More Than A Job - Imam Shafie: For the little ones

Mohd Shafie Mohd Hanapiah, an Imam with the Singapore Muslim Casket, saying a prayer at a plot at the Lim Chu Kang Cemetery. (Yahoo Photo: Safhras Khan)

More Than a Job

Whatever your chosen craft, vocation or profession, we all have work to do. In a biweekly series, Yahoo Singapore talks to individuals who have chosen unique, unconventional and distinctive careers. For some, it’s about passion. Others have a sense of duty. But for all of them, it’s more than a job.

Carrying a cardboard box, 42-year-old Mohd Shafie Mohd Hanapiah made his way to a room in the Pusara Aman Mosque at Lim Chu Kang Road.

When he entered the room, Shafie placed the box on a table and carefully took out its contents, laying them out in front of him on a stainless steel slab.

The box contained four foetuses and a few other surgical remains which he collected earlier from Changi General Hospital.

After reciting a quick prayer, Shafie began to carefully wash each foetus and each of the surgical remains. A sombre mood hung over the room.

(video by Nurul Amirah)

Shafie said that he treats the foetuses as if they were his own.

“Sometimes when we do our duty and cleanse the foetuses, I will talk to them and say that they are like my children,” he said.

Working with an assistant, Shafie proceeded to carry out the necessary Islamic rites before shrouding the foetuses and surgical remains, then putting them back into the cardboard box to transport for burial later.

As an Imam with the Singapore Muslim Casket (SMC), it is Shafie’s responsibility to cleanse, shroud and bury unclaimed foetuses and surgical remains in accordance with Islamic ritual.

“It is wajib (compulsory) in Islam to wash, shroud and bury the foetuses. We cannot just dispose of them anyhow,” said Shafie.

A gravedigger arranging the foetuses in an unmarked grave in the Muslim Cemetery in Lim Chu Kang. (Yahoo Photo: Safhras Khan)

Unclaimed bodies handled by SMC and MTFA

Working together with the Muslimin Trust Fund Association (MTFA), the SMC handles the burial of miscarried and aborted foetuses, surgical remains and unclaimed Muslim bodies in Singapore.

MTFA pays for the burial services for the burial of unclaimed Muslims bodies who have passed away in Singapore, as well as those whose next-of-kin are unable to pay for the burial rites. The services also include burying foetuses and surgical remains.

MTFA said the number of burials that includes unclaimed bodies, surgical remains and unclaimed foetuses varies from month to month.

In 2015, the association buried 27 bodies, 239 foetuses and 489 surgical remains. The number of foetuses rose by 15 per cent to 239 in 2015 after declining in the previous two years.  

Shafie, extreme left, with other officials from MTFA and SMC, attending the burial process of four foetuses at the Lim Chu Kang Muslim Cemetery. (Yahoo photo: Safhras Khan)

Unmarked graves

A former Company Sergeant Major with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Shafie has been preparing the foetuses, bodies and surgical remains for burial for the past 28 years. He started volunteering to cleanse and shroud Muslim bodies when he was 14.  

The bachelor sees it as his responsibility to ensure that the unclaimed bodies, especially foetuses, are given proper burials.

“According to Muslim laws, even a small part of the body needs to be buried. We cannot just anyhow put the remains (foetus or body parts) at any plot of land. It has to be buried in a cemetery,” explained Shafie.  

Shafie takes about 40 minutes to cleanse and shroud each foetus before they are brought to an unmarked piece of land at Lim Chu Kang Muslim Cemetery for burial.

Each plot is divided into two parts, and up to 20 foetuses are buried in each part, he said. At the cemetery, another quick prayer is recited after the foetuses and remains are buried.

There are no tombstones to mark the area.

Despite doing this job for almost 30 years, Shafie admits that burying a foetus is always heartbreaking.

“The feeling of sadness is there. We do have feelings for it (the foetuses) and it is not an easy task to do but we still have to proceed with it,” he said with tears welling up in his eyes.

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Look out for the next instalment of More Than A Job on Monday 1 August.