10/22/2010, 00.00
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Running out of space in Malaysia’s Christian cemeteries

by Jeremy Lim
In Kuala Lumpur and surrounding areas, publicly owned burial space for non-Muslims is running out. Traditionally, Christians avoid cremation, and private cemeteries are very expensive.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – Christians living in Kuala Lumpur and surrounding areas complain of the lack of space to bury their dead. Public cemeteries for non-Muslims are almost full and matters are made worse by the Church’s zoning practices that prevent residents from being buried outside of their place of residence.

The Christian cemetery of Shah Alam is a case in point. Only local residents can be buried there. In some places, only rich people can afford burial outside public cemeteries. A place in a private cemetery can cost up to US$ 1,500.

Most Malaysian Catholics prefer burial, as cremation is generally associated to other religions like Buddhism. This option is rooted in Roman Catholic tradition in which the body is treated as something sacred. However, unlike Islam, the Catholic Church does not ban cremation.

The net effect of the lack of space in a fast developing country is pushing more Catholics to opt for cremation, which is both cheaper and more practical.

 "We have to come to terms with this because, what other choice is there unless you want to be buried far from home?" said bereavement consultant John de Souza.

For families who insist, de Souza takes them on a three-hour drive to Malacca, which is not as crowded as Kuala Lumpur.

However, as burial grounds across the country start to fill up, Malaysian Christians may one day accept cremation as the norm.

Already in the neighbouring city-state of Singapore, burial has become almost unheard of, with an overwhelming majority of citizens settling for cremation.

Christians represent nine per cent of Malaysia's 27 million people.

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