More than 100 people of varying faiths and ethnicities packed a south metro township hall Monday evening to discuss a cemetery that people of Muslim faith hope to call their own.
Castle Rock Township in southern Dakota County held a public hearing regarding a conditional use permit for Al Maghfirah Cemetery, a planned Islamic cemetery that has seen attempted arson and vandalism over the last several years.
Holding signs that read "Hate has no home in our community" and "We support the Al Magfirah Cemetery," the majority of the standing-room-only crowd spoke in support of the changes to a conditional use permit (CUP) for the site.
The 73-acre cemetery in a rural area of the county would provide a final resting place for members of the Muslim community.
Amendments to the CUP asked for the construction of a space for a prayer room or mosque, space for bodies to be washed without chemicals or embalming, and to waive the requirement for metal or concrete vaults for burials. Organizers also hope to have no tree line blocking the property from view.
Many audience members spoke in support of Muslims' desire to naturally bury their family members — often as "green" burials, without using caskets — and with dignity and respect.
A handful of people expressed concerns that groundwater could be contaminated for those who drink from wells nearby. Other neighbors mentioned that the property has not been well kept in the years since it was purchased in 2014.
Council on American-Islamic Relations-MN Executive Director Jaylani Hussein, who has advocated for the cemetery since 2015, said there are few other burial options for the state's Muslim community.
"The Muslim community is growing, and the cemetery will serve that purpose to accommodate us. We currently have [one cemetery, in] Burnsville right now; there's no plans for another cemetery. This is it," Hussein said.
Other communities have many options to bury their loved ones with dignity and respect — and those communities do not experience violent pushback from the community, Hussein said.
When Bishara Mohamed's aunt died in April, her family went to the cemetery in Burnsville on a cold day to honor her life. She was Mohamed's first close family member to die, and she hoped to have adequate time to remember her life, she told the crowd.
"We had to rush through the ceremony, the burial, our prayer. We never really got to spend time and appreciate and pray for her enough because it was really cold for us," Mohamed said. "I just imagine what it would mean to have a room to take our time and pray for our family members."
The decision on the conditional use permits will be decided at a future Castle Rock Township planning committee meeting.