FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

Ashes to ashes; dust to dust

Gainesville, Florida

By Steve Johnson

“Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.”

Its origins come from Genesis 3:19 (King James Verison): “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

We celebrate death in so many different ways. From sky burials in Tibet, to hanging coffins in ancient China, how we honor the dead is varied and changing.

In the United States and Canada, vault burials have grown in popularity since the early 1900s. With more than 19,000 funeral homes and 8,000 embalmers in the U.S. alone according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

So when Reuters contacted me about a conservation cemetery, one of four in the country, I was intrigued with the very niche market.

After more than two months of research and repeated visits to the Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery, we found a source willing to work with us to document this process. Working on such a sensitive subject, it is hard not to feel for your source. Joseph Fitzgerald died at age 47 -- just days after his granddaughter was born.

Hong Kong funeral expo shows new ways to deal with the dead

(A TV journalist tries a coffin during Asia Funeral Expo (AFE) in Hong Kong May 19, 2011/Bobby Yip)

For the seven million citizens of Hong Kong, living comfortably in the one of the world’s most densely populated cities is difficult enough, but dying presents is own set of challenges. Around 43,700 people died in the territory in 2010. By 2020 that number is expected to rise to almost 53,000. A majority will be cremated, since land shortages forced most people to abandon burials in the 1980s and cremations became acceptable.

But now the city’s public columbarium, where relatives can keep ashes in an urn in a 30 cm (one foot) crevice in a wall, has run out of space. As a result, Hong Kong residents have been forced to store their loved ones’ remains in funeral homes, privately-run storage facilities, or their own homes.

Bin Laden sea burial not in line with Islam, Muslim clerics say

(Aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, from which Osama bin Laden was buried at sea somewhere in the north Arabian Sea/U.S. Navy)

Clerics in Saudi Arabia, a staunch U.S. ally and the country of Osama bin Laden’s birth, dismissed Washington’s assertions it observed Islamic rites in disposing of the al Qaeda leader’s body in the Arabian Sea. Bin Laden, shot dead by U.S. forces in a raid on a compound in Pakistan on Monday, was placed in a weighted bag and dropped into the north Arabian Sea from the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier, the Carl Vinson, the U.S. military said.

But many Muslims in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf Arab region, including opponents to bin Laden’s militant ideology, said the fact funeral rites were read for him did not diminish their shock at the way his body was disposed of.

Bin Laden ‘eased’ into sea in contentious burial

(Aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, from which Osama bin Laden was buried at sea somewhere in the north Arabian Sea/U.S. Navy)

He may have been America’s enemy number one, but after U.S. forces killed him, Osama bin Laden was afforded Islamic religious rites by the U.S. military as part of his surprise at-sea burial on Monday.

The U.S. military said preparations for the al-Qaida leader’s burial lasted nearly an hour. His body was washed before being covered in a white sheet and religious remarks translated into Arabic by a native speaker were read over bin Laden’s corpse.

A Buddhist burial in the rain for Japanese tsunami victims

burial 1

(At a funeral in Kassenuma town, Miyagi prefecture March 26, 2011/Carlos Barria)

Ten flimsy wooden coffins were laid on two sturdy rails at a hastily prepared cemetery of mostly mud as Keseunnuma began burying its dead from the tsunami that ripped apart the Japanese coastal city. Desperate municipalities such as Kesennuma have been digging mass graves, unthinkable in a nation where the deceased are almost always cremated and their ashes placed in stone family tombs near Buddhist temples. Local regulations often prohibit burial of bodies.

The number of dead in Kesennuma was 551 as of Saturday, far too many for local crematoriums that can typically manage about 10 bodies a day but are now facing shortages of kerosene. Another 1,448 in the city of about 74,000 are missing from the tsunami two weeks ago that has left more than 27,500 people dead or missing across Japan.

Nepal Christians threaten ‘corpse’ protest in burial row

pashupatinathChristians in Nepal have threatened to parade corpses in the capital to press the government into finding them alternative burial grounds after burials near the country’s holiest Hindu shrine were banned.

Christians account for less than two percent of Hindu-majority Nepal’s 28 million people. Authorities barred them this month from burying their dead in the forested graveyard at Sleshmantak saying the land belonged to the Pashupatinath Hindu temple, a U.N. heritage site in Kathmandu. (Photo: Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu September 2, 2008/Shruti Shrestha)

“Burial after death is a fundamental human right and the government is violating this by not giving us any place to bury the dead,” C.B.Gahatraj, a senior official of the Committee for Christian Recommendation for New Constitution told Reuters.

