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.”


Philippines anti-terror campaign gets US boost

US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien (R) and Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin (L) pose with precision-guided munitions among other defence articles during a turnover ceremony at the Department of Foreign Affairs office in Manila on November 23, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 24 November 2020

Philippines anti-terror campaign gets US boost

  • Missiles will help armed forces fight Daesh-aligned groups in country’s south
  • Donald Trump pledged to provide the $18 million worth of missiles in a phone conversation with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in April

MANILA: The Philippines on Monday received nearly $18 million worth of weapons systems from the US to help the government in its anti-terror fight, officials said.

Visiting US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien highlighted the transfer of precision-guided munitions to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the presence of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr.
“On behalf of (American) President (Donald) Trump … I am pleased to transfer a package of precision-guided missiles, munitions ... to the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” O’Brien said.
Locsin, on behalf of the Philippines government, received the package which included 100 tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) 2A missiles, 12 improved target acquisition systems (ITAS), and 24 mark 82 (MK-82) bombs.
O’Brien said a US military plane delivered the smart weapons which will aid the Philippines military in its fight against Daesh-aligned groups operating in the southern part of the country.
“It’s a fight that’s been bravely undertaken by the men and women of the Philippines Armed Forces,” he added. According to O’Brien, the transfer underscored Washington’s strong and enduring commitment to its “critical alliance” with the Philippines.
“We hope these precision-guided missiles and munitions will help the AFP protect lives in Mindanao and end the needless suffering imposed by ISIS-East Asia,” he said.
The adviser added that America had been at the forefront in its fight against Daesh and that US forces in the Middle East had destroyed 100 percent of its physical caliphate.

HIGHLIGHT

US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said a US military plane delivered the smart weapons which will aid the Philippines military in its fight against Daesh-aligned groups operating in the southern part of the country.

“That was a caliphate the size of Great Britain extending across Syria and Iraq. It was destroyed under President Trump’s orders. Further, President Trump gave the orders for a daring nighttime raid that led to justice being brought to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the founder and leader (of Daesh).
“Now, President Trump is standing with (Filipino) President (Rodrigo) Duterte as we combat (Daesh) here in Southeast Asia,” O’Brien said.
Locsin expressed gratitude for the weapons donated by the US. “This is the fulfillment of a promise made by US President Donald Trump to President Duterte during their phone call in April.
“We are looking forward to training on the use of these weapons with the best and undisputed military power in the world and the only one in history selflessly dedicated to the freedom and independence of other countries whatever threat in the world,” he said.
The foreign secretary pointed out that the “smart bombs” would further boost the AFP’s capabilities in “neutralizing identified or specific threats to national security, particularly in counterterrorism operations.”
Meanwhile, AFP military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, told media that “these smart munitions with such capability and precision will aid immensely the AFP in ridding the country of terrorist menaces.”
He said: “We may have been successful in counter-terrorism operations — most notably in Marawi — with ordinary munitions fitted in our legacy aircraft. But with the advent of these missiles and munitions, we are certain that they will greatly boost our campaigns and contribute to the global drive to fight and defeat terrorists.”
In a separate message, O’Brien added that the US welcomed Duterte’s recent decision “to extend the US-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).”
Locsin in a note to O’Brien earlier this month had conveyed the president’s decision to suspend the abrogation of the VFA by another six months, to enable both sides to find a “more enhanced, mutually beneficial, mutually agreeable, and more effective and lasting arrangement on how to move forward.”
The VFA was scheduled to be terminated on Aug. 9, but the Philippines government in June suspended the move in light of “political and other developments in the region.”
The suspension was delayed for six months until December, but the Department of Foreign Affairs said it could be extended for half a year more.
“We look forward to the VFA continuing to facilitate our closer cooperation in combatting terrorism,” said O’Brien.
The VFA is the bilateral agreement that establishes the rules by which military personnel, vessels, and aircraft may enter the Philippines. It also stipulates how criminal offenses committed by US military personnel should be prosecuted.
Besides addressing the problem of terrorism, O’Brien said the US also hoped to expand its cooperation with the Philippines on a range of security challenges, such as disaster relief and maritime security.
He also welcomed recent statements by Duterte and Locsin at the US-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit, calling on all nations, “including a certain large nation in the neighborhood,” to respect international law in the South China Sea and reiterated the US’ commitment to defend the AFP if it came under armed attack in the disputed territory.
“As we approach the 70th anniversary of our Mutual Defense Treaty next year, we celebrate the strength of our important alliance, and we look forward to working hand-in-hand for generations to come. Together, the US and the Philippines will continue to ensure peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” said O’Brien.
The US official also expressed condolences to the Philippines for the lives lost and devastation caused by super-typhoon Goni, and typhoon Vamco.