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Life, Death, Burial & Grave space.

Learning to live for an afterlife or making this world an afterlife?

What are we preparing for? The Wedding or for the Marriage?

I was shocked to count the number of graves that were filled from March 2020 to March 2021 at the Muslim cemetery in my community. It made me think that burial space is becoming a problem. The COVID-19 pandemic has in fact spiked deaths which has ignited the discussion of shortage of grave space. Furthermore, it has changed how we deal with life, death and burial. Society now has been plunged into learning how to live life with passionate intensity because our mortality as come to the fore more vivid than the gathering of pregnant rain clouds.

The fascination on this topic is not a morbid pass time but, a fascination of reality. Facing reality is the only consistent wake up call like a cold slap on the face on a frigid winter’s morning to make you see what you must see. What you must see is that we ‘act like mortals in all that we fear but like immortals in all that we desire.’ as Seneca said. This is so true! Therefore, any discussion on something deep and serious, we leave it for another day. This selective avoidance is our Achille’s heel. Suddenly, when someone dies, then only we remember death and a discussion like this would become a grave concern and the pun is intended.

The newsfeed from RT is startling and it does ignite that discussion of life, death and burial. It is interesting to note that the concern is huge but, it is referenced to Muslims only. Surely, burials are not for Muslims only therefore, one has to look at this issue globally. Globally the movement to organic living has introduced new dimensions to live and to take care of the earth. In doing so, a range of studies have shown that over the decades and more that expensive coffins, thousands of cremations and related rituals, the pollution of the soil and air have increased. Therefore, ‘Green’ funerals have become more in vogue. The NEW YORK TIMES says:

The specifics of a green burial vary widely, but typically they require far fewer resources for the care of the body and skip a number of the traditional steps, making them better for the environment. Plus, they can save families on funeral costs. Interest in these pared-down, eco-friendly options has grown as people look for ways to cut their carbon footprint. Nearly 54 percent of Americans are considering a green burial, and 72 percent of cemeteries are reporting an increased demand, according to a survey released earlier this year by the National Funeral Directors Association….

You also shouldn’t feel limited by what a funeral home is selling you — by federal law, they’re required to accept a coffin provided by the customer at no extra charge. Or skip the coffin altogether. A shroud made from organic, biodegradable cotton can be purchased through your funeral home or online, or even at the local fabric store.

The reference to the local fabric store and the purchasing of a shroud made from organic, biodegradable cotton fascinated me because, this is what we as Muslims were doing so all these thousands of years. Islam is very practical in keeping healthy relations with the earth. The thrust of discussion is how we are all preparing for a here and now but, not for the journey ahead. As a Muslim, I truly believe in an afterlife having only two final destinations. The one is Hell and the preferred is definitely heaven. However, many would question this belief and I can understand why but, consider the fact that every journey has a destination therefore, how can our biggest journey called life cannot have a destination?

Destinations differ for each person and when we pass on, the grave discussion is about burial rites, inheritance, legacies and memories. These discussions center around the grave space but, we take it for granted because we believe that our surviving family members, friends and sincere legal eagles will take of everything. Life and death cannot be separated therefore; it stands to reason that the way you live is the way you will die. I am drawn to the natural disposition of Islam regarding the matter of life and death. The fact that it has such an organic approach to death and burial it stands to reason that it prepares you for death and makes you live very thoughtfully, however this is dependent on the believer’s intrinsic attitude, practice and discipline. This dependency will alleviate the dire concern of how your burial rites will be done and where you will be buried all because there will be a community of people who will do what is required according to the Islamic religious laws.

Religious laws give firm grounding for our actions especially in terms of life and death. However, while we have this we still worry more about the wedding rather than the marriage to use as an example. Therefore, the discussions of burial space becomes more dominant than our actual lifestyles and I do not diminish the argument of burial space by this statement. The point made is that we polluting the planet in countless of ways and are not paying attention to our every evolving lifestyles which in the main is incongruent with holistic healthy living standards. Therefore, our death and burial rites become another problem that shows humanity’s lack of sagacity. The world population today stand at around 7,9 billion people and throughout the centuries billions of people have died as well including the towering dinosaurs, massive Mammoths huge humans which we have little or trace of. Archeological findings give us glimpses into the past all because the biodegradable composition of creation is meant to combine with the earth and not pollute it.

Life, death and burial today has become a discussion of pollution because amongst other reasons, our bodies are becoming more and more ‘plastic’. ‘Plastic’ because we are consuming food that is so genetically modified which slows down many natural laws including decomposition after death. Our toxic bodies therefore, pollute the soil. For a moment consider the fact that according to the “China Civil Affairs Statistical Yearbook 2015”, China’s national death toll was 9.77 million, and its corpse cremation rate was 47% in 2014 translating a huge emission of toxins in the atmosphere. A detailed study done in China on how cremations affect the atmosphere shows that the concern is so great because, if it is not properly addressed and managed, the living would suffer under serious health hazards. The fact that China is at an almost 100 % cremation rate of its deceased means that there is a lack of actual open land mass for burials therefore, the emissions from the crematoriums had to be studied to avoid a looming health catastrophe. Here is an abstract of the research to inflame debate:

The process of corpse cremation generates numerous harmful air pollutants [1–3], including particulate matter (PM), SO2, NOx, CO, HCl, HF, NH3, VOCs, heavy metals, polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans (PCDD/Fs) [4–8]. Due to the characteristics of the funeral sector, the chimney heights are usually low, and the air pollutants disperse close to the ground, thus severely affecting the surrounding air quality and human health [9–17]. The problem of the emissions of harmful air pollutants from cremators is causing increasing social concern.

Where to from here?

Life, death and burials will be a discussion until the end but, how we live must be a discussion of choice and of an increasing social concern. From here we understand that burying a person in the earth or cremating or following a strange tradition means we are part of a religion and culture that determines how we relate to the earth. Take a look at this funeral rite keeping in mind the preparation for a greater meeting which we still debate: Heaven & Hell.

Sky Burials – a test of faith in a belief.

Funeral rites are here to stay and we need to deal with how we live so that our burial is not a burden to the earth. Death is the door to meeting with Allah, the High the Great. Our beliefs will determine how we will make a living and how we will prepare for death. Burial is just a physical rite that can happen in various ways but, the reality of faith that there is destination beyond death because the atheist too, on a sinking ship calls out to God. In the end I am drawn to the Holy Quran by reading these points of evidence:

﴿١٨٥﴾ كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَائِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ ۗ وَإِنَّمَا تُوَفَّوْنَ أُجُورَكُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ۖ فَمَنْ زُحْزِحَ عَنِ النَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ ۗ وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ

 Every soul will taste death, and you will receive your compensation on the Day of Resurrection. Whoever is swayed from the Fire, and admitted to Paradise, has won. The life of this world is merely the enjoyment of delusion.

Holy Quran. Chapter 3. Evidence 185

Delusion is just bad and leaves you more confounded therefore, I look back on life, death and burial and made peace with the fact that my body is precious. It has been created by Allah, the Creator and it is but a vehicle of the soul. The soul will be encased once again with the body upon resurrection according to my belief as a Muslim which after judgement will usher me into a final destination – heaven, Allah willing. Mankind, whilst having life must continue to strive to make this earth a better place for millions with inherit it after us. In this way we will prepare ourselves to live the moment for a future that is everlasting and all this means looking after the present. Life, death and burials are real indications of our humanness and a longing for a greater destination. Weddings are the open signs of our joy whilst marriages show us the destination of our happiness. It is all about a preparation of what you strive for because death and burial are the beginning points of a new journey.

Abdullah Sujee


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