Whitechapel Road in London’s East End is lined with bustling stalls selling papayas and scarves and rainbow dust mops. Men in skull caps known as “taqiyahs” and women in varying degrees of hijabi fashion dominate the walkways. The intoxicating smell of freshly-fried jalebi pastry lingers in the air, and, sometimes, Somali songs can be heard in the distance.
The street brims with life, but beyond the halal stores, traditional English bakeries, and advertisements for Jack the Ripper tours is a place carefully orchestrating the details of what comes after it. Wedged tightly between an Islamic book shop and the city’s largest mosque is England’s first funeral home for Muslims, open 365 days a year, whether it’s Eid, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve.
In the front office of Haji Taslim Funerals, where over 1,000 funerals are arranged every year, the phone does not stop ringing. For the people who bury the dead, there’s never time to rest. This is especially true for Muslim funerals, where success is usually measured by speed.
The dead must be buried as soon as possible, often within 24 to 48 hours, but sometimes the process, from final breath to cemetery, takes as little as four. The city’s growing Muslim population—heavily concentrated in East London—has doubled from around 600,000 to over one million people since 2001, according to latest census figures. The increase means the growing need for burial services, too.