Standing shoulder to shoulder to say goodbye

  • Article by: Rochelle Olson
  • Star Tribune
  • August 11, 2007 - 6:41 PM

On a sweltering Saturday afternoon, about 100 men gathered in an open field to bury the remains of Sadiya Sahal, of St. Paul, and her 22-month-old daughter, Hana, who were both killed in the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.

"We need as a community to learn from this event," said Imam Abdisalam Adam of Dar Al-Hijrah Cultural Center in Minneapolis. "When the bridge collapsed, it did not ask for anybody's nationality. It did not ask if anybody was an immigrant. I hope that we live together as a community regardless of where we are from, regardless of our social status. That would be the best legacy."

Imam Hamdy El-Sawaf of Masjid Al-Ikhlas in Minneapolis spoke of how Sahal, 23, was training to be a nurse to serve the community. He spoke of a legacy of standing "hands in hands and shoulder to shoulder," helping each other. "We're one body. If part of that body would be aching, the whole body would be aching," he said.

The sedate ceremony began with the men in three rows facing the boxes with the two bodies. Imam Hassan Mohamed recited the Janaza, the burial prayer of supplication, as the ceremony began at an 8-acre part of the Burnsville cemetery called Garden of Eden that is reserved for Muslims.

A handful of Somali women stood across a cemetery road from the ceremony, watching. El-Sawaf said women are not allowed at Muslim funerals because they are more emotional than the men. The imam said the women tend to stay back at the mosque, reading the Qur'an for comfort.

Normally, custom dictates that Muslims are washed and buried within hours of death, but that wasn't possible because the bodies of Sadiya and Hana were trapped in the bridge wreckage in the Mississippi River for days after the Aug. 1 collapse.

As is Islamic custom, the bodies were carried in wooden boxes by groups of men to the two gravesites. A purple and green drape with verses of the Qur'an written on it covered Sadiya's box. Hana's smaller wooden box was carried to a part of the cemetery reserved for babies -- at the request of Sadiya's father, Ahmed Iidle of Minneapolis.

Sahal and her husband, Mohamed, were expecting their second child in four months. Funeral officials said he did not attend the service.

The bodies -- which were not embalmed -- were wrapped in white fabric shrouds. They were lifted from each box and placed on mechanical lifts, which lowered them into the ground as the men crowded closely around. As soon as the bodies were down, several men picked up shovels and filled the graves with dirt.

The bottom of the vaults were left open to the earth. The bodies were lowered on wooden trays full of large holes. The dirt floor and the holes allow the bodies to return to the earth as they decompose, said Mohamed Elakkad, the funeral director.

At Sahal's graveside, several imams recited favorite prayers and made comments -- some in the victim's native Somali tongue, some in English.

The ceremony was casual with the men -- some in traditional head wraps and tunics, others in dress pant and ties or jeans and T-shirts -- milling about and chatting among one another. "We consider everyone will die anyway so why make a big deal of it," Elakkad said.

As the event drew to a close, many of the men washed their feet and hands in fountains, then found patches of shade near the trees to begin mid- afternoon prayers.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 •

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