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No coffin or eulogies as Haji buried in line with Muslim customs

By Allan Mungai and Awal Mohammed | February 17th 2021
President Uhuru Kenyatta visited the Nairobi home of Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji to condole with the family following the death and burial of the legislator on February 15, 2021. [PSCU, Standard]

To those unacquainted with Muslim customs, the burial ceremony of Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji on Monday may have appeared out of the ordinary for a dignitary.

Compared to former Cabinet minister Simeon Nyachae’s burial in Kisii on the same day, Haji’s seemed unremarkable: There was no service in a stadium, no fancy coffin, and no eulogies.

Plans for Haji’s internment were announced before many people knew that he had died (on the same day).

Unlike Christians, Muslims are usually buried on the same day the death occurred.

The exceptions to the rule apply in the event the person did not die of natural causes or where foul play is suspected.

Haji died at the Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi, on Monday morning. About two hours after news of his death became public, the body was moved from the hospital to his home for viewing.

Those who came to grieve with the family arrived with bottled water, milk or tissue paper, among other items that would be required by the family, as they received visitors who came to offer their condolences.

All and sundry were welcome at the house. 

The President of Somalia’s Jubaland, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Madobe, rubbed shoulders with those who showed up at Riverside Drive to pay their last respects to Haji. So did Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani, his fellow Cabinet members as well as Members of Parliament.

Under Islamic law, it is acceptable to view the body for a short time before burial. There were, however, no overt expressions of grief such as wailing. 

Inside the house, Haji’s body was washed and wrapped in a white cloth.

Muslims perform three rites before a body is buried. It is washed, wrapped in a white sheet called Kafan and finally taken for prayer before it is interred.

“A Muslim’s body is shrouded in white clothes regardless of his status in life in line with the traditions of the prophets,” said Sheikh Ibrahim Lithome, a leading Muslim cleric.

In the morning, Haji’s immediate family, including the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji, who spent most of the morning dressed in jeans and T-shirts, changed into kanzus.

When the time came for Haji’s body to be moved to the mosque for prayers, it was carried out of the house on a green metallic device resembling a stretcher, which was then loaded onto the back of a waiting ambulance.

In Islam, the carriage is called a janaza and it is used to carry the body of their beloved to the graveyard.  

A Muslim is not buried in a coffin; instead the body is laid in the grave and the janaza carried back to the mosque waiting to be used by another.

Departed soul

When the senator’s body reached the mosque, a special prayer for the dead called swalutul janaza was made.

The prayer is led by an Imam, asking the Almighty to pardon the departed soul and admit him among the righteous ones. 

After the prayer, the body was carried to Lang’ata Muslim Cemetery, his final resting place. Muslims are usually buried in communal cemeteries closest to them at the time of their death.

The body of the senator was lowered into the grave by close family members, as is the tradition in Islam, in a small trench called mwanandani, with his body facing Mecca and lying on his right side.

The trench was covered with planks of wood and the spaces that remained were filled up with twigs of trees.

Then mud was thrown in followed by sand to fill up the grave.

“The body lies on the soil to symbolise that human beings are from soil and the body has returned to its creator just as it came with nothing whatsoever,” said Sheikh Lithome.


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