Sunday, April 02, 2006

Muslim cemetery in Charlotte running out of room
Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Muslims in the Charlotte area are concerned their cemetery is running out of room. Cemetery treasurer Hossam Shoukry expects the remaining 100 plots will be gone in the next several years. Expansion options are limited, as buying and clearing additional land will probably be too expensive, he said.
The cemetery in east Gastonia serves Muslims from Gaston, Lincoln, Cleveland and Mecklenburg counties, as well as areas near the South Carolina border.
Burying Muslims in other types of cemeteries means certain burial traditions can't be followed, said Khalil Akbar, imam of the Ash-Shahad Islamic Center in Charlotte.
"Some cemeteries have regulations that don't accommodate us," Akbar said. "We want our own cemeteries so we don't have to compromise."
Traditional Muslim burial calls for the body to be wrapped in a shroud and buried in a two-level grave, lying on its side and facing Mecca. Some Muslims approve of coffins, but only if they're made of natural materials.
North Carolina law does not require that a body be buried in a coffin, but many local ordinances do, said Claud Whitener, administrator and general counsel for the North Carolina Cemetery Commission. Charlotte's six city-owned graveyards require the use of coffins.
Whitener said the best option for Muslim cemeteries is to buy new land. But in the South, that's often been a frustrating process due to local laws and suspicion.
Two years ago, Muslims in Lawrenceville, Ga., and Somerville, Tenn. petitioned for new cemeteries. But residents objected over fears that the unenclosed bodies could contaminate underground water or spread disease, despite experts' reassurances.
In Somerville, a mosque was built and a cemetery is being prepared. Muslims in Lawrenceville compromised, agreeing to use plywood boxes with plastic caps for coffins.
Louay Safi, executive director of the leadership development training center at the Islamic Society of North America, said the issue will continue to pose a challenge as Muslims move to smaller cities and seek to be buried there.
Safi said most Muslim cemeteries in the United States are near large cities. An Atlanta cemetery with room for 2,000 graves contains the remains of about 300 Muslims from around the country, according to Al-Farooq Masjid mosque.
About 90 percent of Muslims who have died in the Charlotte region are buried in the Gastonia graveyard since it was founded in the early 1990s, said Jibril Hough, spokesman for Charlotte's Islamic Center.
About 12,000 Muslims live in the city.
Shoukry said searches for new cemetery land in Charlotte and surrounding areas are only in the preliminary stages.
Fateen Hakeem of Charlotte is already looking elsewhere. He has bought plots for himself and his wife in York Memorial Cemetery in southwest Charlotte, where managers have set aside an area with about 100 sites for Muslims. Fifteen have been claimed.
"I've been here all my life," he said. "It's more convenient. It'd have to be almost a special trip to go to Gastonia."

Information from: The Charlotte Observer,

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