A new generation is learning Muslim burial rites

An east London charity is offering free workshops on how to carry out traditional burial rites of ghusl mayyit. Photography by Amaal Said

Fiona Keating

 Volunteers learn about mandatory Islamic burial rituals during a workshop. Photographed for Hyphen by Amaal Said

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the South Asian community in Britain disproportionately, with an increased risk of hospitalisation, as compared to white groups. According to government figures released in December, Asian and Black people remain at higher risk of catching and becoming seriously ill with Covid-19 in the UK than other groups.

The higher rate of deaths has also led some South Asians to seek out information about Muslim burial rites, including ghusl mayyit, the washing and shrouding of the deceased. Supporting Humanity, a mental health and bereavement charity set up in 2020 in east London, works with young people and families to train volunteers to perform the mandatory Islamic ritual. The charity runs free workshops for women on the last Sunday of each month at the Belgrave Community Centre in Ilford.

Groups of up to 90 women have attended a Supporting Humanity workshop, learning Islamic burial rites techniques, including washing and then shrouding a deceased loved one.
Participants listen to speakers and make notes on how to perform ghusl mayyit, including the use of cleansing salts to purify the deceased. 
Workshop leader Salma Patel has been running sessions on Muslim burial rites since 2019, and uses a mannequin to demonstrate how a body is washed and dressed with care and respect.
Women at the workshop are shown by Patel and Supporting Humanity volunteers how to shroud the body of the deceased with a white sheet.
Attendees who visited the workshop ranged in age from their 20s to their 60s. Many asked Patel how she coped emotionally with her work. She said it was an honour to take part in ghusl mayyit.
Supporting Humanity offers counselling through group sessions and emotional support to the recently bereaved. The charity also liaises with funeral directors, hospitals, local authorities and registrars. All bereavement services are provided free of charge.
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