Cremation: Earthly hell?

Desire Ncube —
LOCAL Government authorities are encouraging Zimbabweans to consider cremating the bodies of their loved ones as opposed to burying them due to an acute shortage of burial space in urban areas, a move that is likely to bruise many people of faith.

Cremation involves using high temperature burning, vaporisation and oxidation to reduce dead animals or human bodies to basic chemical compounds such as gases and mineral fragments.

Last Tuesday, Harare City Council acting spokesperson, Mr Michael Chideme told The Sunday Mail Religion that the city fathers are encouraging people to embrace cremation as burial space is running out with more land being developed for other uses.

Mr Chideme’s remarks come after Bulawayo City Council recently resolved that starting this year, all children aged 10 years and below will be cremated to free up burial space, as long the bereaved parents consent to this.

Bulawayo City Council indicated that it will be cheaper to cremate rather than to bury the deceased.

A cross section of Traditionalists, Christians and Muslims interviewed by The Sunday Mail Religion said it is against their faiths to cremate bodies of their loved ones.

Harare based theologian, Apostle Lovejoy Chabata, said Zimbabweans should be wary of dabbling in religious apostasy under the guise of shortage of burial space.

The Living Waters Theoretical Seminary Principal said God abhors the burning of human bodies.

Apostle Chabata said cremation originated in the pagan Canaanite religions where their gods demanded human burnt sacrifices.

“The god of the Ammonites called Molech, particularly demanded that sacrifices of burnt human bodies be offered to him according to Leviticus 18:21.

“The Christian and the Jewish God instructed that the bodies of the dead must be buried (Job 27:15, Deuteronomy 21:23). Families in Israel had burial places for their family members,” Apostle Chabata said.

He quoted Genesis 23:4-9, “Abraham purchased a burying place for members of his family. “Human bodies have always been treated with dignity and honour, even in oriental traditions.

“Non-burial of human bodies is a sign of a curse and condemnation in God’s sight, (1 Kings 14:11).

“Destruction of the human body either by burning, mutilation or devouring by an animal or birds is a sign of divine disapproval or damnation.

“In the book of Jude 1:9, Michael the archangel contended with the devil over the body of Moses. That verse shows us that the bodies of dead saints are precious and deserve proper handling.

“The devil is not even allowed to claim anything about the bodies. Fire or brimstone is the portion of the devil and sinners in the millennial judgment,” he said.

He added, “I shudder to imagine that Zimbabweans are claiming that we are running short of cemeteries when we have vast tracts of derelict land in the country.

“Families with rural homes can resort to using family sepulchers,” said Apostle Chabata.

Weighing in, Christ Atonement Church Pastor Jerald Machinga said cremation is not a Christian doctrine.

He said when Jesus died, he was not cremated.

“Burial has to do with respecting the flesh. Besides, when one goes to hell, they burn so why subject them to double wrath,” he queried.

University of Zimbabwe Religious Studies, Classics and Philosophy lecture, Professor Tabona Shoko said African Traditionalists prefer to observe the conventional burial practices enshrined in their traditional culture.

He said local people would rather exhaust all resources to have a traditional funeral as they regard cremation as alien and un-African.

“There is a deep-rooted cultural opposition to the idea of cremation among Africans.

“Many people believe that the burial ceremony is an important preparation for the body’s journey after death and that destroying the human remains could also destroy the spirit,” said Prof Shoko.

He said although the City Council has tried to promote the idea through highlighting that apart from saving space, cremation is also quicker and cheaper, most African Traditionalists are likely to resist the idea.

“Cultural traditions and spiritual taboos militate against this campaign. The late Professor Gordon Chavunduka, a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe and Head of the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (Zinatha) explained that, ‘Cremation is totally against cultural traditions’.

“The philosophy of death in African society says it takes about a year for a spirit to leave the body and join the spirits of the ancestors.

“If the body is cremated, that spirit will be blocked. Although it would remain alive, it would be angered that traditional burial rites were not followed properly and could return to punish the family and community,” said Prof Shoko.

However, traditionalist Sekuru Elisha Mutanga said cremation is permissible if ancestors are consulted properly.

“Midzimu (spirit mediums) are very flexible. What they only want is to be informed properly, cremations are not being done for fun, it’s the circumstances we find ourselves in.

“City fathers should approach organisations like Zinatha so that we jointly ask spirit mediums and ancestors for permission. They need to be informed that we are running out of burial space. If we do that, everything will work well,” he said.

Islamopediaonline.org, an online site, suggests that lslam considers cremation as “haram,” or an unclean practice.

The site indicates that Muslims are forbidden to take part in the act of cremation in any way, including witnessing the event or even stating approval of it.

“In Islam, funeral rites are prescribed by the divine law.

“Burying the dead is the method prescribed. In Islam, funeral rites and practices have been prescribed by the divine law, in accordance with the dictates of Allah.

“According to this law, beginning from the time of Prophet Adam until the last Prophet, Muhammad, burying the dead has been the prescribed method of conveying the deceased to their graves,” reads the site.

“Allah says in the Qur’an, ‘We have honoured sons of Adam.’ (Q. 17:70). In keeping with the spirit of this verse, according to scholars, it is necessary for us to treat the human body with the utmost of respect not only when a person is alive, but also when he or she is dead.

“Burning the deceased or discarding bodies to be eaten by vultures and wild beasts is considered sacrilege and abhorrent and, therefore, forbidden according to Islam.”

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