With the smell of rotting corpses hanging in the air, six men in green turbans gathered Tuesday before a body covered by a white shroud, spread their hands and whispered a prayer.
The six, all members of the volunteer group Dawat-e-Islami, had come to the Medina Market in Muzaffarabad to give proper Islamic burials to the victims of Saturday's 7.6-magnitude quake, which leveled the city and killed tens of thousands of people.
They cleansed the dirt-caked corpse and wrapped him in a starched white sheet that they had carefully picked from a plastic bag containing more than 100 others and after a short prayer delivered the victim to a charity group for burial.
"In our religion it is important to cover the body in white because when he meets God he should be without any spot," said Shahid Tatar, a soft-spoken man who could barely be heard over the surgical face mask that covered his nose and mouth.
Dozens of Dawat-e-Islami members have come to the capital of Pakistani Kashmir to help identify and bury the dead. Tatar's group, from different parts of Pakistan's eastern Punjab province, came together after seeing the first reports of the devastation wrought by Saturday's earthquake.
Islamic tradition requires the dead to be buried before sunset on the same day that they die, a tall task given that thousands of bodies have been buried in the rubble for days as rescuers mostly residents and family members have dug with picks, shovels and bare hands in an often vain attempt to reach those still alive.
In Indonesia, another Muslim-majority country, relief workers coping with thousands of deaths following last December's Asian tsunami initially laid the dead out on sidewalks for relatives to identify. But within hours, the sight and smell prompted Muslim leaders to sanction mass burials, digging graves without regard for protocol, reported AP.
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