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What is an interfaith funeral?

multi-faith funeral ceremony

Picture: Rosie Fraser on Unsplash

When the world said goodbye to boxing legend Muhammad Ali in June 2016, it was his wish to incorporate elements of different religions and belief systems into his funeral service.

Ali carefully planned every detail of the interfaith service, which followed a traditional funeral of his Islamic faith. Held in his hometown, Louisville, Kentucky, it included ministers from several different religions, reflecting his respect for all beliefs and cultures. Funerals such as these, known as multi-faith funerals, incorporate elements of different religions and belief systems to pay tribute to someone’s life.

Roughly one-in-five Americans come from multi-faith backgrounds, with several different faiths and belief systems in their lives. This means that when it comes to paying tribute to them, a single faith ceremony might not be representative of their religious background.

Why choose a multi-faith funeral?

When arranging a funeral, the beliefs of the person who has died are usually the main factor in deciding whether or not to have a religious service. If they were devout followers of a specific religion or branch of a religion, they would probably wish to be buried or cremated in accordance with those traditions.

However, if that person was from a culturally diverse background, they may have grown up with two or more religions shaping their beliefs. For example, if your loved one had a Christian mother and Hindu father, it is possible that they held traditions and values dear from each religion. You could combine Christian and Hindu traditions in a multi-faith service to pay tribute to both important cultural and spiritual influences.

Your loved one may have been agnostic, meaning they did not particularly follow one religion and were not sure of their personal beliefs about a deity. However, if they grew up in a household where a partcicular faith was followed, they may still feel a connection with some of its teachings. You could have a largely secular funeral, with one or two prayers or readings from scripture.

Other people describe themselves as spiritual, and believe in faith and a higher power without necessarily following strict religious teachings. You could choose readings and traditions from many different religions, for example Buddhism, Paganism and Christianity.

With a multi-faith funeral, you can combine any readings, prayers or traditions to create a unique service that recognises all the spiritual influences in a person’s life.

Who can conduct a multi-faith funeral?

Religious funerals are often led by a religious leader, such as a rabbi, priest or imam. When it comes to multi-faith funerals, some religious leaders will be open to participating in a service with other religions represented.

Others will not feel comfortable doing this and may refuse. It can depend on the branch of the religion, the customs of that specific place of worship and the personal choice of that specific minister. If in doubt, speaker to the minister directly.

Another option is a civil celebrant. Although civil celebrants do not belong to any particular religion, they are normally happy to include various religious elements in the funeral service. They can work with you to create a funeral service that properly reflects the spiritual influences of your loved one.

Many funeral homes are able to meet specific religious and cultural requirements and have well-established connections with places of worship, celebrants and community groups who might play a part in your loved one’s funeral service.

Of course, anyone can conduct a funeral service so you could conduct the ceremony yourself, perhaps together with other friends and family members and include the prayers, songs and scripture of faith that is most comforting and fitting.