Life and death in a Hainault cemetery easing pain of grieving Muslim families
There is something strangely comforting about the death certificate each of us will be given after we die.
What happens to our bodies next will be largely depend on what faith (if any) we belong to.
There are about six thousand people buried at the Gardens of Peace Cemetery, Elmbridge Road, Hainault in uniformed graves, each with a little square plaque.
In the 10 years since the Muslim cemetery opened, trustee Mohamed Omer has seen families ripped apart through grief and tries to help them get through one of the most traumatic experiences we can go through.
Mr Omer said: “One of the most difficult funerals was that of a family who died in a fire and only the father and one daughter survived. We buried his wife and five children one after the other within an hour. How can you cope with six losses at the same time?”
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In Islam bodies have to be buried as quickly as possible and it is preferable to do it on the same day as the person dies.
When a death is sudden, violent or unexpected a post-mortem is ordered by a coroner or a doctor to establish why, when and how someone died. This sometimes takes a few days and can involved organs being removed to establish the cause of death.
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Mr Omer said: “We have concerns about post-mortems as they are not permitted as the body should not be tampered with.
“However, we also respect the law of the land and we are working with other religions and the government to see if there are any unobtrusive post-mortem strategies like using MRIs.”
The bodies are wrapped in a special unstitched white cloth with three pieces used for men, and five for women.
He said: “It’s supposed to be as natural as possible. The people carrying the coffin walk 40 steps, it’s not obligatory, but it’s a tradition from the Prophet.”
The body is then taken out of the coffin and lowered into the ground by ropes. It is then turned onto its side so that it is facing Mecca and short planks are rested onto the body so when the grave is filled in, it does not touch the body.
“This is done out of respect for the body,” he said. “Then everyone present must put three handfuls of earth into the grave which is guidance from the Prophet.
“After a few months when the earth has settled the grave is shaped like a long camel’s hump which is one hand length high.”
To get the distinctive shape of the grave, a wooden mould is used and the curve achieved by hand.
“It’s sacrosanct that you should not step on a grave. The strict interpretation is that you cannot have a large memorial stone, just a small name plate, so the mound indicates there’s a body there.”
Working with death on a daily basis would be for many people a terrifying concept but Mr Omer is more reflective.
“It’s very rewarding spiritually and I take great pride in my work,” he said. “We will all face this situation one day so it’s good to be reminded of our final destination.”