The Funeral of Missionary Amirali Gillani in the Midst of Covid-19 Restrictions

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un
“Surely we belong to God and to Him we return” — Holy Qur’an, 2:156

Ismaili Missionary Amirali Gillani Simerg tribute
Missionary Amirali Gillani passed away on April 8, 2020, and was buried in Toronto on April 14. Photo: Family Collection.

A Safe and Dignified Funeral

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, Simerg, Barakah, and Simergphotos)

On Tuesday April 14, 2020, Missionary Amirali Gillani’s shrouded body rested inside a grey coloured coffin in the funeral hall of the Scarborough Jamatkhana. He had passed away from cancer on April 8 at the age of 75.

Only the missionary’s peaceful face was in view. The rest of his body which was covered in the white shroud, was under the coffin cover. The coffin did not rest on the floor. It had been placed on a strong roll away frame. Volunteers recited the Salwat in unison continuously, and gave comfort to the small size of mourners, a limit imposed by the Bereavement Authority of Ontario.

There were a total of 16 mourners in attendance for the funeral’s two separate viewing opportunities and the funeral rites. One viewing, including the funeral rites, was for immediate family members, and the second viewing was for other family members and friends. In both the viewings the mourners sat in groups of 4 in two rows in front of the body, keeping the required physical distance. At a normal funeral, there would have been several hundred in attendance. A dilsoji — a condolence gathering a day or two ahead of the funeral — would have attracted a large Ismaili crowd from across Toronto.

Missionary Gillani’s funeral became the first funeral to be made available for online viewing via a dedicated Youtube channel. The viewing was offered, following a trial period, to very close family members who could not physically be at the funeral due to provincial restrictions limiting gatherings to 5 or 10.

Wearing a face mask and gloves on their hands, each of the persons who had come to missionary Gillani’s funeral presented himself or herself beside the coffin, a meter or two away. In solitude, the mourner would spend between 60 to 80 seconds in contemplation, before giving way to the next person. Other Jamati funerals taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic have similar rules and restrictions in place.

Once the viewing and giving of last respects had ended, and the funeral rites were completed, the Muslim funeral procession prayer La Ilaha Illallah Muhammadur Rasulullah commenced. In a normal funeral, men line up in the large foyer of the Jamatkhana to touch or momentarily hold the coffin on their shoulders, uttering prayers for the soul of the deceased before it is transferred to a hearse. However, here there was no one in the foyer of the Jamatkhana. It was empty. The body was wheeled by the Mukhi, volunteers and male mourners into the hearse parked outside, for its 22 km journey to its final resting place — the picturesque Elgin Mills Cemetery.

A view of Elgin Mills Cemetery. Photo: Mount Plesant Group

At the gate of the cemetery, a guard verified each arriving guest against the list of names that he had been given by the Ismaili funeral committee. He guided the arriving mourners to Section 16 of the cemetery. At the site, there were only a few scattered cars, no more than eight. The hearse carrying the body then arrived. This time, instead of wheeling the coffin, as the ground gradient and conditions presented challenges, the volunteers carefully carried it to the grave. Mourners followed and gathered around the coffin, keeping a safe physical distance between one another. The Mukhisaheb of Scarborough Jamatkhana and a family member then each took a heap of soil in a spade, and spread it across the coffin. The Surah Ikhlas was recited (Ch. 112; Translation: “In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful. Say: He is God, the One. God, the Absolute. He begets not, nor was He begotten. And there is nothing comparable to Him”).

Normally the crowd would wait to see the body lowered into the grave, while continuing to recite Salwats and other prayers. Two volunteers would then descend into the grave to ensure its proper placement, stability and also conduct some last rites.

Physical distancing prevented that from occurring and the mourners returned to their cars. Using the same soil that had been been dug up to create the 6 foot deep grave, a tractor arrived to fill it. Once the on-site staff had completed their task of filling the grave and removing wooden planks and other objects around it, we were each handed incense sticks as we walked back to the burial site. Water was then poured on top of the freshly replaced soil by a family member and the Mukhisaheb of Scarborough Jamatkhana. We then honoured and paid respect to the missionary by placing the lit incense sticks we had been given over the top of the missionary’s final resting place.

All ten of us stepped back about 40 metres, and a Fateha for the deceased was then recited. We were standing in rows and kept our safe 2 metre distance from one another. During the recitation of the Fateha, my attention was suddenly drawn to two doves that landed 25 metres to my left. Their sounds in the midst of the Fateha being recited were beautiful and joyous to hear. Only Allah understands the language of birds, animals and insects, as well as everything that has life on this earth. A second Fateha was then recited for all of the deceased members of the Jamat. By then, the birds had flown away.

Mukhisaheb then gave everyone special blessings for attending the burial, and also prayed for the soul of the deceased. As much as we would have loved to, we left the site without shaking hands of the family and embracing them. We consoled them by placing our hands on our hearts, befitting the Islamic ethics of gratitude, humility and affection.

It was a different kind of a funeral to attend. However the dignity of the entire funeral ceremony was preserved. The Jamat has to thank the burial committee for the professionalism with which they are carrying out this extraordinary and noble service to bring comfort and peace to the mourning families and their friends, amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Their communication in every respect was outstanding, and emails and telephone calls received prompt attention.

As I headed back home, I thought of the two birds that had landed nearby as the Fateha for Missionary Gillani was being recited. They conveyed to me a profound message: Missionary Amirali Gillani had been ushered into the abode of peace.

