Rock Hill, SC
In September of 2013, Masjid As-Salam of the Islamic Center of South Carolina opened as the first mosque in Rock Hill, SC. Rock Hill is the fourth-largest city in the Charlotte metropolitan area. Two years later, the Islamic Center of South Carolina proposed building a cemetery to meet the needs of Rock Hill’s growing Muslim community. The project was spearheaded by Nazir Cheema, a decade-long Rock Hill resident. Cheema and other Rock Hill Muslims proposed the cemetery project on Bird Street near Anderson Road. However, the project required a zoning exception because the property was in an area zoned residential. The Muslim community petitioned the city for a variance utilizing the Complementary Use designation, which would allow for the property to be used as a religious site. Although city officials had supported the request, the Zoning Board of Appeals rejected the petition at its public meeting on July 21, 2015.
The project met with fierce public opposition at the July Zoning Board of Appeals meeting. Rock Hill residents cited concerns about traffic, property value, neighborhood character, and Muslim burial practices. A resident was reported asking “what would happen behind a Mulsim cemetery fence” (Dys, 2015, Jul 29). Opponents also presented a petition with 28 signatures to the Zoning Board of Appeals. The application ultimately failed and was denied on a split vote (3-3). Questions about the board's decision remained because an exception for religious structures, schools, and playgrounds in residential zoning districts is frequently granted. For example, the city had previously approved a Catholic church’s columbarium in close proximity to the proposed site (ibid.). Aware of potential legal challenges under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the Zoning Board had conferred with legal counsel behind closed doors prior to the final vote.
Following the denial, Nazir Cheema questioned the board’s decision saying, “What I heard here was that we are Americans and have rights, but we as Muslims do not have the right to bury our dead” (Dys, 2015, Jul 29). He added, “If this cemetery did not have the word Muslim, it would have been different. Are we not Americans? Do we not love America? Yes, we do” (ibid.). The Council on American-Islamic Relations followed the controversy and offered support in case the Muslim community decided to pursue a legal challenge. Despite their disappointment and unanswered questions about the board’s decision, the Muslim community decided not to appeal the board's decision to the Circuit Court. In 2016, city officials assisted the Muslim community in securing a different piece of property on Blackmon Street zoned for commercial use. The Islamic Society of South Carolina acquired the land and received approval for cemetery use without any public or administrative opposition (Dys, 2017, Jun 18). The new plot on Blackmon Street has woods on two sides and homes behind trees on two sides. Construction on the site began in 2017, and a fence was put between the homes and the cemetery as a courtesy to the neighbors. The Islamic Center of South Carolina currently maintains the cemetery.
- Dys, A. (2015, July 29). Rock Hill Muslims: Cemetery buried by city not dead yet. The Herald (Rock Hill, SC), p. 3A. Available from NewsBank.
- Dys, A. (2017, June 18). Neighbors, zoning no longer roadblocks. Rock Hill's first Muslim cemetery to open. The Herald (Rock Hill, SC), p. 1A. Available from NewsBank.