RELIGION

Criticism remains as town gives early OK for Muslim cemetery

An Islamic association has again received permission from a North Texas town to move forward with plans for a Muslim cemetery despite vehement opposition from some residents seeking to block the project.

Officials in Farmersville, northeast of Dallas, approved a conceptual plan Monday for the cemetery just outside the town.

Town spokesman Michael Sullivan, who's also the police chief, said the Islamic Association of Collin County two years ago presented a similar plan but never moved forward with a more detailed proposal, causing its earlier application to lapse.

A board member for the association explains the group was busy working with the town on modifications to the project. Shumsur Rahman said, for instance, that the approximately 35-acre site now would have two entrances for vehicles rather than just one, and its roadways would be wider.

"We're optimistic that as long as we follow the rules and regulations, there's no reason why it can't happen," Rahman said of the project.

Muslim leaders say there are some five Muslim cemeteries in North Texas and they have little remaining space. State rules limit where a new cemetery can be placed and Muslim officials say Farmersville was one of the few options open to the association. The Farmersville land would offer up to 15,000 burial sites.

But suspicious residents say the cemetery would be a prelude to a mosque or a training center that would allow extremists into the region.

"There's been some terrible, drastic things that have happened in the world through radical Islamic terrorism and any thought of that coming to our community just brings and harbors an anxiousness that we're concerned with," David Meeks, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, told KXAS-TV in Dallas.

Others are more direct with their criticism.

"I oppose the Muslim religion," resident Jack Hawkins told KXAS. "If I had my way I would outlaw it in America."

Concerns over Muslim cemeteries gained national attention in 2010 when the town of Sidney Center in New York voted to investigate how Muslims were burying their dead. The issue was quickly dropped after local leaders received widespread criticism.

Many residents of Farmersville, a predominantly white community of approximately 3,500 residents about 35 miles northeast of Dallas, are pushing their leaders to take a similar stand.

Some oppose the project because it would attract Muslims, while others expressed concern that Muslim burial practices — Muslims traditionally don't bury their dead in caskets — would present health risks for residents.

But the association has previously said it will comply with state rules and shrouded bodies would be placed in caskets and entombed in vaults underground. Plans for the cemetery, leaders say, have more to do with "human dignity" than religion.

Sullivan said as the latest plan moves forward, public hearings will be held before any final approval would be granted.