Robin Hood must be spinning in his grave.
A new, $4.7 million cemetery in Nottingham is the first public graveyard in the UK to have all its burial plots aligned with Mecca and to inter those of all faiths in the Muslim tradition.
All headstones at the 40-acre burial site will face northeast, enabling the dead to look over their shoulder toward Mecca, the manner prescribed for followers of Islam in the UK.
Church leaders have criticized the decision by local officials, saying that imposing a Muslim model on Christians, who traditionally are buried facing east, is discriminatory.
“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 Rt. Rev. George Cassidy, bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, told the London Daily Mail.
Steve Dowling, the official with the Nottingham city council, said that he met with the city’s Cemeteries Consultative Committee, a multi-faith group, before deciding on the Islamic burial plan. He made his decision, in part, on esthetics and the need for symmetry.
“For people of the Muslim faith this fits in with a religious requirement, but it will also ensure a tidy appearance for the site,” he said. “People can choose to be buried facing another direction but if they do not specify that, they will be buried facing northeast. The vast majority of people do not express a preference.”
Nigel Lymn Rose, past president of the National Association of Funeral Directors, said he had been surprised when he asked Dowling if the new cemetery had made accommodations for Muslims and Dowling answered, “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 northeast 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,” said Rose.
Even Raza Ul Haq, imam at the Madni Masjid Mosque, is bewildered by the decision.
“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,” he said.
Muslims make up less than five per cent of the Nottingham region’s 500,000 population.