Salaam - I had posted this yesterday in a different part of Inspiration Falls, then a few hours ago, deleted in haste, but I'll repost it here. - BABA
Salaam all - This is inspired by a recent article in my local paper (appears below) that I had not come across until last week, but that made me think it was an opportunity to briefly share an experience with all of you that I am sure we all partake in at certain times - pondering death, especially while visiting the graves of our loved ones that have gone before us. Every time I go to the small, modest graveyard in the small Oregon town, that is exclusively a Muslim one, not only is it a place to go visit both my abba's and nana's graves (that's father and maternal grandfather, respectively, for you non-South Asians) and think about my own mortality, but it's also a very serene, peaceful setting. There are no main roads nearby and even the main streets of this university town are relatively quiet, a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the city life, which we are surrounded by closer to home.
Since I've been away from home, as many of you know now (post-my Ramadan diary), I haven't had as much of a chance to visit the graveyard as much as I like. The drive is about 1 hour 45 minutes or so and roughly 87 miles in distance.
Myself, my mother and a male cousin from my dad's side (he was the first relative of my dad, other than myself) to be able to go to the graveyard. One of our cousin-sisters was in state close to us for several years, but never got a chance to go (now back in India). Anyways, each trip, I feel new emotions, given that my own life has advanced usually be another year or sixth months and the many changes that occur in that time in anyone's life. Also, it makes me think how it would have been if my dad were still alive. Of course, now that I'm approaching the end of my graduate studies insha'allah, it's especially bittersweet.
Getting back to the point, one thing that I really love about the spot where the piece of land that makes up the graveyard is that it overlooks the surrounding area, which is just full of green trees and other such plants, with one road that passes by, which is usually pretty empty, as it's a few turns from the road leading back into the town. During this most recent trip, I told this cousin of mine, that I hoped it was as peaceful in the graves of our brothers and sisters as it was that day and many days before it, with the sky clear blue, with not a cloud in sight, with the soft sounds of nature calmly entering our ears, and otherwise, no other sounds of the busy life that we lead in the world. The place where we stood, is at the top of the hill or incline of the plot, where there is ground free of graves, so one can walk the length of the plot, while over looking the graves and view the numbers on wooden sticks, that simply mark each grave.
It had been a full two years since I had been down to Corvallis (this is the name of the town); thus, there were many more fresh graves that had been dug. I don't need to tell or remind any of you, what a powerful reminder that is, of how many people pass away in a short time, how many thought they would be around for their next birthday, Ramadhan, E'id, etc. The previous trip, it had been quite hot and though it's not part of the graveyard etiquette, something that my dad would do when we would visit my grandfather's grave, was to read Surah Yaseen (as it talks about the relevant topics), that summer (2008) I did the same. During this particular trip, I had gotten an intense feeling of sadness and longing for my father and the memory of him reciting Surah Yaseen in my presence and that now, at that moment, I was doing the same over his grave and those who lay next to him (sadly enough, the grave that would follow his, was that of a pre-mature baby and my father was an OB/GYN - essentially, the doc who helps mothers-to-be give birth/deliver), thus, under the hot son (I sweat profusely in general, so I was dripping wet) I recited the Surah (using the transliteration from a hand-held book) and with the above thoughts in my mind, I began to cry, voice-shaking, as I approached the end of the surah, as my Amma took a moment to wipe the sweat from my forehead.
In several ways, I envy those who are no longer here and this feeling is only reinforced each time I visit this beautiful spot, where I remember my father, grandfather and realize that in the large scheme of things not being in this world wouldn't be so bad, but I know that hopefully, before my time runs out, as it has for those whose graves I am standing in front of, I'll be able to accomplish what both my father desired and I myself desire for my appointed term.
Well, those are my thoughts, that I have actually wanted to share with all of you for some time.
Following below, is the article that I wanted to share with you after giving some insight on my attachment to the subject of the article, the cemetery itself, and the role it plays in the life of one brother that is featured in the article. Also, a professor of Islam at my former college is also quoted in the article.
BABA Muslim cemetery in Corvallis is a rarity in the Northwest
In a serene Corvallis field of lush grass, numbered wooden planks protrude vertically from the ground and are the only clues that this is the final resting place for Muslims.
The Islamic Cemetery of Oregon in Corvallis is one of only a few all-Muslim burial grounds in the Pacific Northwest. This unique place — established in 1992 and paid for by community donations — honors the values and traditional teachings of Islam according to the Quran.
The opportunity to bury loved ones at an all-Muslim cemetery is invaluable to the Muslim community, said Mozafar Wanly, a volunteer who oversees cemetery operations. Being buried next to their fellow Muslims — whom they call brothers and sisters — is an important aspect of feeling safe and comfortable in their final resting place as the soul reflects on past deeds and awaits judgment from God.
Across the United States, there are both all-Muslim and multi-denominational cemeteries, which include plots set aside for Muslims and other religions.
Muslims are not generally buried with non-Muslims, Wanly said. It is the responsibility of a local Muslim community to create an all-Muslim cemetery. If that is not possible, Muslims can be buried in plots at larger multi-denominational cemeteries.
“The Jews have their own cemeteries, the Christians have their own cemeteries,” Wanly said.
Muslims believe that whatever good deeds they do in this life will be rewarded in heaven when they die, Wanly said.
“We do it for the sake of God, and God will reward,” he said.
All 10 acres of the cemetery, which is several miles west of Oregon State University, were purchased through donations from Islamic communities across the state.
