Daily Beast - Business at the Quaker bookstore near Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, where Jerimy Pedersen works has not been great in recent years, but things at the Quaker cemetery where he digs graves part time with his sometime bookstore colleague, cemetery manager Graham Garner, have gotten rather lively.
Just three years ago, Friends Southwestern Burial Grounds, founded in 1860 in Upper Darby and not far from Main Line Philadelphia, was running at a deficit. Revenues from the interest of a dwindling endowment coupled with income from the annual burials—which could be as few as two—did not cover routine maintenance. Wrought-iron fences needed to be painted; the acres of lawn with some 4,000 graves required regular mowing; and the 150-year-old caretaker’s house, well, it needed to be taken care of.
Then in July of 2012, just as the not-for-profit Urban Land Institute of Philadelphia was completing its study on how the cemetery might become solvent, a Muslim family from the neighborhood approached Garner about burying their 21-year-old son, Rafiq Jamison, there. The Friends Southwestern Burial Ground. The Friends Southwestern Burial Ground. (Lucy Duncan)
“It was a very tragic story,” Garner said. “He worked around the corner as a security guard, and he had been shot to death on the job.”
Islamic law, or sharia, like Jewish law, requires that the dead be buried expeditiously. It prohibits both embalming and cremation. It also forbids the use of grave vaults, those poured concrete walls inside a grave which are fairly standard internment practice and said to prevent graves from sinking over time.
The more difficult sharia stipulation for the average cemetery to honor—and probably the one that makes it difficult for funeral directors helping Muslim families find a place to bury their dead—is the requirement that the deceased be buried in a shroud without a coffin, and that the body be lain on its right shoulder facing the qiblah, or Mecca.
Garner said there were extensive discussions with local imams to ensure sharia burial rites were properly followed; and it would be more than a year—not until October 2013—before the Friends cemetery had its second Muslim burial. Since that time, some 170 Muslim burials have taken place in a specially designated section of the graveyard.