From Dust to Lunch: Jordanian Christians Decry Cost of Funeral Feast

Tribal hospitality demands feeding the 500. But believers pinched by poverty call for cultural changes that still preserve honor.

To honor the dead in Jordan, one must feed the living. But in solidarity with the poor, leading Christians are calling for a change in funeral customs.

Shared with wider Muslim society, certain Christian practices are similar to Western norms.

Upon the announcement of death, the bereaved family makes arrangements through the church to conduct a memorial service. The casket is then conveyed to the cemetery, where hymns are sung and the traditional “dust to dust” is prayed over the loved one. And in somber conclusion, a line of condolences forms as the pastor or priest extends the family invitation to take part in a luncheon of remembrance.

But in Jordan, this may involve up to a thousand people.

“Culture requires that if you attend my funeral, I will come to yours,” said Nabeeh Abbassi, president of the Jordanian Baptist Convention. “But that is a lot of food, and increasingly, many cannot afford it.”

An average gathering is between 300 and 600 people, he said. It includes immediate family, extended relatives, and almost all residents of the village or city quarter. In a culture of honor and shame, it would be a great insult not to share in a neighbor’s grief.

The meal is the Jordanian national dish of mansaf, lamb meat served with rice and topped with nuts and a sauce of fermented dried yogurt. The dish is presented on large circular trays, and mourners gather by gender to eat with their right hands while standing.

When Abbassi’s mother died nine years ago, 500 people came to honor her life. Expenses nearly reached $10,000, with only $1,500 due to the funeral. Like many Jordanians, he contributed to a monthly family allotment to cover such costs. But at the time of the funeral, the …

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