Death and the Shabah

by

J. Edward Tremlett



"When the heavens are stripped away
the stars are strewn
the seas boil over
the tombs burst open
then shall each soul know
what it has given and what it has held back"

Noble Qu'ran 82:1-5

 

This article is meant to look at death in the Holy Lands, as seen from the Muslim perspective, and how it affects those Wraiths - called Shabah - who inhabit those Shadowlands. It speaks of Muslim burial practices and prohibitions, the time between death and Judgment Day (Al-Barzakh), and what being bereft of the promised Paradise, or the threatened Hellfire, might lead a ghost to do. It also look at what Muslim burial and funeral rites mean for the walking dead, as well as certain Backgrounds.

Note that, throughout the text, there is mention of "many" Muslims doing certain things, or not doing them, in accordance with Islam. This is by no means indicative of those things being universally encouraged, accepted or prohibited. Islam is a vast mosaic of faith: what a Shi'a Muslim from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does at the gravesite might not be acceptable to a Sunni Muslim from Sudan, and vice versa. There are always exceptions, variations and differing interpretations, and Storytellers are encouraged to do their own, further research into the matter.

Also note that, in regards to what was written in Vampire: the Dark Ages' Veil of Night, we've chosen to go with Shabah (ghost) rather than Ruh (spirit), as Ruh seems closer to "holy spirit" than the sort of spirit a Wraith tends to be. However, there is more than enough room for overlap: faithful Shabah might prefer to think of themselves as Ruh, and refer to themselves as such.


Funeral Rites:

When a Muslim dies, he should be interred as soon as possible. It is considered better for the relatives to prepare the body, and those of the same gender as the body are more entitled to perform the task. Spouses can prepare one another's body.

The eyes of the deceased are closed, and his jaw tied shut. The body is washed at least three times, right to left, as though for prayer, and the hair is washed with soap and water. After that, the body is wrapped in a varying number of shrouds, depending on age and gender.

The Imam performing the graveside service should be standing facing Mecca. The position of the dead prior to internment depends on how gender: a male body's head should be in line with the Imam, while the Imam should be standing at the middle of a woman's body. Those who are attending the funeral should stand behind the Imam, or to his right if there's no room.

After the funeral prayer is performed, the deceased is placed in the grave with his body facing towards Mecca. Muslim graves tend to be simple and mostly-unadorned, with a mound of earth over the grave serving as a marker. Having a decorated headstone, or other permanent ornamentation, seems too much like an idol for many.

Risen Shabah and the Walking Dead

In some ways, those Shabah who would Rise have an easier time of it. They have no coffin to block their return to the world, and can claw out of their burial shroud and through the earth with lesser difficulty. On the other hand, the lack of said coffin - and no embalming - means they'll have to come back quickly, or else not at all: a body tends to completely rot within five to nine weeks, leaving only bones behind.

This also means that those spirits who have been unwillingly thrust back into dead bodies since the start of the 6th Great Maelstrom have had to be be placed into fairly fresh corpses - something that's not always abundant. So whereas entire graveyards could be emptied out in the West when a squall of souls passed through, not as many souls will find homes in Muslim lands.

This has led to incidents of walking dead being fairly rare in the Middle East and Northern Africa. On the other hand, any place where there is frequent and bloody conflict - such as Sudan - present ripe opportunities for the dead to walk once more...


The Prohibitions of the Grave:

Visiting a grave is considered among the best of deeds, but the Prophet (PBUH) warned against making excessive trips. Many Muslims will visit the graveyard a year after the funeral, but avoid going more often.

It is prohibited to pray to Allah from a grave after a funeral: this is seen as placing the deceased on the same level as God. It is also prohibited to send blessings, graces, honor and cries for mercy (Salat) from the graveside after the funeral. These should be done elsewhere, as the Salat will be conveyed to the deceased no matter where it may be given.

The Prophet (PBUH) warned against making pilgrimages to the graves of Awlia (righteous persons: "Friends of God"), as Christians and Jews were cursed for turning the graves of their Prophets into places of worship. In spite of that, it's not uncommon for such pilgrimages to happen: more conservative Muslims frown upon such practices, though.

Some Muslims believe that a grave should never form the foundation of a mosque, or be anywhere near one. Others incorporate tombs within a mosque, or place their graveyards next to one. For example, a mosque in Medina was rebuilt to incorporate the tomb of the Prophet (PBUH).

The Shroud, True Faith and the Grave

Muslim graveyards tend to have a Shroud rating between 5 and 4, depending on their age, upkeep and frequency of use. You can assume that the older, less-maintained and "spooky" a Muslim graveyard is, the lower its Shroud rating. Particularly holy graveyards, such as one next to an important mosque, or ones that contain the graves of Awila, could be as low as 3 or 2, regardless of how frequently the living stop by.

There's another side to the coin, though, as several important graveyards throughout these lands are also holy ground. The tombs of Awila tend to have ambient faith ratings between 3 and 5, and could go even higher than that. According to Veil of Night (V:dA), the tomb of the Prophet (PBUH) has a rating of 8.


