Anthony Sparno’s days are usually filled with silent hours tending his gateless 12-acre cemetery. He picks up garbage, fills the water tank, digs graves, does the books from his car or a diner and takes calls from imams and funeral homes.

That solitary life was disrupted last week when hundreds of mourners – and a news media swarm – descended on Mr. Sparno’s Makbarat As-Salaam cemetery in Millstone, N.J., to bury five small bodies Monday afternoon.

Mr. Sparno, a convert to Islam who owns the all-Muslim cemetery, was among the first to be called in the aftermath of the house fire in the Bronx on March 7 that killed a woman and nine children from two families from Mali.

Monday morning, he spent two hours digging five graves for the Magassa family: 1-year-old Bilaly and 3-year-old Djama; Abudubary, 5; Mahamadou, 8; and Bandiougou, 11.

“I had five kids, then one after that,” an unrelated burial, Mr. Sparno said matter-of-factly of what must have been his highest-profile workday, if not his busiest. “Not a glorified life.”

The other fire victims, members of the Soumare family – 7-month-old twins Harouma and Sisi; Djibril, 3; Hassing, 6; and Fatoumata, their mother, 42 – were flown to Mali for burial.

Makbarat As-Salaam, which opened in 1992, is one of few exclusively Muslim cemeteries in the country. No statistics are available because the phenomenon is still in its initial stages, said Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based civil rights and advocacy group.


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