Muslims ask for spot in Garden City cemetery

GARDEN CITY — Several leaders from the local Muslim community have made a request to Garden City officials that a section of Valley View Cemetery be dedicated to members of their faith.

Leaders from the Burmese, Somali and Ethiopian communities presented a letter to City Commissioner Nancy Harness last week during a meeting of the Coalition of Ethnic Minorities detailing their request to create a burial ground that is separate from the rest of the cemetery by a fence or other structure around the designated ground.

The leaders, who identified the number of Muslims in Garden City at about 500, said they also represent Arab and Eritrean families. They said they are exploring their options for burial grounds in the area.

Harness, who passed along the request to fellow commissioners during a public meeting this week, said that while she was surprised by it, she understood their concerns.

"I think they're excited about what they're finding here and want to stay and raise their families," Harness told commissioners, adding that, like everyone else, the Islamic community's burial needs need to be fulfilled.

An opportunity to accommodate the request might be possible, Harness said, because Valley View Cemetery in the north part of the city is expanding.

Jim Hahn, the city's cemetery sexton, could not say whether the request was a fair one to make to a municipality without more specific information.

"There are a lot of different religions out there, and we try to accommodate them as best we can while fitting in with our rules and regulations," he said.

Hahn added that there are about 15 smaller and private cemeteries around the county.

Mohamad Abdulkadir, a leader of the Somali community and part of the ethnic minorities coalition, said that two members of the Somali communities in Dodge City and Garden City who died over the past year were buried at a Muslim cemetery in Wichita. Abdulkadir could not say whether the cemetery was public or private.

"If they deny our request, maybe we can buy some land, but we're waiting to see what (the city officials) say," he said.

Manners, customs and styles of a Muslim grave site, burial and funerals vary by regional customs.