“When a bereaved person walks through the gates of our cemetery with their loved one, they are full of emotions and under stress. When they leave the cemetery they should have some amount of peace and tranquillity in their heart and in their mind. They should feel that they have left their loved one in a peaceful place. This is something that has been very central in the ethos of our cemetery.”
Founded in 2002, the Gardens of Peace Muslim cemetery is located in a green belt area in the town of Ilford, London. Beautifully landscaped and purpose-built, the cemetery is a calm, comforting space for the local Muslim community to bury and remember their loved ones. This year, Gardens of Peace won Cemetery of the Year at the Good Funeral Awards. Mohamed Omer, a board member for Gardens of Peace, explains what makes this cemetery special:
“The way that we have set up the cemetery is conscious of the fact that we are in a green belt, and we made sure that the cemetery was environmentally friendly. Each and every aspect of the cemetery is done in such a manner that it takes account of the neighbours, the environment, the vegetation, and the various natural species which are around. It is extremely tranquil.”
Apart from the beautiful natural surroundings, what you might notice about Gardens of Peace, compared to a Christian graveyard, is that each and every grave is the same. The effect is quite striking; rows upon rows of simple, dignified graves marked with a mound and small plaque.
“We believe that God made each and every one of us the same. This is the only cemetery in the whole of the country, which has actually put that into practice. You will see that each and every grave is identical. There is no notion of a difference between a rich person, or a person of a different culture, or any special treatment. Here everyone is the same – you came into this world with nothing and you go back with nothing, except your deeds. This is what we have tried to practice in the cemetery.
“It is not permitted in our religion to step on graves, and that is why you will see there is a small mound, which resembles the hump of a camel, so that people know there is a grave there. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, if you are of the Christian faith, most people are reluctant to walk on a grave. The same applies to us except that we put it into practice.”
But Gardens of Peace is more than just a final resting place. As Mohamed explains, the cemetery works with the community and bereavement support groups to offer ongoing help to Muslims grieving after the death of a loved one.
“From a religious point of view, we always say that our place in this world is temporary and that we have been sent into this world to prepare for a life of eternity. So the concept of death within Islam is not something to be frightened of, but it is a reality that people should be able to accept. You need to ensure that you accept the will of God and exercise patience.
“But, at the end of the day, we are human beings and we have emotions. Therefore, how do we deal with these emotions? There was a gap in this particular field. So two years ago we at Gardens of Peace set up the Muslim Bereavement Support Service. This service is particularly aimed at women who have had a stillbirth, neonatal death or a child death. This is one group of individuals who have not really been supported effectively.
“I have no hesitation in mentioning that there are cultural issues among the African community and the Asian community whereby they do not look very favourably on a woman who has a stillbirth or gives birth to a disabled child. Some of them really do not understand. They almost think that the woman is inadequate.
“This attitude has no place in Islam, it has no place in any religion, or in humanity for that matter. This is cultural and this is why we decided that we would provide the support so that the woman does not feel vulnerable, she does not feel alienated and she does not feel that people are picking on her.
“What we decided was very simple: we retrained our volunteers, working with Sands UK, Child Bereavement UK and Cruse, and trained them up from that perspective. Then we added on the dimension from the Islamic perspective of how you should deal with bereavement. So we offer this unique service which will offer both emotional and religious support to a person who has had a bereavement. It is a completely free service to the individual concerned, either face-to-face, or with telephone support. This is where we come from and what we have done at the Gardens of Peace.”