Muslims concerned over UK plans to cremate Covid-19 victims

Muslims concerned over UK plans to cremate Covid-19 victims
3 min read
22 March, 2020
Muslims, along with Jews, unanimously shun the act of cremation in their burial rites, as the dead body is regarded as sacred.
UK MPs will debate the emergency legislation on Monday [Getty]
A petition to protect Muslim burials in the face of emergency laws giving UK local authorities the right to cremate the the bodies of Covid-19 victims has ammased almost 140,000 signatures online.

On Wednesday, the UK government published a 392-page bill outlining new emergency powers to contain the spread of coronavirus, which has so far claimed 281 lives in the country.

The wide-ranging legislation includes provisions under which police and immigration officers can detain those suspected of having Covid-19, as well as imposing £1,000 fines for those who refuse tests.

While UK Health Secretary Matt Handcock said that the extreme measures will be enforced only when they were ''absolutely necessary'', one aspect of the Coronavirus bill has provoked extreme concern among UK Muslims.

Designated local authorities will be able to disregard section 46(3) of the Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act 1984, which is designed ''to prevent a local authority from being able to cremate a body agains the wishes of the deceased'', according to a draft of the bill.

Muslims, along with Jews, unanimously shun the act of cremation in their burial rites, with the dead body being regarded as sacred by both faith communities.  

Muslim organisation have been vocal in their concerns regarding the bill. 

Advocacy group Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) called on the government to ''immediately amend the Bill to reflect the human rights of religous minorities'' guaranteed by ''Article 9 of both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998''.

''Cremation is forbidden in Islam and Judaism and therefore the possibility of forcing a cremation upon the loved ones of those communities would add further anguish and trauma to bereaved families, who may themselves be in self-isolation'', the statement on their website added.

An online petition on Change.org, launched by Naveed Anwar, called on the government to give assurances ''that cremation of Muslim bodies will not happen'', and has garnered more than 140,000 signatures.

One impassioned signatory provided the reasons behind their support:

''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!”
 
The legislation is expected to complete all stages of the Commons on Monday, and then pass through the House of Lords, the UK's Upper Chamber, on Wednesday and Thursday, according to The Guardian.

It is hoped party leaders and MPs will lobby hard to try ensure safeguards.

MEND have templated a letter on their website which can be signed a sent to MPs ahead of the debate.

The Muslim Council of Britian (MCB) has said they are hopeful a solution can be found ''that recognises the challenges in extreme cases, whilst maintaining the importance of certain beliefs'' that Muslims hold dear.

Read also: The Middle East at war with coronavirus

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