Bangsamoro Region

Shaykh Gustaham’s Team: Custodian of Covid-19 Dead in ZC

By Gamson Jr Mawallil Quijano 

The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most memorable events of our generation. This would be one of the invaluable stories we could tell to the generation to come. This pandemic is so far the longest health crisis that everyone across the world has ever faced in this era. 


As of this writing, it is still cloudy as to when this would ultimately end since it engulfed the world in the last quarter of the year 2019. Instead, it continues to mutate, spread and devastate many precious lives and drown the global economy. 
During the first phase of this pandemic, the news about the effects of this disease that we see on television and read in many online news stories was indeed worrying. 


This is the main reason many people, including myself, have become frightened and extremely anxious about the welfare of our family amid the health crisis. This is our natural response simply because this hasn’t happened to us before until today.
Before this pandemic, when someone had died, relatives and friends of a deceased loved one were visiting the grieving family home to offer commiseration. They even joined the funeral to pay a final tribute and bid farewell to the deceased’s loved ones. This is common practice in places like Sulu and Zamboanga.


However, because of this pandemic, many things have suddenly and completely changed. These changes have direct or indirect unfortunate consequences for people across the world. Everyone became more cautious now about the well-being of their family. 


As a precautionary approach to protect and safeguard every precious soul of human lives from being afflicted by the possible deadly effect of the COVID-19, leaders and experts worldwide including Philippines were compelled to impose several stringent safety and health measures, among them proper handling of the remains of COVID-19 related cases. 


The nature of this disease is contagious. Thus, handling the remains of Muslims who have died related to COVID-19 poses a “great challenge” not only to the bereaved family but as well as to our medical frontliners. The Janāza procedures are to be done only by individuals who are technically equipped and knowledgeable of this highly infectious and deadly disease. 
Any traditional leaders in the community cannot just perform said procedures as is usually the case when someone who will die. Similarly, immediate family members, friends and relatives cannot be directly involved in performing the procedures for their loved ones when the cause of death is associated with COVID-19. 


Alhamdu Lillāhi, we are grateful enough that in Zamboanga City, someone has unhesitatingly volunteered to do the Janāza procedures for the Muslim brothers and sisters who would die from COVID-19 cases. 


Upon being coordinated by Dr. Hussein H. Sahijuan III, Medical Officer IV and Muslim COVID-19 Death Coordinator of City Health Office of Zamboanga about the handling of remains of Muslims might have died related to COVID-19, Shaykh Mahir Gustaham, a foreign graduate of Islamic Studies along with his team didn’t hesitate to volunteer. 


This is not a simple task for Shaykh Mahir and his team. They may have had this disease, and they have their own families and loved ones living with them in the same house. Nevertheless, to absolve the rest of the Muslims of responsibility in this matter and to alleviate the difficulties being faced by our medical frontliners and the bereaved family, and as he is also an experienced person in doing Janāza procedures, he and his team assume responsibility. 


Despite the situation, Shaykh Mahir’s team fully clad with personal protective equipment (PPE) for how many hours did not hesitate to do their best just to ensure that all of the steps required by the Islamic law in this case such as washing the body of the deceased, shrouding it, praying on it, and burying it will all be done completely. They are doing all of these mostly in the hospitals where the person died. Thereafter, they buried it in Muslim cemeteries. 


Fortunately, family members albeit “few only” are allowed to be present during the funeral prayer and the burial of their deceased loved ones provided they have complied with strict guidelines of contact precautions. 


According to Shaykh Mahir, before hand, he and his team received a proper training on how to wear PPE correctly, what are the necessary things to do before and after handling the remains of COVID-19 related cases. 


Along the way, Shaykh Mahir and team have had encountered numerous difficulties especially during the second quarter of 2021 when the number of remains they need to bury increased. It resulted in the unavailability of transportation to ship the remains to the cemetery right away. 


In this case, they’ve exhausted all the possible means. Al Husna Foundation has extended help for logistics to augment the smoothness of the burial process so that it would not be delayed. Likewise, there were those “few rare” kindhearted Muslim leaders, groups and individuals who have extended their assistance in this noble endeavor. May Allāh reward them with goodness in this world and in the hereafter.


One of the great challenges that Shaykh Mahir and his team had to face, apart from the difficulties of the work, is that they must opt to stay separated from their families. They couldn’t easily go home to see their families the way they used to because they were afraid of putting their families’ health at risk. 


Each day, they missed their families so much. This has even caused Shaykh Mahir to cry, especially when he sees his children in video calls begging him to go home and be with them; likewise, during the last Ramadhān when everyone was fasting but his group left without a choice still needed to continue the challenging work. Nevertheless, with the help of Allāh, they were able to manage everything smoothly. 


Commendably, what Shaykh Mahir and his team has done was indeed a great relief for the family of the deceased. At least, whenever someone would succumb to COVID-19, there is a team who is willing to do the Janāza procedures to ensure that their loved ones, despite the challenging situation still can receive the most dignified way of Janāza rites following Islamic law. 


Mahir Gustaham, Yahya Abdulhamid, Amir Jordan Abubakar, Abdulhapir Illan, Zeidan Jakaria, Fhadzpul Jai, Sabri Basug, Alsavier Jai, Almujib Aiyub, and Mudar Yu are the people behind this noble act during this pandemic. May Allāh reward them with goodness in this world and in the hereafter.


For as long as the battle against our unseen enemy that agonizes the world is not yet officially declared over, LET US ALL NOT BE COMPLACENT. Everyone has to be responsible enough to rigorously follow all COVID-19 precautions. By doing so, we can help protect ourselves, our families, our homes, our loved ones and the whole community from the threat of this horrible disease. 


May Allāh always keep us all including our beloved families, loved ones — so ever be protected and safeguarded by Him at all times from the harm of COVID-19 and its other variants; likewise from any natural or man-made catastrophes wherever we may be.

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The team performed the funeral prayer, one of the rituals prescribed by the Islamic law to be performed on a deceased Muslim before he/she will be buried. Photo courtesy of Shaykh Mahir Gustaham. 

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The team performed the funeral prayer, one of the rituals prescribed by the Islamic law to be performed on a deceased Muslim before he/she will be buried. Photo courtesy of Shaykh Mahir Gustaham. 

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The team prepares to place the deceased’s body at the bottom of the grave. Photo courtesy of Shaykh Mahir Gustaham. 

The Ranao Star

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