x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Burials policy changed to allow weekend post-mortems

Post-mortems and burials will again be possible on weekends after authorities reverse a two-month-old policy that delayed them.

ABU DHABI // The capital's health authority has reversed a two-month-old policy under which Muslims who died at the weekend might not be buried within 24 hours.

Islamic custom requires burial as soon as possible after death, preferably within the first 24 hours.

However, two months ago the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD) said there would be no forensic pathologist on duty at any hospital in the emirate at weekends or on public holidays.

No post-mortem examinations could be performed until a doctor came on duty on Sunday, meaning burials would be delayed.

When first contacted by The National about the issue last Sunday, a HAAD spokeswoman said the policy was still in place.

But by Tuesday, the health authority said it accepted that the policy was causing consternation. The next day it resumed full-week staffing.

"Any issues being faced by the mortuary have now been resolved," HAAD said in a statement.

Islamic scholars were united in their dismay of HAAD's previous policy.

"It is a blessing for the dead to be buried quickly. It is sunnah, to rest in his burial ground," said Mohamed Hassan, head of sharia at Salman al Farasi Mosque in Dubai. "It is ikram [blessing or honour] for the dead."

Dr Mohamed Abdulatif, a professor of Islamic studies at UAE University, added that quick burial eases family pain. "It is emotionally harder to delay burial," he said. "The Prophet said we should bury the dead as soon as possible."

A source at HAAD said the policy had led to complaints from distressed relatives.

"HAAD recognises that there have been delays in the processing of bodies for burial, particularly on Fridays over the past few weeks," said Dr Oliver Harrison, the authority's director for public health and policy, in a statement. "HAAD is currently undertaking a range of measures to limit any delays in future."

One of the complaints against the previous policy was from Robeni Flawawe, whose husband, Faisal Fernandez, 61, from Singapore, died on February 17 after a heart attack. Despite strong protestations from Mrs Flawawe, her work colleagues and other families at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, her husband was not buried until February 19.

"I am very disturbed, and so are my children," she said. "There was a long delay in burial. He stayed in the fridge for two days. It is very sad and we don't understand - we were just told there were no doctors. Being in a Muslim country, this should be done quickly to let the body rest."

According to a colleague who was with her at the time: "We said if it is a money problem, we would pay. There were five other families there in the same situation."

Eventually, friends and relatives of another person who had died convinced authorities to bring a doctor in that Saturday.

Mr Fernandez's death certificate was finally ready on Saturday afternoon. A few hours later the man was buried after maghrib prayer.

osalem@thenational.ae