We reported earlier (10/29/07) on ways in which American funeral and burial practices are changing to accommodate “green” concerns and the wishes of many to simplify the treatment of the deceased. Now Muslims are weighing in with concerns that their traditions and Quranic imperatives run afoul of state and local ordinances regarding funeral and burial practices. The Hartford Courant has an excellent article today about the problems facing Connecticut Muslims when dealing with their dead. The crux of the matter is aptly summarized in the following quote from the Courant:
Muslims bury their dead quickly — within 24 hours. The dead must be interred without a casket, facing the holy city of Mecca.
Before the burial, the body is washed with soap and scented water, then wrapped in a seamless cloth, tied at the head and feet. Cremation and embalming are forbidden.
But the specific burial rites meant to prepare Muslims for the afterlife are in conflict with public health codes and public cemetery regulations, forcing Muslims in the state to compromise the rituals outlined in the Quran.
The Muslim community in Connecticut is addressing the problems with caution and creativity; their intention is to adhere to local laws while obeying as closely as possible their religious laws.
Some mosques are calling for members to enter the funeral industry, while others find creative alternatives that keep with Islamic law.
“We must respect the law of the land in which we live — that’s the essence of Islam,” said Muhammed Ali, the president of the Daar-ul-Ehsaan mosque in Bristol.
A rather complete explanation of Muslim practices can be read here.
On a related note controversy has erupted in London (U.K.) about a plan to dig up 350,000 bodies in a historic cemetery to provide a “21st century burial site. Officially it would be known as a multi-faith cemetery but it is likely that it would principally answer calls for a Muslim graveyard in the largely-Asian East London borough. The Daily Mail reports (12 Oct 2007):
The local newspaper has been bombarded with letters from historians and nature lovers declaring: “There is no way we’ll allow them to dig up our ancestors.”
But the Labour-controlled council’s environment spokesman Abdal Ullah appeared to be in no doubt about the feasibility of the plan when he said: “To preserve the respect and dignity for everyone, I think most of the graves would have to be cleared out and we’d start afresh.”
He said a corner of the cemetery would be reserved for Muslims who are buried in shrouds at a depth of 6ft and on their side facing Mecca.
By law, any graves more than 75 years old can be removed.
The photo below shows part of the historic Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.
More on woodland and green burials at Brookwood, England’s largest cemetery. Their website describes the cemetery:
Brookwood Cemetery is the largest cemetery in Britain and is probably the largest in Western Europe.
Situated between Woking, Guildford and Aldershot, it is located about 30 miles southwest of London, adjacent to the village of Brookwood.
The cemetery was laid out in 1854 as the London Necropolis and has been in constant use ever since.
The photograph at the top of this page is of one of several Muslim burial plots within Brookwood cemetery.
This article also appears today as “Muslim Burial Practices vs Local Laws” at ConservaCity.