Muslims in St. Cloud seek their own cemetery

When 20-year-old Ahmed Ibrahim's father died of a stroke in February, as the eldest son he had to make the funeral arrangement. His mother does not speak or read English.

Ibrahim learned that leaders at the mosque in St. Cloud could not help his family, so his family ended up burying his father about 60 miles away in Willmar.

"Muslims don't have a cemetery in St. Cloud. They have one in Willmar," Ibrahim said. "So I called Willmar and they helped me with all that kind of stuff: they picked up the body and washed it."

Willmar has an Islamic cemetery because the Muslim community there bought a small piece of land at Fairview Cemetery about three years ago. They also chipped in money this year to help Ibrahim with his father's funeral arrangements.

Leaders at the Islamic Center in St. Cloud hope members of their community will pitch in to raise money to acquire land for a cemetery.

"Since I've been here in St. Cloud, I have seen several people who lost their loved ones," said Mohayadin Mohamed, a board member of the mosque. "So the more the community grows, the more the need for a cemetery here in St. Cloud."

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Leaders estimate as many as 10,000 Muslims live in central Minnesota.

Mohamed said the primary challenge is to find the money to buy the land in this tough economy. So families turn to Muslim communities in other cities, most often in the Twin Cities, to help with funeral services.

"There's effort out there [by people] who are trying to find some solution," he said. "We are hoping that soon we will be able to do those services in the St. Cloud area or somewhere nearer than the Twin Cities."

Mohamed said the lots would cost the families less in St. Cloud than they are currently paying in the Twin Cities.

Islam requires specific burial rituals that would be difficult to do in non-Muslim cemeteries. The body has to be buried as soon as possible, so a funeral director must be available on short notice.

Before anything else, the body must be washed; then wrapped in shrouds. The body is buried in a bottomless vault so that it directly touches the ground. It also faces the northeast direction toward Mecca, the holiest Muslim site in Saudi Arabia.

The Islamic Center of St. Cloud and the Somali Elders Council are in touch with the founders of Muslim cemeteries in Roseville and Burnsville.

Amin Kader, president of the Islamic Institute of Minnesota, which oversees the Minnesota Islamic Cemetery Association, said Muslims should have both a mosque and cemetery wherever they live. But he's asked Muslim leaders in St. Cloud to keep in mind that a cemetery is a large and expensive responsibility.

"It's a good to have a cemetery," Kader said. "The problem is, are you going to be able to upkeep it? In the Garden of Eden cemetery for example, we pay between $60,000 and $70,000 a year to upkeep."

Kader said raising revenue from lot sales could be a challenge in St. Cloud, where there aren't as many deaths as in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Muslim leaders say the discussions to buy land for a cemetery have been ongoing for at least a few years. But they say there's no solution in sight.