Islamic Burial in Austria: “That is true integration”

In Vienna cemeteries have long been seen as “interconfessional,” and in 2008 a 3.4 hectare Islamic cemetery was opened. According to the speaker for the cemetery, Ali Ibrahim, “There is no longer an excuse to be repatriated to the homeland for burial, as Islamic rites are respected in Austria as well. When one is buried is the same place in which one has lived, that is true integration.”

On the other hand, Helga Bock, who works for one of the largest funeral homes in Austria, highlights that if a person wishes to be buried in one’s country of origin that does not necessarily mean that that person was not well integrated, and moreover, many such burials do not take place since the people in question might have already retired and moved back to their home countries. The repatriation of corpses itself is usually facilitated by mosque associations, such as the Turkish Islamic Union for Social and Cultural Cooperation in Austria (ATIB), while the costs are paid by years of contributions to a special fund of such associations.

All fourteen state-recognised religious groups are present in Vienna’s central cemetery, and the officials do their best to respond to the specific wishes of each group. In the case of Islam, this requires the ritual ablution of corpses divided by gender, as well as burial in a simple sheet, with the corpse facing Mecca. In Austria however, burial without a coffin is not permitted, thus Muslims are buried in softwood coffins – not dissimilar from Jews, who are also buried in coffins, but with a hole in the bottom in order for there to be direct contact with the earth.

Denmark: Planned Graveyard Desecrated

An uncertain future looms for a Muslim cemetery which has been dogged by vandalism. The first Muslim cemetery in Denmark has already been struck by several incidents of vandalism – before it has even been opened. The cemetery plot in Br_ndby, southwest of Copenhagen, has had swastikas painted on it. Similar vandalism has also taken place at the Islamic religious community centre in Copenhagen. The planned cemetery has already had its first test grave dug and the Islamic Burial Foundation is searching for a gardener to care for the property. ‘This is a very, very bad start,’ said Kasem Ahmad, chairman of the foundation, to daily newspaper Politiken. ‘I am losing faith that this project will ever be realised.’ Ahmed said a car has also been seen on several occasions driving recklessly across the field and that rumours have been circulating that it is being used to race on. The vandalism has cast an uncertain future over the cemetery, according to Ahmet Deniz, deputy chairman of the foundation. He said the cemetery would not be put into use until the foundation could be certain that the vandalism would be stopped. ‘It must be very intolerant people who can’t accommodate anyone other than themselves. They aren’t thinking about the fact that they are ruining their own land and the opportunity to live in a country with different types of people,’ said Deniz. The Islamic Burial Foundation has only contacted the police on one occasion. Members of the foundation are now trying to find the funds to hire a security crew to monitor the location. Bertel Haarder, minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs approved the request to establish the cemetery in April 2006.