Al-Barzakh:

Whereas the matter of what happens after death and in the grave might be a fairly open-ended concept for non-Muslims, the Muslim knows with some certainty what's to happen. They call this Al-Barzakh: the time after death, and before the resurrection.

The Al-Barzakh for the faithful Muslim and the kafir (non-believer) are near-mirror images of one another. The Angel of Death sits at the head of the dying person, and brings news of Allah's forgiveness for the believer, and wrath for the kafir.

Once death occurs, the soul is removed from the body. For the believer, this is easy, and brings with it the scent of fine musk. The unbeliever, however, is torn painfully from the body, and is accompanied by the stench of rotting meat. The believer has the gates of Heaven opened for him, has the book of his life placed in the high places, and is then returned to his body. The unbeliever does not have the gates of Heaven opened to him, and once the book of his life is placed in the low places, he is tossed roughly back into the grave.

Afterwards, the mental faculties of the deceased are returned. He can feel the presence of the righteous people around his grave for as long as it takes them to sacrifice a camel and distribute its meat. He can also feel the pressing-in of the grave as it is filled in around him, and the footsteps of the mourners as they leave the side of his grave.

Then two sternfaced, black and blue colored angels - Munkar and Nakir - come to the grave to question the deceased. The believer is unafraid and answers truthfully, while the kafir is frightened and professes ignorance.

The believer is rewarded for his faith. A handsome man smelling of perfume comes to tell him of his good deeds, and he is shown both the hellfire from which Allah has delivered him, and his place in Paradise. He will wish to go there at once, but the man with his good deeds will ask him to wait. His grave is widened about him as far as the eye can see, and filled with greenery and bright light. And he spends his time until Judgment Day sleeping, seeing his place in Paradise and basking in Allah's blessings.

The kafir, however, is truly condemned. An ugly, scruffy man comes along to tell him of his bad deeds. Not only can he see the place in Hell that awaits him, but a small crack is opened so that he can see the Paradise denied to him. The grave is constricted about him so that his ribs crack.

And then, after being smashed to dust with an iron chain, he spends his time until Judgment Day being tortured in accordance with his sins. Those who neglected prayer have their heads endlessly smashed in with a rock, adulterers are eternally roasted as though in an oven, and so on. His injuries heal up so he can be tortured again and again, and no matter how loud he screams the living cannot hear him. (Animals, on the other hand, can)

According to the haddiths, the Prophet (PBUH) said that certain things would give protection from the punishment of the grave. Anyone who died as a martyr for Islam, or protected its borders in life, would be granted that privilege. It would also be given to anyone who recited the Surah Tabarakah, died from a stomach disease or died on a Friday - which is the holy day of Islam.

It is also worth noting that the Prophets' bodies are not consumed by the grave. In fact, they are still alive in them, and praying.

In the Absence of Al-Barzakh...

Needless to say, the preceding account of the afterlife is nothing like what happens to the Shabah. However, that doesn't mean that it is never experienced.

During the strange Deathdream that Wraiths have in the Caul, prior to being removed from it, they may dream of undergoing Al-Barzakh. Often times they have it interrupted at a key moment: the gates of Heaven being slammed or opened before them; the pressing-in of the grave; the questioning of the Angels; perhaps even the approach of the good or bad deeds. Perhaps the most cruel cutoff point of all is when a believer makes it to where the man representing his good deeds entreats him to wait for Judgment Day to enter Paradise... and then the spirit wakes up in the Caul.

It is also common to have bits and pieces of Al-Barzakh show up during a Harrowing: inventive Shadows can have a field day with this. The Shabah might open his eyes to see the Angel of Death sitting above him, right at the scene of his death, which leads the Ruh to wonder if all he had been through was just some strange illusion. Then Al-Barzakh happens, as foretold in the scriptures, but things go awry: the wraith cannot answer the angels, is forced to make tough choices as a part of the Harrowing's tests, or else is condemned to the fate of the kafir in spite of his righteously-spent life.

What does he do? What can he do...?


Benefits in the Grave:

While in the state of Al-Barzakh, the dead can be benefited by the actions of the living, or things he did during his lifetime. He receives benefit from people praying for him at any time, though especially the prayers immediately following the funeral, and the prayers of a pious son. Prayers en masse are also beneficial: it is said that if a hundred Muslims pray for intercession on behalf of the deceased, Allah will forgive him his sins.

Those who set up charities which continue after death, or laid down knowledge that was beneficial to others, are given benefit by what they left behind. Those who guarded the borders of Islam in their lives are likewise benefited. It's also possible to reap the benefits for post-mortem charity that is given on behalf of the deceased by his son.

Memoriam and Legacy for Ruh

In mechanical terms, the high incidence of prayer and remembrance of the dead tends to be reflected in the Memoriam and Legacy backgrounds.

