By Haroon Moghul
August 17, 2015
The tiny town of Farmersville, Texas --
population 3,300, mostly white and Christian -- is terrified. Why? Because
(dead) Muslims are coming!
A planned Muslim cemetery has provoked fear
and anger, prompting the heartland community to stage a town hall meeting to
address residents' anxieties. Local pastor David Meeks reportedly suspects the
cemetery is just a start, suggesting the Islamic Association of Collin County,
which supports plans for the burial ground, may actually be planning a
"mosque or madrasa training centre." Others are quoted as saying they
believe the cemetery will be a "training centre for militants."
The full list of concerns is astonishing.
I don't know what's harder to believe: That
so many people believe a cemetery could be swapped out for a militant training
centre without law enforcement noticing, or that radicals, regularly accused of
lying about their beliefs, would believe there is no other, better cover for a
jihadist camp than a Muslim cemetery?
The truth, of course, is less interesting.
As it almost always is.
The greater Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan
area is home to one of America's most vibrant Muslim communities and some of
America's most popular Muslim scholars. Indeed, the local Muslim population,
estimated at 22,000, is growing. But this is not because they're trying to take
over America. Instead, Muslims are coming to Texas for the same reason other
Americans are: low cost of living, nice weather and jobs. Lots and lots of
jobs. Maybe some of them also like the idea of well-regarded mosques and famous
imams. Regardless, their motives are very normal.
Unfortunately, it seems from recent events
in Farmersville that many locals find it hard to tell Muslims apart. Are they
radicals? Are they reasonable? How do we know for sure? How can we prove it?
All this could be simple bigotry, a kind of
obvious Islamophobia. But it also might be just unfamiliarity. Of course, the
same Americans who might confuse me for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi don't
mix up their neighbours with, for example, fellow Christian Vladimir Putin.
That's because most Americans know enough Christians to be able to distinguish
But when they don't know any Muslims? Well,
they might believe the worst. And that's the real story behind Farmersville:
People with little experience of diversity are suddenly confronted with it, and
react out of fear or misunderstanding. In contrast, what prejudice and search
engines give, familiarity takes away.
There's no legal hurdle to the Islamic
association's cemetery, so it's hard to see plans for the cemetery being nixed.
It will become part of Farmersville life, and so will Islam, just as it has
elsewhere in America.
Texas Muslims have children, and these
Texans will go to school with other Texans, and future generations will think
of Islam as just another faith. They'll know that when Muslims die, they prefer
to get buried. In their own cemeteries. "There isn't a clear verbal
Prophetic command, or Qur'anic verse," Mohamed Ghilan, a Canadian scholar
of Islam, explained to me, but "the Prophet Mohammed separated cemeteries
by religious affiliation," and Muslims continued to do so after him.
Years ago, I watched a heated anti-Muslim
protest outside New York. Most of the attendees were clearly from out of town,
and angry about the Muslims they'd never met but were sure were here to take
their country. For two hours, they railed and hollered. Famished by their
phobia, they made their way to the many food trucks parked on the opposite side
of the street, most of which were run by Muslims, serving Sharia compliant
food. It was almost too funny to be true. But the protesters didn't know any
better, the vendors were happy to turn a profit, and everybody left happy.
How can you not love this country?