COVID-19: Muslims are also protesting burials


Not only Muslims but people of all other faiths too have to deal with traumatic restrictions in bidding farewell to their loved ones amid a global pandemic. Muslim nations are having to modify or cancel their religious rites. While Muslim adherents globally are placing the health and safety of the living loved one’s over the dead and adhering to customs. Quite a number of increasing incidents are getting reported of Muslim villages protesting against burials in their villages while in most cases where burials are taking place it is often after weeks.

General burial tradition of a Muslim

  • Body is washed with water minimum 3 times (ghusl ritual)
  • Communal prayer is performed before burial
  • A body is supposed to be buried within 24hours preferably without a casket
  • No viewing of the body before burial
  • The body is wrapped in a shroud (Kaffan)
  • Embalming and cosmetology are not allowed

Iraq: Population 40million

Cases: 1,400

Deaths: 78

Morgues are full of dead COVID-19 bodies without a place to bury. People who live near sites of government designated burial grounds are opposing burial fearful that the bodies will bring virus to their locality. Some bodies are lying in the morgue for 10 days and some for weeks.

24 March 2020 – Nahrawan city, 34km east of Baghdad people gathered near town cemetery opposing burial of COVID-19 victims and succeeded. Authorities took the dead bodies back to Baghdad.

The reason for this was a landfill established in 2015 near the town that polluted the nearby soil (Raseef22 media interviewed protestors)

21 March 2020: the body of a 67year old was kept for 9 days until permitted to be buried in Najaf/South Iraq. Previously family rejected proposal by govt to bury in remote plots outside Baghdad.

Iraq’s COVID-19 bodies are

  • disinfected
  • placed in sealed bag & put in a coffin & buried 4 metres below ground (usual dept of a Muslim grave is 1.8m)

As a result of public protest families of the deceased are having to seek private security to protect them from protestors.

Egypt: 98.4million population

Cases: 2,350

Deaths: 178

Funerals are traditionally attended by large gathering to pray. But the government has placed strict restrictions. The dead are wrapped in bags stamped ‘danger’. No one is allowed to attend the washing rite except health workers who have to wear protective gear and be one-metre from the body. There was no funeral prayer call.

11 April – Villagers in Shubra el-Bahou refused to allow COVID-19 deceased doctor to be buried in village cemetery.

Pakistan: 219million population

Cases: 5,988

Deaths: 107

COVID-19 dead cannot be taken inside homes which is a tradition in South Asia. But the Govt fears that families may be hiding families of COVID-19 dead in order to hold religious funerals. In so doing, the govt knows the risk of contaminating the entire community/village.

India: 201million Muslims

Cases: 11,555


9 April: 65-year-old Muslim COVID-19 victim from Mumbai suburb denied permission to bury his body there, his family members alleged on Thursday. Family allege that Malad Malwadni Kabrastan trustees denied burial. Though the police and a local politician tried to intervene the trustees would not budge and the family agreed to cremate body in a Hindu crematorium.

Iran:  82 million population

Cases: 74,877

Deaths: 4,683

All of Iran’s 31 provinces have been hit by the virus. Iranian leaders have also contracted the virus – Iraj Harirchi, Iran’s deputy health minister, Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri while an adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, has died. 78-year-old Ayatollah Hashem Bathayi Golpayegani died just two days after he tested positive.

Iran’s heath authorities require families to coordinate covid-19 burials with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps to ensure families do not break social-distancing norms by gathering in large numbers at the cemetery.

Professional body washers are refusing to cleanse COVID-19 bodies for fear of catching the virus from the corpses. Some mortuaries are getting seminary students to wash the dead (BBC) There are also instances of death certificates claiming cardiac arrest or flu as cause of death but in reality cause of death being covid-19.

According to satellite images of trenches some 250 victims had been buried as of 3 March by the Iranian Govt had reported only 77 deaths!

Hospitals have been told to hide COVID-19 deaths by doctoring the cause of death. Only those who have been COVID-19 tested positive and died are to have their death given as covid-19. Hospitals that do not have covid-19 deaths cannot report covid-19 deaths.

This document posted on Twitter March 5 purports to show a death report for Hamed Jalali, a conservative activist from Qom who died February 28. The report lists ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) as the cause of death, but his friends say Jalali died of COVID-19.

Tunisia: 11.7million Muslims

Cases: 747

Deaths: 34

Residents in Bizerte and Beja in Jalla district prevented municipal authorities from burying 2 COVID-19 victims in their local cemeteries. The Tunisian security forces had to use tear gas against the residents.

