The Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO) was launched in 1983 to provide help and support for the Muslim communities in Leicester and Leicestershire, and has had a long and positive working relationship with many private, public and voluntary sector organisations over the last 32 years. A registered charity, we have worked exhaustively on a whole range of projects covering such areas as education, housing, youth and social welfare in order to meet the needs of the Muslim community.
Suleman Nagdi speaking at the Royal Society of Medicine London on “End of Life”
This week is Dying Matters Week. We’re all encouraged to talk about Death Dying and Bereavement in the hope of breaking down this taboo and possibly living life more fully. These are my reflections from my context working with the Muslim Burial Council of Leicestershire.
MBCOL operates as a registered charity giving services to all communities in respect of “out of hours funerals” and also provides support in relation to matters around death and bereavement. We have been involved in this sector for more than two decades. Our service is available to all service users irrespective of their religious beliefs, colour, creed, background and also those people of no faith.
What we say is based on our own knowledge and experience and we have not looked at any statistical data as such. This is very much anecdotal in terms of what we consider appropriate in relation to the issues of dying.
In our experience, the vast majority of people don’t even give this a second thought. It is almost akin to those people that put off preparing their Will in order to put their arrangements in order before they pass away. We think that it is a universal truth that people will often avoid talking about death and dying simply because deep down there is some discomfort about the fact that we are all mortal beings inhabiting this planet.
In terms of death and what it brings, some people will rely on their faith and religious philosophy whilst others may choose to develop their own ideas and thoughts.
We do however, get approaches from family members who are very concerned about a loved one who is receiving end-of-life care. This is the only instance that we know of where families actually focus their minds on the practical arrangements for a loved one and what it is that they would like to be put in place. So to deal with the overall question of “are we in a good place to die?” Our experience is that this planning and thought only becomes action in situations where someone is receiving critical care or end-of-life care.
From the community perspective, we have seen some interesting variations in what arrangements people make before someone in their family dies. For some, it’s making arrangements in relation to religious rituals and to get their religious leaders or faith practitioners being involved in preparing for the fateful day and time. Others who are not from a particularly strong faith background tend to make arrangements in relation to gathering together their friends and loved ones to mark the occasion in their own unique way. We as a charity have hosted such events at our head office in order to support those through the bereavement process.
As an organisation we believe that this topic needs to be placed in the public domain more often and we need to raise the consciousness of our communities on addressing their minds in dealing with and making arrangements for our departure from the world. After all, this is probably the last and final act that we commit to before our demise from the mortal world and therefore it is incredibly important. We should attach substantial importance to this and encourage more people to talk about dying and bereavement in order to overcome the stigma and taboo that is often associated with it. Of course there are also some challenging circumstances that can exist when somebody dies, by way of example if somebody dies in very traumatic circumstances such as a car accident or a suicide.
What we do know is that death comes to us in various ways, under various methods and at various times. We as a nation have recently learned the loss of the Duke of Edinburgh who was married to our Queen for over 70 years and he had a long life when compared to perhaps those people we read about in the newspapers who die at a very young age. We had noticed that there was a lot of empathy in our communities for our Queen and people, on the whole, were able to understand the loss that she has had to bear.
We also turn our attention to recent deaths as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. We have witnessed some horrific scenes in India, which sadly has been overwhelmed. The arrangements for the dead are swift short and very impersonal. Some of the interviews we have seen from relatives resonate that they really have had no opportunity to say goodbye in their own particular way. Obviously, personally I feel an affinity with India, as this is the heritage that I come from and a country I love. These matters also affect other countries around the globe, we have seen the difficulties in some South American countries and also during the early pandemic the trauma and suffering that Italy had endured together with other European countries. These events serve as a reminder that human beings are fragile and susceptible to the forces of nature. When I make reference to nature, I recall the tsunami disaster that hit the eastern Pacific region. In these circumstances the choices we make are taken away from us. Certainly, the people of Leicester were very moved by the natural disaster which resulted in substantial sums of money being raised in charitable giving for that part of the world in a very short period of time.