Mumbai gunmen denied Muslim burial secretly interred in January

Remember the issue of what to do with the corpses of the nine attackers killed during the November 2008 siege of the Taj Mahal Hotel and other targets in Mumbai that killed 166 people? The dead attackers were all presumed to be Pakistani Muslims, like the sole survivor, but local Indian Muslim leaders refused to let them be buried in their cemeteries. Islamabad ignored calls to take the bodies back. So they were left in morgue refrigerators in Mumbai, presumably until the issue was finally settled. kasab

Sole surviving attacker, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, in police custody in this undated video grab shown by CNN IBN Television channel on February 3, 2009/CNN IBN

FaithWorld was deluged with comments after we asked if the bodies should be cremated and the ashes spread at sea. A surprising number of them suggested the bodies should be desecrated, thrown to the dogs or dumped at the Pakistani-Indian border. The discussion tapered off and the issue seemed to have been forgotten.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Israel’s burial crisis and the afterlife

Far from the spotlight of peace talks and military conflicts, Israel is facing a different kind of land crisis: it is running out of space to bury its dead. Most Jewish cemeteries in major cities like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, are filled beyond maximum capacity. Gravestones are packed together leaving little room for mourners to gather.

Cemeteries in Israel are packed with graves. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

You can read about a new system of multi-tiered burial chambers being used in the Jewish state to solve the issue of land. It's actually an ancient system, used thousands of years ago by Jewish sages, that was modernised by two Israeli architects and given approval by the country's chief rabbis. Ancient Sanhedrin Tombs Modernised Multi-Tier System

Ancient Sanhedrin tombs and their modern-day revival

Adding to the problem of dwindling burial space for Israelis, each year about 1,500 Jews from around the world choose the Holy Land for their final resting place. For some, the choice could come from the allure of being buried in the Jewish state. For others, it stems from the Bible. And you can always find some group that offers to help make it happen.

Funeral may show if Michael Jackson converted to Islam

jackson-niqab

One of the many rumours that swirled around Michael Jackson in the final years of his life was that he had secretly converted to Islam and taken the name Mikaeel. The “King of Pop” does not seem to have spoken about this publicly himself, and that scene in Bahrain when he went shopping badly disguised in an Arab woman’s abaya could be put down to his well-known penchant for dressing up. So unless there is some statement in his will or documentary evidence in his estate, his funeral expected this week may be the last time to test whether this rumour has any basis in fact. (Photo: Veiled Jackson greets security guard as he enters shopping mall in Manama, Bahrain with veiled child, 25 Jan 2006/Hamad Mohammed)

The Jacksons are Jehovah’s Witnesses and could be expected to bury Michael in the tradition of that faith. When he announced the death, his brother Jermaine — a Muslim — ended with the words: “May Allah be with you, Michael, always.” Jermaine said in 2007 he was trying to convince Michael to convert.

The post-mortem period hasn’t looked very Muslim so far. Traditions vary, but in Islamic funeral practices in general, autopsies and cremation are out and the body should be buried quickly, usually in a day or two. Jackson is reported to have asked for cremation in his will and his family has asked for a second autopsy after the first one failed to pinpoint the cause of death without long toxicology tests.

Do dead terrorists lose all right to any respect?

Do dead terrorists lose all right to any respect? I ask this because my post Should India cremate Mumbai militants, spread ashes at sea? last week has prompted a surprising wave of comments suggesting these corpses should be desecrated. Readers have been proposing (and we have been deleting) graphic and crude scenarios for disposing of the nine corpses still lying in a Mumbai morgue. The proposed solution of cremating the bodies and spreading the ashes at sea – originally from a blog post by Leor Halevi in the Washington Post – seemed far too tame for them. (Photo: Gunmen at Mumbai train station, 26 Nov 2008/Official CCTV image via Reuters TV)

The Mumbai militants were murderers. Once they’re dead, though, what purpose would it serve to dismember them, feed them to crocodiles or turn them into a stoning pillar? What would it say about the Indian government if it disposed of these bodies without even the barest minimum of respect for the dead? Indeed, what does it say about readers who want it to do just that?

BTW the majority of comments – even those that are understandably very angry – call for a minimum of respect for the dead, no matter who they are.