CAIRO - Seeking to overcome a severe shortage that affects their religious minorities, Muslims and Jews in the Australian eastern city of New South Wales have agreed to share burial spaces in a new cemetery for their communities."Being able to see [members of] the Jewish and Muslim community being buried side by side and sharing the same ground will demonstrate the willingness of the community in Australia to work together," Ahmad Kamaledine, the Muslim representative on the Rookwood General Cemeteries Trust, was quoted as saying by Haaretz on Tuesday, May 14.
The local government has allocated a 3.3-hectare burial space for communities to bury their dead.
The move was taken to help address an acute shortage for burial sites in Sydney for both Muslim and Jews.
The area, located at Rookwood Necropolis, was the last remaining plot in the largest cemetery in the Southern Hemisphere.
Yair Miller, president of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, said the sharing of the burial space is a new proof of the healthy relationship between the two faiths in New South Wales.
"It needs to always be worked on but we have a very cordial relationship in NSW with most of the mainstream Muslim groups, Miller said.
"The Jewish community is still in need of a long-term solution but we're very, very thankful."
Half of the new lot will be reserved for about 4000 double-depth Islamic graves while the other half will be for around 2,700 single Jewish burial plots.
The two sections will be divided by small roads inside the cemetery.
"This is a good medium-term solution as the Muslim community in particular has a shortage of available burial space," Katrina Hodgkinson, the Primary Industries Minister, said last week.
However, there were some extremist voices criticizing the sharing of the burial space between Muslims and Jews.
"I am not exactly happy about it," said a Jewish woman from Sydney, who wished to remain anonymous.
"But then I am not happy either with all the Muslim interfaith rubbish the Board of Deputies gets up to either."
But Miller downplayed any opposition among the Jewish community to the sharing.
"The model of a multi-faith cemetery is one we've lived with here in the last 200 years," he said.
"These plots happen to be next to each other but are not intertwined. There are still roads between the sections, it's a very big plot divided by internal roads so there's no inter-burying."
Some activists pointed the finger at the media for stirring up problems surrounding the plans.
"The biggest story here is that some journalists seem surprised that Jews and Muslims work together on such matters," said Jeremy Jones, a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and a founder of the Australia National Dialogue of Christians, Muslims & Jews.
"It was more than 30 years ago when I began working with Muslims (and vegetarians) due to a mutual interest in having food ingredients labeled."
New South Wales is home to 168.788 Muslims, about 49.6 percent of the total population, making the state a habitat to the largest Muslim population, according to the 2006 government Census.
Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.
Islam is the country's second largest religion after Christianity.The Harbor City is also home to 45,000-plus Jewish community.