐án—” [Extol] the perfection of thy Lord, the Lord of Might; exempting Him from that which they [namely, Christians and (p.486) others] ascribe to Him [that is, from the having a son, or partaker of his godhead]; and peace be on the Apostles; and praise be to God, the Lord of the beings of the whole world!”33 Two or three or more of them then recite, each, an “'asḥr,” or about two or three verses of the Ḳur‐án. This done, one of them asks his companions, “Have ye transferred [the merit of] what ye have recited to the soul of the deceased?” They reply, “We have transferred it;” and add, “And peace be on the Apostles,” &c., as above. This concludes the ceremony of the sebḥah, which, in the houses of the rich, is also repeated on the second and third nights. This ceremony is likewise performed in a family on their receiving intelligence of the death of a near relation.

The men make no alteration in their dress in token of mourning; nor do the women on the death of an elderly man; but they do for others. In the latter cases, they dye their shirts, head‐veils, face‐veils, and handkerchiefs, of a blue, or of an almost black, colour, with indigo; and some of them, with the same dye, stain their hands and their arms as high as the elbow, and smear the walls of the chambers. When the master of the house, or the owner of the furniture, is dead, and sometimes in other cases, they also turn upside‐down the carpets, mats, cushions, and coverings of the deewáns. In general, the women, while in mourning, leave their hair unbraided, cease to wear some of their ornaments, and, if they smoke, use common reed pipes.

Towards the close of the first Thursday after the funeral, and, often, early in the morning of this day, the women of the family of the deceased again commence a wailing, in their house, accompanied by some of their female friends; and in the afternoon or evening of this day, male friends of the deceased also visit the house, and three or four fiḳees are employed to perform a khatmch. —On the Friday‐morning the women repair to the tomb, where they observe the same customs which I have described in speaking of the ceremonies performed on the two grand “'eeds,” in the second of the chapters on periodical public festivals, &c.; generally taking a palm‐branch, to break up, and place on the tomb; and some cakes or bread, to distribute to the poor. These ceremonies are repeated on the same days of the next two weeks; and again, on the Thursday and Friday which complete, or next follow, the first period of forty days34 after the funeral: whence this Friday is called “el‐Arba'een,” or “Gum'at el‐Arba'een.”

It is customary among the peasants of Upper Egypt for the female relations and friends of a person deceased to meet together byhis house on each of the first (p.487) three days after the funeral, and there to perform a lamentation and a strange kind of dance. They daub their faces and bosoms, and part of their dress, with mud; and tie a rope girdle, generally made of the coarse grass called “ḥalfà,” round the waist.35 Each flourishes in her hand a palm‐stick, or a nebboot (a long staff), or a spear, or a drawn sword; and dances with a slow movement, and in an irregular manner; generally pacing about, and raising and depressing the body. This dance is continued for an hour or more, and is performed twice or three times in the course of the day. After the third day, the women visit the tomb, and place upon it their rope‐girdles; and usually a lamb, or a goat, is slain there, as an expiatory sacrifice, and a feast made, on this occasion.

Having now described the manners and customs of the Muslims of Egypt in the various stages and circumstances of life, from the period of infancy to the tomb, I close my account of them, as a writer of their own nation would in a similar case, with “thanks and praise to Him who dieth not.” (p.488)


(1) . Some Muslims turn the head of the corpse in the direction of Mekkeh: others, the right side, inclining the face in that direction: the latter, I believe, is the general custom.

(2) . “Yá seedee.”

(3) . “Yá gemelee.”

(4) . “Yá seb'ee.”

(5) . “Yá gemel el‐beyt.”

(6) . “Yá ‘ezee.”

(7) . “Yá ḥeeletee.”

(8) . “Yá “abooyà.”

(9) . “Yá daḥwetee” (for daạwetee”)

(10) . See 2 Chron. xxxv. 25; Jer. ix. 17; and St. Matt. ix. 23.

(11) . The Egyptians have a superstitious objection to keeping a corpse in the house during the night after the death, and to burying the dead after sunset; but the latter is sometimes done: I have witnessed one instance of it.

(12) . It is hardly necessary to state that the corpse of a female is always washed by a woman.

(13) . The leaves of the lote‐tree, dried and pulverized, are often used by the poor instead of soap.

(14) . The kefen is often sprinkled with water from the well of Zemzem, in the Temple of Mekkeh.

