When he walked into the room, with his crisp shirt and impeccable style, I figured that he might be a businessman of some sort, here at the office for a meeting. He took a seat before finally speaking – and he did so clearly, with a confident, professional air about him that further reinforced my previous impression.
“This is Ashraf.”
I gave a little smile as I was introduced to him.
“He is a tukang mandi (someone who washes the bodies of those who have passed as part of the funeral rites).”
‘Really?’ Was my first thought.
I was, to be honest, slightly taken aback. His outer demeanor and attire did not match up to what I expected his profession to be – which was such a typical human judgment, and error on my part. I mean, how exactly did I picture a tukang mandi? Definitely not like that – and so young too.
In my experience, (and perhaps some of yours) all the tukang mandi I’ve come across have all been senior, while wearing clothes that are more respectable for a funeral procession. I have never seen or known anyone in that particular line outside of their jobs, thus, my image and portrayal of them in my head remained narrow.
I was fascinated, and lucky for me, he began to talk about how he got into this line of work.
Mr Ashraf did not begin as a tukang mandi. He was, in fact, a sailor. After that, he joined the Singapore Airlines then subsequently ventured into the art of fine dining, working in the Food and Beverages (F&B) industry.
A man with a past filled with such colorful and interesting career choices – it made me wonder why he eventually decided to become what he is now.
“I worked day in, day out, Mondays to Saturdays, from 10 am to… anytime after midnight… which means I don’t have any time. So after I called it quits to all these careers, I just wanted to have more time after I got married, I just wanted more time for myself, for my kid. Eventually, I decided to do something different, something I’d never done before – with the main intention that I wanted more time.”
I imagined that this would be the point where Mr Ashraf became a tukang mandi. However, that was not the case- yet.
“I got into properties,” he continues, “as an agent. I got excited because eventually, I found time on my hands, you know? And with that time in the mornings, I wanted to do something that I’ve always wanted to do. Which is to learn about jenazah.”
This was highly interesting. Apart from the obviously eccentric career choice, I wondered why and how the thought of it entered his mind in the first place. It was not very common for anyone to venture into this realm of work so out of the blue.
As a child, I wanted to be many things. I wanted to be a writer, an artist, an actress – a young girl’s dreams. My friends wanted to be teachers, and they always talked about how they would never give the kids in class any homework when they became one. The boys would go for heroic jobs – policemen, firemen, or even a fighter pilot (must have been all those cartoons).
We grow up wanting to be these because we are surrounded by these figures – or the idea of them, at the very least. What did we know of corpses, or death even? What did we, as children, even know of bathing our dead?
All of these questions came to me as I reflected on Mr Ashraf’s next explanation – that he had had the desire to become one for as long as he could remember.
As if this meeting had not been riveting enough, it quite impossibly became even more fascinating.
I have always assumed (or taken for granted) the people that attend to such grisly matters – even as I grew up and gained a better understanding of death and the way we as Muslims took care of their final journey. Even then, I had never considered such a career path. But Mr Ashraf did.
His wife, a senior staff nurse, fully supported his decision to go into this line of business. That, he said, was the final major push in his choice.
“That was the final push factor,” he remarks, “when my wife, who I thought would be against this idea, turned out to be the opposite.”
That was when he started the search for courses on bathing the dead. To his immense surprise however, he had no luck.
There were no programs of study for such things, and for a while his search remained futile. Until he came across a newspaper cutting.
He recalls the conversation clearly. “I called the Ustad, but he said there were no courses. And then he asked me- what was my intention? Did I want to learn it for the sake of learning, or do I want to learn it because I want to do it?”
“I was dumbfounded. I was in the car, waiting for my wife to knock off (from work). At that time, I didn’t understand what his question was. Of course I wanted to do it if was my parents, or my siblings, or children… but I didn’t expect to be asked if I wanted to do it at large.”
Apparently, the Ustad Mr Ashraf phoned had a busy schedule, with no spare time to be dedicated to teaching. He and his wife ran the business, but it was still not enough. The Ustad then offered Mr Ashraf to shadow him in order to learn. Without any hesitation, Mr Ashraf agreed.
That was two years ago. Now Mr Ashraf offers his services whenever he has the time, and sees himself doing this for a long time. The journey to how quickly that has happened for him amazes me. Sitting opposite me was a man who stares death in the face on a regular basis, and I was sure he held within him many stories and memorable experiences.
I never gave much thought to his job but there were now so many things I found myself thinking and reflecting on. Did he ever get afraid? Does what he see affect him greatly? How did it made him feel, as a person and as a Muslim, to see where we were all eventually headed?
And does he regret?
“Absolutely no regrets,” he says firmly, “I get used to it, although it has been an eye-opener.”
He thinks for a while, and then continues. “Do you know what makes me happy? Being able to wake up, and give service not to those who have lived, but to those who have passed on.”
As children, we seek to become things we think will benefit us and other people in some way – then as we grow older, we tend to forget those wonderful intentions. Becoming a tukang mandi has no less benefits than the next job – although most of them are hidden.
Living in this world, we chase the material – necessary, but sometimes it consumes us. We want instant results, instant gifts and rewards for the effort we put in. But when we submit ourselves to God in whatever we do, the payoff may not be come so quick either, but we remain faithful – likewise with the job of bathing the deceased.
But masyaallah, the rewards are great, both religiously and spiritually. And to meet a man who so selflessly devotes his time to caring for our dead makes me feel truly blessed. Such a service that greatly benefits the ones who have passed is surely one that benefits the doer significantly as well, in ways more than one.
“Narrated Abu Huraira:
that Allah’s Apostle (p.b.u.h) said, “Whoever attends the funeral procession till he offers the funeral prayer for it, will get a reward equal to one Qirat, and whoever accompanies it till burial, will get a reward equal to two Qirats.” It was asked, “What are two Qirats?” He replied, “Like two huge mountains.”
The Sunnah indicates that the one who attends the funeral until he offers the prayer will have one qiraat, and whoever attends until the deceased is buried will have two qiraats.
A qiraat is a large amount of reward, which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) likened to the mountain of Uhud.”
– Excerpt taken from ilookilisten.wordpress.com
Mr Ashraf will be a speaker for the upcoming Islamic Funeral & Death Rites Course. For more information, visit this website at http://www.islamicevents.sg/event/3799 or click on the picture to for more details on the seminar that thoroughly goes through the different aspects of death, and the steps on how to proceed with funeral rites.