Not even the full protective gear can mask the respect with which the men wash the body of a newly deceased member of their Muslim community. “To Allah we belong. Unto him shall we return. Ghusal Room 1,” reads a sign, referring to ghusal, the Muslim cleansing ritual, at the entrance to a room designated for victims of COVID-19. The body is shrouded, placed in a coffin and buried in a nearby cemetery in Lenasia, a community of about 100,000 people on the outskirts of Johannesburg. For more than 30 years the Saaberie Chishty ambulance service, funded by community donations, has responded to medical emergencies. Now the service has greatly expanded to offer oxygen and home care for those with mild COVID-19 cases, and transport to the hospital for those with more severe illness. Confronted by a growing number of deaths, the organization now provides safe body preparation and burial. Its teams carry out many burials within 12 hours and all within the 24 hours required by Islamic tradition. “When we saw the news stories from overseas, the death toll, mass burials, we asked ourselves, `If this disease hits our shores, will we be ready?´” said Aboobaker Sayed, 42, chairman of the Saaberie Chishty Society, named for two Muslim saints in India. Around the world, the pandemic has challenged Muslim communities to bury their dead according to tradition. In South Africa, the charity consulted medical experts on how to safely wash and prepare bodies for burials. “We found that we could follow our rituals, but stay with science to do so safely,” Sayed said. “Volunteers were trained by our imams. It was a passing of the baton to the younger generation because they were not as much at risk as our older generation.” The group also trained and shared its guidelines with Muslim communities in other parts of Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. Sayed said the cleansing rites also allow family members to see the departed. “One of the worse things of COVID is that family members cannot say goodbye,” Sayed said. “But with the cleansing ritual, they can see the face of their loved one. It helps them to find closure. “I didn’t realize this would help my own family, that it would help me,” he added. Sayed’s father and uncle died of COVID-19 in July, within 24 hours of each other. They were buried next to each other. “The rituals helped me a lot,” said Sayed, still emotional. His father was the president of the organization and his uncle was the chairman. Sayed is now chairman. The society has buried 180 people who died from COVID-19, he said. The cemeteries have increased the number of graves dug so there is adequate space.