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COVID-19:UK's faith groups react to mandatory cremation

British government's emergency coronavirus bill includes mandatory cremation for all who died from coronavirus if necessary

Ahmet Gurhan Kartal   | 23.03.2020
COVID-19:UK's faith groups react to mandatory cremation


Britain’s Muslim and Jewish communities are worried about the government’s mandatory cremation plans, which may become law after the probable passing of an emergency coronavirus bill.

As the bill designed to give extra powers to the government will be discussed at the House of Commons Monday, Muslim and Jewish populations in the U.K. have expressed their concerns about the cremation as it is against their beliefs regarding the burial practices.

According to the legislation, which is still to be voted on, “personal choice for body disposal will be respected as far as possible.”

But it also says “where there is no suitable alternative, the power to direct may be used to direct whether a body is buried or cremated.”

Muslim reaction

British Muslim umbrella group, the Muslim Council of Britain said they are “aware the Government is proposing emergency legislation to deal with the monumental issues society faces in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and this includes specific provisions which may impact religious burial procedures in certain extreme scenarios.”

It said it is “supporting the National Burial Council (Muslim) working alongside other faith communities and collaboratively with senior UK Government officials to highlight the absolute importance of burials in our faiths, and how risks can be appropriately mitigated.”

“This is not something anyone is taking lightly and we want to reassure the community that we are working hard to ensure that our concerns are taken on board,” the MCB said.

“We are hopeful a solution will be found that recognizes the challenges in extreme cases, whilst maintaining the importance of certain beliefs that our faith communities hold dear.”

It noted: “We urge communities at a local level to work positively and collaboratively with other faiths, communities, and local and national government bodies, and will be providing more guidance soon.”

Jewish reaction

Britain’s Jewish Board of Deputies also reacted to the proposed mandatory cremation.

Marie van der Zyl, the head of the board, urged the government to respect religious traditions on burials.

"For those that do succumb to this pandemic, it is important that they know that they will be laid to rest in accordance with their wishes.

“For the overwhelming majority of U.K. Jews, this means that the deceased must be buried and not cremated,” van der Zyl said in a statement, pointing that Muslims and some Christian groups have similar beliefs.

“We urge the government to provide exemptions to proposed legislation to mandate local authorities to take account of the religious beliefs when releasing bodies – and not defaulting to cremation, which will only add to the sorrow of grieving families and go against fundamental freedoms of religion and belief,” she added. 

Amendment to the bill

Labour MP Naz Shah said on Sunday she was submitting an amendment to the bill to allow for exemptions for faith groups.

Shah said on Facebook that her amendment needs support from more MPs as currently she has received support from 100 parliament members.

“Muslim and Jewish communities are worried that this legislation could lead to their loved ones being cremated instead of being buried… My amendment responds to that concern and gives legal protection to communities, and should there be a capacity issues, local authorities must consult next of kin, and where needed faith based organizations that can support [local] councils,” said Shah.

British lawmakers have returned to the House of Commons to discuss the bill on Monday.

It will also give the government power to restrict people’s movements if necessary.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday: "The government will enforce and bring in further strong measures if we need to - but I'd much rather people follow the rules themselves, it would be much more straight forward."

"If we need to go further in terms of people's interactions then we will," Hancock added.

Spread of COVID-19

According to data compiled by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University, the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 has infected over 349,200 worldwide, killing more than 15,300, while over 100,000 have recovered.

The virus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December, and has spread to more than 167 countries and territories. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a pandemic.

China, Italy, Iran, and Spain continue to be the worst-affected countries.

Despite the rising number of cases, the vast majority of people contracting the virus suffer mild symptoms before making a recovery.

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