Italy’s Muslims call for more Islamic cemeteries in wake of virus

Muslims wearing face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 attend prayers for Eid Al-Fitr, the feast of breaking the fast which marks the end of Ramadan, in Rome's Piazza Vittorio Square. (AP Photo)
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Updated 01 June 2020

Italy’s Muslims call for more Islamic cemeteries in wake of virus

  • Only 50 of the nearly 8,000 Italian municipalities have dedicated spaces for Muslims inside their cemeteries
  • According to the 2018 census, 2.6 million Muslims live in Italy and consist of 4.3 percent of the population

ROME: Muslims in Italy are calling for the establishment of more Islamic cemeteries in the country.

As national and international travel was banned at the height of the COVID-19 crisis, the bodies of Muslim dead in Italy could not be transported back to where the deceased person came from as was previously possible.

This caused “a dramatic situation in Italy, with several corpses left on hold in mortuaries as there are no Islamic cemeteries where they could be buried,” said Abdallah Redouane, secretary-general of the Great Mosque of Rome.

The situation was even more serious in the north of Italy, the area most affected by the coronavirus and where the highest number of deaths were reported. The Islamic community there is also larger, making the situation even more difficult for Muslims, Redouane told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

According to the 2018 census, 2.6 million Muslims live in Italy and consist of 4.3 percent of the population; 56 percent of them hold foreign citizenship and 44 percent are Italian citizens. Despite Islam being the second largest religion in the country, only 50 of the nearly 8,000 Italian municipalities have dedicated spaces for Muslims inside their cemeteries. When those spaces are available, they are very limited in most cases and there are not enough of them to meet demand, which dramatically increased in the first half of 2020.

Most of the spaces for Islamic burials in public cemeteries are located in the Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna regions. The first cemetery space for Muslims in Italy was established in Trieste in 1856. Unfortunately, not much progress has been made on the issue since then.

The Flaminio Cemetery in Rome has had space for Muslims since 1974. “Today this space is full. In the past few months, deaths have increased and so have burial requests,” Redouane said.

“We filed requests to open new spaces for Muslims in the municipal cemeteries nationwide. So far we managed to open some new areas. But as the situation gets worse and worse, we are still waiting for answers,” said Yassine Lafram, president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII).

In the past few months, local newspapers have published several letters with appeals by Muslims calling for more Islamic spaces to be established in cemeteries as soon as possible. Some mayors said that they were working on the issue.

“We have to sort this out properly. Having a dignified burial is a fundamental human right which must be assured to all those who live in this country,” Leoluca Orlando, mayor of the capital of Sicily, Palermo, told Arab News. “In Palermo an area of the Sant’Orsola Cemetery is already dedicated for Islamic burial but it is not enough. We must do more,” he said.

As the president of the Association of Mayors in Sicily, Orlando said that a joint effort would be made on the issue with his colleagues at a regional level.

Islamic cemeteries are considered a basic need by Muslim communities in Italy.

“I wished my mother had been buried in Italy, in the country where she spent most of her life. My family lives here. Had she been buried here, we would have gone to find her in the Islamic cemetery more often, we would have felt her closer,” Samira, 40, told Arab News. Samira, who has been living in Italy for 30 years, said her mother had to be buried in Tunisia after she died a few years ago.

Hira Ibrahim, a young Macedonian Muslim, lost her mother a few weeks ago in Pisogne, near Brescia, to the coronavirus. Her mother’s body had to be kept at home for more than 10 days because there was no space  dedicated to Muslims available in any nearby cemetery.

“Dozens of other Muslim families lived this same nightmare in the COVID-19 emergency,” Jihad, 59, a doctor living in Rome, told Arab News. “That was a double suffering; along with losing their beloved relatives people felt deprived of the primary right of burying their dead in a dignified way in a country where they contribute to economic growth with their work every day,” he said.

Islamic communities hope that the agreement they signed with the Italian government on the reopening of mosques at the end of the national lockdown will put them in a better situation to negotiate more burial areas nationwide. The main problem that they still face in Italy is bureaucracy.

In his first sermon after the Via Chivasso mosque in Turin reopened for the first time in three months, Imam Said Ait El Jide remembered the victims of the pandemic. “In our first blessed meeting we remember first of all our brothers and sisters, fellow citizens and friends who have left us. Our condolences go to anyone who has lost a loved one and we pray to God that he will heal every sick person promptly,” he said.

The imam invited “all brothers and sisters to carry on, to continue to strictly follow the provisions and precautions in force as the pandemic is not over yet. These precautions must be considered as acts of worship, because thanks to them we protect our lives and that of our fellow citizens.”


