Bury Me Muslim provides Islamically appropriate burial services
By Ayanna Jenkins
In 2015, six Muslims — Ayanna Jenkins, Najjiyyah Fuller, Buheira Abdus-Sabour, Omar Craig, Muhijra Muhammad and Luqman Abdus-Sabour — decided to offer the community a much-needed service, one that no one can do without (Quran 21:35): an Islamic funeral and burial service.
There were reports about Muslims being buried in un-Islamic ways or, even worse, cremated. One of this group’s main goals was to ensure that Muslims would be buried in accordance with the Quran and Sunna. A hadith, cited on the authority of Abu Hamza Anas Bin Malik (radi Allahu ‘anh), relates that Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself” (“Sahih al-Bukhari” and “Sahih Muslim”).
The six-member team decided to establish Bury Me Muslim, Inc. (BMM) and register it as a 501(c)3, nonprofit tax-exempt organization. The first step was to learn the correct burial procedures (janaza) so they could assist and inform others of what these were. Muslims and even non-Muslims began asking many questions about Islamic burial requirements, questions dealing with the cost, places of burial and general procedures.
Thus, to assist people, BMM provides a list of Islamic and non-Islamic mortuaries that cater to Islamic needs • a list of Islamic cemeteries as well as cemeteries with Islamic sections • volunteers to perform the ghusl (ritual bath) and the shrouding • volunteers to be pall-bearers, if there are no male Muslim family members • volunteers to assist with the internment • an imam, when needed, to officiate the janaza prayer.
If needed, BMM is 100% involved in each burial process, from dispensing the relevant knowledge of Islamic practices to actually burying the deceased. The topics discussed range from the importance of financially preparing for burial expenses to how Muslims conduct themselves at the gravesite. BMM offers classes on how to perform the ghusl and the shrouding, as well as to its volunteer staff on the funeral’s protocol and etiquette. These presentations are available to the public and have been offered at police departments, mosques, large and small organizations, community centers, as well as to non-Muslim family members in their homes.
In 2019, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Council for Social Justice (CSJ) contacted BMM after the chaplain from Federal Correctional Complex, ADX (Florence, Colo.) reached out to it regarding lifetime inmates’ concerns about being buried as Muslim. Many of these particular inmates are foreign nationals who don’t have American citizenship. Moreover, they have no family or friends to depend on for financial help when they die, nor any money to pay for an Islamic burial.
The Bureau of Prisons will try to send the deceased back to the prisoner’s homeland; however, many of these countries have no stable, functioning government to receive their remains. If the Bureau of Prisons cannot send the body back, the deceased will be cremated.
After a few months of dialogue among the chaplain, ICNA CSJ and BMM, a relationship was established with an Islamic service pickup for the deceased, an Islamic mortuary, a mosque and an Islamic cemetery. Everything was in place to begin the pilot program. Three BMM board members traveled to Colorado to meet with the prospective participants and to officially implement the pilot program. After a couple of days, the appropriate criteria were established. BMM uses these criteria to ensure the proper burial of our Muslims from the time of death to their actual burial.
Abdullah bin Umar (radi Allahu ‘anh) reported, the Prophet said, “A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim. So, he should not oppress him or hand him over to an oppressor. Whoever fulfills the needs of his brother, God will fulfill his needs; whoever removes the troubles of his brother, Allah will remove one of his troubles on the Day of Resurrection; and whoever covers up the fault of a Muslim, Allah will cover up his fault on the Day of Resurrection” (“Sahih al-Bukhari” and “Sahih Muslim”).
Due to Covid-19 social distancing and other requirements, BMM devised a platform for sharing knowledge through Zoom. These interactive classes were attended at four-month intervals with different topics related to the janaza process: How to Financially Prepare Yourself for Your Janaza, The Responsibility of Talking to Your Family About Your Demise, Your Last Will and Testament and many other subjects.
In March 2022, God blessed BMM with the opportunity to purchase burial land within an already established cemetery. This land houses 310 Muslims and meets the need of public access in the tri-jurisdictional area (the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia). This was an answer to prayers for a cemetery that is easily accessible to the area’s hub as well as affordable. This journey began in 2019 when a non-Muslim who knew of BMM’s need for burial space and its proximity to the city helped identify this land. Neither he nor BMM could know that the cemetery could be purchased for such a fair price.
Bury Me Muslim went into negotiations over the cemetery. The first salesperson presented a price that left us a little overwhelmed. He not only wanted an excessive price for the land, but also to make us responsible for fixing the wall that cordons off the burial land. The second salesperson only budged a little on the price.
However, after that God sent a third salesperson who became an advocate for us. During our meetings with her, we could sense the compassion she felt for what we were trying to achieve. After much negotiations and many duas, BMM and the cemetery came up with a very reasonable agreement. And yet the biggest challenge was still to come — securing the necessary funds. However, God provided a donor who loaned the amount needed for the down payment.
Bury Me Muslim had heard stories within the umma of brothers purchasing land for burial and all the troubles they had encountered. We encountered no such roadblocks, because of the location of our burial land.
From April through July, BMM has helped bury nine Muslims. We not only provide a place for at-the-time-of-need burials, but also offer three payment plans for preplanning, which is highly recommended for Muslim families.
Preplanning consists of a Last Will and Testament • Financial Planning for Burial Expenses • Talks With Your Families Regarding Your Janaza • Pre-purchase of Mortuary Services • and Pre-purchase of Burial Plots.
Talking with your family, your loved ones, goes a long way is enabling a smooth transition when families are aware of the janaza process. During their presentations, BMM tries to stress to all Muslims the importance of preplanning for their death.
One obstacle in this process is the lack of such communication with family members. This oversight leaves family members at odds with each and confused about the deceased’s burial rights. This is where BMM steps in to explain to them, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, the importance of burying the deceased in accordance with Quran and Sunna. Unfortunately, sometimes such efforts have no effect and the family decides upon burial in another fashion or cremation.
On reflection, BMM sometimes finds that the deceased’s family didn’t receive the janaza-related material prior to his/her death and that no money was set-aside to cover the burial expenses.
BMM is dedicated to serving the umma on such events, for every Muslim is obliged to ensure that the burial rights of all Muslims are observed. The funeral prayer is fard kifaya (a communal responsibility), meaning that if some people do it, then the rest of the umma is absolved of this responsibility. But if the umma as a whole fails to do it, then all of its members are guilty of sin.
Interested people can assist BMM by sponsoring a class on janaza, aiding in ghusl and shrouding, volunteering to be a pall bearer or financially securing the cemetery. We can be reached at 301-364-1619 (office), 240-877-5525 (mobile) and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elizabeth Jenkins (aka Ayanna Jenkins; vice president, BMM) is the intake coordinator, meaning that she facilitates the funeral arrangements. Jenkins was born, raised and educated in Massachusetts. She moved to the District of Columbia in 1969 and, in 1972, she and her husband embraced Islam. The mother of four grown children and a retired nurse who owned a nursing agency, she spent many years counseling families in hospice situations and home care in general. Both of these long-term experiences were a great preparation for BMM.