UK Government amend Covid-19 Bill that would have forced Muslims to cremate relatives

24th Apr 2020

Nadine Osman

The UK Government tabled to amend its Covid-19 Bill on March 23, to tackle fears by Muslim and Jewish communities over forced cremations.

Left unamended part 2 of the Emergency Coronavirus Bill 2019-21, would disregard section 46(3) of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, designed to ‘prevent a local authority from being able to cremate a body against the wishes of the deceased.’

The Bill, which was unveiled on March 17, will now be amended to respect the strict laws around burial in the Jewish and Muslim faiths.

Thanking Health Secretary Matt Hancock “for listening to faith organisations” the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Rehman Chishti MP told the Commons, “it was completely unacceptable to consider [forced cremations].. taking account of the views of the Muslim and Jewish communities.”

Labour’s Naz Shah has led a campaign among MPs to back an amendment which would allow local authorities to consult with religious authorities over burial rules.

The Bradford West MP’s move was backed by more than 100 parliamentarians.
The Muslim Council of Britain which supported the National Burial Council (Muslim) opposition to the Bill, welcomed the Government’s amendment. A spokesman for the umbrella group said, “during this national crisis; we are appreciative of this reassurance by our government and its important efforts to listen to and worth constructively with faith communities.

“We pay tribute to the hard work of Naz Shah, MP for Bradford West, for raising the issue alongside others, and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims for mobilising support for this important change across the House, and we also thank those MPs who support the amendment.

“The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to present unprecedented challenges, and at a time of national crisis, this type of constructive engagement will continue to yield positive results for the whole of society.”

Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl thanked Shah, Hancock as well as Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick.

“This has been an inspiring example of interfaith solidarity and responsive government. It shows, even in these difficult times for our nation, why we have so much reason to be proud of this wonderful country,” she said.

Shah said: “I’m so relieved that the Government have listened to what we’ve said about religious burials for Muslim and Jewish people and have brought forward an amendment to address our concerns.”

Public Health England (PHE) published new guidance on March 31, to ensure funerals are conducted safely, consistent with social distancing principles.

Faith leaders have been consulted and worked with PHE to ensure that communities, the funeral industry and the NHS are protected.

“We welcome the new guidance from PHE and would like to reiterate that it is essential that we maintain social distancing at all times, including at funerals,” said Mohamed Omer, board member of Gardens of Peace.

Adding, “It is also welcoming to note that we can perform our ritual wash as long as we observe the necessary precautions of wearing the right PPE and follow the process included in this guideline. It is hoped that there will be uniformity now in the whole system so that there is no confusion and conflicting reports on the risk of handling a COVID-19 deceased person.”

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