In the Al-Jallaz cemetery in Tunisia, four men carry a corpse in a plastic bag and put it in the hole designated for it after his relatives recite al-Fatihah, while the fear of the place breaks with the voice of Lotfi, who is crying over his brother Saleh, who is buried after his death from the Corona virus.
“The pain of separation is doubled,” Lotfi says with a burning sensation. My brother passed away and his daughter and wife were not able to say goodbye to him, and this is more painful. ”
Lotfi’s brother was not shrouded and was not washed as required by Islamic law in his home. He was not prayed inside the mosque as usual. Family, friends and neighbors did not obey the condolences, as is the tradition in Tunisia and other Arab countries as a whole. Burial crews in Tunisia apply a strict protocol to transferring deceased persons with Covid-19 from hospitals to cemeteries as part of the epidemic prevention measures.
The body was transported in an ambulance that made its way in traffic jams in the capital’s streets, and Lutfi followed her in a car.
Lotfi Al-Jalasi (59 years old) said: “They did not even accept (the car carrying the body) to pass near his house so that the family would have a last look at him, even for half an hour and from afar.”
He adds, “This is unacceptable … It is very difficult for us.”
In Saleh’s house, in a popular neighborhood in Tunisia, the mourning marquee was not erected. One man sat in front of the entrance to the house on a white chair, and it was possible to hear recorded Quranic verses raised in a faint voice.
With the practice of health teams in the transfer and burial of the dead, the strict measures that were previously approved for the dead from the epidemic have been relaxed. As it became permissible for a specified number of family members of the deceased to cast a final look at him and participate in the burial.
In the mortuary in the Charles Nicole Hospital, the largest hospital in the capital, Tunis, Lotfi was approaching the body of his brother Saleh (61 years old) to bid him farewell. His tears were mixed with the smell of death and the smell of sterilization material that breaks the medical masks placed on the faces.
Then he quickly stepped back, repeating: “How long will my God be? My brother dies and they prevent us from taking him to the mosque. ”
Before the time of Corona, the deceased was washed before burial and the funeral prayer was prayed for him inside the mosque in the presence of the mourners and the family, then he was buried, but these rules no longer apply to the deceased in the epidemic that has claimed about eight thousand deaths since March.
At the cemetery, the supervisor of a team from the municipality, Mahdi Al-Dalai, preparing for the “thorny” burial process, says: “We are trying to reconcile between strict and cruel protocol and families who are in a difficult psychological situation.”
He adds, “We are trying to relieve the family members and tell them that the dead is a martyr, and the martyr is not washed.”
The Dar Al Iftaa had settled a widespread controversy that took place in the country in April, stressing the need to adhere to the advice of doctors completely, and authorized the burial of the dead without washing.
The four relatives of Saleh recite the four present at the place, while tears streaming profusely from their eyes, Al-Fatiha and the funeral prayer, while the body was in the ambulance directed towards the qiblah in the direction in which the deceased is usually shrouded during prayer.
Then the municipality team, whose members put on masks and wore protective yellow medical clothes, is busy dropping the body into the grave and filling it with dirt.
“At the beginning, we were tougher with families, but with the passage of time we relaxed the restrictions and we allowed funeral prayers to be performed with a limited number of people and with respect to the spacing,” says Al-Dalai.
And he recounts that some families sometimes ask the burial team to take pictures and videos by phone so that anyone who is not allowed to attend can participate remotely in the funeral.
With the arrival of the second wave of the epidemic in the country and the high number of daily deaths since the end of last summer, the specialized municipality staff are facing great and continuous pressure.
Al-Dalai notes that there are 15 members of his team in the capital, Tunis, who work around the clock to bury the dead.
He says, “Sometimes we reach 15 deaths a day in the capital that must be buried, and we can only bury nine people.”
– «last photo»
A certain area of Al-Jalaz cemetery, containing about two thousand graves, has been designated for burying the victims of Covid. Some dirt can be seen still wet with water, while others are ready pits awaiting the dead.
The governor of the cemetery, Lotfi Bin Murad, says: “In ten months, the first square was filled and we began allocating additional areas.”
Elsewhere in the cemetery, Aya (16 years old) stands in black clothes with her mother and siblings and plays Quranic verses on her phone, and she came to visit the grave of her father, who died at the age of 58 from the virus four months ago.
“The last picture that I kept of him was when he was in the first days of illness at home,” she says.
Then she bends over to place grains of wheat on her father’s grave to feed the birds. “We did not open the condolences and almost no one came” to offer condolences, she continues. “They all preferred to call.”
And she added, while she was about to leave the place: “We may forget the death, but it is difficult to forget not saying goodbye … The pain of not saying goodbye at the last look is more painful.”