France's eastern city of Strasbourg on Monday opened the first-ever public cemetery exclusively for Muslim-only burials aimed at new generation of Muslims in France who want to be buried on French soil instead of being sent back to their country of origin.
It will probably remain the only one of its kind.
In other parts of the country, French law since 1905 forbids the public building of cemeteries restricted to one religion only, but the Alsace-Moselle region benefits from a different law governing the separation of the Church and State.
The regional law, which includes Strasbourg, dayes from the region's reversion from German to French control after World War I.
"Local law in the Alsace-Moselle region allows us to construct a cemetery run by the local council," explains Anne-Pernelle Richardot, deputy mayor of Strasbroug. She points out that elsewhere in France, towns have had to created Muslim-only sectors of public cemeteries.
The only other Muslim-only cemetery in France is a private one in Bobigny which was built in 1934 as an annexe to a hospital.
The cemetery, which cost around 800,000 Euros, faces Mecca, has a room for washing before prayers, a separate prayer room and a space for keeping bones left in abandoned tombs. It was felt Muslims may be discouraged from burying members of their family in the cemetery over fears their remains may one day be exhumed and destroyed to make room for other burials.
According to French law, Muslims must be buried in coffins which goes against tradition which states a burial on the day of death and that the corpse be wrapped in a simple shroud.
There has been an increase in the number of Muslim-only sections in local cemeteries over the past few years, but some Islam specialists say the 200 sections currently in France are not enough to meet demand.
A report published by the Regional Council for Muslim Affairs, CRCM, in the RhÃ´ne-Alpes region estimated some 600 muslim-only sections were needed in France and every town which had a mosque should provide this facility.
"This cemetery meets a pressing and legitimate need by Muslims and shows how migrants are increasingly putting down roots," said Erkin Acikel, head of the CRCM. "We belong on this soil and being buried here is a sign of intergration."
"First public Muslim-only cemetery opens in Strasbourg" RFI February 6, 2012
Petra Klingbeil, "France inaugurates first public Muslim cemetery" Kansas City Star February 6, 2012
"France inaugurates first official Muslim cemetery" February 6, 2012
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today