Yasmina Reality

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Guest Blogger Nadia Naji Speaks Out:  The Disdain for Muslim Burial in Germany

Guest Blogger Nadia Naji Speaks Out: The Disdain for Muslim Burial in Germany

By on March 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

I’m thrilled to be featuring a guest blogger this month.  Nadia Naji is not only my sister in Islam, but my friend.  We are both part of an international, interfaith group that has made both of our lives exponentially better.  Nadia lives in Germany and talks in this piece about the experiences and challenges of Muslim burial there.  Among the many funeral customs  in Islam, the deceased are buried as quickly as possible, typically within 24 hours.  Challenging?  Of course.  But what can make it even more challenging than it already is?  Nadia explains.  ~Yasmina

“Everyone shall taste death.” (Quran 3:185)

There is probably nothing in human existence quite as emotionally complex as a funeral. It is a time of loss and uncertainty. It marks a change in everyone’s lives that is irreversible and painful; and, it reminds us with inevitable certainty that we too are mortal. No wonder then that losing a loved one plunges you into a black hole- a rollercoaster ride of good and bad memories, fear of the unknown future, regrets and sorrow. As if not turbulent enough, there is all the paper work to be done. I hadn’t realized until we had to bury my grandmother just how much paperwork a funeral involves. Everything from informing family members, to sending out death certificates, arranging the ceremony, the grave, the flowers, the food… it is a lot to deal with when you are already dealing with your own emotions.

One thing we did not have to deal with, thankfully, for my Christian grandmother’s funeral were people who thought she was not worthy of a grave in this country [Germany.]   (“Huh?” you ask. “Does this even happen?”)

I was shocked, however, that my friend was told that being buried here would unnecessarily “infest” holy soil.

Why? Because she is a Muslim.

There are not many Muslim cemeteries in Germany, though numbers are slowly rising. Until recently, the common practice was for the deceased to be shipped home to their country of origin, or the home country of their parents, because an Islamic burial was simply not possible. Additionally, people still felt their roots were in those countries. It was okay for those families at the time, and comfortable for the rest of the country which didn’t have to deal with the fact that some people here practice other faiths. Today things are changing. People who were born and raised here in the second or third generation feel just as German as anyone else who has always lived here, and there are more and more German converts who have no other country of origin than Germany. This is where they went to school, where they met their first life-long friends, where they got married and raised children, where they worked and played and lived. For them to then be shipped off to a country they only ever visited on holidays, at best, is an alien thought.  Imagine how you would feel if you were an American who converted to Buddhism, and then told, “Oops! Sorry.  You’ll have to find a burial plot somewhere in East Asia.  How about Sri Lanka?”

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My friend, Denise, is a German through and through. Her parents are German, her grandparents are German, and unless there’s a big family secret that no one knows about, all her other ancestors have always been German too. You would think that her being buried in Germany one day is a given.  But when an article appeared in an online newspaper about an Islamic cemetery opening up in the city of Darmstadt, the comments page blew up with angry, hateful messages by people who didn’t feel Muslims have the right to bury their dead in accordance with their beliefs, at least not in this country. “Let them do what they’ve always done!  Carry their deceased bodies out of sight, back to where they came from!”  This reaction is not unique to this article. Previously, at Islamic cemeteries that do exist here today, the openings have been marked or delayed with unwelcoming graffiti, crosses and even pigs heads. How dare these people want to be buried according to “Islamic tradition,” whatever that means!

What makes a Muslim cemetery different from a Christian one is that it provides a room in which the body can be ritually washed. Muslims believe the body should be buried as soon as possible, ideally within 24 hours of a person’s death. Everything is put on hold to make this possible; and, in Germany, a special license has to be acquired to bypass the otherwise compulsory 48 hour waiting period. Muslim graves are not usually marked with tombstones or crosses, though that varies from one family to the next. Apart from that, it looks like any other cemetery in this country; a large plot of land with what are obviously graves, some decorated with flowers, some with stones, and a simple building attached to the plot. They feature nothing to get upset about actually. After the ritual washing of the body, it is wrapped in cotton sheets. There are special prayers for the dead and the person is taken to their final resting place, traditionally without a coffin, but that is only possible in some German Islamic cemeteries.  Not all.

Denise, my German convert friend, was glad to know that all this would be possible when her day comes, without faraway travels that would require her family and friends to head off to faraway lands. “I am German and always have been,” she pointed out, using her online Muslim name, Amal, “so it’s comforting to know I can be buried here, where my family is. This is my home.”

“Yeah, like we’re supposed to believe that,” felt one upset commenter.

“Actually, yes,” Denise pointed out, “my parents are German, my grandparents are German… I’m as German as they come. I just happen to have converted to Islam is all, and I am happy with my decision.”

Now we have seen abusive comments towards Muslims before. Being called a terrorist, accused of violent beliefs or told you are oppressed if you are a Muslim woman, as if we were too stupid to notice if that were actually true, is nothing new. But nothing prepared us for the next comment.

“Bad enough you people invade our country,” it said, “but now you want to infest our holy soil with your ashes as well! Is that really necessary?”

To be unwelcome while you are alive is bad enough, but that even our dead bodies are not welcome is a new low. And as racist and vile as it might be to suggest that ANY dead human being would “infest” the soil with its unclean remains… it is even more ludicrous to suggest a person somehow becomes less clean by changing their religion, or that converting automatically changes your ethnicity. That a German, living in Germany is somehow “invading” her own country is insane. That she should be insulted for suggesting that she intends to die and be buried there is insensitive.

To be fair, not all Germans are this ignorant and unfriendly. Living here, I have encountered more curiosity than anything else when people discovered that I am Muslim. The fact that I don’t necessarily look Muslim probably helps. But even in the time where I chose to wear the Hijab, people were not unfriendly towards me, just a little more reserved. I can accept that. I know the media has made me look, by default, like the kind of person who will kill you for not knowing where Mecca is. I can understand that those who know little about me might feel cautious; and, I’m always happy to answer questions.  Hateful people who mock, insult and abuse are, thankfully, still a minority here.

My grandmother was Christian. The pastor at the funeral was her deceased son’s childhood friend and travelled in on short notice for her funeral.  It’s what she had always wanted. My brother, my mother and I were the only Muslims in that church. But it didn’t matter. After the coffin disappeared into that surreal hole in the ground and everyone had thrown in their symbolic little bit of soil, everyone slowly walked away. My brother and I stood at the grave a little longer. We raised our hands, and quietly recited a verse from the Qur’an together. I doubt that anyone took offense. What I saw in the eyes of those who saw us was appreciation and respect. My grandmother had grandchildren of different faiths, and she was honored by all of them. It was this last respect that mattered, not the faith of those who said their farewells, and not the faith of the deceased. Everyone was able to respect the beliefs and customs of everyone else. This is how it should be, both on this small scale and within a nation. If we cannot learn to respect each other’s differences, we will always be two groups from parallel worlds who get worked up over ridiculous details like how we want to get buried. Isn’t it much nicer, and far more enriching, when we pray for one another and wish each other well instead?

About the Author / Guest Blogger

Nadia Naji lives in Germany and has roots both in Germany and the Middle East. Having family on both sides, east and west, she often finds herself in the position of mediator and bridge builder. Creating more understanding and tolerance in the world is something Nadia is passionate about. The world needs more bridges.

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About the Author

About the Author: I'm a Writer and Muslim Activist. I'm also a Board Member of the #MyJihad Public Education Campaign. Follow my blog at yasminareality.com or follow me on Twitter: @yasmina_reality. I'm also now on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/YasminaReality Peace! .

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