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Flight MH17 tragedy raises burial dilemma

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As a new tragedy hit Malaysia Airlines, families of the Muslim victims of Flight 17 that crashed last Thursday over Ukraine lands controlled by pro-Russia separatists are concerned about the burial and funeral rituals for their dear one whose bodies were left to decompose in area hit by tensions.

“I feel the same pain they feel,” Jacquita Gonzales, wife of flight supervisor Patrick Francis Gomez, told Wall Street Journal.

All 298 people on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 died when it was struck by what was thought to have been a long-range antiaircraft missile fired by pro-Russia separatists.

Western countries have criticized pro-Russian rebels controlling the area for restricting access to the crash site.

The rebels say they will hand MH17’s flight recorders to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

While the religions of the plane’s occupants aren’t yet known, nearly two-thirds of Malaysians identify themselves as Muslims, according to official statistics.

There were 44 Malaysians on Flight 17 when it crashed Thursday, including the whole crew.

According to Islamic teachings, the highest honor to be bestowed on the dead is giving the deceased a swift burial, preferably in the same day.

Sea burials can be allowed, they said, but only in special cases where the death occurred aboard a ship and if they are far off the coast.

Two or three adult Muslims should wash the body and then put on the shroud (kafan). Before the burial, the funeral prayer should be done.

Yet, as the crash occurred in geographical area with lots of tensions, debris and bodies were left to decompose over the past two days.

On Sunday, the BBC reported that the remains of up to 196 people from the MH17 crash in Ukraine have been loaded on to refrigerated rail wagons, to be taken to an unknown destination.

The US state department said there had been multiple reports of bodies and aircraft parts being removed, and potential evidence tampered with.

Fighting is reportedly continuing in eastern Ukraine between the separatist rebels and government forces in a conflict which erupted in April and is believed to have claimed more than 1,000 lives.

Better Condition

Despite the delay in the burial of the crash victims, many believe that the condition of Flight 17 is much better than Flight 370 which disappeared last March.

“What happened with MH17 is much easier” because its fate is known, said Mohd Ghouse Mohd Noor, a friend of Flight 370’s captain.

“In MH17 what happened is we knew it was shot down. It was catastrophic but there is a closure to this tragic incident.”

Weeks after the disappearance of Flight 370, Malaysia’s highest Muslim body, the Fatwa Council, decided after long deliberations not to declare the passengers dead, delaying funeral rites that acknowledge and celebrate death.

It also wrestled with the problem of how theoretically to identify Muslim passengers from others if the bodies were found in pieces, eventually deciding to rely on DNA testing, a method that might not be easily available in rural Ukraine.

Malaysia has dispatched dozens of personnel on chartered flights to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, from which they will attempt to reach Flight 17’s crash site in the east of the country, according to officials.

To get there, they will have to transverse a large area of Ukrainian territory controlled by rebels in a region torn by conflict.

Among the Malaysian team are 21 officers from the police forensic unit, Malaysia’s police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar said.

They will likely join a multinational investigation team including representatives from the Netherlands and Ukraine. ONISLAM


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