Nayyar Imam holds a Quoran in Gateway to Mercy, a...

Nayyar Imam holds a Quoran in Gateway to Mercy, a Muslim section in the Washington Memorial Park cemetery in Mt. Sinai. (Feb. 27, 2011) Credit: John Dunn

The memorial plaques are in English and Arabic, bearing messages such as "Gateway to Mercy." The dead are buried in the direction of the Islamic holy city of Mecca.

On a sprawling plain in Mount Sinai, Muslims have turned a section of the Washington Memorial Park into the only large-scale Muslim burial ground on Long Island with a few thousand plots.

Now, Islamic leaders on Long Island want to establish a cemetery to exclusively serve the growing numbers of Muslims in the New York metropolitan area.

Currently burials at the Mount Sinai cemetery attract the faithful from as far away as Brooklyn and Queens. Islamic leaders said they are running short on plots and see that as a sign of how the Islamic community on Long Island is growing, establishing roots and even dying in significant numbers here.

They use part of this nonsectarian cemetery because they have few other alternatives to be buried near others who share their faith. If they are successful in their efforts to acquire land, the cemetery would be one of a relatively small number of Muslim cemeteries in the United States. The nearest Islamic cemetery to Long Island is in Millstone, N.J.

"People are coming all the way from New York City to bury their loved ones because they don't have a choice," said Nayyar Imam, who is heading efforts to create a Muslim cemetery in eastern Suffolk. Using the nonsectarian Washington Park for now "is like a compromised situation."

The Islamic faith calls for the dead to be buried as soon as possible, preferably on the same day they died. That often gets complicated at cemeteries such as Washington Park, which normally limits burials after 3 p.m. and on weekends and on holidays.

Imam, who said Washington Park generally cooperates with Islamic traditions, nonetheless noted that because of holidays, for instance, "sometimes you have to wait three days to bury someone, which is a big no-no in Islam."

He is currently examining vacant land in Middle Island, Riverhead and Baiting Hollow that could be used for an Islamic cemetery and accompanying religious regulations.

For instance, they could allow evening services to allow many more people to attend after work.

"Having a stand-alone Muslim cemetery shows the real growth and maturity of any particular community. It is definitely a milestone," said Ibrahim Hooper of the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations. Long Island is home to an estimated 70,000 Muslims, with thousands more in New York City, local Islamic leaders said.

At Washington Park, individual mosques from Suffolk to Brooklyn have erected plaques marking the area where they purchased plots. The plaques often bear the name of the mosque and even its address and phone number in places such as Flushing.

Muslims started buying plots at the cemetery in the 1980s, and the numbers have increased to more than 2,000. Some mosques, such as the Westbury-based Islamic Center of Long Island, say they have run out of plots at the cemetery.

By Islamic religious custom, the dead are washed and then wrapped in a simple white shroud. They are then buried in the ground without a coffin. But because people in Suffolk use well water, Muslims here are required to use simple coffins, Imam said.

Creating a Muslim cemetery in Suffolk "is a wonderful idea," said Ghazi Khankan, a longtime leader of Long Island's Islamic community. "The need is there."

Rituals for Islamic burials

 

Burials are kept as simple as possible, and are to take place as quickly as possible - usually within 24 hours. There are no wakes.

Family members or other Muslims wash the body - men for men, women for women - either in a funeral home or at the Masjid Darul Quran mosque in Bay Shore, which has the only Muslim washing station on Long Island. The body is perfumed; no embalming takes place.

A clean, white shroud is wrapped around the body.

Typically at a mosque, prayers are recited as the mourners face Mecca.

At the cemetery, the body is laid in the grave and prayers are recited. Usually only men attend, as women are not obligated to go. The deceased is interred facing Mecca. No casket is used unless it is required.

A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports. Credit: Newsday/Daddona / Pfost / Villa Loarca

Uncovering the truth about the chemical drums A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports.

A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports. Credit: Newsday/Daddona / Pfost / Villa Loarca

Uncovering the truth about the chemical drums A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports.

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