STRASBOURG - France has opened the first Muslim-only cemetery in the northeastern city of Strasburg, a move hailed by Muslims as a step toward integrating one of the country's largest minority group.
The cemetery's opening is a historic moment for Muslims in France that is an important symbol of belonging for the community, Mohammed Moussaoui, the head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Monday, February 7.
A host of local officials and Muslim leaders attended the opening of the cemetery, which has space for about 1,000 graves.
The cemetery, which cost around 800,000 euros, faces Makkah, has a room for washing before prayers and a separate prayer room.
Sending their dead to be buried in their home countries for decades, French Muslims have long called for having an official cemetery to bury their beloved on French soil.
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.
If a religious community is to feel entirely at home in a city, it must be helped in building places for worship and for the burial of its believers, Strasbourg Mayor Roland Ries told AFP.
France is home to a sizable minority of six million Muslims, the largest in Europe.
Islam calls for respecting human beings whether alive or dead
A Muslim's dead body should be immediately taken to a mortuary for washing and preparation.
Two or three adult Muslims should wash the body and then put on the shroud (kafan). Before the burial, the funeral prayer should be done.
The burial should be done as soon as possible. It is makruh (reprehensible) to delay the burial of the dead.
Though the French law forbids the public building of cemeteries restricted to one religion only, the Alsace-Moselle region benefits from a different law governing the separation of the Church and State.
Local law in the Alsace-Moselle region allows us to construct a cemetery run by the local council, Anne-Pernelle Richardot, deputy mayor of Strasbourg, told RFI radio.
France's 1905 law on the separation of church and state forbids the building of municipal cemeteries restricted to only one religion.
But the Alsace-Moselle region, which includes Strasbourg, operates under different basic laws dating from its reversion from German to French control after World War I.
The only other Muslim-only cemetery in France is a private one in Bobigny which was built in 1934 as an annex to a hospital.
Elsewhere in France, towns have had to create Muslim-only sectors of public cemeteries.
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 Rhone-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 integration.