DUDLEY, Mass. — When Dr. Amjad Bahnassi, a psychiatrist who lives in the central Massachusetts city of Worcester, wants to visit his son’s grave, he braces for the drive to the Muslim burial ground in Enfield, Conn., about 60 miles away. It is the nearest cemetery devoted solely to Islamic burials — and, he said, it is filling up.
Dr. Bahnassi, the chairman of the board of the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester, knew the area’s Muslims needed a closer place to bury their dead. The group thought it had found one in rural Dudley, about half an hour away: a patch of more than 50 acres, past a sweet corn stand and deep blue ponds, where there is unused farmland and wetlands hidden from the road by trees and tangled bushes.
But the organization’s proposal to build a cemetery there became a lightning rod in this small town. It was denounced at meetings and ultimately turned down by the Zoning Board of Appeals, prompting charges of bigotry and drawing scrutiny from the United States attorney for Massachusetts, who announced a civil rights investigation on Aug. 18 into the town’s actions.
“I’ve been here since 1983,” Dr. Bahnassi, 56, a Syrian immigrant and an American citizen, said last week as he stood on the land. “I don’t deserve to die here?”
Officials insist that they have been unfairly portrayed as biased against the Muslims, and say the society did not have standing to seek a permit for the cemetery because of a provision giving the town the right of first refusal for the tract, which belongs to Annabelle Moninski, a private landowner.
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