SARS doc who sacrificed his life
By Carl Muller
Just two months ago, we learnt of the death of Dr. Carlo Urbani, the man who alerted us all to SARS - a heroic public health official who dedicated his life to helping to protect and save the lives of others.

I write this with particular personal pain. When my own son lay with neither heart nor pulse beat in the Kandy General Hospital, he was rushed for a brain scan.
The nurses refused to stand by and ventilate him while the scan was in progress. They said there was radiation danger.

It was my eldest daughter who stayed by her brother ventilating him while the scan was taken. How different was the story of Dr. Urbani. A father of three, he worked on even after the SARS situation became dangerous. He was a diagnostician of rare brilliance.

He spent his days collecting samples in Vietnam, tracing the paths of infection.
His wife begged him to give it up, to leave. Dr. Urbani knew the risks, but his reply was: "If I can't work in such situations, what am I here for?"

On March 29, Dr. Urbani died. Surely he died a hero. It was so chillingly obvious. In his battle to control SARS, he became one of its casualties. But he always knew his work was dangerous. Yet, to back away from a crisis was never in his philosophy.

In 1999, when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Medicins Sans Frontieres, he said: "Health and dignity cannot be dissociated in human beings. It is our duty to stay close to victims and guarantee their rights."

To tell you what I learned about Dr. Urbani... he was born in Italy in 1956. As a doctor, he would tramp around Africa, his backpack full of medicines, then organize a mission to the Maldives in the nineties to study hookworm.

It was a joke of sorts to the team: "Nobody's going to believe we are spending our days here not on the beaches but over fecal samples!" Urbani was then recruited to work for Medicines sans Frontieres in Cambodia and finally, for the WHO in Vietnam.
When rumours of the strange pneumonia-like disease began to come out of the Guangdong Province in China, Urbani was soon involved.

A Chinese-American businessman, Johnny Chen, fell ill in Hanoi in February.
Chen had stayed in Hong Kong's Metropole Hotel where a Guangdong doctor had also stayed. The doctor had died, and when Urbani saw Chen in Hanoi, he realized how serious the situation was.

He tried to alert Vietnam to the danger, demanding that travellers be screened.
Soon, his warnings swept around the world and travel fences began to be raised all over. Dr. Urbani ignored his wife's pleas, soldiered on, and it wasn't long before he began to feel feverish himself.

Even then, his last words to his wife from Hanoi were: "We must not think of ourselves, but of others." He then flew to Bangkok where he was immediately hospitalized.

Swiftly, he was placed in total isolation, his bed surrounded by a double glass wall, the medical staff clad head to foot in protective spacesuits. His wife, who flew to him, could only speak through an intercom. All he said to a WHO official was, "I'm scared."

When he died, a friend from the Italian Chapter of Medicins Sans Frontieres said: "Carlo's death was the most coherent and eloquent epilogue his life could produce. His death was as the giver of new life."

Carlo Urbani alerted us all to SARS. It was his gift to us all. Imagine what it would have been if the disease was allowed to rage unknown and unchecked in China and take its toll in South Asia as well. Thanks to Dr. Urbani's timely warning, the protective screens are now in place. He certainly gave new life, dying as he did for the cause of unknown millions!

Jailany to venerate Muslim saints
We publish below excerpts from the book, Dafther Jailany, by M.L.M. Aboosally.
Since 1876, the Jailany Feast, or mowlood has been held in Dafther Jailany, Kuragala to commemorate the 11th-century Iraqi saint, Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jailany. Since 1890, the feast has become an annual event held during the Islamic calendar month of Rabi Ul-Akhir, which in 2003 falls in June.

The saint was compassionate towards the poor and once said: "I have come to the conclusion that feeding the hungry is the most virtuous of all actions." The Muslims of Galle under the guidance of A.R.H. Barrie Proctor SC also held an annual religious function in this month. From 1960, the Muslims of Galle, Aluthgama and Dharga town associated themselves with the Mosque Committee and took part in the annual kandoori at Dafther Jailany. Gradually as the flow of pilgrims increased, it became a practice for the Aluthgama and Galle Muslims to give a ratheeb, and the Mosque Committee, the noon mowlood.

By 1900, the Muslims of Balangoda had formed an association to maintain and safeguard Dafther Jailany. It is said that during the 1915 riots, some Muslim families took up residence here. After the riots, one or two families had continued to stay on and eke out a living.

An annual event at Dafther Jailany during the annual mowlood and ratheeb in the month of Rabi Ul-Akhir is the Refai Ratheeb, conducted by a group of fakirs. They have a separate room by the side of the tomb of M.R. Abdul Gaffoor Sahib, a mendicant who lived for many years in the rock cave at Hituwangala.

The ceremony by the fakirs is held in honour of the 12th century saint of Iraq, Sulthanul Arifeen as Seyed Ahamed Al Kabeer Hassanur Riffayee, himself a disciple of the saint Abdul Qadir Jailany. The head of this sect is His Holiness P. Yoosuf Koya Thangal of Androth Island.

The Refai Order originated in Iraq in the 12th Century AD. Bawas or fakirs are Sufi mendicants who visit Muslim villages beating tambourines and reciting devotional songs - they wear turbans and beads around their necks and carry begging bowls.

They are organized into chapters with a leader known as a ‘khalifa’. In Sri Lanka, they are concentrated in Eravur, Sainthamarthu, Akkraiapattu, Kalmunai and Ottamavadi. They have a secretary (nakiban), a sergeant-at-arms (Kottu Waal), a commissary (pandari) etc.

The ratheeb starts with the recital of the Fathiha (recital) and the Thangal, or the Kaleefa, (religious dignitary) leads the recital of Ratheeb facing rows of devotees seated on mats, some with rabans (or tambourines).

The saint's name is invoked during the recital with frantic cries of "Ya Sheikh". The fakirs slash at parts of their bodies as part of the recital. The ratheeb proceeds well into the night. The fakirs grow more frenzied as the recital and beating of drums rise in crescendo. It is interesting to see the recital of the Fathiha and the formative invocation of "Lil Assike Fil Hawa Dala hil, La Yasmahu Minkala Mihadil" to the frenzied "Hoo Allah, Hoo hoo Allah" .Refai Zikr Ratheeb without the practice of self-mortification is also common. This is performed by Muslim Sufi laymen under the leadership of a sheikh.

This is with two rows of men who sit facing each other and respond to the call of the leader, singing devotional verses in unison, punctuated by sharp beats of their tambourines and executing movements of their head and torso.

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