MADRID'S mayoress Manuela Carmena has announced that part of the city's main cemetery will be set aside for Muslim burials – but she could face difficulties with health and safety laws.
According to Islamic last rites, followers must be buried with their bodies facing Mecca and in contact with the earth so that when they eventually decompose, they will blend back into nature, or return to where the human race is said to have come from.
But legislation passed 19 years ago requires that all bodies are buried in coffins made of specific materials, to prevent the spread of any diseases the deceased may have suffered before death, and to avoid the soil becoming contaminated and eventually polluting the water supply.
Sra Carmena has cordoned off 9,500 square metres at the Carabanchel graveyard – Madrid's second-largest - for the purpose after months of discussions with Islamic leaders in the city.
She will now need to get regional government authorities to agree, however.
Regional president Cristina Cifuentes (PP), who is considered more central, or liberal, than the rest of her right-wing party as a whole, says she has arranged for engineers to research the matter and produce reports.
Of Spain's 1.85 million Muslims – mostly of Moroccan origin or, to a much lesser degree, Algerian and Pakistani – about 200,000 live in Madrid.
Chairman and secretary-general of the Islamic Communities' Union in the capital, Tatary Bakry and Helal-Jamal Abboshi respectively, insist that provisions have been made for Muslim burials elsewhere in the country.
Andalucía, in the south, has changed its laws to allow for eight Islamic graveyards to be set up – a third of the total present in Spain.
In the other 16 Muslim cemeteries, a compromise has been reached by either placing earth inside the coffin with the body, or cutting a hole in it so that at least part of the body is in contact with nature.
One Islamic graveyard was set up years ago in the Greater Madrid region, in the town of Griñón, run by a private funeral firm which charged between €50 and €100 for burials – but two years ago, the site was acquired by the then PP-led council of Griñón which applied the current health and safety legislation and upped the cost of interment to €1,960.
At that time, authorities had refused to entertain any change in the law unless this was effected at national government level and applied to Spain as a whole.