A Dallas Morning News columnist offered this take on the furor caused by a proposed Muslim cemetery in rural Texas:
FARMERSVILLE — There’s a Buddhist meditation center on the outskirts of town, and a Mormon church recently opened along Audie Murphy Parkway.
But it’s the prospect of an Islamic cemetery that has upset some residents in this Collin County city with a population of fewer than 4,000. In shops along the brick-lined streets of the quaint downtown area, many wonder, “Why Farmersville?”
“The concern for us is the radical element of Islam,” David J. Meeks, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, said of the Islamic Association of Collin County’s plan to build a cemetery west of the city.
While a cemetery seems benign enough, the pastor is convinced that it will be the start of a Muslim enclave in the heart of this rural community.
“They will expand,” Meeks said firmly. “How can we stop a mosque or madrassa training center from going in there?”
Keep reading, and the story delves into concerns about Muslim burial practices, quoting Khalil Abdur-Rashid, a spokesman for the Islamic association:
He said he wants people to have an accurate understanding of the project and is willing to meet with residents to discuss their concerns.
“There will be no type of religious services at the cemetery. We’re forbidden from saying prayers on a grave or a cemetery,” he said. “We must comply with all state and local regulations.”
Muslims do not embalm their dead. Instead, he said, bodies are washed in warm water at the funeral home.
Embalming is not required by state law, according to the Texas Funeral Service Commission.
Abdur-Rashid, who teaches Islam at Southern Methodist University, said shrouded bodies are placed in coffins, which are entombed in concrete vaults and placed 6 to 7 feet underground.
“That is our burial practice, and that’s what we’ll follow in Farmersville,” he said.
I wish the Morning News had provided more details on the theology behind Abdur-Rashid's statement that saying prayers on a grave or cemetery is forbidden.
But in general, the Dallas newspaper does a nice job of reflecting the various voices in Farmersville and giving the Islamic association spokesman an opportunity to address concerns raised by residents.
I found myself wondering what people in that small town think of the concept of religious freedom: Do they support it for everybody? Or just for folks who believe what they do? This news story doesn't address such questions.
While relying mainly on quotes from other news organizations — including the Morning News — an Associated Press story on Farmersville does touch on religious freedom:
From the AP story:
"There's just a basic concern or distrust about the cemetery coming into town," said Mayor Joe Helmberger, who calls the townspeople's worries unwarranted.
He said the cemetery would be approved as long as the town's development standards are met, pointing out that the U.S. was founded on religious freedom and that the association is simply trying to secure a burial site.
The mayor seems to have a solid grasp of the First Amendment.
The rest of the community? I'm not so sure. Stay tuned.