NEW YORK – Despite keeping simple funerals according to Islamic teachings, New York Muslims are complaining that the absence of a Muslim cemetery is raising funeral costs to huge amounts ranging from $6,000 to over $50,000.
“Death is an inevitable reality. It shouldn’t be so complicated for someone to bury the deceased, it shouldn’t be so expensive, it shouldn’t be such a headache or a hassle,” Noorudean Abu Ibrahim, a 28-year-old Palestinian American who has been doing Islamic funeral work in New York for more than a decade, told Al-Jazeera.net on Monday, March 7.
“Muslims here have a common saying: ‘We can’t afford to die here.’
“The Muslim community in New York needs to come together so we can have our own cemetery,” he said.
“Since we are dependent on other cemeteries, it usually costs us a lot. If we have our own cemetery, we could make sure people from our faith don’t have to spend so much money to bury their dead.”
Funerals in Islam have always been simple with no elaborate services or extravagant caskets.
But finding an earthly resting place can be a challenge in New York, where between 600,000 and one million Muslims live in the busy city.
The absence of an exclusive cemetery for Muslims to bury their dead was also adding to the problem.
“Islamic funerals are for the dead,” said Ahmet Kargi, the president of the Muslim section in Piro Funeral Home, called Islamic Funeral Services.
“In other religions, funerals often include prolonged ceremonies. I would say they are mostly to help those left behind rid themselves of their guilt, to say one last goodbye and to maybe exhibit one last form of appreciation. But at that point it’s too late.
“In Islam, everything done during a funeral is for the person who died, to ensure he has a peaceful transition to his final resting place.”
Being in the funeral services for more than a decade, Kargi, 40, said that Muslims usually resort to using other interfaith cemeteries to bury their dead.
“We often use cemeteries in New Jersey, like the Jersey State Memorial Park Cemetery in Millstone, which is where my father is buried,” he said.
“There are also smaller Muslim sections at cemeteries in Long Island, and in parts of the city. But they can cost anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000, and I have seen graves go up to $14,000 inside the city.
“That is considered a wasteful expenditure in Islam, and so we have to resort to the most affordable options available,” Kargi explains.
In order to support Muslims who cannot afford to pay hefty funeral expenses, Ibrahim started a nonprofit organization called the Janazah Project.
It raises money from the Muslim community to cover funeral costs for needy families on a case-by-case basis.
Over the years, Ibrahim says more people have reached out to the Janazah Project for support.
Islam calls for respecting human beings whether alive or dead.
A Muslim’s dead body should be immediately taken to a mortuary for washing and preparation.
Two or three adult Muslims should wash the body and then put on the shroud (kafan). Before the burial, the funeral prayer should be done.
The burial should be done as soon as possible. It is makruh (reprehensible) to delay the burial of the dead.
“Death is a very humbling, natural part of life, that’s what I’ve learned,” Kargi said, taking a deep breath.
“I have learned to embrace it, and I don’t fight it. I know I came with nothing to this earth, and I know I will go back with nothing. Trivial things really don’t matter. We humans make everything so complicated.”