All acts of bullying and mockery of the victims of the coronavirus are “dangerous” and “totally unacceptable,” said Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar, the world's most prestigious seat of Sunni Islamic learning.
His remarks came after a crowd of people gathered earlier this week in a Nile Delta village to prevent the burial of a physician who died from coronavirus, prompting police to fire teargas to disperse them.
"I felt sorry to see some people refuse to receive the corpses of those who passed away from this virus or refuse to allow them to be buried in their own cemeteries," El-Tayyeb said in a televised speech on Sunday evening.
"This is religiously forbidden and morally and humanly criminalised,” he said, adding that the Islamic sharia law calls for honouring the dead by quickly burying them and praying for them.
Dozens of people gathered on Saturday in front of an ambulance carrying the late doctor’s body to stop it from reaching the Daqahliya village’s burial grounds over concerns that the body could spread the virus.
The health ministry later categorically dismissed the notion that the virus could be transmitted in this manner.
Twenty-three people were arrested over the incident and were later ordered detained for 15 days over charges of terrorism, rioting, blocking roads and disrupting traffic.
The grand imam described the incident as a "blatant and inhumane violation of the sanctity of the dead."
"The people affected by this pandemic are part of us and we should support and assist them," he said.
El-Tayyeb urged all Egyptians to strictly abide by the instructions issued by the authorities and health officials regarding handling deaths from the pandemic.
Following the controversial incident, health ministry officials emphasised that bodies do not transmit the virus as long as precautionary measures are taken during handling.
The burials of coronavirus victims in Egypt are often held under police supervision with the attendance of a few close family members.