My grandfather, Joseph Tedesco, passed away when I was 15 years old. I remember his burial – the first in my life – like it was yesterday. Family and friends of all backgrounds gathered in a beautiful cemetery in Newton, Massachusetts. As you can imagine, it was a difficult moment for everyone in attendance. Tears flowed. The air was filled with grief. It was a real human experience. Everyone leaned on each other for support. We needed that moment to cope and get by. Those kind of “send offs” in cemeteries are crucial. For starters, we must say goodbye to loved ones in a way that honors them. Secondly, proper burials allow those who are still alive to come to terms with the difficult reality that life is not eternal.
Not too far from Newton is a small town called Dudley. On the site of a long-idle dairy farm, Muslim leaders of a local mosque are hoping to build a cemetery – a final resting place – for about 500 local Muslim families. Anyone with an open heart and a bit of compassion will understand why building a burial ground is important to these Muslims, who by the way are our fellow citizens and human beings!
I certainly hope this Muslim community is successful in achieving their goal, though it seems that locals are working to stop the construction of the burial ground out of fear of Islam. Unfortunately, the opposition is strong, and their arguments are ridiculous. One resident, as CBS News reports, said he worried he would have to put up with “crazy music” like the adhan, or Islamic call to prayer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, what is happening in Dudley is not an isolated event. Similar sentiments have been expressed by people in communities around the country where Muslim cemeteries have been proposed, including Farmersville, Texas; Carlisle, Pennsylvania; and Farmington, Minnesota. As CBS News again reports, in some cases, opponents have succeeded in defeating the new cemetery projects.
I now teach at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Farmersville is about a three hour drive from my home. Christians in Farmersville were openly hostile during meetings on a proposal to build a Muslim cemetery on a 35-acre site just outside the city. During a meeting to discuss this burial ground, one Farmersville man yelled “You’re not welcome here!” A local resident named Barbara Ashcraft, who also attended the meeting, is on record stating: “People don’t trust Muslims. Their goal is to populate the United States and take it over.”
In short, people do not trust Muslims and even fear them in death.
Islamophobia has reached an all-time low (or shall I say high?) in the United States. Anti-Muslim sentiment is so rife that non-Muslims do not even want Muslims to bury their dead family members near them. Think about that for a second. Forget about sharia, ISIS, homegrown terrorists and other buzz words used by media to promote Islamophobia. We are talking about giving people the ability to bury their dead family members. This kind of Islamophobia highlights the complete and utter dehumanization of Muslims in the United States. People are making Muslim Americans out to be less than human and hence not worthy of humane treatment.
I wish I did not have to write this, and I hope this is not condescending, but let us actually humanize Muslims for a change. They have families. They love. They have hearts. They have souls. They cry. They have memories. They need to grieve. They need places to go to reconnect to previous moments in time.
Muslims in Dudley and elsewhere must be given the right to bury their dead with peaceful dignity. This is called showing basic human decency. It is called loving our neighbors, for you Christians out there. We can also call it love of humanity. Dudley – and the United States broadly speaking – needs more of it.