Date posted: April 15, 2020.
Last updated: April 15, 2020 (10 AM ET: additional material added; factual corrections; typos).

____________________________

We received several tributes to Amirali Gillani when we first announced his death. They may be read by clicking HERE. Further tributes as well as your reactions with regard to recent passings during the Covid-19 pandemic, and how you and your family members dealt with the situation amid the challenges you faced, may be submitted by completing the feedback form below. If the form does not show, please click Leave a comment. Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

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20 thoughts on “The Funeral of Missionary Amirali Gillani in the Midst of Covid-19 Restrictions

  1. May Mawla rest his soul in peace. I was very much connected to him while he was in Tanzania. After his return to Canada I lost touch with him. However, my son visited him at his place in Toronto.

  2. We were so saddened to hear of the recent passing of Amir Gillani. On behalf of the entire Horizon Interfaith Communication Media Council, we’d like to offer and express our deepest sympathies to Amir’s family and all who knew him.

    For many years, Amir served as a council member of Horizon Interfaith, a representative of the American Institute of Islamic Studies. Horizon Interfaith Council is a non-profit, democratic organization of representatives from many religions and faith groups across the GTA whose main purpose is to produce and air faith-based TV programs for the community at large. Over the years, Horizon Interfaith has worked with and represented almost 120 different faith groups to present the beliefs and traditions of our diverse religious community; to emphasize life values as addressed through religious beliefs; and to promote harmony and understanding of our multi-cultural, multi-faith and multi-racial community in our interfaith programs.

    Amir also served in the capacity of Chairman during 1990-1991 and 1996-1999. In his capacity as Chairman – Amir led the Horizon Council with deep passion and commitment. He was an effective communicator – respected and appreciated by all who served and had the privilege to work along side of him. Amir walked with integrity, honesty and humility and engendered the confidence of others as well as inspiring them to unite together for the common vision and purpose of Horizon Interfaith.

    Amir’s contribution and guidance to the ongoing growth and development of Horizon Interfaith are still felt to this day.

    Amir will always be remembered as one of Horizon’s pioneering visionaries whose confident hope and gentle guidance encouraged us to rise up and meet the demands and the challenges of each day; to reach forward with determination and to lay hold of the possibilities yet to be dreamed.

    Amir Gillani: A true statesman – Diplomat and Leader!

    A friend we shall miss for all our days!

    Respectfully,

    Rev. Earl Smith Pastor Michael Diotte
    Chairman Past Chairman

    • Thank you, Reverend and Pastor, for your kind words and sympathies. They bring us comfort.

      I remember the Reverend well. I am Amir’s eldest daughter. My mum, sister, and I used to accompany my dad regularly to Horizon Interfaith meetings during his time as Chairman of the council. I took part in one of the Council’s faith-based TV programs at Rogers TV. As much as I disliked being on TV, it was an experience I’ve never forgotten.

      Thank you for serving the community and for allowing an avenue for sharing different beliefs and traditions. The work you do is beyond valuable. Learning from one another is one of the best ways to glean knowledge and skills. God bless you every day.

  3. I met Missionary Gillani in Dar es Salaam in in the 1960s and he became my mentor. I shall always be grateful to him at a time I needed someone in my life. Mawla sent him. Shukhranlillah.

  4. Missionary Amirali Gillani was an amazing person. Very knowledgeable and always willing to share that knowledge. And he was a very spiritual person. I still remember, when he had his back surgery in a hospital downtown, as soon as he was able, he booked a wheeltrans from the hospital to bring him to Scarborough Jamatkhana for morning prayers. May Mawlana Hazar Imam accept all his seva and rest his soul in eternal peace – Ameen

  5. My sincere prayers that his soul may rest in eternal peace. Amen.

    Knew him personally, and met him often. Shukher.

  6. Very sad to learn demise of a Hero I knew. He visited Aden (now South Yemen) several times where he gave timely waez to Jamat. Whenever we met in Unionville Jamatkhana, we exchanged sweet memories of his stays in Aden. My fateha to his soul.

    Hussein Dostmohamed.

  7. Allah himself came with the angel to take the soul. What a powerful analogy of the doves. He must be a very spiritual soul but many may have said “kera naseeb ke koi Maru nawa”! But look at the birds view that was just explained, very profound.

  8. Amazing soul. He had great knowledge; may Mawla rest his soul in eternal peace and grant the family strength and courage during this difficult time of his death, Ameen.

  9. Thank you for this elaborate description of the burial at the cemetery. Those of us who were unable to travel again due to Covid 19, were able to view the Jamatkhana services virtually and for that we all are grateful. We felt we participated in the funeral and also were able to recite the salwaats at the same time as the members attending the funeral at Scarborough Jamatkhana. We are truly grateful to the Mayat & Ghusal Committee, ITREB Canada, Mukhi/Kamadia Sahebans and the volunteers who made this all possible and conducted all the services with such dignity and compassion. We pray for Alwaez Amirali’s soul to rest in eternal peace Ameen.

  10. May he rest in eternal peace. Also would like to thank the volunteers who are always there to serve the community. Without these selfless volunteers we would not be the jamat we are. Thank you.

  11. Dr. Gillani’s intellect and his ability to explain some serious issues about our religion will greatly be missed. May Allah welcome his soul in heaven and may his soul rest in eternal peace. Ameen

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