In the rural town of Dudley, Massachusetts, a cemetery has been proposed. People who live close to the land the cemetery is to be built on are opposed to it. The concerns voiced primarily focus on environmental impact of the cemetery due to burial practices and potential contamination of local wells. The agreed upon conditions by the organization attempting to build the cemetery however, seem to placate these concerns. They are quoted as saying “the group will comply with whatever the town wants when it comes to burials, even if it means not strictly following tradition”. Yet there is still opposition to the construction of the cemetery.
While there is “no law in Massachusetts that directly address green burials”, people have still taken issue with a cemetery located within the proximity of the wells they rely on adjacent to the property. A hearing was held in accordance with Massachusetts law, and many residents turned up to protest the cemetery plans, however the final approval lies in the hands of the town and the Board of Health, who’s job it is to make a final and informed decision about how best to protect the residents’ health. Despite comments from the town suggesting that the cemetery will move forward, people are still upset.
If this was the entire story, it seems likely it would come to a quiet end with the Board of Health approval, given the assumption that residents trust their government and Board of Health officials. The aspect of the story that is not represented above however is that the proposed cemetery is being brought forth by the Islamic Center of Greater Worcester. Despite the assurances from the organization that they will comply with town policies and laws surrounding safe burial, and that they are willing to adapt burial practices to satisfy concerns in the town, opposition remains.
It seems the only other substantive concern residents and abutters have is a question of whether there will be noise pollution. One attendee asked whether “he was going to have to listen to “crazy music” like the call to prayer.”
Sadly, what is left seems to be a simmering anxiety based on poorly understood cultural practices and a series of statements it is hard to categorize as anything other than racism and xenophobia. The debate in Dudley echoes almost identically a number of other challenges to Muslim cemeteries in the U.S., for instance in Walpole, MA and in Farmersville, TX, which have mainly cited claims that there is a risk to local water supplies, and many residents’ insistence that the opposition is not at all based in religious prejudices.
In response to the concerns, the president of the Islamic Center of Greater Worcester Khalid Sadozai stated “We are the residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We want to bury our loved ones somewhere in Massachusetts area.”
At the time of this writing, neither the Islamic Center of Greater Worcester, nor the Dudley Board of Health, nor the Dudley Water Department, nor the Dudley Zoning Board, nor Dudley Police Chief could be reached for comment.