Volunteers who run the cemetery say their pay is not in cash but in the rewards they will receive in the afterlife for helping their brothers and sisters.
Cemetery volunteer lays Muslim brothers and sisters to rest
By Shamso Ali and Sabra Chandiwalla
In his short life, Mohammad Moussaoui has witnessed a lot of death.
Every time a Muslim brother or sister dies, Moussaoui is there, volunteering his free time by showing support to the family and helping to prepare the body for a proper Islamic burial.
So far, Moussaoui has helped with 40 Muslim funerals at the Islamic Cemetery of Oregon in Corvallis. He is one of many volunteers who carry the bodies from the families’ cars to the gravesite and dig what will be their final resting place.
Moussaoui is able to visit frequently because he lives close to the cemetery in the Corvallis area.
The 23-year-old Oregon State University student says he is one of the youngest brothers in the Corvallis Muslim community to help with traditional Islamic burials, which includes cleaning the bodies, praying and digging.
Moussaoui has buried family, friends and strangers.
Even though he doesn’t know everyone who has been buried at the Corvallis site, Moussaoui feels obligated as a Muslim to pray for the 191 people buried there each time he visits. It is also his way to stay involved in his community.
“As Muslims we’re supposed to do community service and help each other out,” Moussaoui said. “The (Muslim) communities are very helpful. When someone passes away, the community will send someone to cook for them every day; it is all community based.”
Among those buried at the Islamic Cemetery of Oregon are Moussaoui’s grandmother and two close friends.
Moussaoui said he has learned to accept death; that the teachings of Islam say that death is a natural process that followers shouldn’t feel sad about and to keep an updated will on you at all times.
As a Muslim you are taught not to fear death; you learn that your life here on Earth is a temporary one — a test, and when you die you go back to the creator, God, and await judgment with your fellow Muslims, said Mozafar Wanly, a volunteer with the cemetery.
Visiting the cemetery is humbling to Moussaoui, because he said it reminds him of his duty to God to be compassionate and make sacrifices and to help as many people as possible in his lifetime, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
“It’s sad and very emotional,” Moussaoui said, but “it helps me reflect on my life because no one knows when they’re going to die.”
With all the different experiences he’s been through, Moussaoui explains, “the hardest thing that I have ever faced was dealing with the death of my very good friends.”
Moussaoui felt honored to be able to place his friends in their final resting place, knowing that they will soon find peace with God.
There was no particular reason for purchasing land in Corvallis other than that it was a suitable location and the price was right, Wanly said.
The Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board, which oversees the state’s cemeteries, does not keep records of facilities’ religious affiliations, according to board staff. However, there are at least a couple of cemeteries that have devoted plots to Muslims, including the Sunset Hills Memorial Park near Beaverton.
Mohammad Moussaoui, a 23-year-old student at Oregon State University, has participated in about 40 Islamic burials at the Corvallis cemetery. He has buried his grandmother and a couple of friends.
“The process of dying puts a lot of burden on Western families,” Moussaoui says, “but a Muslim burial costs about $300. And if the family can’t afford it, the community helps pay. It’s a simple thing; it’s really plain. There are no flowers or headstones with birds flying around. It’s supposed to remind people of death.”
Muslims believe that people should always keep death in the back of their thoughts, Moussaoui said. Muslims also believe that death should not be mourned.
After a Muslim death occurs, the first step is to wash the body. Men generally wash men while women wash other women. Sections of the body are revealed little by little in order to maintain dignity and respect for the dead, according to the Islamic Society of North America, a national organization based in Indiana.
Next, the body is wrapped in a clean, white, cotton cloth and taken to a mosque. There, family and friends pay their respects to the dead by praying. They read from the Quran and then pray for, in order, the Prophet Muhammad, then the deceased person and, lastly, the family prays for everyone else.
The body is then taken to a cemetery and buried.
“The same way a baby is brought into this earth — naked, washed, shrouded — the body gets washed, shrouded and put back in the earth,” Moussaoui said.
In the grave, the body is placed on its right side with its head facing toward northeast Oregon, and in the same direction as Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Wanly said. It faces the same way that Muslims face during daily prayers.
Muslims believe that once in the grave, the soul begins to reflect on its final destination: paradise or the hell fires, Wanly said.
The soul contemplates questions such as, “Who are you? What do you think about religion? What do you think about your prophet?” Wanly said.
Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, a Reed College assistant professor of religion and humanities, said that one of the first things immigrant Muslims built after moving to the United States were cemeteries — not Mosques or Masjids; a Muslim’s place of prayer.
“A lot of early immigrants were single men. So when they died they didn’t have any family to take care of their burial and the Muslim community took on the responsibility to create plots (where they could) bury these men,” Ghanea Bassiri said.
Some of the earliest Muslim cemeteries in the United States date back to the 1920s, GhaneaBassiri added.
In addition, Muslim burial traditions have remained the same since Prophet Muhammad’s time. Muslim communities are responsible for keeping these rituals and having a cemetery only for Muslim brothers and sisters, Wanly said.
Unlike some non-Muslims who visit the grave to communicate with loved ones, Muslims do not need to physically travel to the burial grounds, Wanly said.
“They are not supposed to come here to talk to the grave, the bones, the earth,” Wanly said. “The soul is not at the grave. Nobody is here, it’s just bones.”
When the survivors visit an Islamic cemetery, the experience is just as much for them as it is to honor the dead.
“We visit just to learn, to know our last home in this life,” Wanly said.
-- By Sabra Chandiwalla and Shamso Ali