Sacred ground lies in Fredericksburg, an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia located 49 miles south of Washington, D.C. A battle was fought here over emancipation of slaves, and now slaves of Allah emancipated from the trials of the dunya rest in what maybe the largest Muslim cemetery in the United States. Established in 1986, the first grave was dug in 1996 at the All Muslim Association of America (AMAA) Cemetery.
“[A] brother died and we had a hard time finding a place - thats how we started,” remarks Sikander Javed, the treasurer and member of the board of directors for AMAA. In the late eighties, Mohammad Younis, Zar Khan, and some other members of the community met at the home of Javed. “We didn't have a particular area in mind; looking for an inexpensive option we picked Stafford County, but did not limit ourselves.”
For the past 30 years the home of this former financial guru for the city government of Alexandria has been the office of the AMAA. After retirement, Sikander Javed and friends have dedicated the rest of their days to the cemetery project.
Located in Northern Virginia, the cemetery serves the DC Metro and the rest of the US; people from as far away as MIchigan come here to be buried. Javed thinks it is because the cemetery is the cost and exclusivity for Muslims; “even with added transportation costs, it is still cheaper for people to bury their relatives here.” The cemetery does not charge for plots and has served more than 900 families. “We haven’t verified this (as there is no central Islamic agency), but we do think that it is the largest Muslim only cemetry,” says Muhammad Khan of AMAA.
Arranging a funeral can be difficult and is a time of great emotional distress. The fear of ‘negotiating’ the funeral price of a loved one can be an unnecessary stress. For 5 years, the association charged 2150 dollars; paying a contractor on a need basis for services. “[Then] we hired a person, lower[ing] the cost to 1900 dollars,” shares Javed.
Purchasing their own equipment to open and close the graves further lowered the cost of the burial. In December 2010, a brother donated a small backhoe to the organization. To ensure a service without any interruption, AMAA acquired a large backhoe. “Before April 2013, we had only one reliable backhoe and rented out a backhoe in case ours is not working.” The cemetery currently owns two backhoes, and a lawn mower- requiring regular maintenance which costs about two thousand dollars per year.
To maintain transparency, AMAA's financial books are audited by an independent certified auditing firm. Due to increase work load, AMAA, Inc. hired two individuals from the community- a Operations Manager and Facilities Manager. This is one of the main reasons that brought the cost down to fifteen hundred dollars. Currently, it costs $1500 to bury an adult and a child’s burial fee is $650 with a stone marker and $400 without. There is a separate section for children and adults.
The cost of burial includes a fee that covers the maintenance of the property, and salaries of two staff members. The board are all volunteers; they meet at area masajid, and this also helps keep the cost of burial low. Average funeral costs in Stafford County is $4000.
The original site was 7.5 acres, but when an adjacent 77 acre plot went into foreclosure, the association took a loan and brought the property. “We paid that land off early part of this year,” said Javed. “The balance of $10,000 was paid off by a Dr. Hussain who recently buried a relative.” Currently AMAA receives about 12 burial requests per month.
Association administration believes that the current 7.5 acres of land will be used by the end of 2015. To be able to continue to serve the community, the organization needs to develop and level the land and have it ready for burials by 2015. The development of this parcel of land includes surveys, county approval and construction.
Plans include a permanent restroom; presently, the cemetery has a portable restroom located next to the entrance. A consulting firm in Fredericksburg hired to make the site plan aims to have the plan ready by January. “ [We need to] expand the current cemetery, built a new wudu facility and prayer area. Eventually we want to make a building to pray the janaza, as well as a full fledged washing area. Ultimately offer a complete burial in as little [cost] as possible,” says Javed.
The cemetery has strict rules: loved ones of deceased are required to meet with a representative and sign forms. All burials have to be completed during daylight hours, as there is no arrangement for lighting at the cemetery. The cemetery does not reserve spots and the next available grave site in line is available for a burial. Enclosures, such as a fence, hedge, ditch, gravel, or shrubs are not permitted around any grave nor may mausoleums be erected on any grave.
"Visit the graves, for surely visiting the graves lessens worldly love and reminds you of the hereafter." Muslim
Over the years many improvements have been made to the site. A year ago, the parking lot pavement was filled with gravel for $35,000. In 2012, AMAA board members approved the asphalt paving of parking lot and the driveway/pathway to gravesites. To protect equipment and tools from severe weather, a shed was built for storage.
Last July AMAA Cemetery did not have water on site, so a community member from Mustafa Center donated money for a water well.
In May 2013, a local family donated walk stones to facilitate cemetery visitors. “On a rainy days, it gets really muddy and very inconvenient to walk around the cemetery.” Local youth organized a Facebook event and around 40 volunteers from Make Space and Al-Mustafa Center installed walk stones. “Every weekend 8-10 cars are parked; lots of people visit the cemetery,” explains Javed.
Due to inclement weather, AMAA postponed the December Stafford Cemetery fundraising event. The tentative date for the next fundraiser is set for April 20, 2014, aiming to raise 1.5 million dollars.
Javed says the association is happy with the support from the local community. “We visited all masajid in VA, selling tickets; [almost all] made special announcements and raising funds. We appreciate the support that community ha[s] given, that they trusted us. Given another chance we will not disappoint them. Thankful to God we don't have any debts and they always supported us; suggestions are welcome. We need your support.”
Donations can be sent to: All Muslim Association of America Inc., 4001 Sulgrave Drive, Alexandria, VA 22309
For burial service request contact AMAA's Operations Manager - Muhammad Khan via phone at 703-717-1851. The graveyard is located on 1112 Brooke Rd, Fredericksburg, VA 22405 A 24 hour notice is required before the announced burial time.