In respect to the charitable giving that I have mentioned, the work that hospices do up and down the country is incredibly relevant and very important in our lives. In particular the amazing work that Rainbows Children’s and Young Persons Hospice do is very challenging and they still are able to bring some comfort and ease to families affected by children and young people who are life limited or are seriously ill. I am personally aware of the outstanding work that they do as my nephew Adam is a service user and the support my brother and his wife get is exceptionally beneficial. Additionally, I also know of a good friend, Faizal whose daughter, Aliyah, received care at Rainbows during the last days of her life before she sadly passed away from Cancer. Hospices that operate and give the service that they do is something that we could never adequately thank them for. What we can do however is to donate much needed funds to the work that they do and I would thoroughly encourage all of you to make donations to Rainbows and indeed other similar organisations. In the main they received no public funding and deliver the service entirely from charitable fundraising.
We can only but imagine what the frontline staff and volunteers have to deal with on a day-to-day basis when discussing issues of their service users within the context of their life limiting illness or disease. The conversations to be had about what arrangements need to be made must be extremely difficult and those that do it deserve our praise and we should commend them for taking the role of such incredible supportive work.
Having said that, if you are reading this and you would like to contribute in some way that I am sure that any financial contribution you can make to their work, no matter how small, would be greatly appreciated. The sad truth is that hospices of this kind of and down the country do not receive any substantial public funding and have to self-fund through charitable giving and fundraising. Please support organisations like this and indeed encourage all others around you to support them also.
We would suggest that the affinity that we have as human beings should not be lost and perhaps one of the ways to strengthen that connection is to consider the issues that connects us all and that issue is dying.
Disease of this kind and of this magnitude really does hit home to us that not only about our fragile mortality but our apparent choice to be ignorant about the arrangements we need to take about our own death. After all, we feel that if we engaged with this topic in a more meaningful way then the bereavement would not hurt so much. We would emotionally and psychologically prepare for the time when we have to say goodbye and in the manner and the method by which we choose to say goodbye to those that we love and hold dear.
As we approach the end of a very difficult year, it is important to celebrate some of the amazing things the people of Leicester have done to support each other, and the community.
Leicester has been significantly affected by the different lockdown measures that have been implemented to tackle Covid-19. The increased isolation and uncertainty has been difficult for many.
Yet despite all of this, there have been very heartening examples of support and solidarity.
One such example is that of Masjid Al-Falah, a local Mosque and affiliate of FMO who have donated £700 to the Police as a contribution to their welfare van. The money was collected from their congregation as a thank you and to support our frontline workers who have performed heroically during the pandemic. This mosque has been at the forefront of community interfaith work, raising funds for local hospitals, hosting government ministers and international visitors.
The donation will provide essential items for police officers that will improve their wellbeing when on deployment.
During this unprecedented time, police officers and staff have worked tremendously hard to keep our communities safe, and we are immensely thankful for the work they do.
Despite the efforts of a small minority who have sought to exploit the pandemic by sowing hate and division in our community, the actions of Masjid Al-Falah are a shining example of the real Leicester. One that is open, engages with one another, and supports our community.
Let us all take forward the positive example that they have set, and work together to help those who need it, and support those who are working hard to keep us safe.
Rabbi Shmuli-Pink (L), Suleman Nagdi (R)
The last 6 months have been a testing time for Leicester, and for the country as a whole. Covid-19 continues to change how we live, in ways we would scarcely have found imaginable at the start of 2020.
Eid was cancelled, leaving many disappointed. We have had to keep our distance from friends and family. Some of us have lost loved ones.
Isolation, uncertainty and stress have been unavoidable by-products of the pandemic. The additional lockdown measures currently in place in Leicester have only heightened this further.
Despite all of this, it has been heartening to see the heroic efforts of many in the community to support the most vulnerable and isolated.
Sadly, this positivity hasn’t been universal. Over the last few months we have also seen an increase in hate crime directed towards certain communities. Fear and anxiety have been manipulated to stoke anger and division through lies and misinformation.
It is unacceptable and it must stop.
During Hate Crime Awareness Week FMO is continuing our work with the hate crime unit of Leicester Police, including showing support for communities across Leicester as part of the pledge photo initiative. FMO are here for you if you have concerns or have experienced abuse. You can also find help with Stamp it Out.
We would also urge anyone who has been the victim of a hate crime, or has witnessed a hate crime, to report it to the Police Hate Crime Officer, Isla Dixon at email@example.com.
