Izeh to Isfahan, Iran
Ibn Battuta had been in Izeh when the Atabeg’s son had died. He was perfectly scandalized by the funerary customs of the Lur people;
“.....slaves, sons of princes, viziers and soldiers - all wearing sacks of coarse cloth and horses’ saddle-cloths; they had put dust and straw on their heads and some of them had cut off their forelocks. They were divided into two groups, one group at the top end of the hall and another at its lower end, and each group would advance towards the other, all beating their breasts with their hands and crying khundikarima, which means ‘our master’. The spectacle that I witnessed was an appalling thing and a disgraceful sight, the like of which I have never encountered.”
Funeral customs in Iran differ from region to region. Since the Iran/Iraq war when burials per day ran into the tens of thousands, a foundation run by the government has an extremely efficient, computerized system at Tehran cemetery. The plots are pre-dug, lined with cement, then lightly covered over. When someone dies the body is taken to the cemetery to be washed and prepared for burial. (In Tehran nowadays, most people die in hospital.) As soon as the plot has been paid for by the family or friends of the deceased, it will be assigned by computer. Tehran cemetery is so huge that the section where the plot is located is indicated on a screen by a flashing light. After the body has been interred, the space is cemented over then, not to put too fine a point on it, the plot is lightly covered over again to await the next occupant, unless there are now three in which case the plot is full. In Tehran cemetery as many as three bodies lie in one vertically divided grave - they are usually members of the same family but not necessarily.
Interment takes place as quickly as possible after death, preferably within 24 hours, but in Tehran it is not mandatory. Prayers are said over the body at the graveside - again in Tehran at least, the body does not go to the mosque for any kind of ceremony, although a memorial service called khatm, may be held there three, or seven and/or forty days later. Also uniquely in Tehran women may form part of the graveside mourners whereas in most Muslim countries women are not allowed to participate in the funeral rites and normally visit the grave on the following day. Islamic belief holds that angels visit the deceased on the evening of death and ask the questions which determine if the person goes to heaven or hell. In Iran, at the graveside, a man related to the deceased will climb into the grave and lightly holding the shoulders of the body will pose the same questions, gently shaking the body as he does. (Bodies are merely covered with a white shroud at burial in Islam - there are no coffins.) This is like a ‘rehearsal’ of the real event, symbolizing the importance of the deceased giving the ‘correct’ answers. I was not able to determine if this is ‘Twelver’ or Iranian or Shia custom in general, but whatever it is I cannot begin to imagine what Ibn Battuta would have made of it, I fear he would have been apoplectic.......