As the coronavirus outbreak gathers pace in the country and the number of deaths from the pandemic increases, funeral prayers, burials and last rites of those passing away have become a sensitive issue, not just in Pakistan but in many parts of the world.
Authorities around the world, including Pakistan, have issued advisories on how to handle the dead from the disease, requiring special precaution and measures to avoid spreading the virus among those carrying out the last rites.
In these dire circumstances, three men, public servants by profession — two revenue officials and the third a paramilitary — in Swat have heroically stepped up to help their community.
These men are volunteering to perform the final rites — including bathing and dressing the body, funeral prayers and burial — for those succumbing to the novel coronavirus.
The group is led by Sher Akbar Khan, a girdawar in the revenue department, who said they were not only doing the rituals as an assigned duty but that they considered it their social responsibility.
“As Muslims and Pakistanis it is our responsibility to step forward and extend support to those who need it. We have willingly devoted ourselves to performing the rituals from giving bath to properly shrouding the dead bodies of those who died from Covid-19,” says Sher Akbar Khan, who also leads the funeral prayers.
Four patients of Covid-19 have died so far in Swat.
Khan says all last rites of the deceased have been performed according to Sharia and Islamic principles.
“We are on emergency duty and are on-call 24 hours of the day for the rituals. We have performed bathing and shrouding rituals for four patients in Saidu Sharif Teaching Hospital in the night,” Shah Faisal, a patwari of the revenue department and member of the team, says.
They also performed obligatory rituals of bathing and shrouding for another patient who was brought to the Nawaz Sharif Kidney Hospital in Manglawar area.
“A kidney patient who was brought from district Buner to the kidney hospital died. He was suspected of having contracted Covid-19. On the directives of Swat's deputy commissioner, we went there and performed his rituals and sent the body back to district Buner,” said Abdul Bari, who is a levy official, and is the third member of the group.
The men say their family members and some friends are worried they might contract the virus from the dead bodies and pass it on to their children.
“Our family is concerned about us but we tell them nothing bad will happen and that God would give reward,” says Khan.
Khan says they take their work as a “mission similar to medics and doctors” and would “willingly offer their services to every person who died of Covid-19”.
“We request every Pakistani to please take care and follow the guidelines of social distancing. We pray for the protection of everyone and early elimination of the pandemic.”
All three public servants are also carrying out their duty in the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme – a federal government project to disburse money among the poorer sections of society that have been hit hardest by the lockdown ensuing after the pandemic.