John Hume, who worked to end N. Ireland violence, dies at 83

Updated 03 August 2020

John Hume, who worked to end N. Ireland violence, dies at 83

  • Although he advocated for a united Ireland, Hume believed change could not come to Northern Ireland without the consent of its Protestant majority
  • John Hume: I want to see Ireland as an example to men and women everywhere of what can be achieved by living for ideals, rather than fighting for them

LONDON: John Hume, the visionary politician who won a Nobel Peace Prize for fashioning the agreement that ended violence in his native Northern Ireland, has died at 83, his family said Monday.
The Catholic leader of the moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party, Hume was seen as the principal architect of Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement. He shared the prize later that year with the Protestant leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, for their efforts to end the sectarian violence that plagued the region for three decades and left more than 3,500 people dead.
“I want to see Ireland as an example to men and women everywhere of what can be achieved by living for ideals, rather than fighting for them, and by viewing each and every person as worthy of respect and honor,” he said in 1998. “I want to see an Ireland of partnership, where we wage war on want and poverty, where we reach out to the marginalized and dispossessed, where we build together a future that can be as great as our dreams allow.”
Hume died Monday morning after suffering from ill health for several years, his family said.
Born on Jan. 18, 1937, in Northern Ireland’s second city — Londonderry to British Unionists, Derry to Irish nationalists — Hume trained for the priesthood before becoming a fixture on Northern Ireland’s political landscape. An advocate of nonviolence, he fought for equal rights in what was then a Protestant-ruled state, but he condemned the Irish Republican Army because of his certainty that no injustice was worth a human life.
Although he advocated for a united Ireland, Hume believed change could not come to Northern Ireland without the consent of its Protestant majority. He also realized that better relations needed to be forged between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and between London and Dublin.
He championed the notion of extending self-government to Northern Ireland with power divided among the groups forming it.
“Ireland is not a romantic dream; it is not a flag; it is 4.5 million people divided into two powerful traditions,″ he said. “The solution will be found not on the basis of victory for either, but on the basis of agreement and a partnership between both. The real division of Ireland is not a line drawn on the map, but in the minds and hearts of its people.”
While both Hume and Trimble credited the people of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic for approving a referendum that led to power sharing, it was Hume’s diplomacy that offered the impetus to the peace process that led to the 1998 Good Friday accord.
Hume won the breakthrough in Belfast’s political landscape in 1993 by courting Gerry Adams, the head of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, in hopes of securing an IRA cease-fire. That dialogue burnished Adams’ international credibility and led to two IRA cease-fires in 1994 and 1997.
Like most Protestant politicians at the time, Trimble had opposed efforts to share power with Catholics as something that would jeopardize Northern Ireland’s union with Britain. He at first refused to speak directly with Adams, insisting that IRA commanders needed to prove they were willing to abandon violence.
He ultimately relented and became pivotal in peacemaking efforts.
Hume had envisioned a broad agenda for the discussions, arguing they must be driven by close cooperation between the British and Irish governments. The process was overseen by neutral figures like US mediator George Mitchell, with the decisions overwhelmingly ratified by public referendums in both parts of Ireland.
“Without John Hume, there would not have been a peace process,” Mitchell said at the time the prize was announced. ”Without David Trimble, there would not have been a peace agreement.”
Hume and Trimble were said to have had a frosty relationship. But Trimble on Monday described a thawing after the Nobel ceremony in Oslo, recalling that the hotel at which they were staying had suggested the two men chose to relax away from each other.
“We didn’t do that. We relaxed and in some sense celebrated the occasion jointly, and that for me spelt out the principle for how we were going to proceed in the years after that,” he told the BBC.
Tributes poured in after’s Hume’s death was announced, including praise from Adams, who called him a “giant in Irish politics.” Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was in office at the time the accord was signed, lauded Hume’s “epic” contribution to the peace process.
Former US President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement describing their sadness.
“Through his faith in principled compromise, and his ability to see his adversaries as human beings, John helped forge the peace that has held to this day,” they said.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Northern Ireland of today is Hume’s legacy.
“He stood proudly in the tradition that was totally opposed to violence and committed to pursuing his objectives by exclusively peaceful and democratic means,” Johnson said on Twitter. “His vision paved the way for the stability, positivity and dynamism of the Northern Ireland of today and his passing is a powerful reminder of how far Northern Ireland has come.”
Hume’s family said his funeral would be in keeping with strict guidelines on attendees because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A memorial will be arranged later.
“We are grateful for your condolences and support, and we appreciate that you will respect the family’s right to privacy at this time of great loss,” the family said in a statement. “It seems particularly apt for these strange and fearful days to remember the phrase that gave hope to John and so many of us through dark times: ‘We shall overcome.’”