For Muslims who live in the Pittsburgh area, burying a loved one has meant a trip to Homewood Cemetery in Squirrel Hill, the only Muslim cemetery section in the region.
That should change by the end of the year, as Chartiers Cemetery in Carnegie prepares to open a Muslim section with 319 plots, giving residents of the West and South suburbs a closer option for burial.
Saleemuddin Mohammad, a software engineer from South Fayette, has been spearheading the project, raising money and working with Chartiers Cemetery officials.
An agreement has been signed for two rectangles of land to be marked off with privacy fences and bushes, Mr. Mohammad said. Community members have been donating to the cause and sponsoring plots at $495 each, with the goal of raising $170,000.
"When the layout is done, we hope by December, the first person can be buried," he said.
The burial ground will be affiliated with the Attawheed Islamic Center (Attawheed means "the oneness of God"), a community center and mosque located in the former Carnegie Presbyterian Church on Washington Avenue. But any Muslim may be buried there regardless of whether the family has sponsored a plot.
"It's a community obligation to bury a Muslim, an opportunity to fulfill their responsibility," Mr. Mohammad said. "People have come from many places so they may not have extended family to take care of them here."
The graves will have no headstones or names, just a small rock or other such anonymous marker left by the family or friends. However, the Chartiers Cemetery will assign plot numbers and keep records.
Burials will be conducted in accordance with Islamic ritual -- the dead are washed by trained volunteers, wrapped in a shroud and buried within 24 hours. The imam says prayers for the dead at the mosque. There is no formal service at the grave, but people attend the burial and pray there individually.
There is no embalming or cremation because the body is considered sacred even after death. Mr. Mohammad said that the method of burial, without caskets, vaults, grave delineations or markers, will make it a "green cemetery."
Mr. Mohammad, who was born in India has been in Pittsburgh 18 years, long enough to understand that local folks like to avoid crossing bridges if they can help it.
The first Muslim section in Homewood Cemetery opened in 1982 with about 10 graves, said David Michener, Homewood Cemetery president and CEO. Two larger sections were developed in 1999 and 2009 by the Muslim Cemetery Association, with a total of 450 graves.
About 100 have been buried there so far, he said, with granite markers flush to the ground.
The opening of a second cemetery is indicative of how established the Muslim community is becoming in the region.
"The Muslim presence in Pittsburgh is really growing," said Imam Mahgoub, religious director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. He estimated the local Muslim population at 15,000 to 18,000, the vast majority of them Sunni with a small number of Shia, mostly in Monroeville. He also noted that a group in the North Hills is working on plans for a mosque there.
Sally Kalson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1610.