I had some other plans yesterday (20/12/10) but destiny dictates otherwise. Early morning my wife received a call informing her that a close relative had passed away. We had to be in Juasseh, Kuala Pilah, to pay her our last respect and attend the burial ceremony. The previous evening our daghter had also become the victim of food poisoning. She was still very weak and dazed from a lot of purging and vomitting. We had to take her to her grandma's house before going to Juasseh. At least she'd not be left alone there.
It was some two and a half hours' journey by car to Juasseh before, now shrunk to about just over an hour with time for lunch. How come.? The roads have been improved consirably with a shortcut accross country via LEKAS ( the Kajang-Setemban Express Highway) and a straightened road over the hills of Bukit Putus ( the Seremban-Ulu Bendul Highway or SUBUH - no name given and that is my suggestion). The older North-South highway had become too congested while the old Bukit Putus twister road needs only a heavily loaded truck (lorry) crawling up in front of you to cause a bumper-to-bumper jam over a narrow, hilly area of some six kilometers. The name Broken Hill Road ( Jalan Bukit Putus) was really an appropriate sobriquet for the older passage between Seremban and Ulu Bendul.
The mad-rush journey was quite uneventful. Except for two or three accidents between cars and the same number involving motocycles. Is that uneventful? Yes consideration that an accident like the Simpang Pulai-Kampung Raja bus accident accident can quash 27 lives. No one seemed to be killed in the five or six accidents I saw though but the jams they caused were attrocious. Most surprisingly an accident on one side of a dual highway caused as nasty a jam on the other side of the road as well. People slow down to see and, seemingly, enjoy the sight. Then they speed on again as if nothing has happened.
When we reached the house of our late Auntie, the oft unoccupied house was already teeming with relatives and visitors.( See pics). I've never seen so many people gathered at the house while she was alive, even on a festive occasion. Yes, people really gather together at a house only on two occasions - a death or a wedding. Those are the times when you can see almost all the relatives and friends of people living in that house. Never at any other times. After meeting those assembled under the porch, i learned that the grand old lady had not arrived yet from the hospital at the place she passed away. Her remains was on the way back home, carried by a van dedicated for the transportation of the dead - the modern mobile hearse.
Every mosque in the village seemed to have such a van nowadays with the name of the village which owns it boldly emblazoned on the sides of the van. The van is often new and modern but the stretcher on which the corpse is carried often looked cheap and rickety. I would consider it an insult to the dead, seeing how others respect and pamper their departed. On two occasions, in my own and my wife's village, the Imam was complaining that there was no money to buy a new stretcher. I suppose the van is bought by government or with its assistance. Will have to check on that.
The Muslim's burial ceremony is very simple. The dead is given a last prayer in the house ( or mosque/madrasah) by those in attendance ( even women are allowed to join in), all standing up and in close formation. No rukuk, sujud or iktidal. A representative of the departed will then thank everyone in attendance and proclaim that if the departed had any outstanding debt to anyone, a claim for repayment can be made to him. Normally nobody does and the debt is just forgotten or considered as a gift to the departed. Yes, If the departed rests in the house overnight, visitors will come and read the al-quran (surah Yassin) on his/her behalf almost throughout the night.
The real burial ceremony is again very simple. ( Those who accompany the departed to the graveyard often take the opportunity to visit the grave of beloved ones).
The departed is laid to rest in a grave six feet deep and after the ground is levelled again with a rectangular ridge to mark where he/she is buried, the Imam and crowd sit beside it to perform the "hand over" ceremoney to Allah. The 'takqin' reminds the departed of what his/her answer should be when questioned by Allah's Inquisitioners ( Munkar wa Nangkir), that the joy of life on earth has ended for him/her, and that all were giving a final goodbye to him/her. The Doa will be read and everyone present joins in the endorsement of the praises to Allah the Most Merciful requesting Him to place the soul of the departed among the souls of the blessed.
After that everyone goes home leaving the departed in his/her final place of rest.( For three nights after this some people hold a doa reading ceremony with some refreshments}.
It's a most sobering occasion, inviting one to reflect on one's own journey in life and what one has done to deserve a place in heaven. Or will it be some place else? It's always a sublime experience to me and this is the first time I've recorded it in writing so that others might want to share it with me. Amin.