By Roger McKinney
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Some local Christians and others who attended an event Saturday at the Islamic Society of Joplin mosque said they are saddened and dismayed about the fire that destroyed the mosque Monday morning.
Authorities are calling the fire suspicious. A July 4 fire that caused minor damage to the roof of the mosque was labeled an arson fire.
Lahmuddin, the mosque’s imam, had invited members of local Christian churches and the United Hebrew Congregation on Saturday to share with Muslims a Ramadan meal and information about their religions.
Ramadan is the Muslim holy month, in which adherents fast from sunrise to sunset
Some of those attending said Lahmuddin provided a brief informational talk about Islam, before breaking the Ramadan fast with a halal meal, one prepared according to the strictures of Islam. The group also observed the Muslims as they participated in prayer.
‘CHILDREN OF GOD’
Richard Massa, a member of First Community Church, said he and his wife, Teresa, were greeted warmly by the mosque’s members. He said the men and women ate in separate rooms, and they both enjoyed the food and conversation.
“It was an interesting evening of conversation, of people getting acquainted with one another, of sharing our beliefs,” Massa said. “We watched their customs and ate their food.”
They also enjoyed seeing the happy children running around and playing, he said.
Jill Michel, pastor of South Joplin Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), also attended.
“We really felt the sense of connection across faiths,” she said of the Saturday event.
The Rev. Frank Sierra, of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, called Saturday’s gathering “a great event.”
“Instead of labeling people, we get to see them as fellow human beings — children of God — and that breaks down a lot of walls,” he said.
All were unanimous about their support for members of the Muslim community in their time of hardship and their outrage over the burning of the mosque.
“This is a threat to a group of law-abiding citizens in our midst,” said Paul Teverow, with the United Hebrew Congregation, who was at Saturday’s gathering and was at the mosque to offer condolences Monday morning. “The people of Joplin should share the same sense of outrage.”
He said such incidents are something much deeper when a place of worship is destroyed.
“I just feel a lot sadder,” he said.
He said ties between the mosque and synagogue go back many years, and that the connection would continue.
“This strikes very close to us,” he said. “They’re our extended family.”
Michel echoed the sentiment.
“They’re our brothers and sisters,” she said. “These are caring and compassionate people who are making a difference in our community. Their grief must be ours. It just has to be. That’s what our faith tells us.”
She said she was working to determine how to respond.
“How can we stand with them?” Michel said. “That’s the question I will be exploring today.”
‘A TERRIBLE BLOT’
Massa said he and his wife were “utterly dismayed.”
“We just think it’s a terrible blot on the community, and an example of deep prejudice and bigotry on the part of someone,” he said.
Sierra, with St. Philip’s, said he needed to talk with the church’s governing body, but he was hoping to offer the church as a place for the Muslims to meet and worship.
“I’m terribly saddened,” he said. “It’s senseless.”
He said he didn’t know how anyone could think such an act could be of any benefit.
“I just don’t understand it,” he said.
Sierra said there’s one thing he knows he will do: pray.
“I’ll offer prayerful support of the community as I hope they’ll seek to rebuild,” he said. “And I’ll continue to both publicly and prayerfully seek to end this kind of hatred among people.”
Syed Ahmed, president of the Islamic Society of Southeast Kansas mosque, north of Pittsburg, also was at Saturday’s interfaith outreach. He said his mosque would invite members of the Joplin mosque to participate in Eid al-Fitr, a celebration of the end of Ramadan in two weeks.
Also Monday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in Monday’s fire. It also is calling for increased police protection at all houses of worship after the fire and Sunday’s deadly shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
Council spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said many hate groups are fueling incidents like those in Joplin. He named Act for America, Stop Islamization of America and Jihad Watch.
“It goes hand-in-hand with a well-funded and well-coordinated campaign to demonize Muslims in America,” Hooper said. “This hate will inevitably have consequences.”
ASADULLAH AHMED, a member of the Islamic Society of Joplin, said Monday afternoon that local Muslims would temporarily worship at the imam’s house until a more suitable space can be found.