By Tauhierah Salie
Death is an inevitable fate each and every one of us will meet. As Muslims, we are taught to be conscious that any moment could be our last on this dunya. This applies not only to ourselves but to every single brother and sister, mother and father, friend or family member we know.
Although it is something we strive to be prepared for, the passing of our loved ones often catches us off-guard. One of the important parts of death is the burial.
The Islamic burial has a framework of specific rituals that provide structure and give honour to the deceased and comfort to the bereaved. However, the experience can become complicated if you are not familiar with Muslim burial practices.
First and foremost, a Muslim must be buried as soon as possible – often within 24 hours of death. This process begins with the documentation that is needed to register the death and for the burial to take place.
According to the Western Cape Muslim Undertakers Forum chairperson Ebrahim Soloman, when a person passes away at home, the requirement from the State is that any person living in South Africa (the person with the deceased at the time) must call the paramedics and the police.
Secondly, the paramedics must ascertain whether the person has passed on.
“Sometimes the person goes into a coma (or) their heart stops for a couple of seconds and you think the person has died,” says Solomon.
“The paramedics give you a certificate of death. You then require a doctor. If the person has a history of illness, you will then either go to the hospital that the person attended, or you will phone a qualified GP to issue a notification of death. This is either called a notification of the death or a Bi1663. If the person dies at hospital, the nurse or the doctor can issue the notification of death (for you to remove the body from the hospital).”
“The body must then be washed and Kaffan-ed (shrouded). The kaffan is either obtained at the burial service or there are people that sell kaffans. You also need a ghasielah, or a toekamani like we call it in Cape Town, to wash the body.”
Solomon noted that there not everyone is “qualified” to clean a body.
“We all should know how to wash a body. There’s lots of masjids and imams giving classes nowadays. It is something I’ve found a problem with because a lot of people say ‘no, I’ve assisted a toekamoney’ or I’ve helped wash a body so I know’. You might know how and can recite all the niya’s etc. But then (you) don’t know the regulations or what exactly needs to be done.”
The Forum is looking into establishing certification, to ensure the necessary legalities are adhered to.
“We need to pull all our resources together and certify, with the Shari-ah side of it, as well as different departments such as the health department to (identify) the legalities in terms of the country’s regulations. It is something we are hoping to introduce, where they have to come via the Forum to obtain a certificate. ”
With an increase in gang violence and road deaths, the chairperson says the forum is looking into certifying toekamannis in order to ensure that due process is followed.
“Now you find someone who died of a contagious disease, or someone who was caught in the crossfire and has numerous gunshot wounds, someone who died in a train crash or motor car accident – and you don’t know how to stop the blood. So you just carry on thinking that its fine. What we (WCUF) are introducing will help people know how to ghusl or wash a person of all types.”
When it comes to taking care of our loved ones, money is the last thing we want to worry about. Unless you are part of what is commonly called a kifyt klops (burial insurance), a janaaza can be quite an expense. Soloman explained why the cost has gone up exponentially over the years.
“The Kaffan used to be cheap in the old days because it’s just the linen. But today, the kaffan consists of lots of other things. Ghasiels and Ghasielahs need to be very careful: you need to have gloves, masks, disposable aprons and foot coverings. You also need to have sufficient cotton wool which is (now) quite expensive. Then, you obviously have your sweet smelling incense (meng and lubaan) and your camphor – which is a very important aspect. These things add up to around R1500-R2000.”
“We also need nine planks for the size of the hole, which is roughly R2 500. Then the Ghasilas need to be paid, and here, many people have a different view. But it has now become specialized and we, as the Forum, has decided that the price is between R500-R800 per person.
“Imagine the person passing away in the middle of the night or the early hours of the morning and the ghasila has to get out of their warm bed and drive to wherever. Then of course, petrol today is so expensive. You can’t, like before, just give the person a slawat or a R50 or something like that, because its not worth their effort.”
“Then you need a hearse because regulations state that you cannot fetch a body at the hospital or mortuary with a bakkie. The price is between R500 and R700 a trip. This will be fetching the body, taking it to the house, taking it to the masjid and taking it to the maqbara – which works out to about R1000-R1500. There already you’ve got your R5 000.”
Soloman emphasized that there is a lack of land available for burial in Cape Town. He adds that being buried with a beloved family member may not always be an option.
“A big challenge we are facing is that there is no land available for burial any longer in Cape Town. (Unfortunately) our people are bound to this mindset that because my father or mother is buried either at Johnstone road or Mowbray cemeteries, now you’ve lived maybe 30 or 40 years longer than your parents now you want to be buried there. A grave can only be opened after 15 years. Before they never used to reopen holes but now we are forced to reopen the kabr of a family member because there’s no other space for new cemeteries.”
He added however that the City of Cape Town made a commitment in 2013, to accommodate Muslim burials.
“The City allocated pieces of land and made a commitment to making space available in the City cemeteries, but unfortunately our people’s mindset is still they want to go to (certain) cemeteries.”
IN PART TWO OF THE BURIAL SERIES – the consequences of ghusling a body without following procedure, how we can familiarize ourselves with these procedures and what is going to be done about the shortage of burial space in Cape Town