BRISTOL, Conn. - Muslims throughout Connecticut say they are finding increasingly creative ways to follow their faith's burial traditions without violating state regulations.
Some mosques are encouraging members to enter the funeral industry, while others hope more cemeteries can be established with the facilities needed for ritual washings and other traditions outlined in the Koran.
Until recently, a Muslim cemetery in Enfield was the only cemetery that permitted burial in simple wooden boxes.
That changed in December when Enfield residents complained to state health officials that cemetery burials were encroaching on land next to their neighborhood. The cemetery must bury the bodies in sealed vaults.
"[Muslims] are shocked that this is a requirement now. But these are regulations we have to follow," said Muhammed Haidara, an imam at the Islamic Center in Windsor, which runs the cemetery. "It is not our choice."
Muslims bury their dead within 24 hours and the bodies 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 that is tied at the head and feet. Cremation and embalming are forbidden. James E. Jones of Masjid Al-Islam in New Haven said Muslim burials are simple and similar to "green" burials that don't use embalming and coffins. A wake is usually not held because prayers for the forgiveness of the dead are said at the grave site.
Despite the simplicity, Muslim burials average more than $2,000. Funeral homes charge on average about $900 to transport a body to the funeral home and to the grave site. Only a licensed funeral director or embalmer can transport a corpse, according to state law.
"Islam requires that you do as much as you can with the boundaries of the law," Jones said.
Some have found compromises that allow them to honor their faith's traditions while complying with state regulations.
When members of the Daar-ul-Ehsaan mosque in Bristol opened a cemetery last year, state officials told them the bodies 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 caskets or containers if a cemetery lies within 350 feet of homes.
Muhammed Ali, president of the Bristol mosque, said he worried that to meet those requirements, heavy equipment would be needed to move the concrete vaults in the cemetery. That would disturb existing grave sites.
He searched the Internet and found an alternative: lightweight, state-approved plastic vaults that are made from the same composite materials as the
Ali said that 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," he said. "Hopefully as time goes by, things will change, but in the meantime we have to respect the laws of the land."
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.
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.Muslims must pay a funeral home to rent a room where families gather to wash the deceased. In Muslim countries, the washing is done at the graveside or in a mosque.