So he began taking night classes at St. Louis Community College, graduating last spring with a certificate of specialization in funeral directing. As Imdad awaits his state licensing exam, he is trying to raise money for what he says will be the state’s first Muslim funeral home.
“The community is growing, and things are going well for Muslims in St. Louis now,” Adil said. “But this is one area where we are way behind.”
Muslim communities in Kansas City, Columbia and Jefferson City maintain small funeral facilities, often inside mosques, for washing bodies of the deceased. But until now, many Muslims buried their loved ones in Muslim sections of Christian cemeteries, relying largely on non-Muslims to guide them through the process of death.
As the Muslim population of the U.S. has grown — the number of mosques grew 74 percent in the last 10 years, according to a 2011 survey — so has the need for Muslim-specific services like funeral homes and cemeteries.
Jay Hardy, the owner of Jay B. Smith Funeral Homes in Maplewood, Mo., and Fenton, Mo., said that in the 1970s, he handled one or two Muslim burials a year. Today that number is up to three or four each week, he said.
One reason for the jump, Hardy said, was the influx of Bosnian Muslims to the area in the 1990s. Last August, the Bosnian Islamic Center bought a large plot of land in a local cemetery, making it the first Muslim cemetery in St. Louis, said Imam Enver Kunic.
Burial fees in other cemeteries, “were too high,” Kunic said. “We had to do this for us.”
Gary Laderman, an expert in American funeral traditions at Emory University in Atlanta, said that in the latter half of the 19th century, just as the funeral industry was taking shape after the Civil War, American Jews began to build their own branch of the business.
“It was about how they could control their own dead and ensure they were buried according to their ideals and expectations,” said Laderman. “And more recently we’ve seen other communities producing their own funeral directors, producing their own professionals or volunteers, who are increasingly involved in the disposition of their dead.”
Hardy acknowledged that logistical problems exist when a non-Muslim funeral home handles a Muslim funeral. Islam and Judaism share many ritual elements in the preparation and interment process. Embalming, for instance, is forbidden. And bodies should be buried before sunset on the day the person died, or at least within 24 hours.