French Muslim families have been left grappling for answers in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak over a critical lack of proper Islamic burial plots available for those killed during the crisis.
As citizens of all faiths in France deal with the grim new realities presented by the global pandemic, Muslims in particular face the prospect of being unable to bury their loved ones according to their religious customs.
At present, according to reports, only 600 towns and cities out of France’s 35,000 communes have designated Muslim burial areas.
With more than 15,700 people killed in France by the coronavirus and in excess of 103,000 reported cases, Muslim leaders have lobbied authorities at every level, from French President Emmanuel Macron down to local mayors, for a swift resolution to problem.
The French Council for the Muslim Faith said it has been frustrated by the slowness of the response even if Mr Macron as well as French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner have said they will ensure Muslims who die during the pandemic are buried according to tradition.
“Whenever a difficulty has been reported to it, the CFCM has systematically contacted the mayor of the municipality concerned to find solutions. However, it is clear that some of these solutions are slow to come, plunging families into anxiety, worry and misunderstanding,” the council said.
“In this historic period that we are going through, we solemnly ask the mayors of France to take responsibility for the suffering and pain of these families who have lost a loved one and who find themselves in great difficulty in burying their deceased."
Already the CFCM, which has close contacts with the government in Paris, has had to agree to extraordinary measures for Muslims in the face of the global health emergency.
The council has agreed to halt some traditional funeral rites, such as washing the body before burial, as a precaution during the outbreak. Similarly, the size of funeral gatherings has been reduced. Mosques have closed in France, as they have across the world.
Muslim leaders in France’s greatest fear was that bodies would be cremated without family present, though this has been ruled out by French authorities. In worst case scenarios allowances have been made for bodies buried outside Muslim cemeteries to be exhumed and reburied according to tradition after the crisis is over.
Throughout the Covid-19 crisis in France, Muslim leaders have reasserted the need for solidarity with French authorities and urged the preservation of life above every other priority.
On Monday France announced it would be extending the country’s lockdown to curb the coronavirus outbreak until May 11. Mr Macron said progress had been made against the pandemic but the battle was not yet won.
“Over the next four weeks, the rules must be respected,” the president said in a televised address to the nation.
He said that by May 11, France would be able to test every citizen presenting Covid-19 symptoms.