Md. Bill to Provide Muslims End-of-Life Alternatives

March 5, 2007

Author: Lisa Rein

Source: The Washington Post

Muslims bury their dead with neither flourish nor casket, but a ritual cleansing before the body is quickly returned to the earth, cocooned in a white shroud. But this tradition handed down over centuries has eluded Muslims around Washington, who, like Jews, do not practice embalming -- and are served by just one licensed mortician.

That's changing, though. Virginia licensed its first Muslim-owned funeral home last month, in Woodbridge. And Friday, a committee of Maryland lawmakers approved a bill that would open the industry to Muslims by exempting them from embalmings as they learn the trade.

If the General Assembly approves the bill, Muslims say they would be spared long trips to find mortuaries that will perform a last ablution.

The Maryland legislation is the work of two state delegates, Saqib Ali (D-Montgomery) and Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore), who have formed a politically deft partnership: a freshman and the legislature's first Muslim, and a Jew who says he is drawn to issues of religious freedom.

"These are two religions that grew out of the same desert," said Rosenberg, a lawyer in his sixth term. "When people feel their religious rights have been violated, they should stand up and say, 'Give me redress.' "