A petition on Change.org to protect Muslim burials during the coronavirus pandemic has garnered over 137,000 signatures at the time of writing.
The petition, by Naveed Anwar, was launched amid fears that dead Muslim coronavirus victims would be cremated to prevent the risk of infection spreading.
“The British Muslim community are very concerned about any plans to cremate the bodies of Muslim victims of this disease. Such actions are against the beliefs of all Muslims and we require assurances that cremation of Muslim bodies will not occur under any circumstances,” the petition states.
“I want UK Parliament to protect the right of burial for any Muslims who pass away due to Covid-19 infection. I understand Parliament is due to consider an alternative way but as British Muslims, any other way other than burial is not allowed & is totally unacceptable.
A huge amount of comments have been left on the petition forum such as:
“I’m signing because every person has the right to choose how they want their body to be treated after death. It’s a natural right. Please protect my religious belief of an Islamic burial. No government should make the choice for me!”
“I am a Muslim and want to be buried as a Muslim.”
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Emergency measures to give ministers powers to respond to the coronavirus outbreak will be introduced to Parliament tomorrow.
The government says they are intended to protect life and the nation’s public health, and ensure NHS and social care staff are supported to deal with significant extra pressure on the health system.
One of the measures includes “managing the deceased in a dignified way,” although the details of what that means remain hazy.
Ministers have said that individual funerals may not be possible if the number of coronavirus deaths is at the “top end of the reasonable worst case scenario.” Wales’ Health Minister Vaughan Gething even said there might be a “push towards cremation with memorial services in the months to come.”
Responding to the proposals to amend burial procedures, Harun Khan, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic Muslim communities up and down the country strongly support the UK Government’s approach to the importance of considering all eventualities and finding the optimal way to defeat this virus…
“The Muslim Council of Britain is supporting the National Burial Council (Muslim) working alongside other faith communities and collaboratively with senior UK Government officials to highlight the absolute importance of burials in our faiths, and how risks can be appropriately mitigated.
“This is not something anyone is taking lightly and we want to reassure the community that we are working hard to ensure that our concerns are taken on board. We are hopeful a solution will be found that recognises the challenges in extreme cases, whilst maintaining the importance of certain beliefs that our faith communities hold dear.”
Meanwhile, advocacy group MEND said it was deeply concerned by the bill.
“As it is currently drafted, the bill will allow designated local authorities to disregard section 46(3) of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, which is designed to prevent a local authority from being able to cremate a body against the wishes of the deceased,” MEND said in a press release.
“Whilst the purpose of the legislation is to deal with a potential surge in deaths and lack of grave space capacity arising from the current tragedy, we urge the Government not to neglect their responsibilities in upholding Article 9 of both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998, which protects the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This includes the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance.
“The sanctity of the dead body and the importance of religious burial is an integral component of religious practice for Muslims, as well as Jews. Cremation is forbidden in Islam and Judaism and therefore, the possibility of forcing a cremation upon the loved ones of these communities would add further anguish and trauma to bereaved families, who themselves may be in self-isolation.
“We, therefore, call on our political representatives to amend the bill as it currently stands in order to reflect the UK’s commitments to human rights and to protect communities from the compounded grief of, not only potentially losing loved ones, but having the religious beliefs of these loved ones dismissed.”