Neighbors: Mosque builds Muslim cemetery in Durham

November 29, 2013 

They couldn’t even give it away.

The nearly 14 acres at the end of White Oak Avenue near Otis Street was purchased by the Jamaat Ibad Ar-Rahman organization back in the mid-1980s, before members even had a plan for it.

The organization’s building at 3034 Fayetteville St. used to be a bowling alley, and then the student union and cafeteria of the old Durham Business College. In the 1980s, the building was transformed into a masjid or mosque, a place of worship for Muslims, by Jamaat Ibad Ar-Rahman. If you’ve driven down Fayetteville Street on a Friday afternoon you know how popular it is. More than 500 worshippers attend the two midday Jumu’ah prayers.

The land on White Oak was mostly woods surrounded by neat, well cared-for homes. The JIA-R organization bought it as an investment, but the property had a water runoff problem and when it was put on the market in 2000, there were no buyers.

The land was about to solve an unforeseen problem, however.

Muslims customarily bury their dead in their own separate cemeteries. Many local Muslim families had been driving to the Islamic Association Cemetery in Wendell more than 40 miles away or to Siler City, a 100-mile round trip.

During a meeting at Jamaat Ibad Ar-Rahmann in 2004, someone mentioned the land might make a good cemetery. The idea gained hold in 2011, after the JIA-R Funeral Home service was started, with Naeem Lateef at the helm.

One of the members, Nazeeh Abdul-Hakeem, decided to make a serious appraisal of the property. A retired Durham city planner, he asked landscaper/architect Abdul-Khaliq Hameed to study the lay of the land and recommend whether the entrance should be on Otis or White Oak Street. An entrance on Otis would essentially mean redefining that part of the neighborhood. So, White Oak was chosen because the large black aluminum-gated entrance on the much-quieter street would make less of an impact. A line of crape myrtles, hydrangeas and spireas were planned to greet anyone looking in that direction.

“And we want to maintain a stream buffer,” explained Abdul-Hakeem. “A bit of Sandy Creek runs through here, so we’ll keep many of these trees to protect the water quality. In fact, we’re only using five out of the 14 acres for the cemetery.”

Parkwood purchase

By 2011, Jamaat Ibad Ar-Rahman had already purchased the small strip mall in Parkwood that used to house the Parkwood Library. Friday prayer services are held there, and Hudah Academy, for girls up to the third grade, and boys and girls of all ages on the weekends, is now open. Misbah Academy is designed for students who are working on memorizing the Quran.

The congregation dug deep yet again and started developing the land as it could afford to. A grading company was hired to clear the site, which meant cutting the trees down and digging up the roots, Horvath Associates was hired to design the cemetery. The city didn’t require a driveway, but Horvath thought it would be nice to design a small circular drive and parking area. Muslim burials are ordinarily attended only by the immediate family, maybe a few friends, and the men who open and close the grave site.

I was curious about the burial process, so I headed to the Hope Valley Exxon, which funeral director Naeem Lateef runs with his brother, Abdul.

I asked if it’s true that Muslims must be buried within 24 hours.

“A lot of people think that, but we say it’s as soon as possible,” he said. “Usually, we can do everything necessary that same day, but no one gets into trouble if we don’t.”

Lateef can get a call at any time, and when he does, he calls in his team. Most of his team members are self-employed cab drivers and are almost always able to drop evrything when they’re called.

The men wash the body and wrap it carefully in white cloth, following centuries-old customs. Sometimes family members help, and this is considered a real honor. There is a women’s team as well, and they wash the bodies of the female dead.

After this, the family joins the next prayer session, and then it’s off to the Durham Muslim Cemetery in a hearse donated by board member Dr Asgher Hussain for a quiet burial. The operation is state certified.

I commented that Muslim burials seem more organic and less costly, and Lateef agreed. But when I said, “So, all the families have to worry about is your fee,” I was quickly corrected.

“No, no, we are all volunteers,” Lateef with a broad smile. “We do it to serve God. It’s a blessing for us, and we are happy to do it.”

Do you have a suggestion for a future Neighbors subject? Contact Patricia Murray at

Durham News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service