What Islamic narratives do teach believers is not to protest death, especially to accept the death of loved ones with resignation, forbearance and full trust in God’s wisdom and justice.
Yancy: Would you share with us how the dead are to be taken care of, that is, are there specific Islamic burial rituals?
Halevi: Instead of giving you a short and direct answer, I would like to reflect a little on how the current situation, the coronavirus pandemic, is making it difficult or impossible to perform some of these rites. Locally and globally, limits on communal gatherings and social distancing requirements have devastated the bereft, making it so very difficult for them to receive religious consolation for grief and loss.
In every family, in every community, the death of an individual is a crisis. Funeral gatherings cannot repair the tear in the social fabric, but traditional rituals and condolences were designed to send the dead away and help the living cope and mourn. The pandemic has of course disrupted this.
In Muslim cultures, the corpse is normally given a ritual washing and is then wrapped in shrouds and buried in a plot in the earth. Early on during the pandemic, concerns that the cadavers of persons who died from Covid-19 might be infectious led to many adaptations. Funeral homes had to adjust to new requirements and recommendations for minimizing contact with dead bodies. And religious authorities made clear that multiple adjustments were justified by the fear of harm.
In March of 2020, to give one example, an ayatollah from Najaf, Iraq, ruled that instead of thoroughly cleaning a corpse and perfuming it with camphor, undertakers could wear gloves and perform an alternative “dry ablution” with sand or dust. And instead of insisting on the tradition of hasty burials, he ruled that it would be fine, for safety’s sake, to keep corpses in refrigerators for a long while.
In the city of Qom, Iran, the coronavirus reportedly led to the digging of a mass grave. It is not clear how the plots were actually used. But burying several bodies together in a single grave would not violate Islamic law. This extraordinary procedure has long been allowed during epidemics and war. By contrast, burning a human body is regarded as abhorrent and strictly forbidden. For this reason, there was an outcry over Sri Lanka’s mandatory cremation of Muslim victims of the coronavirus.
George Yancy – www.nytimes.com