Religious Minorities

Islamic Official Provides Important Reminder Of The ‘Do No Harm’ Principle

  Rob Boston

This blog recently discussed a new California law that allows human composting, a practice whereby after death an individual’s body is converted into soil that can be used to nurture a tree or spread in a garden. For some people, it’s a preferred option over traditional casket burial or cremation.


Lobbyists with the Catholic Church opposed the law in California and have done so in other states, arguing, not terribly persuasively, that this practice, also known as natural organic reduction, is somehow disrespectful to corpses.


Thankfully, not every religious group demands that their theology should determine what happens to people after death. Edward Ahmed Mitchell, deputy executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was asked about the new law by a California newspaper. Mitchell noted that under Islamic tradition, a body is wrapped in a white burial shroud and buried directly in the ground without a casket. He added that human composting involves “pulverizing” a body and thus would not be permitted under Islamic law but went on to say, “[Islamic scholars] also recognize that every deceased person has the right to be buried in accordance with their own wishes or faith traditions, as long as it does not harm the public.”


That’s a refreshing attitude. Americans United has long argued that behaviors, rituals, activities and practices shouldn’t be banned just because some religious groups find them distasteful. Only evidence of harm can justify government intervention.


What happens to your body after death is a decision best left in the hands of you and your loved ones. If you decide you’d like for your remains to give life to a tree, that’s no harm to anyone (and a big plus for the tree). Since there’s no harm to others, that private decision is simply no one else’s business – no matter what their faith may say.


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