Jet mystery complicates last rites for the missing

2014-03-27 11:20
A man looks at a bulletin board during the relatives of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 meeting with delegates from Malaysia at the Metro Park Lido Hotel in Beijing. (Wang Zhao, AFP)

A man looks at a bulletin board during the relatives of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 meeting with delegates from Malaysia at the Metro Park Lido Hotel in Beijing. (Wang Zhao, AFP)

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Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia has said all 239 people aboard flight MH370 are believed dead, but the failure to recover bodies is complicating efforts to lay their souls to rest, relatives and religious leaders said on Thursday.

The flight carried passengers from around the world following a number of major religions, and the failure to achieve closure via last rites has added to the anguish of grieving relatives.

Hindus traditionally perform special prayers on the first, 16th and 30th day after a person's death.

"I will not do any solemn prayers until I am really convinced my son is dead," said Subramaniam Gurusamy, aged 60, a Malaysian Hindu whose son was on the plane.

"How can we say everyone is dead when we have not found the plane or the black box?" he added, referring to the trove of on-board flight data that is being sought for clues to what happened.

"There have been instances when someone is lost in the jungle and is believed to have died but comes out alive after many years."

The Malaysia Airlines flight went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March. Malaysia believes it crashed in the southern Indian Ocean but no wreckage has yet been found, despite an ongoing multi-nation search.

Jamil Khir Baharom, Muslim-majority Malaysia's minister in charge of Islamic affairs, was quoted by local media as saying Muslims aboard MH370 were still seen as "missing", and that proper funeral rites cannot be performed until the search is called off.

Hindus were being advised, however, to "accept fate" and go ahead with their prayers, said Mohan Shan, president of Malaysia Hindu Sangam, the country's main advisory body on Hindu worship.

"They can't do the funeral rites until they get the bodies. But they can perform prayers at home or in temples on the 30th day," he said.

"It's a difficult time to pass through. Without the body we cannot 100% confirm they are dead. But we have to ask them to accept the fate. There is no point in waiting."

Usually in a deadly accident, Taoists must perform funeral rites at the site where the death occurred, said Tan Hoe Chieow, president of the Federation of Taoist Associations Malaysia.

But he said due to the unprecedented nature of MH370, families could go ahead with such ceremonies elsewhere, perhaps in their homes.

"We hope they can come to terms with this unfortunate incident. They have to come to terms with the reality. Some are still holding on to hope," he said.

"In this particular disaster I don't think it's possible to retrieve the bodies."

Christians also could lay their loved ones to rest without a body if they are convinced they died, said Reverend Wong Kim Kong, a Christian community leader.

"They should not be discouraged, but acknowledge the fact that their loved ones are in a better place, that is - heaven," he said.

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