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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Is cremation OK?: Practice is not universally accepted


By Peter Reuell / Daily News Staff
Sunday, October 30, 2005


Cremation may be on the rise nationwide, but it's not a practice that is accepted in all circles.
Among those with certain religious beliefs, cremation is prohibited.
Probably one of the strongest prohibitions against cremation comes from Islam, which says that burning people, whether alive or dead, is reserved for Allah when he makes his final judgment on a person's soul.
"Hell is a place where people are in an inferno," Imam Johari Abdul-Malik explained this week. "It is not permissible for people to burn themselves or someone else.
"Allah is the only one who is authorized in Islam to burn a person."
Muslim funeral rites are highly specific, Abdul-Malik said.
After a person dies, the body is ritually washed, then wrapped in white cloth. The body is taken to a cemetery and placed in a grave, without a coffin or casket.
Whenever possible, bodies are laid on their right side, facing Mecca.
Though some reformed Jews do allow for cremation, strict interpretation of the Talmud, like Islam, forbids the practice, though for different reasons.
"Cremation is something that is not permitted," Rabbi Levi Fogelman, of the Chabad Center in Natick, said. "(The body) belongs to God. Therefore, we don't have the right to ruin something that doesn't belong to us."
As in Islam, Jewish tradition calls for a ritual washing of the body after death, followed by a funeral service, Fogelman said.
Many Jewish families try to do something tangible in memory of the dead, Fogelman said.
"Many people will dedicate something...in remembrance of that person," he said.
Though for thousands of years prohibited by the Catholic Church, cremation in 1963 became an option, when church officials relaxed their rules.
Though Canon Law still encourages the burial of bodies, "it does not, however, forbid cremation," a Catholic cemetery Web site says.
One of the few religions that encourages cremation, Hinduism teaches that the body is made up of five elements -- earth, water, air, fire and space.
Cremating the body returns these elements to the Earth, said Kumar Nochur, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Sri Lakshimi Temple in Ashland.
"A Hindu would very traditionally be cremated," he said. "For Hindus, cremation is the preferred and primary mode of taking care of the dead."

Peter Reuell can be reached at 508-626-4428 or at preuell@cnc.com

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