Religious institutions across the country have adapted to the situation, despite social distancing norms.
As all places of worship in the UAE remain closed in a bid to curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, religious leaders continue to provide a critical service to worshipers.
In a bid to ensure that the deceased, especially those who have died due to Covid-19, receive a dignified funeral, religious institutions have quickly adapted to the situation, despite social distancing norms.
Muslim burial rituals
Dr Mohammed Eyada Ayoub Alkobaisi, a Grand Mufti with the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department in Dubai told Khaleej Times that the Fatwa Department in Dubai has issued many fatwas relating to funerals and the dead from the epidemic.
“If it is possible to wash someone who has died from the coronavirus, according to the advice of doctors, it is obligatory to wash the corpse, even by covering the entire body with water from a distance, by means of water hoses that are not strong.”
If this is not possible, then one should make tayammum by smacking the ground twice, once for the face and once for the arms to the elbows, he added.
“One should wipe the face and arms of the deceased directly, not on top of the shroud, even if one must use an instrument to do so.”
If there is no Muslim with experience in the washing of the dead, or there are many dead, especially with this pandemic, which needs special training and adequate means of protection, there is no harm in a non-Muslim undertaking the washing of a deceased Muslim, he explained.
“If the doctors prevent the washing of the deceased or they are of the opinion that washing the corpse is dangerous to the living even if the necessary precautions are taken, then the deceased is prayed over without washing out of necessity.”
The dead are prayed over in an open space in the cemetery or elsewhere, and one should not enter the mosque for fear of spreading the infection, Dr Alkobaisi elaborated.
“It is not necessary for the rows or those standing in the funeral prayer to be close to each other, rather it is valid even if people are separated from each other, as long as they are in one place, and the communal obligation to pray for the deceased is fulfilled by a single person performing it.”
Whoever misses praying over the deceased or does not want to attend out of fear of infection may pray for the absentee prayer for him, even days after his burial, unless he has begun decomposing according to most scholars, he pointed out.
“A Muslim should be buried in Muslim cemeteries, with the grave deepened, and if doctors believe that he should be buried in a coffin then that is what should be done, because burial in one is permissible if the earth is very soft or there is water in it and this is even more urgent with the fear of spreading the pandemic, as the doctors say.”
Dr Alkobaisi said condolences can be given remotely without congregating, by phone or written correspondence, or after Allah has removed this scourge.
No gatherings at Christian burial sites
Fr Varghese Chempoly OFM Cap at St Michael’s Church, Sharjah and parish priest at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai told Khaleej Times funeral practices have changed considerably since the outbreak.
Bodies of the deceased, both Covid-related or otherwise, is not brought to the church. Instead, they are taken directly to the cemetery from the morgue and special prayers for the deceased are held at the church without any attendance from loved ones.
Fr Chempody said, “We follow strict instructions from the government regarding the burial. For non-Covid deaths, there is attendance from about 2-3 people. There is no gathering of people either.” Mortal remains are buried in cemeteries in Jebel Ali, and a second one near the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. In the case of burials of those people who have suffered a natural death, there are no services held in the church.
“Prayers are organised in the cemetery with attendance from about 5-6 family members. For Covid deaths, naturally, there is a risk involved. The bereaved are asked to pray from home and if the name of the person is given, the priests pray for the deceased in the church. Towards the end of the burial, a priest will bless the grave,” said Fr Connully.
He said though it has been a terrible experience for people to not worship in the church or give a proper funeral to their loved ones, people have largely accepted the new normal as inevitable. “Though difficult, it cannot be helped. It is like a war situation. Many cannot even see the mortal remains of their loved ones. Ultimately, our love for the person remains,” said Fr Connnully.
Hindu rituals face procedural delays
Though burial and cremation sites across all faiths have been providing final rites services to bereaved families seamlessly, some families, especially from the Hindu community, are reporting a week-long waiting period for their mortal remains to be laid to rest.
However, the Hindu Crematorium in Jebel Ali said the delay is caused due to procedural reasons, including thorough cleaning and sanitisation of the facility once the cremation is complete.
Raju Shroff, an Indian businessman and one of the trustees of the Sindhi Guru Darbar Temple said, “For non-COVID19 deaths, only six people from the family in PPE gear are allowed to attend.” For COVID19 deaths, Municipality and healthcare officials handle everything. No family member is allowed on-site, said Shroff.
The crematorium has three cremation machines, and only one out of the three is being used for COVID19-related deaths. “There has also been an increased demand from non-Hindus, such as some Christian and Buddhists who are choosing to cremate their loved ones,” Shroff said an average of three to four mortal remains is cremated at the centre every day.
World Health Organisation (WHO) and DHA prevention and infection control guidelines for handling mortal remains infected with Covid-19
* Family members are prohibited to indulge in dangerous practices such as kissing the deceased
* The number of people attending the funeral must be reduced to a limited number. Only close family members must be allowed to promote the principle of physical distance during the pandemic
* For expatriates, the procedures should be coordinated with their families or embassy and an agreement be reached on the mechanism for dealing with the remains of the deceased within the state, because there is no way to transfer the deceased to his countr
* The body should be wrapped and placed in a strong, leak-proof plastic bag It is closed when it is delivere
* People with respiratory symptoms should not participate in the viewing or at least wear a medical mask to prevent contamination of the place and further transmission of the disease to others
* Participants should observe physical distancing at all times, plus respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene
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