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The Catholic Church is to provide 5000 burial spaces to members of the Muslim faith amidst a shortage of cemetery land in Sydney.
Hasan Tariq, Presented by
Hasan Tariq

SBS Bangla
22 Jun 2018 - 4:31 PM  UPDATED 28 Jun 2018 - 10:01 AM

The Catholic Church has come forward to provide the Muslim community with much-needed burial space.

"As an agency of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, we're aware of faith-based requirements. We believe that everyone is entitled to a dignified funeral and we believe that this is a very good example of an inter-faith cooperation." Peter O'Meara, Chief Executive of the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust told SBS Bangla.

A memorandum has been signed to provide a five-acre area of burial space at the Kemps Creek Catholic Cemetery in western Sydney. 

"Sydney's in a very difficult position at the moment," explained Mr O'Meara.

"Within 30 years Sydney will be exhausted in terms of cemetery land for all faith-based communities that believe in in-ground or above-ground burial. So it's facing a crisis point in terms of being able to plan for cemeteries for an expanding population."

Kazi Khalequzzaman Ali, Chairperson of Riverstone Muslim Cemetery Board, and a Bangladeshi expatriate had previously helped build a cemetery for Muslims at the Rookwood cemetery in the 1980s.

"There had been a lot of worries in terms of where would we go?" said Mr Khalequazzaman. "The Council is not giving the land, the government is not allocating any space."

There are currently five cemeteries available for Muslims to be buried in Sydney.

The largest is Rookwood, near Lidcombe - described as the most historic cemetery operating in Australia, providing burial services to over 90 culturally diverse communities.  Six thousand Muslims are buried there in nine-and-a-half acres of land.

However, there are only 50 burial spaces left in Riverstone cemetery, in north-west Sydney, where 1250 Muslims are buried already. 

'Nowhere to bury their dead' 

"Kazi and I met fairly recently," said Peter O'Meara, "and his problem was that his community in western Sydney, an expanding population, was facing a situation where, in 12 months, they would have nowhere to bury their dead. 

"So the Trust which has been operating cemeteries now in New South Wales since 1867, was in the acquisition stage of purchasing new land in these growth suburbs of western Sydney, and together we collaborated and we purchased a small property for that community several years ago, and more recently we reached an agreement to provide 5,000 burial spaces as an interim measure to help that community for the next 5-10 years."

"Beyond that, we've also acquired a large property of 300 acres in Campbelltown and another property in the Penrith local government area which we're working on a solution for the Muslim community."

Mr O'Meara said that councils generally don't have a mandate effectively to build large inter-generational facilities.

"That's traditionally been the role of the state or organisations such as the Catholic Trust," he said. "In Sydney, there are plans being worked out by the state government at the moment about the acquisition of land, but the Catholic community has recognised this problem a little earlier. 

Multi-faith collaboration

"We are really proud to been involved in this multi-faith collaboration on building cemeteries for each others community," said Peter O'Meara, who explained 

There's dialogue regularly happening between the Archbishop of Sydney and the Mufti in relation to things that we could do better as a society and as a community. So we're really proud to have been involved in this joint multi-faith collaboration in building cemeteries for each other's communities.

"Helping them deals with a very difficult situation that happens in everyone life. We proud to be involved with the Muslim community, we look forward to long harmonious relationships in relation to this particular situation."

"We are very pleased and honoured to be involved in working with not just the Muslim community but the Orthodox community and other Middle Eastern countries and Asian countries who have chosen to settle in Australia."

Thanking the Catholic Church, Kazi Ali says "As a result, the next few generations will not have to worry about this."

Muslims will be buried under Islamic Shariah, with the cemeteries open through the year.

“The cost of burial in Kemps Creek will be lesser than the other cemeteries. Children and destitute will be buried free of cost."

Its estimated the cost of building the Muslim site at Kemps Creek will be around $4 million.

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