The Muslim Filipino version of ‘Undas’


    AS millions of Filipinos troop to cemeteries nationwide today to mark All Saints’ Day and visit the graveyards of their departed loved ones, unknown to many their Muslim brothers have their own version of the observance.

    But unlike most Catholic Filipinos the Muslims do it not on November 1 but on a different and variable date.

    Some Muslims celebrate Undas on the 27th day of the month of Ramadan, according to Aleem Said Ahmad Basher who is a graduate of Islamic theology from Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt.

    However, visiting the graveyard of departed relatives can be done any day of the year and Islam does not prohibit it, Basher pointed out.

    While many of the different Muslim Filipino tribes may have similar customs and traditions, the Tausugs of Sulu better known as “people of the current” are distinguished from other tribes by their festivals and ceremonies for the dead.

    Tausug scholar Juanito Alli Bruno wrote in his book, “The Social World of the Tausugs,” that since the Tausugs are basically Muslims, they observe the Sunna or practices which he describes as “the rigid conduct of Islam.”

    He said that there are four requirements to be performed on the dead: the Sutchihun, bathing and cleansing the corpse; Saputun, wrapping the body in a shroud; Sambahayangun, performing the kifayah or prayer for the dead; and the Hikubul, to burying the dead.

    “It is worth mentioning that usually religious persons conduct the bathing of the corpse in silence. The water used is fresh and perfumed with betel nut flowers, kamanyan or incense, and sandalwood or the corpse is wiped and then perfumed and placed in a shroud or sandanah,” Bruno said.

    The shroud is made of three pieces of white cloth in accordance with the length of the corpse’s body which is wrapped in a lying position with hands placed on its chest, the right over the left.

    There is also wooden coffin without a lid. The coffin is used merely to bring the remains to the graveyard but it is not necessarily buried with the dead.

    The Tausug grave is dug following a north-to-south direction and measures six to nine feet. At this depth, a chamber of about two-feet wide, which the Tausug calls the paliyangan, is dug on its west side. It is closed with slabs of board about two-inch thick, one foot wide and three-four feet long. Grave markers for males are round and for females it is flat.

    A religious man particularly an Imam (Muslim priest) descends to the grave and receives the corpse or mayat wrapped in a white cloth or shroud known as saput, then the Imam performs the tulkin or prayer for the dead.

    Some Tausugs hold the belief that such practice drives evil spirits away and cleanses the dead’s final resting place. The Imam opens the corpse’s shroud and lets it face West or in the direction of Kaaba in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. Then he lets the face of the corpse touch the soil. Basher explained that this signifies that “man was created by dust and would return unto dust.”

    Then the paliyangan or liyang-lahad is finally sealed with wooden slabs or digpih which the Tausug refer to as the ding-ding hali, literally translated as “wall of rest.”

    Finally, the funeral ends with an Imam assigned by the members of the family to take care of the entire funeral proceedings leading in the final prayers.

    Then a manungguh kubur or watchman is assigned to watch over the grave for seven days.

    The family then starts the seven-day mourning for their dead, and offers prayers day and night with some women tasked to read the verses of the Qur’an day and night known as tungguh kulangan.

    While Muslims bury their dead within 24 hours of his death, some sort of a vigil in the same place in the house where the corpse was lying in state prior to the funeral will be held for the repose of the soul of the just departed.

    Hence, burial is followed by a seven-day vigil. Then depending on a family’s economic status, commemorative feasts may be held on the 7th, 20th, 40th, and 100th day, and on the first, second, and third anniversaries of the death.

    Finally on the panghawan kubur or visitation of the grave, family members of the Tausug just like anybody else go to clean and paint the graves of their loved ones. Instead of flowers, they put the bagaybay or flower of the betel nut on top of the grave where the Imam performs the taytih or pouring of the water on the grave while he reads the verses of the Holy Qur’an.


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