Officials in the city of Sfax, southeast of Tunis, refused to burry a Muslim convert in the Muslim cemetery because she did not have a Muslim Arab surname.
The decision by to bury the woman in the foreigners' cemetery stirred a legal and religious debate among city residents and is expected to extend to the whole country. The tribunal was to hold an emergency meeting Sunday to consider the case brought by the family, London-based Asharq al-Awsat reported on Sunday.
Relatives of the deceased insisted on suing the municipality to reverse its decision and allow her to be buried in the Muslim cemetery. The woman converted to Islam on August 2, 1955 with Ministry of Justice decree no. 5318 but was refused burial in the Muslim cemetery following her death on Sept. 6.
Born in Sfax in 1918 to Christian parents, the deceased woman converted to Islam in 1955 under the guidance of the city's mufti, Sheikh Mohamed al-Moheiri. She adopted the name Asia.
Asia’s religion was also recorded in her marriage contract when she married a Muslim man in 1980.
When Asia’s family attempted to complete the paperwork required for burial, the Sfax municipality obituaries department insisted on directing the body to the foreigners' cemetery because Asia's surname was not a Muslim-Arab name, although her first name was.
Asia's son-in-law, Sasi bin Younis, said he was surprised to hear the municipality's decision despite her neighbors testimony that the deceased was Muslim and had been performing all Islamic rituals since her conversion more than half a century ago.
The problem could be complicated further if Safx church officials object to burying a woman who converted away from Christianity in the Christian cemetery.
Family members said that they expect a favorable verdict and that the court will order the body’s exhumation and transfer to the Muslim cemetery.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)