By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent
The Middle East region is world-renowned for the often lavish lifestyles of its citizens, as most wealthy Arab states boast all of the designer clothes, houses, yachts, cars and luxury items that anyone could ever shake a stick at. However, the sumptuous lifestyle often extends beyond the grave as funerals and the price tag of entertaining the ensuing mourners rivals that of any party amongst the living.
No place is this reality more vivid than in Oman, where it is a tradition to have grand feasts fit for a king and his army following the departure of a loved one. Funeral expenses and the costs for providing food for those wanting to pay their respects are often astronomical, numbering in the thousands of dollars. It is not uncommon for a few hundred people to show up as a sign of respect for the deceased. The mourning period often lasts for three days and serving refreshments is expected. In a recent interview, Omani citizen Rahma Saif revealed that more than 200 people showed up at her home to mourn the death of her father, â€œIt is draining both physically and mentally, not to mention the cost of the food. I cared for my father when he was ill for six months and did not sleep well during the time. Immediately after his death, I had to provide a feast for three consecutive days for 200 people each day,â€ Mourners often stay throughout the day well until the sun has set. Bereaved family members are often too exhausted from catering to the mourners that they do not have the time to mourn the very personal loss themselves.
The Omani government lends a helping hand in funeral costs for low-income families, however it is only a few hundred riyals, which barely covers the cost of the gravedigger and some Arabic coffee for the mourners. Poor families must dig deep into their savings or even sell off valuable possessions to provide a minimum of six square meals for the mourning guests. In Saifâ€™s case, she had to use all of her fatherâ€™s savings to feed the mourners, which negated any possible inheritance for his family members.
Contrastingly, many rich Omanis have no problem in hosting a grand feast for mourners and relish in putting on a huge event. Unlike their low-income counterparts, wealthy Omani families have huge bankrolls to pay for the affair and a fleet of servants to tend to the mourners every whim. Itâ€™s not uncommon for a high-end funeral service to cost several thousands of dollars, as guests dine on 5-star meals from local upscale restaurants and drink only the finest beverages available.
Critics of the mourning period in Oman have accused our contemporary world of altering an age-old tradition meant to comfort the bereaved into simply an excuse to get a free meal. Itâ€™s not surprising that, with the current state of the global economic crisis, more and more people are attending funerals in Oman for the sole reason of getting their fill, turning the occasion into a festivity instead of a time of sadness and introspection. Many skeptics have called for the government to legally shorten the mourning period to one day and put a cap on funeral expenses. Others have called the practice unIslamic and a transgression against a fellow Muslim in his greatest hour of sorrow.
Unfortunately, societal norms might have the final word as many a man is judged, not by the deeds he committed in this world whether good or bad, but by the number of people who showed up at his funeral. And those he left behind cannot escape the rumor mills should they not provide a grand feast for mourners who might label them as miserly.