Sweden: Problems at joint Christian/Muslim funeral

One year old David was buried a week ago at the Landskrona cemetery, but the funeral didn't go as planned.

The Reza family lives near the cemetery and Monir Reza can therefore visit his son's grave every day.  He tries not to think of what happened when the casket was lowered in, but like his wife, he's very disappointed with the imam's behavior during the funeral.  Monir and Carina Reza never had problems with the fact that they're of two different religions.

David Reza was just over a year old.  After a short illness though he passed away at Lund's hospital on July 29 this year.  Already at the hospital the parents discussed how they would conduct the funeral.  Carina is Christian and Monir is Muslim.  They have been together for 13 years and had never considered that one would convert to the religion of the other.  Therefore it was natural for them that the ceremony would contain something from both religions.  They wanted to have an assembly in the church and burial in a Muslim cemetery, but their wish proved hard to fulfill.

Carina Reza says that it shouldn't be so in Landskrona in 2008.  That must be better cooperation between the religions. 

A wild discussion started up at the grave site regarding how the ceremony should be conducted.  The clash ended with the imam refusing to finish the burial. He left and the family and friends concluded the ceremony.

The imam was angry since the boy had in the casket some stuffed animals, letters and pictures.

Carina says that to get to such a situation at the grave was terrible.

Both Carina and Monir speak calmly and objectively about what happened.  They don't want to complain about Islam as a religion or about the individual imam.  They want to draw attention to the problem, so that others in their situation won't meet the same resistance.  They say they doubt they're the only couple of different religions.

Contact with the Swedish church was smooth.  The hospital priest Britt Marklund in Landskrona could see eliminating some of the Christian elements, such as making the sign of the cross, out of respect for all the Muslims present.

Finding an imam was much more difficult.  A first contact in Lund ended negatively.  The imam said it was against his religion to bury somebody who hadn't been washed according to the religion's rules.  Carina and Monir's sisters had already washed David in the hospital in Lund.

The next attempt was Fekri Hamad, an imam in Landskrona.  Monir says he'd asked him how often she prayed, why his wife hadn't converted to Islam and other things which didn't have to do with the burial.

The imam wanted to think it over but in the end it was decided that Britt Marklund should lead the assembly in the church and Fekri Hamad the ceremony in the cemetery.

The church service proceeded as planned and Carina says that it was beautiful.  The organ played  from a Swedish musical, everybody sang and friends read texts.  Monir's relatives understood why they needed two weeks to prepare everything.

After the church service the company assembled in the Muslim part of the cemetery.  The imam came late wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.  With introducing himself, he began his prayer.  when the casket was to be lowered, he asked in Arabic if the boy was laying on his right side and asked to open the casket.

Monir says that he heard people say 'God, it's just a little boy'.

When the imam says the things they had put next to David he got upset and said that they had made God upset and shouted that they're sinning and that God will never forgive them.

Carina and Monir believe that the situation could have been solved much more smoothly if the imam hadn't been so upset.  They say they were open for change.  For example, they knew they shouldn't put valuables in the casket and didn't do so.

Monir says he doesn't want to criticize Islam, but that man didn't show respect for his son.  It hurts him that the imam had yelled and screamed.  Monir had lost David and the imam had trampled his feelings.

The imam should be a good example and guide people, says Carina and asks does tradition really have to be more important than flexibility?

The Reza couple is now trying to digest what had happened.  They have a three year old daughter to take care of and Monir's colleagues at Sk√•netrafiken miss him at work. The family don't want the negative events to become a lasting memory.  Already now they can smile that David had contributed to getting their families closer.  Carina tells how her 78 year old father and Monir's 77 year old father  met at the church.  They didn't speak the same language, but they hugged and supported each other.

She says that their families really stood by them.  At the grave there was complete consensus among the people, and all took part in filling in the grave.


The imam, Fekri Hamad, who works in Landskrona and Helsingborg, regrets that he'd agreed to participate.  His version of the events doesn't differ from that of the family.  He understand that the family is disappointed about how the funeral ceremony developed, but that as an imam he can't compromise on his religion.

The problem is that they mixed two religions, he says.  He has a good relationship with the Swedish Church and they work together, but there are cases when people can't mix.

Hamad was upset that the boy was wearing the wrong clothes.  According to the Islamic ritual, the body should be buried in a kafan, a white cloth.  The boy wasn't wearing it, but he didn't say anything.  But there were also toys in there and he couldn't have that.

Hamad had asked them to take away the toys.  He says that otherwise everybody would have done so in the future.  He says that he had told them that if they want to bury him according to Islam, they must follow the Muslim rules.  If you discard all the rules and bury him in a different way that's up to them, but they shouldn't ask him to help with the burial.

At that point he left, which he doesn't regret.  He says that he told them not to call him again, and that he can't have a relationship with them.  It's not him who decided that without the religion.

