SRINAGAR: The late Abdul Majeed died during the first days of the coronavirus lockdown. His funeral was attended by less than 20 people, and congregational prayers were not held at all. Majeed during his life had led funeral prayers at gatherings as large as 3,000. Three weeks into his death, his grave is yet to get a gravestone.
About three months ago, in the bone-chilling cold of December, more than 1,000 people offered funeral prayers on his wife’s death. Some 2,000 people paid condolence visits at his home.
So much has changed, almost overnight, in matters of both life and death. Mourning is very important in Kashmiri tradition and large funeral gatherings, collective prayers for the dead, a custom. Some people cannot understand “why god is preventing collective prayers?”
“It is a really bad omen. It is making me scared,” said 82-year-old Peer Ghulam Muhammad Rasool. “I am at an age that makes me eligible for death, but I pray to god every day not to take me away from this world during this time.”
For Rasool, the fear comes from listening to talk of how the dead are being disposed of these days, and from his old belief that only “people who are decreed to burn in hell have few people at their funeral.”
“People would talk about a dead person in an agreeable way, if he attracted a large gathering at his funeral. There used to a distrustful silence and awkwardness about a person whose death was not mourned by many,” Rasool recalled as happening since his childhood days.
The body of a person who died of Covid-19 in Srinagar was kept for more than 24 hours at hospital, was buried without a last ritual bath, and very few people attended the funeral. “The people of the locality are talking about him in a demeaning way. It is really painful,” said one of his relatives, who is himself under administrative quarantine after he tested Covid-19 positive.
According to Miraj-u-Din Bhat, associate professor at Islamic University of Science and Technology, there is no mention in the Quran or among the sayings of the Prophet (PBUH) that few people attending someone’s funeral has a bearing on the person’s afterlife. “There is no Islamic textual evidence for this,” Bhat said.
Kashmir’s Grand Mufti, Nasir Islam, also believes that funerals have no bearing on a person’s afterlife.
Bhat said that there is a disconnect between Islam and what people understand of it. “Such beliefs emerge from cultural traditions, and are often wrongly ascribed to the sayings of the Prophet,” Bhat said.