This is not the time to increase division and hate. This is not the time to generalise the actions of individuals to their communities. This is the time to support each other, and to listen to each other.
So this Hate Crime Awareness Week, I have a simple message for all of Leicester – Hate has no place in our city. Not now. Not ever.
At the start of this year, no one could have predicted the impact of COVID-19. However, we are fortunate that the FMO’s affiliate MBCOL (The Muslim Burial Council of Leicester) has been there to support communities during this challenging time.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected every aspect of our daily lives, including the way we look after our deceased. I know many of you are concerned about how we can continue to hold burials that respect our Islamic faith without being put at risk by the virus.
To reduce the impact of the coronavirus on our burial practices, MBCOL has maintained its joined up working with its partner agencies including the Bereavement Department of the Leicester City Council, Registration Services, Coroners, NHS Hospitals, Police, the Reliance Forum, Leicester Council of Faiths, and the National Burial Council. We are also grateful to our affiliates, Masjids and Funeral Arrangers, as well as all the volunteers for stepping up to help.
I’d like to reassure you all that we are working hard to ensure families’ wishes are respected and Muslim funeral rites can be observed as far as possible, whilst also keeping people safe.
Ghusl and safety
Many people in the community have shared their worries about whether it is still safe or allowed to perform ghusl. It saddens me to say that in this case, the current guidance is that unless you have access to full personal protective equipment (PPE), the safest practice is to pour water over the closed body bag. We always recommend that individuals seek guidance from their local Imams in relation to religious rituals that may differ from our recommendation.
In response to this, there has been a heroic fundraising effort going on in the community to buy PPE for ghusl volunteers. I very much appreciate the great number of volunteers that have stepped up to help the community in different ways, some in their individual capacity and others by forming the independent COVID-19 Leicestershire Muslim Funeral Support group. We thank them all for their work to ensure we can perform Islamic burials in keeping with the wishes of those who have sadly passed away, by providing guidance and logistical support.
New restrictions in line with social distancing allow up to ten close family members to attend funerals and these are in place to halt the spread of the virus. This is, however, subject to change when new government guidelines are released.
I understand how devastating it can be for people to not take part in a loved one’s burial, but it is a testament to our community that we are pulling together, respecting this guidance and putting the safety of others first.
As we pass through these difficult and uncertain times look after yourselves and each other. Stay safe and remember that if we come together in our faith, as a community and as a nation, we will beat this disease.
If you wish to donate, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org – for further information on our work please visit www.mbcol.org.uk.
The Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO) welcomes the opportunity to join members of other communities to mark National Hate Crime Awareness Week 2019 hosted at Leicester Cathedral at 5:00 pm on 23 October 2019.
Islam like other faiths and beliefs places emphasis on the concept of protecting the vulnerable in society.
The FMO abhors in the most absolute terms discrimination against any individual or group in society, even more so when, unwarranted discrimination is turned into acts of persecution, enacted against an individual or group.
We must challenge all forms of discrimination and persecution with the strongest of efforts, including supporting and helping enforce legislation.
We hope you will come and support us by attending this open gathering at Leicester Cathedral.
Please RSVP to email@example.com.
FMO has a long history of supporting charities to raise money for our brothers and sisters in need of help, and especially for refugees and people affected by war and conflict.
We know many in our community join us in this spirit, as do the Muslim population across the UK. According to the Charity Commission, Muslims in Britain donate around £100 million during Ramadan alone.
Sadly, this willingness to help is often exploited by unwanted actors. In unsafe places, where unrest and instability abound, dangerous groups can readily take advantage of the situation by channelling well-meaning donations to non-aid related causes.
This isn’t to say you should stop donating altogether, but that you should exercise increased vigilance when you do.
With help from the Charity Commission’s advice page, we’ve outlined a few steps to take before offering your money.
Firstly, and arguably most importantly, verify the charity’s registration number by searching for it on the Government’s charity register.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to contact the charity if you have any questions or concerns. Anyone collecting for the charity in a public place should be happy to answer any queries, too. If not, best to do more research or avoid entirely.
Lastly, use common sense. If something seems iffy, or the charity is raising money for a cause that seems unusually vague (eg. “for sick children”), use caution before donating. This is particularly important on the internet, so be wary of suspicious emails or social media posts.
For more information on safe giving, be sure to visit the Charity Commission website.