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A letter of resignation from the chairperson of the Muslim Burial Society of SA

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Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a Brown Woman in a White South Africa. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @sage_of_absurd

Since the onset of the pandemic, I have found that the burial society has functioned more as a body that follows the philosophy of 'can we get away with it?' and all this while wildly flailing about in a sub-par attempt to find stability in a world that is falling apart.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Dear community,

After much deliberation and thought, it is with mixed feelings that I have decided to resign my post as chairperson of the burial society, which has served our Muslim communities for several decades. The feelings are mixed because they are a mishmash of both utter elation and pure relief.

The burial society, as you all know, is a mutual fund where all members contribute to our finances so as to assist the fulfilment and planning of funerals within our communities – essentially, it functions as a funeral scheme. However, in recent times, and when I say recent I mean since the onset of the pandemic, it has become more scheme-y and less assist-y.

There are a lot of bribes, backdoor handshakes and very, very dangerous protocols being ignored, all in the name of prayer.

I have spent so many nights thinking about how to balance the scales between risk and prayer, but there is no balancing to be had. Just last week we were paid a ridiculous amount of money to bring a body to the house of loved ones after said body had passed from Covid-19 so that they could proceed with the relevant practices.

There were more than 300 people in attendance. It was wonderful how all these mourners prayed for the deceased whose body lay in front of them, but not so wonderful the following week, when I had to bury 300 more bodies – all of whom attended the funeral, failed to sanitise, stood way too close to each other, hugged the spouse of the deceased, who was also Covid-19 positive, and wore no masks because they feared that if they did, God would fail to hear them pray.

The risk of losing more lives far outweighs the prayer you can say for one person.  

Dear community, God doesn’t help you win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. If you want fewer funerals or if you want things to be as always and if you want to mourn and grieve like back in the day, you have to give up all these things, just for now. You have to obey the rules. You have to follow the law. You have to buy a lottery ticket. If you don’t, you will fall like flies and cause harm to each other and no amount of bribery or money or backdoor handshakes will save you and your loved ones – and not because you didn’t sanitise the money and not because you didn’t sanitise your hands before said handshake. But because, quite simply put, you are being old daft boots.

In the case of these mass gatherings I suppose you all convince yourselves that you are pleasing God by praying and putting people to rest while spreading quite a deadly, life-threatening virus to 300 others. Make it make sense? I tried, and I cannot. The more I think about it, the stupider I feel – and guiltier as well.

Reading my thoughts in this here letter and knowing that effective immediately I am exiting my seat as the chair of the society may please you. You may think: “Great. Now we can get someone to take the seat at the table who is more of a team player.” Wrong. With my exit comes the dissolving of the entire fund. All contributors will receive their donations within three working days – the refunds are already in process. This is the Muslim Burial Society’s final farewell.

Since the onset of the pandemic, I have found that the burial society has functioned more as a body that follows the philosophy of “can we get away with it?” and all this while wildly flailing about in a sub-par attempt to find stability in a world that is falling apart. Instead of managing our communities and the pandemic by proxy, we have become an untameable, ghastly funeral beast. And I cannot stand to look at my long teeth and oversized greedy hooves in the mirror any more. I quit. The burial society is closed. Forever. Fetch your own bodies. Kill your own selves. I shall have no part in it.

Salaam to you all and may God be with you. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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