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COVID-19: A Challenge For Muslim American Community

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I heard a loud recitation of the Holy Quran as I walked into my mother’s room. “Did you talk to the doctor about Pa ji (elder brother)”, she asked with tearful eyes. I shook my head in positive and sat next to her. “Doctors think he will not survive much longer as his lungs are fully infected with Coronavirus”, I said it in one breath as I knew she will break into tears before I finish my sentence.

After listening to the news, she started reciting the Holy Quran even louder. At the same moment, my phone bell rang, and it was my uncle’s roommate who wanted to give update about his health. “I spoke to doctors and they said he is all fine and recovering, there are no signs of Coronavirus whatsoever. There were minor symptoms, but he came out of it, so he is all fine”, said Gharib Nawaz Khan who has been living with my uncle, Annayat Ullah Malik, for many years. My uncle died the next morning because of the novel COVID-19.

After the burial of my uncle, I spoke to many Pakistani and Indian Americans who had symptoms of Coronavirus and, surprisingly, all of them were in a state of denial. This state of denial is also a leading factor for the lethal spread of coronavirus.

Iftikhar Hussain, from Brooklyn New York, his son and wife are in isolation after diagnosed with COVID-19. I have known Iftikhar since my childhood and still, he was hiding the fact that he had Coronavirus. This attitude of denial might have caused the transfer of the virus to his family.

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While gathering data about Pakistani Americans who are infected with this disease, I realized that most of these individuals are scared that, if died, they will not get a proper funeral and burial, such as cleaning, clothing and special funeral prayer before the burial; it is a common fear among all Muslim communities in America.

“I heard they will either burn (cremate) the body or dump it in a mass burial place”, said Muhammad Yasin who is now recovering from COVID-19. “I would rather die here in my room than at the hospital with horrible ending”, he said in such a shaking voice that I could only guess what he said.

I feel honored that I arranged the funeral and burial of my Mamoo (uncle) who died due to COVID-19. It was a proper Islamic burial with all funeral-related services. Since it was a pandemic related death, they gave us the deceased body in a special bag. The Imam did “Tayamam” and put it in a casket at the funeral home. At the time of the funeral, the body was taken to a Muslim cemetery where “Namaz-e-Janaza” (funeral prayer) was offered and then the body was laid into the grave. A prayer, led by the Imam, was offered by everyone who participated in the burial.

We are living in a challenging time where everyone has access to publish, act as an editor and pretend that he/she is the primary source of information.  Even though social media platforms have done a good job in limiting the dissemination of life-threatening misinformation that could worsen the pandemic but still rumors, myths, and conspiracy theories slip through the net. New threats may yet emerge. But we need to authenticate and validate news before believing them or circulating it among others.

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Getting coronavirus is neither a crime nor a matter of shame. But if you hide it and not take it seriously, it would amount to criminal negligence. As a community, it is our responsibility to use all medical precautions and help each other in these perilous times.

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