Religious Customs

Canada, with its rich ethic background, has many different religions and beliefs. Each religion has its own set of practices and traditions. While some impose few restrictions, others have many strict rules that must be followed. The same is true of their funeral and burial customs.

In addition to the traditional Christian religious groups such as the Protestants and Roman Catholics, funeral directors must also be familiar with the practices and customs of many other religious faiths. Some of the more well known include Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Baha’i and Sikh.


Jewish funerals are plain, simple and short. They usually take place within 24 hours after death and sometimes the same day. There is no embalming or viewing. For very religious Jews, the remains are wrapped in a special burial shroud and placed in a simple wooden casket, manufactured using wooden dowels and other non-metal parts. Reform, secular and conservative Jews use many different varieties of caskets, ranging from the simple, to the very ornate and expensive.

Relatives and friends may pay their respects by attending a funeral service at the Synagogue or funeral home chapel or participating in a graveside burial service at the cemetery. Cremation is not permitted in traditional Judaism but it is tolerated by reform Jews.

The funeral service may be conducted by a rabbi and cantor or by family and friends. Its focus centres around the deceased with the main component consisting of a eulogy about his or her life and good deeds. The service begins and ends with readings from Psalms and may vary in length depending on the number of persons who pay tribute. It is a Jewish tradition men will walk the casket to graveside for another short service, after which it is lowered to the bottom of the grave. In a less religious service, women can also hold the casket. It is then customary and considered a mitzvah (or good deed) for those in attendance to place shovels of earth over the casket until the grave is filled in prior to everyone leaving. These days however, everyone is permitted to leave when the casket is completely covered

It is not a Jewish tradition to send flowers. Instead, a donation to the family’s designated charity is considered to be a sign of honour and respect for the memory of the deceased. After the burial service, relatives and friends are invited to the family home for a meal initiating the week of Shivah. This is a time when the family can withdraw from its responsibilities within the community to grieve.


The Baha’i faith, an independent world religion, is the second most widely spread after Christianity. Bah’i view life on earth as a preparation for life in the next world.

While there are relatively few regulations regarding the funeral service, there are important Baha’i laws concerning the treatment and interment of the remains. First, embalming is prohibited unless required by law. Secondly, interment must take place within one hour’s travel time from the city or town where death occurs. Thirdly, the Baha’i must not be cremated. The Baha’i member is free to donate his or her body or organs for medical research as long as it is treated with respect and the burial laws are strictly adhered to.

The remains of Baha’is from Iran and other Middle East countries must be washed carefully and wrapped in a shroud of white silk or cotton. A Baha’i burial ring is to be placed on the finger and the remains placed in a casket made of fine hardwood. The remains must be buried with the feet pointed toward the Holy Land. Baha’is from other parts of the world may choose to follow these requirements but are under no obligation to do so.

Baha’i funeral services are simple and dignified. Their main focus is on commemorating the spiritual contributions the deceased has rendered. They consist primarily of prayers and other appropriate readings from the Baha’i Sacred Scriptures. There may be music, eulogy, whatever the family desires. The only requirement is that a “Prayer for the Dead” be given.

As there are no clergy in the Baha’i faith, the service is conducted by family or members of the local Baha’i community. It may take place either in a Baha’i chapel or at graveside. If held in the chapel the casket may be opened or closed. It is considered appropriate to send flowers and make memorial donations.

Baha’is often choose to have additional memorial services planned by relatives of the deceased or the Baha’i communities. Such gatherings usually consist of prayers and readings from the Sacred Scriptures.

Many local Baha’i communities in various parts of the world own cemeteries or sections of larger cemeteries. In Canada, the Baha’i use cemetery facilities, which are not restricted by race, religion or nationality. The Baha’i place headstones or markers on the grave. Appropriate symbols for the grave marker include the nine-pointed star, the word Baha’i, or a nine-pointed star or rosette with the word Baha’i in the center. Wording on the gravestone is left to the discretion of the deceased’s relatives. For example, any appropriate quote from Baha’i writings may be used.


Most Buddhist funerals take place in a funeral home rather than a temple. Visitation and viewing of the remains is held the evening before the funeral. The family will sit in the reposing room with the casket as visitors greet them, offer their condolences and go to the casket and bow. The visitors may stay and sit with the family for a while or leave. The family wears white which is the colour of grieving, while friends often wear black. Ritual chanting may begin at the deceased’s death and continue throughout the services.

