Supported by the National Geographic Society

A 15-20 volunteer team named Al-Markazul (a religious and social welfare organization) has been conducting dignified funerals and burials of the COVID-19 victims in Dhaka, Bangladesh. All these volunteers are Muslim scholars or teachers from Madrasa. They have been keeping themselves separated from their families, living at a place near the designated graveyard and risking their lives out of humanity since May 29, 2020.  This body of work is an insight of these volunteers’ daily life.

Volunteers sit together to pray namaz.
Clothes of the volunteers, hanging in the room.
Imran puts attar (traditional organic perfume) on the body of a man who died of COVID - 19 and Sayeed prepares the shroud.
Farid conducts the janazah (Islamic funeral prayer) for a man who died of COVID-19.
Volunteers carry the body of a man who died due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) for his burial.

Hamza Shahidul Islam (22)

“I was very worried about the situation from the beginning and always wanted to help the people. At first it was very difficult to find volunteers for this job. No one wanted to join me except for few. But I didn’t lose hope. Gradually some people got motivated and started joining. The most precious moment was when we were coming back from the graveyard in our ambulance, watching us the Bangladesh military stopped by and gave us a salute ! That’s the best feeling I have ever had in my life. Still that memory keeps us motivated.”

Anwar Hossain (26)

“At the beginning of the pandemic I was so scared that I didn’t get out of my house for at least one week. Then I came to know about this volunteers team and got inspired. Hamza, also motivated me a lot. When I locked myself in my house I was safe but I was always feeling very lonely. Though now I am working with the risk, I enjoy the company of my friends here. We are living like a family. As a team leader, I am trying my best to take care of them. In the tough time you always might not get your family members beside you but I know these friends will be always with me.”

Joynal Abedin (47)

“ My wife is braver than me, she also studied in a madrasa. She told me that right now duty towards the dead should be my first priority. I was confused at the beginning but she constantly gave me courage. She also told me that different pandemics came to this world in different times. Someone has to be there to help others . So I am here.”

Imran Hossain (32)

“ “God’s greatest creation is man” – Islam taught us this. Before the pandemic when I used to prepare the dead for burial, I used to give them a bath, put attar/perfume on the body, purify the body and pray for the departed soul. But because of this COVID-19 when everyone else refused to do the job, I couldn’t accept that, these dead people would not be able to get the proper respect. Though I miss my family and sometimes feel like crying for my son and pregnant wife, I always keep in mind - "Duty is God and prayer is heaven". Every one doesn’t get the opportunity to serve humanity. I think I am so lucky in that sense.”

Salma (32)

“I thought that I also could have died in this pandemic. After my death, if people don’t treat me properly following the ritual, will my soul be ever happy? So I wanted to serve others in this pandemic.”

Farid Ahmad (55)

“ Islam thought me about humanity, love and compassion regardless religion or caste. When my country and the people are in trouble, I had to take the decision to isolate myself from my family to serve. People are dying because of the pandemic – no proper goodbye, no funeral, no ritual - It’s not possible to accept. I believe that serving humanity is the greatest religion. This is the last phase of my life, now I only want to serve others.”

Mohammad Hanzala (25)

“My father was a life time member of the organization - Al Markazul Islami and worked in different humanitarian projects. I had been watching him working for others from my childhood. That motivated me a lot to work here during this pandemic. My education of Islam also inspired me to work for the society. My family members also supported me a lot. I think, in the tough time we all should be more compassionate and come forward to help each other. We all should have the courage to fight against the obstacles.”

Mukta (22)

"I have been working with the volunteer team from the beginning of the pandemic. I live with my husband and mother-in-law. My husband mostly remains sick and can not work. I used to work in this organization with my mother-in-law. Both of us used to prepare the female dead bodies for the funeral. When the pandemic began, I started working for the female COVID victims."

Mahbubur Hossain (24)

“I am missing my family very much to be honest. Twice I thought of going back home to visit them. But how can I leave my duty like this? Moreover my family members also can get affected by me. I don’t want them to suffer because of me.”

Abu Sayeed (20)

“ I didn’t tell my parents otherwise they would worry too much about me and at the same time I wanted to serve. Sometimes while talking to my mother over phone, she asks me that why I sound very tired, If there is anything wrong. I just try to avoid that conversation. I used be very scared of dead bodies, but while working here watching other volunteers, I got the courage and told myself that if others can do, so so I. Other members always encouraged me. This is a great learning for me. In my future, I want to keep serving people.”

Every day, the volunteers wake up early in the morning and say the morning prayers. They have breakfast and then go to the designated Dhaka hospitals to collect the COVID-19 victims on call. Maintaining the COVID-19 guidelines, they use disinfectors, prepare the victims for burial, bring them to the graveyard and bury them performing all the rituals. After the formalities, they burn the PPE.

Volunteers have their lunch together after namaz. Usually they can have only one proper meal in a day.
Farid recites Quran when he gets free time for himself.
Anwar keeps checking the daily updates on his phone while others take rest.
Volunteers get into the ambulance to bring a COVID victim from the hospital.
Volunteers burry the body of a man who died of COVID-19.

Turjoy Chowdhury / National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund.