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The ritual washing of dead bodies Obligatory washings every Muslim will one day face.

Losing a loved one means having them one day and doing without them the next. The grieving have a list of tasks that must be attended to, ranging from transporting the body to the grave to hosting other grievers. For Muslims, the washing of a relative's body is a necessary ritual--one that every Muslim must go through, yet few know the entire routine.

Khalid Abdulwali Al-Sharjabi, 44, has been washing corpses for 12 years. It's one of his many jobs, which include being the head of the Agricultural Lands Department for the Lands Office of Sana'a governorate and an Imam at his local mosque.

Having the deceased's body washed is obligatory in Islam. It is preferable for relatives to wash the bodies. A man's body should be washed by men and a woman's body by women. The washing can take place in a mosque, where many have sections devoted to these washings, or at the home of the washer or the relative's of the deceased. Al-Sharjabi first began washing bodies at the Bin Masou mosque on Hael Street, where he worked for three years. He has been intensely reading about and studying his religion ever since, and is now an Imam who focuses on converting non-Muslims to Islam.

He has washed countless bodies including that of his own father.

The first body Al-Sharjabi washed was that of a grenade victim. The grenade exploded in the man's hand, leaving him without an arm and with a severely disfigured face. He did not wash the wounded areas with water, instead covering those parts with dirt and wrapping the areas with cotton. The other parts of the body were washed with water.

"I dealt with him gently, as though he were sleeping," he recalled.

Not all bodies should be washed, however.

The bodies of martyrs, who sacrificed themselves for God, should not be washed, Al-Sharjabi said. If a body is severely burned, it should not be washed. If the deceased has no relative to wash the body, it is not obligatory that it be washed. And if there is no water available, the body can be religiously cleansed with dirt.

Al-Sharjabi wears gloves and a mask when washing a body. He lays the body on a flat surface with the private parts covered.

"The person washing the body doesn't need to read verses from the Quran. It is enough to say 'in the name of Allah' and then to start," he said.

Al-Sharjabi carefully removes the clothing and sometimes gives the clothes to the poor.

The hair and moustache of a dead person should be trimmed, he said, and the nails should be cut. All armpit hair should be removed, for females and males. The corpse is then put in a sitting position and the belly is gently pressed so that the body can empty its bowels.

The ablution, the ritual cleaning before prayer, is then performed on the body. Al-Sharjabi cleans the teeth and removes any golden teeth so that the relatives can benefit from them, he said. Twenty liters of sider powder, similar to henna, is added to the water used to wash the body. First, the hair is washed, followed by the right side of the body starting with the deceased's head and ending with his toes. The left side of the body is then washed in a similar manner.

"One of the deceased's relatives should be present in the washing room to help the washer move and turn the corpse over," Al-Sharjabi said.

Once the body is clean, 20 liters of camphor is added to clean water and the washing is performed again. Camphor is used to keep away the insects.

"Camphor gives nice smell to the body and keeps insects away for days," Al-Sharjabi said.

The corpse is then patted dry and wrapped in a shroud, a piece of cloth--usually white--that consists of three pieces. The shroud is identical for men and women. "The shroud is preferred to be white, 2.2 meters long and 1.8 meters wide, and is scented with musk," he said.

Twenty-six-year-old Bashar Al-Dobai also washes bodies. His father taught him how to wash bodies and like Al-Sharjabi, he washed his father's corpse when he died.

Washers have to be careful that they don't prepare a living body for burial.

There are several signs that indicate that a person has deceased, such as a change of color, a low-temperature, the inclination of the nose to one face, and a stiffened face.

"If these signs are present, we try to wake the person up because he is in a coma, not dead," Al-Dobai said. What inspires a person to get into the body-washing business? For Al-Sharjabi, it wasn't money--he doesn't charge for his services.

"I don't [ask] for money for my work, I do it for God's reward," he told the Yemen Times. "But if the family of the deceased insists on paying me, I accept it."

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Publication:Yemen Times (Sana'a, Yemen)
Date:Aug 27, 2013
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