No longer will Rock Hill’s Muslims say “I live here but can’t be buried here.” They now have a cemetery to bury their dead.
A 2015 thorny zoning problem is not an issue at a new site where the property is zone for a cemetery. Muslims do not have to try to convince their neighbors they are not a threat and just want to bury and honor the dead like any other group.
Muslims from the city’s mosque Masjid Al-Salam – “Mosque of Peace” – and Islamic Center of South Carolina bought property on Blackmon Street on the city’s south edge that was already zoned for commercial use, including a cemetery. Mosque members have started clearing the property that is now woods. In the tradition of the South, they have planted crepe myrtle trees.
“We will be leveling the ground, planting grass and making it very nice,” said Abdul Khanani, a mosque founder who has lived in Rock Hill for decades. “It will be something all will be proud of. We are thankful to God, we are thankful to the city, we are thankful to the people of the city and this neighborhood.”
Khanani and Nazir Cheema, another decades-long resident of Rock Hill and mosque founder who spearheaded the cemetery project, each said having a resting place for Muslims shows that Muslims are more than ever a part of the York County and Rock Hill communities.
“This is the will of God that we all are together in Rock Hill in peace and brotherhood,” Cheema said.
When the Islamic group wanted to buy property on Bird Street near Anderson Road in 2015, they needed a zoning change for the property to be used for a cemetery. City officials agreed to the change, but neighbors balked in a raucous public meeting and the city’s zoning board nixed any change.
City officials worked with Muslim leaders to find a place already zoned to allow cemeteries. Muslim leaders found the Blackmon Street spot late last year.
The city approved the site plan in November after planning officials reviewed all the documentation needed that includes distance from the road and buffers between other properties, said Katie Quinn, city spokesperson.
The new site has woods on two sides and homes behind trees on two sides. Across the street is a landscape business. Muslim leaders will put up a fence on the sides that have homes adjacent to the cemetery as courtesy to neighbors, Khanani said.
Under Islamic tradition, Muslims can not borrow money for projects so all the money has to be raised and donated.
“This cemetery is a huge achievement for us, just as the mosque was,” Khanani said. “We have been, and always will be, loving members of this city and its people.”
The city’s Muslim population has grown to hundreds in the past decade with students from Winthrop and many former students who put down roots here, as well as dozens of families who work in teaching, business and other vocations. Enough Muslim people live in and near Rock Hill to form a mosque that opened in 2013 after years of construction.
Many Muslim were previously buried in Charlotte or other places. Muslim burials require washing of the body, special prayers and burial in cotton cloth. Muslim burial tradition calls for angling a deceased person’s head toward the right shoulder, face turned toward Mecca – the religion’s holy city in Saudi Arabia. Remains of the faithful are buried simply, usually before sunset within a day after death.
The Muslim religion does not allow mausoleums or ornate grave markers, or funeral processions. Two Rock Hill funeral homes assist the mosque with funerals.
A Muslim burial is a humble and simple action, said Cheema and Khanani. Mourners each throw three handfuls -- or shovelfuls - of dirt and pray for the person’s heavenly journey.
A journey that will soon start not in Charlotte, or anywhere else, but in Rock Hill where the life was lived and ended in a place Muslims such as Abdul Khanani call: “My home.”