FRANKFURT: Berlin is home to the largest Muslim community in Germany. And as Isikali Karayel, who runs the Markaz funeral home, notes: “The first generation of immigrants from Muslim-majority countries to come to Germany are aging.
This means that there is a growing demand for Muslim funerals and for Muslim burial sites. But these are becoming increasingly difficult to find, according to Karayel.
Markaz, which Karayel has run since 2013, is one of twelve Islamic funeral homes in Berlin, home to between 250,000 and 300,000 of Germany’s estimated five million Muslims. Karayel estimates that around half of the city’s Muslim families choose to have their loved ones repatriated when they die – despite the high costs of doing so – while the other half choose to bury their family members in Berlin.
Karayel told Arab News that finding Muslim burial plots in Berlin has been a problem since he started working in the funeral business in 2008, but the crisis came to a head just a few months ago. “There was no more room,” he said. “Suddenly there was no longer any possibility of burying Muslims in Berlin.”
The lack of graves for Muslims in Berlin has been a problem for decades. Web designer Katja Neppert recalls how she encountered the problem a decade ago while volunteering in the Neukölln district, which has a large Arab community. Neppert befriended many Muslims and learned that one of their main concerns was the lack of tombs in the city.
“Many have given high priority to the issue of Muslim cemeteries in Berlin,” Neppert told Arab News. Since then, she has committed to the cause. “I am deeply convinced of this. A final resting place for a loved one is a basic human need. Neppert helped launch a campaign for more graves for Muslims in Berlin, a campaign that achieved some success but also suffered several setbacks.
The main problem is that of space: to accommodate more graves, more space is needed. The city’s former Tempelhof airport, which was closed in 2008, seemed like a perfect solution, with plenty of room for redevelopment, but a citizens’ initiative ended that possibility and the area is now a public park.
So Neppert and his fellow activists began lobbying then-district mayor Franziska Giffey (now mayor of Berlin) to create a Muslim cemetery in Neukölln itself. In 2016, they began a series of protests in which they carried symbolic coffins through the streets. Their efforts paid off and a local cemetery with enough room for around 1,000 graves was made available. However, in three years, all that space was taken.
According to the Senate Department for Environment, Urban Mobility, Consumer Protection and Climate Action Berlin, there are six cemeteries in the city that provide space for Muslim graves. Currently, however, the Gatow cemetery in the borough of Spandau is the only one that still has space for Muslims. And, as Karayel pointed out, its location is less than ideal – Spandau is Berlin’s westernmost borough and relatively hard to reach.
“It’s not exactly ideal for a widow living in Neukölln,” Karayel said. “It would take her nearly an hour to get to her late husband’s grave.”
Karayel said he regularly had to deliver disappointing messages to already grieving families.
“Today, for example, I made arrangements for a funeral which will not take place until next week due to lack of space,” he said. Such delays can cause great distress to loved ones.
Karayel is disappointed with local politicians, who have failed to resolve a long-standing issue. “Over the past 10 years, everyone promised to do something, but nothing happened,” he said.
But he also criticized Muslim organizations in Berlin, particularly for their lack of collective action, saying: “They all want success for themselves and in the end they can’t agree on anything.
Karayel fears that one day soon he will be forced to tell his grieving family members that there is simply nowhere to bury their loved ones in Berlin – a situation he finds unacceptable.
“It’s not just any city in the country,” he said. ” It’s the capital !