Delaware’s only Muslim cemetery can resume burials after cease-and-desist order lifted

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The Islamic Cemetery of Delaware. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Islamic Cemetery of Delaware. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer is temporarily lifting a cease-and-desist order for the first Islamic cemetery in Delaware.

The move clears the way for burying an infant.

Members of the Muslim community met with Meyer after the county issued a cease-and-desist order, and following complaints from nearby residents.

Following the first burial at the cemetery in Port Penn, residents contacted state Rep. Kevin Hensley about “suspicious activity” in the area. Hensley wrote on Facebook on Feb. 28 about the emails and phone calls he received, stating the site was not permitted as a cemetery.

County officials said Wednesday the site is approved for cemetery usage, but that a cease and desist order was issued last week because it doesn’t meet traffic safety requirements and was operating without a permit. The site is located on a cornfield with only one path across. There is no parking lot or driveway, and there are no shoulders on the road. Conducting a burial during a cease and desist could have resulted in a fine.

But Meyer has agreed to lift the cease and desist to accommodate the burial of a 1-year-old girl. Her father Malik Gordon said the infant was diagnosed with a heart defect and lung disease when she was born and has been on life support ever since. Doctors have recommended removing life support this week, he said.

“There is no Muslim cemetery in the state of Delaware right now,” Meyer said to reporters after meeting with Gordon and other members of the state’s Muslim community. “It has been a valid concern of the Muslim community for an extended period of time.”

“Unfortunately, today we’re here with Brother Malik who is facing a tragic situation with one of his children where it looks like they will need a Muslim burial ground this Friday,” Meyer added.

Meyer said he’s lifting the cease-and-desist order for “humanitarian reasons,” on condition the traffic concerns will be addressed. Representatives from the cemetery said they’re working with DelDOT to pave a driveway and parking spaces.

“The next step is to follow the site regulations, and to work in harmony with the community so there won’t be any misconceptions,” said Imam Muhammad Salaam of the Muslim Center of Wilmington and a community outreach specialist for New Castle County.

Typically, a site use application must be completed before the land is used for that purpose, but the county has the discretion to make exceptions, Meyer said.

Lifting the cease and desist order means Gordon’s daughter will have a traditional Islamic burial. In the Muslim faith, burials are required to happen between 24 and 72 hours of death. Having access to an Islamic cemetery also means loved ones can go through traditional rituals like washing and wrapping the body locally.

In absence of a Muslim cemetery in Delaware, the only other options are to drive more than an hour to the nearest site in South Jersey or opt for a non-Muslim burial ground.

“Going to a different cemetery and knowing this is a Christian ceremony or we have to do other things to bury our loved ones, it’s a hassle,” Gordon said.

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