New Cemetery in Town

November 8, 2007 by  


By Adil James, MMNS

Farmington—November 7—A new Islamic cemetery has opened in Westland Michigan, owned by Muslims and expressly catering to the differing needs of Muslim families in burying loved ones. The cemetery is convenient to the most populated areas of metro Detroit/Ann Arbor. The family-owned cemetery was founded by Robert Berry who himself passed away recently, after a massive heart attack, and is now run by the Berry family, principally his daughter Yvonne Berry, the cemetery manager, a young woman expects to graduate this December with a degree in business administration from Wayne State University.

Islamic Memorial Gardens maintains “20 acres solely dedicated to the Islamic faith,” explains Ms. Berry. The total capacity of the cemetery is “17,000 lots, altogether,” she explains, “not a lot if you look at the approximately 300,000 Muslims in the metro-Detroit area.” “It’s in Westland, about 10 minutes from Dearborn.”

Four people are buried at the IMG cemetery now, which although open to receive people is still in the initial phases of operation. “It took us a little longer than expected,” explains Ms. Berry, to get to this position.

IMG maintains close ties with area mosques, Ms. Berry explains, having asked for and secured Imam Mohamed Elahi’s support (imam of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights) and currently seeking support from other prominent local imams.

Distinguishing characteristics of the cemetery that are especially beneficial to the community include immediate burial without additional cost. “We also bury at the exact angle of 32 degrees,” she explains.

Imam Abdullah El-Amin, the imam of the Muslim Center of Detroit and also one of the owners of the Numan Funeral home (prominently located at the intersection of Warren Avenue and Southwest Highway), also emphasizes IMG’s accommodation of quick burials, “Sunday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, whatever—they will be able to accommodate.”

He says, “Robert Berry, one of the principals, actually passed away in the very early stages of it, and his daughter is doing a real good job of taking over and following in his footsteps and putting it all in a firm grounding.”

Imam El-Amin went on the explain that “a lot of the cemeteries have Islamic sections in them, and some people go to them because they have been going for many years—but as far as IMG goes, they really don’t have much competition—it is Muslim-owned, for one thing, and then also they are very accommodating.”

One competitor is United Memorial Gardens, based in Plymouth. Paul Rosser, the manager of United Memorial Gardens, spoke with me on November 7th about the Islamic portion of his cemetery. UMG is on a far grander scale than the nascent IMG, having been begun in the 1930’s and having grown to accommodate “probably over 100,000—it’s a big cemetery,” as Mr. Rosser explained.

Mr. Rosser said UMG maintains three separate “Islamic gardens” inside its bounds. Islamic Garden One, which he says has more traditional burials, (which he estimates now has about 3,000 interred people and is close to capacity). Then there is Islamic Garden Two, and finally Islamic Garden Three, which he explains has had all its plots bought by an Islamic organization called Islamic Muslim Cemetery Services.

“We provide services to Muslims—burial basically the same day. Some Islamic groups have different cultures or services at their burial—a lot of times we learn as we go. Sometimes they do it this way and sometimes that way.”

“Islamics from India,” he says, “do it totally differently from Islamics from Lebanon.” Lebanese people, he explains, “open the casket, and face the person east, then put dirt on the casket. Indians put dirt inside the casket.”

As far as cost, Islamic Memorial Gardens is roughly equivalent to the other local competitors. “They are not cheap, they are competitive—they have different packages just like everyone else,” explains Imam El-Amin.

IMG quoted me a minimal price all-told of roughly $2,400 for burial fees (which does not include the services of a funeral director). UMG quoted me roughly the same price for equivalent services. Both—and probably the other local cemeteries—also maintain close professional working relations with local Muslim funeral directors, including the Numan Funeral Home.

In fact the difference may be—despite Mr. Rosser being gracious, warm and accommodating—in the level of accommodation during urgent need and the level of understanding of Muslim traditions and expectations, as for instance when a Muslim dies during a holiday or Saturday night or Sunday morning. Another difference is the satisfaction of supporting a Muslim-owned service. Some Muslims want to be buried in all-Muslim cemeteries, also.

But of course it might be necessary to explain clearly, even with Islamic Memorial Gardens, if the Islamic tradition of the deceased differs from the traditions as previously experienced by IMG’s management–who are themselves Lebanese. Ms. Berry explained that the board of directors of IMG “has several faiths represented in it,” and this and my conversation with Ms. Berry strongly indicate an openness to accommodate the different traditional Islamic practices from the rich cultural backgrounds of the Muslim world’s many different places.

Both the Muslim and the non-Muslim cemeteries offer pre-need burial plots, and again both cost roughly the same amount. Neither will in general accept for people who purchase pre-need plots to sell them back to the cemetery, but both are accommodating as far as allowing sales of burial plots to third-parties. Arrangements for transfer of plots to other IMCA-certified American cemeteries can also be facilitated by UMG.

Imam El-Amin says of the new cemetery, “It’s a great thing… the first one where they actually purchased the land and actually have Muslim ownership. I feel that the time has come, and we’re looking for it to be a great addition in service to our community.”

“IMG, they’re flexible to satisfy the needs and desires not only of the community but of the individual as well,” explains Imam El-Amin.

Asked if running a cemetery is depressing, Ms. Berry explains “No—I don’t look at it like that. It’s nothing [people] can escape.”

Ms. Berry expresses deep admiration to her late father for his very hard work to bring Islamic Memorial Gardens into existence. “If there’s anything I can express,” says Ms. Berry, “this man, Robert Berry, worked so hard… two years just to get the property. He helped many many people—he wanted so bad to give something to them.”

Islamic Memorial Gardens is at 28830 Ann Arbor Trail, Westland Michigan 48185; 313-334-4958. United Memorial Gardens is at 4800 Curtis Road, Plymouth, MI 48170. 734-454-9448.

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