in Bahá'í Communities
published in Encyclopaedia Iranica
, Volume 4
New York: Columbia University, 1990
Principles of Bahai burial
. Bahai laws on burial are limited to a few basic principles that are binding on all Bahai communities around the world. Details are left to the discretion of individuals, but in general simplicity is encouraged, and care is taken to avoid rigid procedures and rituals. In the Bahai faith it is maintained that the human spirit ends its connection with the body as soon as it departs, but, as the body has formerly been the temple of the spirit, it must be treated with dignity and respect. It is believed too that, as the composition of the body is a gradual process, its decomposition should also be gradual, consistent with the laws of nature. For this reason, a corpse is not to be embalmed or cremated but must be buried. Although there is no specified interval after death within which burial must occur, early burial is considered most appropriate if circumstances do not dictate a delay. The common practice of Bahais in Iran is to bury the deceased within twenty-four hours after the time of death. The deceased must also be buried within an hour’s journey from the place of death. This limit is applied, regardless of the conveyance (including air transport) used. The place of death is defined as the city or town in which one dies; an hour’s journey is calculated from the city limits to the place of burial. Donation of a body for research is permitted if it is not subsequently cremated or buried in a location more than one hour distant. Furthermore, should circumstances call for the remains to be exhumed, Bahai law offers no obstacle, provided that the same basic requirements are observed in the reburial. The spirit of the law is that one is to be buried near where one passes away.
Preparation of the dead for burial. The corpse must first be carefully washed. Although who should wash the body and what should be used in the water are not specified in Bahai law, the practice in Iran has been for a close relative, a friend, or the staff of the Bahai cemetery to wash the body with soap and water and then to anoint it with perfume (ʿaṭr), rose water, or similar essences. Washing may take place in the residence of the deceased, in a hospital, or at the cemetery. If the deceased was an adult, a burial ring is then placed on one of the fingers; it is inscribed, “I came forth from God, and return unto Him, detached from all save Him, holding fast to His Name, the Merciful, the Compassionate.” The body is wrapped in a shroud of white cotton or silk. The length and manner or wrapping are not specified; the shroud can be either a single piece of cloth or, if the family can afford it, as many as five pieces. The body is then placed in a coffin, which must be made of crystal, stone, or the hardest wood available.
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