10:05 - July 04, 2020
News ID: 3471871
TEHRAN (IQNA) – More than two dozen religious, political and community leaders gathered Friday morning, before noon prayer at the American Moslem Society mosque in Dearborn, US state of Michigan, to call attention to a legal fight with nearby Woodmere Cemetery.


At issue, the mosque — the oldest in Michigan — said the 150-year-old cemetery is preventing Muslims from being buried there and seeking to take advantage of them.

And, its religious leaders added, it's affecting Muslims throughout the state.

"All we want from the new management that came into Woodmere Cemetery in 2018 is to treat our community with respect," said Mahdi Ali, the president of the mosque's board. "We don't want anything more than that."

The mosque filed a Wayne County Circuit Court lawsuit in May against the cemetery's owner, Midwest Memorial Group, accusing the limited liability company of breach of contract and violating state law.

This week, the American Human Rights Council added its voice to the conflict.

"Woodmere Cemetery has trampled on the good faith of our community," Imad Hamad, the council's executive director, said, adding that the cemetery "reneged on its solemn promise, more than a contract, to allow our families to be near their cherished loved ones."

Woodmere — which was closed Friday, when most companies were observing the 4th of July holiday — could not be reached for a response.

The Free Press also called the cemetery late Thursday afternoon, but the person who answered the phone said the office was closed, and quickly ended the call and hung up.


Desire to rest in peace

For decades, the American Moslem Society said it has had a business arrangement with the cemetery. It would purchase grave spaces and resell them — at cost — to its members and their families.

Over the years, the mosque says it purchased more than 2,000 plots in two areas, and in 2017, the mosque agreed to buy 1,000 more graves in a third area of the cemetery.

Of the 1,000 new spaces, the mosque says it paid $388,750 for 622 of them.

But now, during the pandemic, the mosque's lawsuit said, the cemetery will not allow bodies to be buried in those spaces, arguing its purchase contract requires the mosque to pay for all the graves before it can access any of them.

The mosque's attorney, Steven Cohen, counters no such clause exists and that position is a pretense to negotiate a new contract — and inflate the price of the grave spaces.

The mosque also argues that this is "particularly egregious" because the Muslim community is "extraordinarily tight-knit" and "places a high premium on having loved ones buried in close proximity" to each other and their mosque.

Imam Mohammad Mardini, of the American Muslim Center in Dearborn, said Friday he remembers burying his father-in-law in 1994 in the mosque's third burial spot — and since then has helped put to rest hundreds of other people's loved ones there.

"Muslims from all over are united here," he said. "They want to rest in peace."


Dispute considered a breach of trust

The Dearborn mosque, established in 1938, is among the oldest in North America, growing from a small house to a 48,000-square-foot building.

It is directly across the street from the cemetery.

James Vernor, the inventor of Vernors ginger ale; David Whitney, a 19th Century lumber baron who built a mansion that is now a Detroit restaurant, and Hamilton Carhartt, the founder of his namesake clothing brand, also are buried there.

But, the mosque's members say, there's a big difference in how the grounds are maintained and landscaped in the areas where prominent Detroit families are buried and the areas where the Muslims are laid to rest.

In the areas where the Muslim families are buried, the ground is muddy when it rains and bare when it is sunny.

"The situation at hand is not a mere inconvenience, but is interference in the timely, sacred burial rites of Dearborn Muslims," said Dawud Walid, the executive director of the Michigan Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "Woodmere Cemetery has apparently breached the community's trust."

After the gathering, Mohamad Yahya visited his father, who came to America from Yemen in the 1970s, and, in January, was buried alongside hundreds of other Muslims in Woodmere Cemetery in Dearborn.

But, he said, the grave is still missing a marker.

"I wish he could get more service," Yahya, 59, said. "But what can I do?"



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