The mob of over 150 people who forcefully took Muhammad Yunus’ cadaver from a hospital in eastern Indonesia thought it was impossible that the 49-year-old Islamic preacher could have died from coronavirus. He had always washed his hands, worn a mask and followed health protocols issued by the government, according to local residents.
So when he died the day after going to the hospital on Sulawesi island with chest pains and having trouble breathing, his followers were determined to retrieve his body for what they considered a proper Muslim burial.
Over 100 people broke into the hospital, threatened nurses and eventually carried Yunus’ corpse away less than 30 minutes after his death, reports AP.
“What we have done is noble in God’s eyes, but despicable in the eyes of the law,” said a community member identified by the police only as Ramli.
As Indonesia’s virus death toll rises, the world’s most populous Muslim country finds itself at odds with protocols put in place by the government to handle the bodies of victims of the pandemic. This has led to increasing incidents of bodies being taken from hospitals, rejection of COVID-19 health and safety procedures, and what some experts say is a lack of communication from the government.
But with corpses of coronavirus victims thought to possibly be contagious, government protocols for handling bodies have meant that rituals typically performed by families have fallen on the shoulders of those handling the country’s dead.
Corpse handling officer Sahrul Ridha said his job has changed since the outbreak. “Even though it is an emergency situation, we should wash the bodies, do the ablution and shroud the infectious bodies properly,” said Ridha.
Indonesia has confirmed more than 68,000 cases of the coronavirus, including over 3,350 deaths, the most infections and fatalities in Southeast Asia.
Maulana said that if families ask him to perform final prayers, he usually does, as long as he has time to clean himself and prepare for the next burial.
Daisy Indira Yasmine, a sociologist at the University of Indonesia, said that while rituals regarding death have traditionally been a private matter in Indonesia, the pandemic has caused the government to intervene with health and safety procedures.
Bodies of coronavirus victims have also been stolen in other places across Indonesia.