Kerala Muslim organisation demands COVID victims be buried according to Islamic rites

The Samastha Kerala Jem-iyyathul-Ulama wrote to the CM, few days after a case was registered against Thrissur’s Malik Islamic Centre and relatives of a COVID-19 victim for taking the body to the mosque for burial rites.
Two people in full white ppe suits putting a body wrapped in white in an ambulance.
Two people in full white ppe suits putting a body wrapped in white in an ambulance.

Samastha Kerala Jem-iyyathul-Ulama, the largest body of Sunni Muslim Scholars and Clerics in Kerala has come out against the state government’s direction regarding the protocol for last rites of people who die due to COVID-19. In a memorandum submitted, on Friday,  Sayyid Muhammad Jifri Muthukkoya Thangal and K Ali Kutty Musaliyar, the president and secretary of Samastha Kerala Jem-iyyathul-Ulama, asked Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Health Minister KK Shailaja to allow for the burial of the mortal remains of people who die from COVID-19 with proper religious regard and respect as the existing  protocol doesn’t allow a decent funeral for COVID-19 victims.

The memorandum asked for the government’s intervention in this matter, and pointed out that it’s, “ruthless to bury people who have lived their entire lives abiding by every religious dictum, like animals”.

“Those who contract the infection always think of what will happen when death gets hold of them and this aggravates the disease in many cases. Some of these people die without anybody around to take care of them.  A decent funeral is every human being’s right and all religions have their own funeral customs and rites,” the memorandum said.

The memorandum further added, “According to Islam, washing of body is an important step of burial. No study has yet confirmed that washing of the dead body spreads the disease. There are some studies which affirm that the germs also die with the person. People who are infected with coronavirus do take baths. The water they use goes out into public sewages. When all this is possible it's illogical to ban the final cleansing of the dead bodies. World Health Organisation (WHO) directions don't say anything regarding the final bath, it only directs that the people who engage with the funerals should wear PPE kits. These things could be done under strict supervision and regulation. Either the government or private agencies can undertake this with strict measures.”

It is important to note that according to guidelines from India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), viewing of the body may be allowed. However, sprinkling of water on the body, any last rite that requires touching of the body including bathing it is not allowed. The US’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  however, has stated that autopsy or washing of a COVID-19 body can be done by those wearing masks, waterproof gowns and protective goggles.

Asking for intervention by the Chief Minister and Health Minister, the memorandum also added, “When facts remain so, the disrespect shown to the mortal remains of people who die affected with COVID-19 calls for disapproval. Such funerals cause the grieving families mental torture too. So we are demanding that the Chief Minister and the Health Minister  intervene in this matter and to take appropriate measures.”

Recently a case was registered against the Malik Islamic Centre Juma Masjid authorities in Thrissur and relatives of a COVID-19 victim, whose body was taken to the mosque for religious rites in violation of COVID-19 protocol. The body of the 53-year old from Varavur who died at Thrissur Government Medical College Hospital was taken to the mosque for religious rites before the burial. It was alleged that the body was packed according to  protocol by the hospital but was opened and washed for the rites at the mosque. Following this health workers stopped further procedures and the district collector intervened in the matter.

Leaders of Samastha Kerala Sunni Students Federation (SKSSF) also came up with the same demand on Friday. Sathar Panthaloor, the state general secretary of SKSSF said that earlier officials were not strict about the rules regarding washing of the body and other final rituals. But in the backdrop of the incident at Thrissur, officials have strengthened the procedures regarding this. “It creates confusion among people. Government should give a clarification on this”, said Sathar while talking to TNM.

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