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A special place to bury their loved ones

Section at Transcona Cemetery caters to Muslims

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/9/2016 (1402 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There are just a few small mounds of freshly turned earth — a bouquet of red roses marks an infant’s final resting place on one — but no visible sign this is the Muslim section of this city-owned cemetery.

There’s no crescent moon on a gate or any Islamic symbol to indicate a newly allocated section at the Transcona Cemetery is for Muslim burials. The only visible difference from the rest of the graves is the Muslims aren’t buried east to west in straight rows but diagonally, facing northwest, in the direction of Mecca.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Abdul Aziz kneels in the Muslim section of the Transcona cemetery.</p></p>


Abdul Aziz kneels in the Muslim section of the Transcona cemetery.

A row of young trees planted beside the road separates the big, empty field set aside for Muslim burials from the rest of the graves with Christian crosses, Virgin Mary statues and non-religious headstones. It’s much-needed room for the fastest-growing faith group in Canada.

"The community is growing — especially in the last five years," said Abdul Aziz, the volunteer who oversees the Manitoba Islamic Association’s funeral committee.

"We use to have three to five funerals per year," he said. "Now, we are having 30 to 50 funerals per year."

For years, the association had a partnership with a private cemetery, Aziz said, but cemetery rules were changing, making it difficult to follow Muslim burial guidelines. The association started to explore other options, including a Muslim community-owned cemetery, but the legal and financial requirements turned out to be too onerous, Aziz said.

Next, they checked out city-owned cemeteries to see if there was room for a Muslim section, said city councillor Brian Mayes, who has many Muslims in his St. Vital ward and who worked with city staff and the association when it started to look for a cemetery home.

"Brookside was full, St. Vital was pretty full, but Transcona had space," said Mayes. Allocating space for the Muslims, however, meant changing a bylaw to allow shroud burials there, he said.

"The City of Winnipeg has made some significant strides in accommodating Islamic burials, both in terms of allowing burials in shrouds and allowing burials at a city cemetery," Mayes said.

After two years of negotiating, the Manitoba Islamic Association signed an agreement earlier this year with the City of Winnipeg allocating a section of Transcona Cemetery for the Muslim community, he said. Now they have their own space surrounded by sunflower fields, the Perimeter Highway and the other graves.

A few things set Muslim burials apart, said Aziz.

"The body should be buried as soon as possible from the time of death, which means that funeral planning and preparations begin immediately," he said. "Routine autopsies are not acceptable in Islam unless required by law. Cremation of the body is forbidden."

There are other steps that have to be followed.

"Once the deceased is in MIA care, we bathe the body and shroud the body," Aziz said. The association has an arrangement with a funeral home that provides the facility to bathe the body. The Manitoba Islamic Association has a group of trained volunteers to help the deceased’s loved ones with the ritual.

Those performing the bathing must be of the same sex as the deceased unless it is the spouse, said Aziz. Once the body is prepared, it is transported to the family’s preferred mosque for the funeral prayer performed by community members.

"Those praying should face the "qiblah"— that is, toward Mecca. After the funeral prayer, the body is transported to the cemetery for burial."

Once the body arrives in the cemetery, it is carried on foot to the burial plot followed by the funeral-goers. The shrouded body is then placed on its side facing in the direction of Mecca. "It is important to make sure that the body faces toward Mecca," Aziz said.

Like many Christian, Jewish and secular funerals, the immediate family gathers after the burial to receive visitors. Members of the community bring food to the grieving family.

"Like in many other cultures, offering help and condolences to the mourning family is considered an essential part of dealing with death," Aziz said.


Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

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Updated on Monday, September 12, 2016 at 6:36 AM CDT: Adds photo

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