Tensions boil in Texas town over planned cemetery for Muslims

By Marice Richter

DALLAS (Reuters) - Plans for a cemetery for Muslims on the outskirts of a small North Texas town have sparked a backlash among some local residents who said they fear it will bring radical Islam and terrorism to their doorsteps.

The Islamic Association of Collin County purchased 34 acres to develop a cemetery in the sleepy burg of Farmersville because the closest Muslim burial ground is rapidly running out of space.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area already has three Muslim cemeteries, all developed and run for years without incident.

Residents in this town of 3,400 about 45 miles northeast of Dallas packed a community meeting on Tuesday night arranged by Farmersville city officials, who tried to convince locals there was nothing to fear and the planned religious burial ground will meet state standards.

Many were doubtful.

Resident Barbara Ashcraft told the Dallas Morning News after the meeting: "People don't trust Muslims. Their goal is to populate the United States and take it over."

Local Islamic leaders said residents' outrage reflects unwarranted paranoia of Muslims.

"Islamophobia is out there and it is real," said Alia Salem, executive director of the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations.

Collin County is home to about 22,000 Muslims, the largest concentration in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Muslims are drawn to northeast Dallas County and Collin County because of the area’s concentration of technology companies and abundance of professional jobs.

"Muslims are doctors, engineers, lawyers,” said Khalid Hamideh, a spokesman for the Islamic Association of North Texas. "They are the kind of people anyone would want as neighbors."

Hamideh said the reaction of some Farmersville residents toward the cemetery is distrust of outsiders fueled by events such as one in May in nearby Garland where two gunmen were shot dead after they opened fire at an art contest that featured caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad, something considered offensive to Muslims.

At the meeting, Farmersville Mayor Joe Helmberger also tried to knock down rumors of a Mosque or Islamic training center being built along with the cemetery.

A city decision on the cemetery has not been set.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Maria Garza in Dallas; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Leslie Adler)