How can a few small toys be so important?  Hamad answers that having toys in the grave means you believe in something else, not what God had said in the Koran.  In life people can have toys and fun, but in life after death people can't have connection with what they had in life.  What would it have meant if he left the toys in there?  Would the dead boy have played with them.  In  that case he (Hamad) doesn't believe in what God had said.


Othman Al Tawalbeh, imam and Islamologist, works at Ib Rushd, a Muslim study association in Sweden, in adult education about Islam.
He says that what the imam did was clearly wrong and that having toys in the grave isn't such a big thing.  It doesn't conflict ideologically with anything in Islam that can't be tolerated.  There were students of the prophet, for example, who had been buried with parts of the prophet's  hair.

That the imam left the place is even worse.  HE should have done his job and helped the family to follow their wishes.  If he thought they were doing things wrong, he should have continued with the ceremony.  It's the family who's answerable to God, not the imam.

Othman Al Tawalbeh explains that Muslim scholars disagree on whether children should be washed before burial, but that it isn't such a big thing.  The bodies are washed for the sake of worship, but such a little child is sin-free, he's automatically a bird in paradise.

He thinks in this case there was a lack of knowledge.  An imam can't leave the funeral in this manner.  It's immoral.  Unfortunately there are people today who call themselves imams, but lack education. There are amateurish imams who Google if they get a question.  People must give religious answers based on the context they're in, not to import answers and say that they apply literally.

He says that a ceremony that combines two religions wasn't done in the past.  He thinks that's why the imam hesitated if he should be there.  But he says that people can do two separate things.  The pries does his first ten minutes, then the imam.  That can be in the same place, for example in the church.

Asked about the family being told that the imam couldn't be in the church Othman Al Tawalbeh answers that it's completely wrong and just stupidity.  He himself, he says, had conducted ceremonies together with the Swedish Church in Landskrona.  However, people can have objections to a completely common ceremony.  For example, Christianity's trinity contradicts Islam's image of God.

But the father and family have done nothing wrong.  It just has to do with the imam's understanding of Islam.

Sources: HD 1, 2, 3 (Swedish)


Anonymous said...

In the UK, there are concerns that Imams emerge from their education with a serious imbalance between their understanding of Islam 'in theory' and their pastoral competence. Perhaps there are similar issues in Sweden.

Mark Tapson said...

The imam's inflexible, aggressive behavior was shameful - and yet completely unsurprising. How interesting, by contrast, that the Christian priest offered to avoid making the sign of the cross "out of respect for the Muslims present." As usual, the Christians compromise and the Muslims scream and complain.

Isaid said...


FreeSpeech said...

eliminating some of the Christian elements, such as making the sign of the cross, out of respect for all the Muslims present

This is wrong to start with. The muslims should be tolerant aubout the cross sign, as this is basic in Christianity.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

The imams behavior was for sure rude and insensitive. But he have a point about mixing religions in this way, how many God men can be involved in persons funeral, could there be a added some Hindu and Buddhist “preachers” so there is maximum hedging. It is at risk that funerals could become some sort of spectacle.

Anonymous said...

eliminating some of the Christian elements, such as making the sign of the cross, out of respect for all the Muslims present

This is of course ridiculous, typical of the religious light servants of the former state church, would do anything to please everybody. Do they adhere to there own creed, have they read the Augsburg Confession

Augsburg Confession
Chief Articles of Faith
Article I: Of God.
… 5] They condemn all heresies which have sprung up against this article, as the Manichaeans, who assumed two principles, one Good and the other Evil: also the Valentinians, Arians, Eunomians, Mohammedans, and all such. 6] They condemn also the Samosatenes, old and new, who, contending that there is but one Person, sophistically and impiously argue that the Word and the Holy Ghost are not distinct Persons, but that "Word" signifies a spoken word, and "Spirit" signifies motion created in things. …

If a person is offended by a religions ritual they shouldn’t participate, if a Christian is offended by e.g. Islamic ritual he shouldn’t participate and vice versa.

Findalis said...

What type of religion has clergy members in it that act so disgracefully at a funeral for a child.

Funerals are for the living, the family grieving for their loved one. And in this case it was for a beloved child.

This man needs to grow up and become an adult. His actions were that of a child having a temper tantrum.

Dannyboy76 said...

I think imam's shouldn't have done the service if he was not 100 per cent agreeing with it at the beginning, as in most religion's in the Bible or Koren in the Bible Its says LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS YOU WOULD LOVE YOURSELF I am sure from studying the very basics of the Koran also speaking to Muslim friends from the past. I thought their was more of a neutral respect of religions since neutrocytes of religious attacks all over the world from all religions every corner of the globe I thought quite few steps forward were achieved but still respect isn't there yet shame really, overiously still not there. I like many others would love across respect of all religion's across the world let's hope there will be peace with all religion's across the world.