Brunei: 433,285 Muslims

Cases: 136

Deaths: 1

Ministry of Health sets strict guidelines and only specially trained personnel can handle funeral arrangements of covid-19 victims. Brunei’s first covid-19 dead was a 51year old woman. Only immediate family was allowed. Only some prayers were allowed. The body is not allowed to be brought home or to the mosque. Only dry ritual purification is allowed on the encased body bag of the deceased. The body is not dressed in a shroud. Family members can only watch from afar. No one can recite talkin during the burial.

Bangladesh: 146million Muslims

Cases: 1231

Deaths: 50

The fear of Muslims in Bangladesh was such that when a 60 year old woman from Abupur village died of kidney failure villagers refused to allow her to be buried fearing her death was from covid-19. The locals even vandalized the ambulance. She was later buried in another area.

Indonesia: 225million Muslims

Cases: 5,136

Deaths: 469

Indonesian Government appealed to citizens not to reject burial of covid-19 dead.

The dead are wrapped in plastic bags and placed in sealed coffins then sprayed with disinfectant. However much the Govt communicated to the people they could not answer the fears of the people.

Jakarta even launched a 120 strong special police unit to guard burials of COVID-19 victims in view of protests by residents. This came after angry residents in Sulawesi island and Central Java blocked streets to prevent ambulances transporting victims to local cemeteries.

15 April – Residents of Sewakul, Central Java prevented the burial of a nurse who died from coronavirus while working at a hospital in Semarang.

Similar incidents have taken place in Gowa (Southern Sulawesi), Bandung (West Java), Semarang Regency.

22 doctors and 10 nurses have died in Indonesia.

Malaysia: 19.5million Muslims

Cases: 5,072

Deaths: 83

COVID-19 victims can only be handled by trained personnel. Bodies will not be handed to the families and no one will be allowed to touch the COVID-19 deceased, or bathe him or dress him as per Islamic funeral rites. Hospitals will prepare body and the body will not be taken to the home or to the mosque for final prayers (solat jenazah)

Only dry ritual purification (dust or air) and no shroud (kain kapan)

France: 5.76million Muslims

Cases: 143,303

Deaths: 15,729

COVID-19 dead are put into covers and coffins immediately and limited family members are allowed to see only a closed coffin.

On 2nd April, France officially banned washing, embalming and other forms of funerary preparations – Muslims and Jews could not perform traditional funeral rites. COVID-19 dead could not be washed. Only 600 out of Frances 35,000 municipalities are offering grave sites for Muslim burials.

USA: 3.45million Muslims 

Cases: 615,406

Deaths: 26,164

Muslim comprise 3% of New York City. A Muslim funeral generally costs $2000 including plot of land for burial but the prices are now $10,000

China: 20million Muslims

Cases: 82,295

Deaths: 3342

China has banned funerals, burials and other related activities involving the corpses of deceased victims of the novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan. Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security, issued new regulations Saturday stating that all victims who succumb to the virus must be cremated at the nearest facility.


posted on March 24 shows locals refusing to let sanitation workers and families bury eight people who died of coronavirus in a nearby cemetery. The locals followed them in a car right up to the gates of the cemetery.

Circulating online since about March 14, shows a burial taking place somewhere in Iraq. It stirred controversy online, with many people saying that the burial didn’t conform to religious traditions or proper hygiene measures

Member of parliament Hakem Zamli calls on the authorities to figure out an emergency solution for the bodies that are piling up in the town of Sadr” (an eastern suburb of Baghdad).

Iran: This video shows at least 56 body bags awaiting burial at a facility at the main cemetery in Qom – March 2. “The bodies in this room have been here for five or six days, but they still haven’t been buried. The situation is horrible.” The deputy prosecutor general of Qom said March 5 that the man who filmed the video was later arrested.

Countless arguments but all contradicting and offering no solace.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control claims that the virus cannot be transmitted from a victim’s body unless from direct contact with bodily fluids or contaminated personal effects. This is the issue with fears of groundwater contamination in Sri Lanka.

Netherlands has found COVID-19 in wastewater (RIVM National Institute for Public Health)

In Thailand a forensic worker died after contaminating COVID-19 from a dead COVID-19 body. incident marks the first instance of a dead body contaminating a living being and causing fatality.

This virtually puts to rest those who claim COVID-19 dead cannot contaminate. Therefore burials are certainly cause for worry. It can only be seen in years to come how countries that have buried their dead face health issues.

An example to highlight this is St. Louis where neighbors noticed a steep in people dying from cancers, lung disease, thyroid problems. It was later revealed that the US had used the area to store radioactive waste from its nuclear weapons program.

There are plenty of examples where toxic waste is dumped the health risks to residents are high. It is therefore, natural for villages cited above to complain and protest against COVID-19 dead being buried.

Those not living in areas of burial sites will no doubt continue to demand burial but the Muslims the world over even in some of the most conventional & traditional Muslim villages are refusing to bury the dead.


Shenali D Waduge

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