A SECTION of a village cemetery in Stone is to be set aside for Muslim burials.

The decision was made by Dartford Council after talks with North West Kent Muslim Association (NWKMA) outlining the specific burial needs of Muslims.

Now these needs, which include washing the body, burying it within 24 hours, and making sure the grave is facing Mecca and covered with a mound, will be provided for.

The new section at Stone Cemetery, in St James Lane, Stone, is 380 metres square, big enough for 88 graves, and should cater for Muslim burials in the next 10 years.

The cemetery has traditionally been divided into three sections, for the Church of England, Roman Catholic, and an unconsecrated area.

The council's decision follows a report by the Commission for Racial Equality, which encourages all local authorities to seriously consider the religious needs of cultural minorities.

A Dartford Council spokesman said: “We were approached by the NWKMA in 1999 to discuss the possibility of providing facilities within Dartford's cemeteries for Muslim burials. We felt it would be a positive way of developing the council's equal opportunities policy to benefit a specific section of the community.

“There will be no problem implementing the changes although it will be necessary to amend cemetery regulations so graves can be mounded.”

A spokesman for North West Kent Muslim Association, who had been in talks with the council, said: “We are pleased with the council decided to create a section in Stone cemetery for Muslims to be buried in a traditional manner.”

Local authorities are allowed to set aside any part of a cemetery for a specific religion as long as the area has not been consecrated, and a sufficient part of the cemetery remains available for people of no denomination. Muslim burials are already catered for in the neighbouring borough's of Bexley and Gravesham.