Muslims bury their dead quickly — within 24 hours. The dead must be interred without a casket, facing the holy city of Mecca.
Before the burial, the body is washed with soap and scented water, then wrapped in a seamless cloth, tied at the head and feet. Cremation and embalming are forbidden.
But the specific burial rites meant to prepare Muslims for the afterlife are in conflict with public health codes and public cemetery regulations, forcing Muslims in the state to compromise the rituals outlined in the Quran.
Some mosques are calling for members to enter the funeral industry, while others find creative alternatives that keep with Islamic law.
"We must respect the law of the land in which we live — that's the essence of Islam," said Muhammed Ali, the president of the Daar-ul-Ehsaan mosque in Bristol.
But Ali believes Muslims can adhere to health regulations and remain faithful to Islamic burial traditions. They just need to ask for a loose interpretation of the law.
When members of the Daar-ul-Ehsaan mosque opened a cemetery last year behind the mosque, they were told by state health officials that the dead must be buried in concrete vaults because of the mosque's proximity to a residential neighborhood. Most public cemeteries won't bury a body without a vault or a burial liner, and state law requires the dead be interred in caskets or containers if a cemetery lies within 350 feet of a residential dwelling.
Ali's concern was that the heavy equipment needed to move the concrete vaults in the cemetery would disturb existing grave sites.
So, Ali searched the Internet for an alternative and found lightweight plastic vaults made from the same composite materials as the Boeing 787 that passed public health codes and can be easily moved.
"We looked behind the spirit of the law and found a compromise," Ali said.
Naveed Khan, a member of the United Muslim Masjid of Waterbury, said many Muslims find the compromises difficult. He sees a need for more Muslim cemeteries and more Muslims entering the funeral business as the state's Muslim population grows and ages. He wants mosques to be able to perform the ritual washing and shrouding — symbolic of wrapping the dead in Allah's mercy — without the need of a traditional funeral home. . .
Ali said when the Bristol mosque buries its first Muslim in the cemetery, soil will be spread on the bottom of the plastic vault so the body is in touch with the earth in accordance with Islamic law.
"Islam is flexible," Ali said. "Hopefully as time goes by, things will change, but in the meantime we have to respect the laws of the land." (MORE)