Most Muslim Shabah tend to have a Memoriam between 2 and 3. Those amongst them who lived to a venerable age might have up to 4. At certain times, such as during a funeral, or on the anniversary of death, Storytellers can lower the difficulty of the Memoriam roll. In this way, the wraith can better make use of the intense emotional outpouring on his behalf.

Those who established charities or became known for their cultural, literary, theological or scientific endeavors often have Legacies from 2 to 4. Charities tend to run out after time, but, thanks to the nature of Arab scholarship, those who make discoveries are likely to be remembered - and quoted - forever.

If a wraith's child decides to donate to charity in the deceased's name, this could be cause for a one-time Legacy roll from 1 to 5, depending on how much money the child donated. It's not unknown for some Shabah to suggest as much to their children in dreams. (Though Storytellers might want to keep a tight rein on this sort of thing, for obvious reasons)


Death and Factions:

Those Muslims who have become Shabah are not anywhere they expected to be. The Underworld is neither Paradise nor Hell, and it's uncomfortably close to certain descriptions of the kafir's grave.

The Shabah come to their senses in a dark, shadowy world where foreign invaders - who insist that this afterlife is all that there is - have reigned for ages. They allow Muslims to continue in their ways, but make it clear that when given a choice between following Allah and obeying Stygia's laws they expect them to do the latter. Those who will not are soon on the soulforges, there to be beaten into iron goods as an example to others.

And not all dangers in this world stem from the cruel laws of the invaders. Mad and angry ghosts lurk in dark corners, or explode from holes in the sand to devour passersby. The deserts are filled with deadly sandstorms with a mind all their own, and odd, unsettling djinn make their home in the strange Tempest below the sands. And there is ever the threat of invasion from the Lands of Ivory to the West, and the lands of Jade and Swar to the East.

And yet the Shabah endure, though they seem to have been given the worst sort of torture imaginable.

 

The Faithful

Many Muslims believe that this afterlife is a sort of test: perhaps their souls were unfit for Paradise, yet not consigned to Hell, and this strange unlife as a ghost is a last chance from a merciful God to set things right? That hope keeps many of them sane, and accounts for the large numbers of spirits who remain true to Islam. After all, if the Prophet (PBUH) was sent to minister both to mankind and to the djinn, then can there be no hope for ghosts?

For most of recent history, the invaders had tried to suppress the public exhibition of worship amongst their subjects. The faithful had to either resort to Taquiyya - claiming not to be Moslems, and worshiping in secret - or else join with the rebels who opposed the invaders through strength of arms. Still others became what the Stygians called "Heretics," and sought a voyage to the Far Shores, or Transcendence in the Shadowlands, as the means to regain Paradise.

Even though the Renegades made no sizable gains against the Hierarchy, the constant irritation they caused led to some concessions. Within the last century, the Muslim Ruh have regained the right to pray in public once more, and are currently trying to get special dispensation to undertake the Hajj - the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. This is slow going, but with the integration of faithful Ruh into the ranks of the Hierarchy, it is not inconceivable.

The largest debate amongst the faithful - other than what part of Allah's plan the Shadowlands must play - is the question of what to do with the living. Stygia has its Dictum Mortuum, and the penalties for breaking it are severe. Many amongst the faithful believe that it is wrong for the dead to influence or interfere with the living. Many others believe that it is sometimes necessary, but should be done in moderation, and never for selfish gain.

 

The Faithless

Other Shabah - frightened or angered by what they've become - decide that they had been fooled in life, and turn their backs on Islam. It is not an easy thing for any to do, and is seen as a mark of shame. But far too many are far too proud, these days, and some are even becoming bold enough to announce their having turned their backs on Allah in public.

Many of these persons made ready recruits into the Hierarchy, some eagerly persecuting those who still held onto their "superstitions," and others merely trying to get them to see the "error" of their ways. Others desired nothing but to follow their own rules, after a life of living under someone else's, and went Renegade - either joining groups dedicated to ousting the invaders, or ones who simply wished to be left alone.

Most of the Faithless see no problems in interfering with the lands of the living. They have gifts - why not use them? The question for them is what sort of new life they can carve out for themselves, here. For some, the answers are quite dark, indeed...

 

The Transformed

Still others believe they have become djinn, abandoning all pretense to humanity. Some yet retain their faith in Islam, while others abandon that as well, setting themselves up as gods amongst men.

 

The Damned

And then there are those who believe this to be Hell, and that they have been damned. Of these poor, lost souls, perhaps less said is better.

For now...


Sources

Al-Awayishah, Husayn, The Grave, Punishment and Blessings, International Islamic Publishing House, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: 1998

Al-Shoumar, Abdul-Aziz Saleh, Basic Lessons for Every Muslim, International Islamic Publishing House, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: 1998

Nanji, Azim A, ed, The Muslim Almanac, Gale Research Inc., New York, NY.:1996

Wilkinson, Phillip, Illustrated Dictionary of Religions, Doring Kindersley Limited, Great Britain:1999



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