Volunteers descend on Christchurch with burial process to start

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CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand, March 19, 2019 (AFP) : As the first bodies of the Christchurch mosque shooting victims were returned to grieving families, Muslim volunteers from across New Zealand and Australia descended on the small town to help in the burial process.

Islamic custom dictates that people have to be buried as soon as possible, but the scale and devastation of Friday’s massacre — that saw 50 killed in the usually quiet southern New Zealand city — has delayed the handover of bodies to next of kin.

Police said Tuesday that just six bodies have been released so far and a total of 12 victims identified. As anguished relatives wait, waves of volunteers have driven or flown in to ease the burden on exhausted locals.

“We are a Muslim community, regardless of where we are situated through the country and the world, there is always going to be a connection with other Muslims when tragedy occurs,” Javed Dadabhai, a volunteer from Auckland, told AFP.

“Quite specifically, Christchurch is a small community, so… when you see a loss of 50 people, you really need to come down and help in whichever you can.”

While there has been no figures on the number of volunteers who have travelled to Christchurch, large numbers have been walking in and out of a family support centre near the Al Noor Mosque where dozens were killed by a white supremacist.

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Sohail Ibrahim was among the volunteers who packed his bags and hopped onto a plane from Sydney when a call came from his mosque for helpers.

“The problem is, many men and many women can’t face the body,” Ibrahim told AFP of why he felt compelled to lend a helping hand.

Dadabhai said the volunteers were divided into several teams which would help in the washing of bodies — required under Islamic custom — and the burials in the cemetery.

Mohammed Bilal, another volunteer from Auckland, said the “coming together” was a good way for Muslims to show they wanted to “live peacefully”.

“That’s why we are here,” he told AFP. “This is a hard time but we have to be strong and faithful and believe that we are going to overcome this.

“People come here to help each other and do something good for our society.”