A proposal to turn 55 acres of unused farmland into a Muslim cemetery has led to community protest in rural Massachusetts. The small town of Dudley, MA saw several hundred people turn out to a community public hearing to discuss the proposal. At the hearing, residents expressed displeasure with the development proposed by the Islamic Society of Greater Worchester, which would see the community group purchase and build a cemetery on the site of the former dairy farm. Currently Muslims in Dudley have to travel over an hour and a half to the nearest cemetery, the Enfield Street Cemetery in Connecticut. The development of this cemetery would reduce this to 30 minutes. Khalid Khan Sadozi, the President of the Islamic Society of Greater Worchester has expressed the need of the Muslim community, for these plans to go ahead, “There’s a really great need for us to find a local burial place.”
Several residents expressed that their opposition to the proposed 16,000 plot cemetery was grounded in sanitation and hygiene concerns, rather than religious prejudice. One resident, Desiree Maninski expressed concern that traditional Islamic burial practices could contaminate water sources in the area:
Despite the assurances made by Mr Sadozi at the hearing, that local town customs would not be compromised, residents remained opposed to the proposal, and the attorney for the society’s comment that the Zoning board could not deny the necessary permits on religious grounds elicited widespread booing from the crowd.
The proposed constructions of Mosques and Islamic community centres have been met with similar community opposition across the United States and other Western countries such as Australia. The virulent reaction towards the creation Muslim spaces and community projects remains a reflection of widespread Islamophobic sentiment. In small town Massachussets, emotions similarly run raw over the prospect of Muslims being allowed to carry out traditional burials, a practice that is universally held sacred.