And Tobit Wept

Khalil Abdur-Rashid, a spokesperson for the Islamic Association of Collin County

Khalil Abdur-Rashid, a spokesperson for the Islamic Association of Collin County

From Rod Dreher comes this story of citizens in Farmersville, Texas telling Muslims they don’t want them burying their dead there:

The Islamic Association of Collin County purchased 34 acres to develop a cemetery in the sleepy burg of Farmersville because the closest Muslim burial ground is rapidly running out of space.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area already has three Muslim cemeteries, all developed and run for years without incident.

Residents in this town of 3,400 about 45 miles northeast of Dallas packed a community meeting on Tuesday night arranged by Farmersville city officials, who tried to convince locals there was nothing to fear and the planned religious burial ground will meet state standards.

Many were doubtful.

Resident Barbara Ashcraft told the Dallas Morning News after the meeting: “People don’t trust Muslims. Their goal is to populate the United States and take it over.”

There were a few who spoke out in support, but the reactions were overwhelming negative, with others other saying:

“I don’t like your religion, and I don’t even classify it as a religion,” said one man who spoke at the meeting.

“And you’re not part of our community.” [There are 22,000 Muslims in the area]

Death and burial customs are one of my interests, and one of the works of mercy we’re called to do. Tobit was judged a righteous man for burying the dead at great risk to himself. Maybe these attitudes are what we get from Protestants removing books from the Bible: they lose a beautiful example of righteousness.

I wrote about this at length when some tyrants and bigots wanted to deny a burial to marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev:

Why does Tobit do it, particularly as such great risk to himself? He makes it quite clear: it’s a central act of charity. He does three things that are righteous: gives bread to the hungry, clothes the naked, buries the dead (Tobit 1:17).

Are any of these beginning to sound a bit familiar? Because you’ve been ordered to do them, too:

  • Feed the hungry.
  • Clothe the naked.
  • Bury the dead.
  • Give drink to the thirsty.
  • Give sheltered to the homeless.
  • Visit the sick.
  • Ransom the captive.

You’ll note the name of these acts–corporal works of mercy–comes from the Latin root corpus, for body, the source of the English word corpse.

There’s nothing in there about “burying the nice folks.” The command to bury the unrighteous is partly a matter of preventing contamination of the land, but it’s also interpreted as something due to any human created in the image of God. (I’ve written a whole series on how bodies and burial were handled in ancient Israel: a major focus of my study during a semester on the OT. This entry in particular summarizes Jewish attitudes toward the dead from a Biblical perspective.)

Mortality entered the world through sin. The person who handled the dead was therefore in the realm of death and sin. That’s why the person handling a corpse is considered impure for a time, but is also considered righteous. They are cleaning up the mess made by the sin of man, and in a very real sense doing close battle with that sin. It takes courage. It takes faith.

Read the rest, and let’s not be like these people. Let’s try to be better Christians. Let’s be like Tobit.