Muslims in Germany Choose to be Buried Abroad

By Michael Scott Moore As the first generation of Muslim immigrants to Germany get older, over 70 percent still plan to be buried in the country of their birth. Is integration a problem even in death? Yemos Vurgun was the frail matriarch of a Turkish immigrant family when she died in 1994, aged 90, and although she’d spent her last 14 years in Berlin, her son Ali Riza put her travel papers in order: She had one last trip to make. “We had to have her passport stamped,” said Ali, who traveled with the casket to Turkey. The stamp from German officials proved she was dead. Ali needed it so Turkish officials would admit her body back into her homeland. A full five days after her death — three days of paperwork in Berlin, then two plane trips and a ride in a van — Vurgun’s casket arrived in the mountain village of Akyurt, in eastern Turkey, where the old woman was laid to rest beside her husband. “We never considered burying her in Berlin,” said Ali. “Our neighbors in Akyurt wouldn’t have forgiven us.” Vurgun’s children had left home in the ’60s as part of the first wave of guest workers from Turkey, and she’d joined them only as a widow, in 1980. She was less integrated than most immigrants to Germany, but her story is still the rule for most Muslims here. Islamic undertakers estimate that 70 to 80 percent of Muslim immigrants arrange to have their bodies sent home — mainly to Turkey, but also to other countries like Lebanon or Egypt — rather than face a nontraditional burial in cold German ground. The reasons aren’t always religious — sometimes they’re financial, sometimes just nostalgic — and the German system gets in the way as much as Islamic law. But integration, it seems, can be a problem even in death (…)