The 100-acre plot of land on New Design Road in Frederick owned by an area waqf, or endowment, was purchased in 2001 with the intention of building a mosque.
According to Mohammad Sayed, a member of the waqf's board of trustees, those plans were quickly dashed when the endowment discovered they would not be able to use a nearby water pipeline -- a situation that owners of neighboring properties face as well.
The waqf, made up of mosque members from Frederick, Hagerstown and Gaithersburg, conferred and finally decided in 2003 to build a cemetery that could be used by area Muslims to be buried according to Islamic tradition, Sayed said.
A local physician was the first to be buried in 2006, and about 90 more people have since been interred at Al-Firdaus Memorial Gardens, he said.
The cemetery takes up about 10 acres of the parcel, Sayed said. Simple plates with the person's name and life span designate the modest graves packed tightly into a flat field overlooking neighboring farms.
Al-Firdaus translates to mean the highest level of heaven, where the Prophet Muhammad and other martyrs are believed to reside, said Waleed Beidas, chairman of the Islamic Society of Frederick's waqf committee.
Before the cemetery, local Muslims were sometimes buried in a plot at the Maryland National Memorial Park in Laurel or elsewhere. On other occasions, family members had the bodies flown overseas to be buried in their homelands, Beidas said.
According to Islamic practice, after a person dies they must be buried fast -- on the same day if possible, he said.
Having the local cemetery has been a tremendous convenience for many Muslims in Maryland and surrounding states, he said.
Recently, an African woman who had never previously visited the United States came to the area to celebrate her daughter's college graduation, died on the same day and was buried at the cemetery, Beidas said.
"It's a blessing from Allah who made it easy for us to have this," he said.
There are no rituals associated with Islamic burial, Beidas said, though traditionally prayers are said, the body is washed and family members lower the body into the grave without embalming it or putting it into a casket.
The bodies also must face Mecca -- toward the northeast, he said.
Typically, those who wish to visit a grave site say prayers and visit for a short time, Beidas said.
The site is open from about 7:30 a.m. -- the time of morning prayers or fajr -- to about sunset or evening prayers, known as maghrib.
Waqf members have been discussing plans for the remaining acreage for years that could include a nursing home, an Islamic school, a retreat or a business park, though nothing has been decided, Sayed said.