Inside the funeral home a table is set up with candles and incense, which burn until the remains are conveyed to the cemetery or crematorium. Food and incense are left on the table as the offering to the deceased and the gods.

The funeral service is traditionally conducted by a monk or nun. Visitors are not expected to participate in prayers and chants. At the conclusion of the service, visitors come forward in groups and bow before the casket as a way of showing their final respect.

Either at the funeral home or cemetery, guests may be given an envelope containing a coin, for good luck, and a candy to help to take away the bitter taste of death. It is usually preferred that the casket not be lowered in front of family members. After the graveside service, family and close friends usually share a meal.


Hindus, peoples of India, prefer to hold funeral rites before the sun goes down on the day of death. Traditionally, the first son presides at the service with a Hindu priest. The service is held at the funeral home.

Although not part of the Hindu tradition, it is appropriate to send flowers or donations. While mourners wear white, visitors are asked to wear subdued colours.

At the funeral service, the family may put flowers on the deceased, who is placed in a simple wooden casket. Emotions will vary depending on the circumstances of the death. If the person is old he or she is regarded as being blessed, having led a full life, and the soul is ready to return to God. As a result, there is little outward grieving at the funeral. As part of the ritual blessing, a thread may be tied around the neck or wrist of the deceased. It should not be removed by family of friends.

Religions, such as Hinduism, that believe in reincarnation of the soul cremate their members. While all Hindu adults are cremated, deceased children are usually buried. Another short service is also held at the crematorium. In some cases, at the end of this service the eldest son or some accommodated by the cremation operator.

After the service the family is expected to enter a period of formal grieving which lasts a minimum of seven days or longer depending on their social status. During this period the family will sit home and talk. No food is prepared in the house, but people come to the house to talk with the family and feed them. At the end of this period the family sponsors a feast for close friends and relatives.

The cremated remains of the deceased are usually scattered in Ganges River. If death occurs elsewhere the cremated remains are returned to India for scattering. Other methods of final disposition may also be chosen.


Islam is the Muslim religion in which the supreme god is Allah, and the founder and chief prophet is Mohammed. Muslims try to bury their loved ones as soon as possible after the death has occurred, usually within 24 to 48 hours. World religions like Islam that believe in the resurrection of the body bury their members. Therefore, cremation is strictly prohibited.

When a Muslim dies, regardless of the location of death, the body has to be washed according to their religious rites. This purification ritual must take place immediately. If death occurs in a Muslim’s homeland the cleansing ceremony is often done by family. Elsewhere, if available, the ritual is performed in the preparation room. As it is private, no one from the funeral home will be present. The body of the deceased is washed, wrapped in a shroud and placed in a simple wooden casket.

The funeral service may take place at either a mosque or funeral home. It is a simple ceremony and because of the Islamic belief that one comes into the world with nothing and should go out of the world with nothing, it is completely free of gifts of any kind.

If the service is held at the Mosque, men and women will sit in separate areas. It is appropriate for visitors to also do the same. However, visitors are not expected to participate in prayers. As for the appropriate attire, men and women should cover all parts of their body. Colour restrictions may also apply.

A graveside committal service is also held, but women are not obligated to attend. They do, however, attend the graveside every week until a forty-day mourning period is complete. An Islamic priest, or Imam, conducts the service at the cemetery to ensure that the deceased is properly placed under the complete directives of Allah.

After the burial there is no formal reception, but it is appropriate to offer condolences to the family, though it need not be immediately afterwards. This time varies with the wishes of the family. It is not appropriate to send flowers; however, memorial donations are acceptable.


A Sikh is a member of a Hindu religious sect that rejects any exclusive social or occupational class system. Sikh funerals usually take place within 48 hours of death and are usually held at a funeral home, not a temple. While men and women sit apart at a temple, this is not the case at the funeral home. A head covering is required for both sexes. A scarf is adequate for men and women.

At the funeral service, passages from the Sikh Holy Book are read and prayers are offered. Relatives and close friends are expected to recite scriptural hymns. After the service the remains are taken to the crematorium where a similar service is held.

Following the service at the crematorium, everyone gathers at the temple where more religious services are performed.

Because of a Sikh’s beliefs that is must be the will of God when someone dies and to cry is to dispute with God, they are forbidden to cry.

Friends and relatives may show support or express their sympathies by sending flowers or a donation.