(15) . “’A‐l‐'ebád” is a vulgar contraction, for “'ala‐l‐'ebád.”—It will be observed (from the specimen here given, in the first two lines,) that this poem is not in the literary dialect of Arabic.

(16) . Literally, “the two easts,” or “the two places of sunrise:” the point where the sun rises in summer, and that where it rises in winter.

(17) . Or “the two places of sunset.”

(18) . In the funeral‐seenes represented on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs, we often see females with a similar bandage round the head.

(19) . This was a custom of the ancient Egyptians: it is described by Herodotus, lib. ii. cap. 85.—Passengers in the streets and roads, when a corpse is borne by to the tomb, often say,—“God is most great! God is most great! That is what God and his Apostle have promised: and God and his Apostle have spoken truth. O God, increase our faith and submission.”—The women, pointing with the finger at the bier, say,—“I testify that there is no deity but God.”

(20) . This is only borne in funerals of young persons.

(21) . I give the form of prayer used by the Sháfe'ees, as being the most common in Cairo. Those of the other sects are nearly similar to this.

(22) . A “tekbeer” has been explained in a former chapter, as being the exclamation of “Alláhu Akbar!” or “God is most great!”

(23) . This is the meaning commonly assigned to the epithet “Ummee;” for the Muslims assert that the illiterateness of Moḥammad was a proof that the Ḳur‐án was revealed to him: but the proper meaning of this epithet is probably “Gentile.”

(24) . Or, according to one of my sheykhs, “its business.”

(25) . It is believed that the body of the wicked is painfully oppressed by the earth against its sides in the grave; though this is always made hollow.

(26) . The burial‐grounds of Cairo are mostly outside the town, in the desert tracts on the north, east and south. Those within the town are few, and not extensive.

(27) . The Prophet forbade engraving the name of God, or any words of the Ḳur‐án, upon a tomb. He also directed that tombs should be low, and built only of crude bricks.

(28) . Like that seen in the distance in the cut inserted in the next page.

(29) . The Málikees disapprove of this custom, the “talḳeen” of the dead.

(30) . Termed “ṣagháïr.”

(31) . “Kebáïr.”

(32) . The opinions of the Muslims respecting the state of souls in the interval between death and the judgment are thus given by Sale (‘Preliminary Discourse,’ sect. iv.):—“They distinguish the souls of the faithful into three classes: the first, of prophets, whose souls are admitted into paradise immediately; the second, of martyrs, whose spirits, according to a tradition of Moḥammad, rest in the crops of green birds, which eat of the fruits and drink of the rivers of paradise; and the third, of other believers, concerning the state of whose souls before the resurrection there are various opinions. For, 1. Some say that they stay near the sepulchres, with liberty, however, of going wherever they please; which they confirm from Moḥammad's manner of saluting them at their graves, and his affirming that the dead heard those salutations as well as the living. Whence perhaps proceeded the custom of visiting the tombs of relations, so common among the Mohammadans. 2. Others imagine they are with Adam in the lowest heaven, and also support their opinion by the authority of their prophet, who gave out that in his return from the upper heavens in his pretended night‐journey, he saw there the souls of those who were destined to paradise on the right hand of Adam, and those who were condemned to hell on his left. 3. Others fancy the souls of believers remain in the well Zemzem, and those of infidels in a certain well in the province of Ḥaḍramót, called Barahoot [so in the Ḳámoos, but by Sale written Borh^ut]; but this opinion is branded as heretical. 4. Others say they stay near the graves for seven days; but that whither they go afterwards is uncertain. 5. Others, that they are all in the trumpet, whose sound is to raise the dead. And, 6. Others, that the souls of the good dwell in the forms of white birds, under the throne of God. As to the condition of the souls of the wicked, besides the opinions that have been already mentioned, the more orthodox hold that they are offered by the angels to heaven, from whence being repulsed as stinking and filthy, they are offered to the earth; and being also refused a place there, are carried down to the seventh earth, and thrown into a dungeon, which they call Sijjeen, under a green rock, or, according to a tradition of Moḥammad, under the devil's jaw, to be there tormented till they are called up to be joined again to their bodies.” I believe that the opinion respecting the Well of Barahoot commonly prevails in the present day.

(33) . Chapter xxxvii., last three verses.

(34) . See Genesis, l. 3.

(35) . As the ancient Egyptian women did in the same case.—See a passage in Herodotus, before referred to, lib. ii. cap. 85.