By Veronica Gwaze
MUSLIMS in Chegutu are fuming following reports that their burial rites could have contributed to the spread of cholera, which took the lives of four people in the town last week.
Laita Manungusye (72), McLeod Domingo (47), Andrew Matula (71) and Smart Njerenje (71) were the four fatalities from around 30 recorded cholera cases.
Myth has is that when Muslims wash the body of a deceased congregant, they use the water to prepare food at the funeral wake. This myth found feet to run on when Manungusye’s body was washed according to Islamic practice on January 10.
Tariro mamu, who assisted with the rite, said they were shocked to hear claims that they washed the intestines of the deceased and used the water for cooking. Manungusye’s daughter, Lucia, complained of stomach pains after the funeral and was diagnosed with typhoid. Then on January 13, Domingo succumbed to cholera when he returned from Manungusye’s burial. His nephew, Raymond Antonio, said: “When he came home complaining of diarrhoea … we assumed he (had) a bug from something he ate at the funeral. We did not know that it was something serious.” He says his uncle never had any physical contact with Manungusye.
Despite being a Muslim, Domingo’s was not washed as per tradition. Matula was to die on January 16, after also complaining of diarrhoea after Manungusye’s funeral. His widow, Eneresi, said: “I realised he was getting worse so we decided to take him to hospital and he was admitted. The day after, the man had breathed his last.”
His body was washed at Baitul Salaam Mosque according to religious rites. And then soon after that, Njerenje was also to die. “My father complained of stomach problems and diarrhoea although he was not telling me how serious it was. Within a few minutes of entering into the toilet, I decided to follow and check-up why he was taking long and to my surprise, I found him lying on the floor unable to walk.“We then took him to hospital where he was admitted. He died three days later,” his son, Mr Phillip Njerenje said. His body was prepared for burial the Muslim way. It is against this background that the Muslim community has been a scapegoat of what could really be a water problem. Chegutu District Muslim Council Patron, Sheikh Ibrahim Mdala, said there was need to dispel misconceptions about Islam.
“I am concerned about the misconceptions that Muslims wash intestines of the dead which has created tensions between us and the other religions.
“For a person‘s intestines to be washed there definitely needs to be a surgical operation and so how do we open that person when we are not medical doctors? So there is no way we can wash the intestines,” said Sheikh Mdala. Sheikh Mdala said they did not prepare food with water used to wash dead bodies.“In terms of washing the dead, we get reference from the Qur’aan 2:222 which says ‘Truly, God loves who turn unto Him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves’.
“Prophet Muhammad believed ‘cleanliness is half of faith’ and from this viewpoint, using that water in common sense or even the medical point of view doesn’t work. “There also was misinformation when the media stated that the first victim was washed by three men. Our religion does not have the freedom of intermingling of sexes. Like in any other religions, men wash men and women wash women.
“We believe that sacredness continues even after death, and even those who wash the dead person religiously, are not allowed to see his/ her nakedness. They wash the exterior parts of the body and not the inside. So this issue of us washing the intestines, is baseless.“This misinformation has actually prejudiced Islamic religion and calls for a lot to be done in demystifying the myths surrounding the Islamic religion. “People need to understand that when a Muslim dies, they are washed in the washing room under very sanitary conditions where the people have to wear gloves and various other protective clothing. And even the water we use, goes direct into the sewer.”Many parts of Chegutu have had no running water for about ten years now. Chegutu town clerk Alex Mandigo said this could have triggered the outbreak as people resort to unsafe water sources.“From the 2009 outbreak the council has tried to mitigate against the town’s problems, specifically water shortages, although it is not shortage as such but a poor network system which needs rehabilitation. But finances have always been a challenge for us since back then.
“We have enough supply for the town without even rationing but rehabilitation of the network is right now the burning issue lest more numbers continue to die,” he said.