Residents of the quiet, rural town of Dudley, Massachusetts, are up in arms over plans to build a Muslim cemetery on 55 acres of old farmland. Hundreds of people turned out for a public hearing last week to raise their concerns.
“I am very against this cemetery going in and don’t see why it has to come to little old Dudley,” Gail Donahue said at the meeting, according to WBUR, a Boston NPR affiliate.
Muslims typically bury the dead quickly after the individual has died, but the closest Muslim cemetery currently sits 90 minutes away in Connecticut. The local Islamic center has purchased farmland just 20 minutes away. The cemetery proposal includes 16,000 plots.
“There’s really a great need for us to find a local burial place,” Khalid Khan Sadozai, the president of the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester, said.
Dudley Zoning Board of Appeals hearing at capacity. Board considering special use permit for building cemetery pic.twitter.com/O1wSHLmCF1
— Andy Mattison (@AndynewsTV3) February 5, 2016
Many residents said their concerns were not over the religious affiliation of the cemetery, but rather because the area has private wells and wetlands. Muslims typically bury corpses shrouded in white cloth and without a casket.
“You can Google and see how they bury and it’s just, it’s not a pretty sight, it’s not a pretty sight,” Michael Roche, a neighbor of the property, said. “And I don’t think it’s safe at all.”
Khan Sadozai said at the forum Thursday night that his community would be willing to abide by local town customs, including burying the dead in caskets and vaults. But that didn’t seem to alleviate concerns among many residents.
“Why not go bury your dead at a Christian cemetery,” Jarrod Manzi asked during the meeting. “Why do you need your own cemetery if you’re willing to violate jihadi law.”
An attorney for the Muslim community said that the zoning board could not deny a permit based on the cemetery’s religious affiliation. The crowd responded with booing.
Cemeteries have in the past sparked protest elsewhere in the country. In July last year, a small Texas town of 3,000 in Collin County protested a proposed Muslim cemetery, citing similar concerns over Islamic burial customs. Mosques too have routinely raised concerns and protest, particularly in small towns.