16 November 2012

Rwanda: What Religions Say About Cremation


Following the decision this week by parliament to endorse an amendment to the law on organisation and operation of cemeteries in Rwanda, making cremation an accepted form of interment, The New Times sought views of various religious leaders and scholars, who had divergent views on the matter.

Article 32 of the new law says an order of the Minister of Culture shall determine the methods for cremation and disposal of ashes.

Canon Antoine Rutayisire of St. Peter's Church in Remera, says the Bible is not categorical on the manner of disposal of the dead.

"God says we are ash....bones must be disposed off but the manner in which they are disposed off is immaterial," he told The New Times in an interview yesterday.

Rutayisire says that the problem is that people try to justify their cultural beliefs by fusing them into biblical teachings.

"I will give an example of birth control....people will say the Bible is against it, but I do not think so...children are a blessing, you can decide how much of the blessing you can have. If you serve me a delicious meal it does not mean I will eat more than I can afford..," he added.

Omar Khalifan, is a Muslim, scholar and a don at the National University of Rwanda.

He says Islam does not accept incinerating as a way of disposing off the dead but provides an alternative.

He said Islam is strict on funeral rituals, but in predominantly Muslim societies, dead bodies are treated with chemicals in such away that after sometime they will turn into ash, which allows continuous burial in the same grounds.

"You see, you are not incinerating but you are doing something similar to that," he told this newspaper in an interview.

"I have never thought about it. I do not know what the Bible says about it," Aaron Ruhimbya, a senior pastor at Restoration Church in Kimisgara, said.

Prof. George Njoroge is a philosopher of education; he says that cremation is a speedy process of aiding a body to turn into soil because naturally that is what takes place when one is buried the traditional way.

Njoroge, who is also the Rector of Kigali Institute of Education, adds that cultural barriers will be removed by education and is an indication of the connection between the dead and living.

"People need to be educated that the dead are not being 'burnt' but it is another form of preserving the body," he told The New Times during an interview yesterday.

He adds that considering the current developments that have put pressure on land, people need to explore this new way of interment.


Meanwhile Gasabo district officials said they cannot tell the estimated cost of incineration and they are yet to establish the infrastructure for the same.

"We put up a facility at Rusororo cemetery for the Hindu community and I think no one has died since...we do not know what it could cost to cremate a dead body," said a district official.

A member of Hindu Mandal Community talking to The New Times in an earlier interview, put the cost of a medium sized incinerator at $ 60,000 (Rwf37.7 million) while cremation costs around $50 (approx Rwf30,000).

The lowest cost of a grave at Rusororo cemetery goes for Rwf150,000 which makes incineration the most cost friendly in terms of interment.

Cremation or incineration is a common method of burial among the Hindu community. In Rwanda, it has been a special preserve of communities traditionally practising it.

The Hindus believe that cremation is not just a disposal of the dead body but the union of Atma (Soul) with the Paramatma (The Holy Spirit).

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