So, there you are, happily resting in peace, with flights of angels singing thee to thy rest, and then you realise that someone has already been interred right next to you, who isn’t overly happy about having to share their worms. And that someone happens to be a Muslim – or, to be more accurate, an ex-someone; a dead Muslim; a Muslim who has ceased to be. And there’s nothing remotely unexpected or unacceptable about that, for this is a multifaith cemetery – a garden of corpses, coffins, ashes, shrouds and pits – where the dead routinely decay and congenially rot side-by-side in a universal necropolis of eternal ecumenical daffodil pushing.
But then the family of the Muslim who has ceased to be discover that their loved one now lies buried next to an unbeliever – a Roman Catholic, to be precise. And not just any Roman Catholic, but one of Romany gypsy heritage, and they don’t do burials by halves, oh no. In fact, there are so many wreathes, bouquets, toys, trinkets and teddy bears strewn over the grave that it looks more like a demolished jumbo wedding cake than a dignified place of eternal rest.
But this is a multifaith cemetery, so there is no uniform pathway to the life everlasting. Whether your loved one is heading for heaven, nirvana, jannah or the pit, the mourning family is free is to express their grief with a dirt mound surrounded by wooden tulips or a veritable fairyland of hallucinogenic fragments of an imagined Shangri-la.
But the grieving family of the Muslim who has ceased to be are so grievously offended that their simple red and yellow wooden tulips have been visually defiled by the neighbouring chimera of Catholic creativity that they have complained to the local council. And according to reports (here, and regurgitated here, and plagiarised here), the council is considering exhuming the dead Christian out of sensitivity to the living Muslims.
One is tempted to say “Let the dead bury their dead”, but there is something very peculiar about this story. According to reports, the family of the dead Christian purchased three neighbouring burial plots at a cost of £2,500. Clearly, they were planning something a little more substantial than your average tombstone, and the council had no problem with that: contract signed; land sold; requiem sung and flowers festooned. But now the council is bending over backwards to accommodate the religious dogma of the family of the dead Muslim, which prohibits burial next to an unbeliever. And so it appears that the £2.5k contract may be unilaterally voided and the land reclaimed (by order of the Ministry of Justice, if necessary).
Of course, the council has put out the usual PR guff about being “sympathetic to the feelings of both families concerned” and “committed to reaching an amicable and acceptable solution”. But there isn’t one which can satisfy the fundamental theological objection of the family of the Muslim who has ceased to be. The complaint is that of burial next to an unbeliever who is considered ‘unclean’. Either the Christian corpse is exhumed and relocated, or his family agree to a postmortem conversion to Islam and a reorientation of the coffin toward Mecca.
Or alternatively, of course, the Muslim who has ceased to be could be exhumed and migrated to rot eternally with the rest of his deceased Ummah. But that might be considered a little unjust, since the Muslim predeceased the Christian. Moreover, it is considered haram to open the grave of a Muslim; and the axiom ‘first come first served’ really ought to apply to the happy hunting ground.
But the one gripe, the single gnawing niggle in this fractious quietus is that the cemetery is categorically multifaith and non-denominational. That means – since it is bound by a finite terrestrial perimeter – that Muslims somewhere must be buried next to non-Muslims. Unless the whole cemetery is to be given over to the Dar al-Islam and cleansed of all the kuffar corpses. But that wouldn’t be very Christian, would it?
And so the council must meditate upon the mystery and balance temporal Islamic harmony with eternal Christian happiness. The soteriological solution is hidden and unknown. It is a very grave matter.