LOUTH’S estimated 4,000 Muslim residents were celebrating recently after getting the all-clear to be buried locally for the first time.
Greenore man Mohammed Salim Lennon, who has been campaigning for the right for the best part of six years, said he was “delighted” that people from his religion could now be buried in St Patrick’s Cemetery in Dowdallshill.
Before this all Muslims from the area who passed away had to be buried in Newcastle Cemetery in Dublin. However, after lengthy campaigns and the assistance of Sinn Féin councillor Tomás Sharkey, County Council chairman Peter Savage and RTÉ television, the battle for equality has finally been won.
Mohammed told The Dundalk Democrat: “Delighted isn’t the word to describe me at the moment.
“When we started to apply for this status six years ago we couldn’t even get a meeting with the burial board. We applied first as individuals and then as a community but earlier this year Peter Savage, who would be my local rep, had a meeting with me and he said it was his first year on the burial board in all the years he had been involved with the council.
“He said he’d try and do something for me and it took off from them.
“Myself and Imam went along to the burial board and after about three months they got back to us with the good news. There are some small negotiations that need to be carried out but nothing that worries me.”
Muslims will now be buried in a specially designated area of the graveyard in Dowdallshill although Muslim burials are somewhat different to Christian burials, as Mohammed explained.
“The main difference is the orientation of the grave. We’re led on our right hand side, not our backs, facing Mecca.
“Because we’re buried on our sides we’re not buried in a coffin. Muslims are never buried in coffins but instead we’re covered in a white cut cloth.”
Before now there were only four other sites in the country for Muslims to be buried: Dublin, Cork, Galway and Ballyhaunis. It’s a shocking statistic given the fact it’s an ever growing community.
“We reckon there are about 1,000 Muslims in Dundalk and there’s an even bigger community in Drogheda. There are then many more scattered throughout the county so the estimate of 4,000 might not be too wide of the mark.”
In the coming weeks, the father of two – who was born in Greenore before living for a short time in Belfast – will feature on RTÉ One show Meet the Neighbours. The show premieres on April 22, with his programme featured on April 29.
He feels it, plus the intervention of Cllr Tomás Sharkey helped the Muslims achieve their goal of getting buried locally.
“The show and Tomás were pivotal in getting it over the line. Tomás raised it at a Louth County Council meeting and although they have no authority over burials, as a result of that we’ve got an invite to raise the matter with the Drogheda Burial Board, which could see a burial site being designated there too.
“For us it’s all about integration. We’ve 100,000 children gone abroad through emigration in the past year and they’re now non-nationals in whatever country they’re in so let’s hope they’re treated with kindness, understanding and sympathy there.
“That’s all we’re asking for here,” he said.