Eternal rest in Istanbul?

Cemetery in Istanbul, Turkey

I’ve heard tell that Muslims are buried standing up. And the Muslim cemeteries I have been to would suggest the same. I did some digging while in Istanbul and although there’s a wealth of information available on various websites and blogs, it is often contradictory.

Cemetery in Istanbul, Turkey

From what I can gather, as soon as you die,  your eyes are closed, your jaw is bound, and you’re covered with a sheet. It’s a quick burial – before the next sunset or within 24 hours (and I thought the Irish were quick about it). The body should face Mecca – or the head at least – and some say that a copy of the Koran should be put under your head (not sure how this would happen though, if you’re standing up).

Hidaad (mourning) for a family member lasts for just three days. No wanton display of emotion is permitted as it might disturb the dead. Irish banshees and caoiners (professional wailers) would be out of business. Women who have been widowed though have an extended period of mourning – Iddah (or Edda) – which lasts 4 months and 10 days. During this time, the woman can’t wear perfume or jewellery, can’t remarry, and has to sleep at home each night, only leaving the house to go to work or run errands.

Cemetery in Istanbul, Turkey

Irish Catholic funerals are more for the living than for the dead. I’ve been to funerals of people I’ve never met, but I knew their sons, daughters, sisters, whatever. At a Muslim funeral, men face Mecca in the front row, then children line up in the second, and then the women. I’ve said before that if there’s a feminist streak in me, it wouldn’t cut butter on a hot day, but still, this is something I think I would have difficulty with. The entire service takes place standing and a significant part of it is silent.

Cemetery in Istanbul, Turkey

There are lots of variations on the above, depending on what you read and where. What’s interesting for me though, is the standing part. I know my soul will leave my body when I die and that my body couldn’t care less what position it’s in, but enough Irish folklore has seeped into my blood for me to still baulk at the idea of standing upright for eternity.

Cemetery in Istanbul, Turkey

For the most part, graves are above the ground and there’s a marked absence of flowers and candles. I wonder what Muslims in Hawaii do, given the locals’ penchant for decoration? In the province of Istanbul, there are 333 cemeteries, apparently, of which 268 are Muslim. The one I happened across was rather small and as I couldn’t make head nor tail of the dates, I have no idea of its age. Even with the complete lack of adornments (and perhaps because of same), it was rather beautiful.

I have no idea of the name either. The sign on the wall outside said ‘Türk Ocağı İstanbul Şubesi’, which according to Google Translate means ‘Turkey, Istanbul Branch in January‘. But I’m sure it was a cemetery…

Cemetery in Istanbul, Turkey




  • Did you get to see any of the Muslim grave yards that seem to be just full of mini pillars, with what looked like a turban carved into the top, all packed together.It was at that point that I think I learnt about the being buried standing up thing could well be true!

    • Just this one – but think the one in Sarajevo had what you’re talking about…

  • Bernard Adams

    There are 2 words ‘ocak’ in Turkish – one, a ‘New Turkish’ word, does indeed mean January, but the other means a hearth. Türk Ocağı ‘Turkish Hearth’ is the Turkish Nationalist Club, so maybe that tells one whose cemetery that is.

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