A new cemetery is to have all its graves aligned with Mecca - making it the first council graveyard in the country to bury the dead in Islamic tradition, regardless of their religion. Headstones in the new 2.5 million pound High Wood Cemetery in Nottingham will face north-east - as Muslims believe the dead look over their shoulder towards Mecca. This is the way in which all followers of Islam in the UK are buried. But the move has upset the Church and led to complaints that the policy discriminates against the city's majority Christian population. The traditional direction of burial for Christians is facing east.
The Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, the Rt Rev George Cassidy, criticised the decision. He said: "This is a sensitive issue to all people. I hope the situation will be reviewed with wide consultation and a policy introduced that takes account of the needs of all." The decision was made by Steve Dowling, Nottingham City Council's Services Director for Environment and Public Protection, after liaising with the city's multi-faith Cemeteries Consultative Committee. He said: "For people of the Muslim faith this fits in with a religious requirement, but it will also ensure a tidy appearance for the site. People can choose to be buried facing another direction but if they do not specify that, they will be buried facing north-east. The vast majority of people do not express a preference."
But Brendan Clarke-Smith, Tory councillor for Clifton North, said: "I was totally bewildered when I read about this decision. I spoke to one of the local Muslim groups in my area and they were equally surprised by what had been done. It is utterly ridiculous and I know it'll create a lot of ill feeling both in Nottingham and the country generally." The clergy and critics of the policy at the new 40-acre cemetery are supported by Raza Ul Haq, Imam at the Madni Masjid Mosque. He said: "It is part of our religion for the dead to be aligned with Mecca. It is very important. But for Christians, if they want to face somewhere else we support them."
Last night a spokesman for the Institute of Cemeteries and Crematorium Management said it was the first time he had heard of any public cemetery in Britain choosing to have all its gravestones facing north-east, in line with Muslim tradition. "It is unusual,' he said. "It would seem appropriate if there was a large population of Muslims." In Nottingham, however, Muslims make up less than five per cent of the region's 500,000 population.
Nigel Lymn Rose managing director of A.W. Lymn Funeral Directors, and a past president of the National Association of Funeral Directors, said Mr Dowling had told him of the decision when he went to High Wood for a site visit and asked whether Muslims had been taken into account. He said: "I was astonished to be told, "Oh yes, we're burying everyone so they are aligned to Mecca. It will make things easier." "It's one thing to be buried facing north-east because that is the way the cemetery lies, or the plot within it - it is quite another thing to learn that you have been buried facing that direction because it follows Islamic law."
Brian Grocock, a councillor who took part in the consultation process, said: "I don't know how this has become such a big issue. "The consultations went on for three or four years. We had people of all faiths represented at the meetings - or they certainly had the chance to attend. Nobody I know had any objections to the plan." So far at Highwood there have been just six burials - of which three were Muslim.
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