In Britain, I am one of a handful of female founders and directors – and perhaps the only Muslim one – of private funeral companies catering to people of all faiths. I am surrounded by death and those in mourning. And I am often taken aback by the negativity, fear and apprehension my clients face upon the death of a loved one. My role involves challenging the common notions of beauty so intrinsically linked with the living and doing my utmost to reconfigure its basis, so that it can erode the negative emotions and experiences which too often envelop the reality of death.
At its core, my job is relatively simple: to fulfil the wishes of the deceased and their bereaved loved ones, whilst striving to ensure that the experience of each funeral rite is one that instils peace in all. Whether that be a Buddhist ceremony, a Muslim burial, or a cremation, I am entrusted with the honour of creating safe passage for the deceased to their final destination, in accordance with their beliefs. Whilst that in itself is a beautiful responsibility, the grief and sometimes outright terror I encounter often compel me to ask: how can we make the subject of death, and the experience of dealing with it, a beautiful one? What foundations must we lay for ourselves and our loved ones to safeguard a beautiful, peaceful death? And how, whilst engulfed by the immensity of pain at the passing of a loved one, can we truly embrace beauty?
The term ‘beautiful’ is most commonly associated with physical aesthetics – with forms, lines, colours, shapes and movements which are deemed pleasing to the eye. These are, in turn, most commonly associated with life – something living and present which we can reach out and touch. Rarely is the word ‘beautiful’ associated with death. But for Muslims, taught to strive for beauty in all things, why does the experience of death – for the departed, for ourselves, and for our loved ones – often seem to be anything but beautiful? Why, when we each know the end of our lives is an imminent truth, do we continue to suppress the topic as if it were a harmful afterthought not to be named or discussed?