HERNDON, Va. ­ Deidre “Nusaybah” Ritchie knelt down and gently braided the brown hair of the woman’s body lying in a cocoon of white sheets.
After demonstrating to the women gathered around her how to wash the body with soap and sweet-smelling camphor, Ritchie finished wrapping the woman in several layers of seamless white cloth, which five minutes earlier were a set of store-bought queen-sized bed sheets.

“Performing this service for others is a reminder that death is a certainty for all of us,” said Ritchie, 39, as her audience of more than 20 Muslim women took notes and asked questions on how to prepare a body for burial in accordance with Islamic law.

The woman in the sheets was actually a volunteer. The women gathered in the cold conference room peppered Ritchie with questions, such as whether or not hair extensions should be removed before burial (answer: yes, if possible).

Like a midwife who makes house calls, Ritchie always keeps an emergency kit on hand in her car, which includes sheets, scissors, wash cloths, soap, camphor and a small bucket. She is one of many volunteers responding to calls nearly every week to wash and shroud Muslim bodies for burial.


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