In Islam, it is essential that the dead are buried as soon as possible. The body is washed, prayed over, taken to the cemetery and buried, with some small prayer or invocation said by the grave.
It is usually a quick process, sometimes drawn out by lingering family, but one that can be shortened in times of difficulty, such as in a pandemic.
The family physically bury the body, read the invocations and line up to share condolences.
But with a large percentage of the Sydney Muslim community living in the 12 local government areas of concern, and under the toughest restrictions, the community has had to adapt.
Under lockdown rules, only 10 people can attend a funeral.
So when three families had to bury their dead at Rookwood cemetery on Wednesday, some turned up in cars, allowing them to watch without being present outside.
Police arrived soon after the families had parked up, preventing them from burying the dead until all the cars left. NSW Police said there were a “large number of attendees” and that they were “in breach of the current public health orders.“
According to mourners who spoke to Guardian Australia under the condition of anonymity, up to 10 police vehicles turned up, knocking on car windows and instructing them to leave.
Tensions escalated, with attendees saying they were frustrated at their inability to even watch their loved ones being buried, let alone fulfil the traditions they hold dear.
Four men were arrested as the families pleaded with police to allow them to watch the burials.
Kieran O’Halloran, a family friend who turned up to pay his respects, said he was shocked at the behaviour of the police.
“The way they acted was despicable. They showed no sensitivity to the fact it was a funeral and had no reverence for the cemetery.
“No one was talking out of line, and then the police just marched on them. They surged forward, getting right in your face. Of course they’re gonna get a reaction from some people.”
O’Halloran described what he witnessed as “traumatic” and called the police response “disproportionate”.
“If I was burying my father today, that would leave such a sour taste. I was absolutely disgusted. They really, really should offer those families an apology for what happened.”
NSW police allege that one of the men had become “aggressive” and “threatened an officer”. He has been charged with intimidation of police, use of offensive language in public and a failure to comply with public health orders.
“Officers attached to Auburn, Burwood, Bankstown and Campsie Police Area Commands attended along with the Public Order and Riot Squad (PORS),” the force said.
“The group of between 80 and 100 people dispersed when directed by police; however, four men failed to comply and remained in the area.”
Three of the four men were issued fines, while the fourth was refused bail and will appear at Burwood local court on Thursday.
Another mourner said the way police had handled the situation left his family in pain.
“Suffering, anger and pain,” he said. “This is how we feel right now. We should be allowed to grieve, we’re grieving with our family.
“There were three funerals today and the police destroyed their loved ones’ hearts. It’s unfair. It’s a time for empathy and they showed no empathy whatsoever.
“It’s unbelievable, it’s heartbreaking to see what we’re going through as a country.”
The mourner, who did not want to be named, said everyone had worn masks and practised social distancing. He said he had stayed up to five meters away from any other person.
He also said that it had been particularly difficult considering that his family had not seen the deceased in months, because of the lockdown.
“None of us have seen our him for months. And now that he’s left us, and because of this situation, we don’t have a chance to farewell him.
“But then we see pictures of people on Bondi beach or in the east, and the police walking around, and they said nothing. But when it comes to the western suburbs, they target us.”
The sense of anger was palpable, according to another mourner, who said people had asked police why they were breaking up a funeral and “not in Bondi”.
Another, the son of one of the deceased, posted a tribute to his father on Facebook, saying that burying him was “the hardest thing” he’s ever done.
“My father, this man, was the real eye of the tiger, and the foundation of our family. A real old school gentleman. A man who would never break his word, but humble at the same time.
“Even though it feels so surreal, I know this is your time, your time is up on this Earth and you are in a better place now.”