JOPLIN, Mo. —
A little girl viewing the ruins of the destroyed Islamic Society of Joplin mosque with an adult on Wednesday asked a heartbreaking question.
“Why did they burn it down?”
Other children, assisted by adults, gathered what pieces of a burned Quran, the Muslim holy book, they could find. They were surveying the destruction of Monday’s fire in advance of a news conference by members of the mosque and representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR is a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
The fire, reported about 3:30 a.m. Monday, is being called “suspicious” by authorities. A July 4 fire, which caused minor damage to the roof and for which there is surveillance video, was intentionally set. About 30 FBI agents, plus agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and investigators with the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department, are pursuing the investigation.
The mosque will be rebuilt, local Muslim officials said.
Those at the news conference appealed for Joplin to renew the spirit that was prevalent in response to the 2011 tornado in its response to the mosque fire.
Nihad Awad, CAIR executive director, said he wanted to reaffirm the group’s admiration for how Joplin responded to the tornado.
“They have shown the best of what America is,” he said of Joplin residents.
He said that spirit should be revived in the response to the mosque fire.
“In that spirit we’re coming together,” Awad said. “Joplin should be united. Joplin should not let anyone divide it.”
CAIR has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for Monday’s fire or the July 4 fire. The FBI and ATF have offered a $15,000 reward for the conviction of those responsible for the July 4 fire. It would be extended to the Monday fire if it is determined to be arson.
“This great community is not going to be taken by fear,” Awad said.
Awad said CAIR respects law enforcement and will allow authorities to do their jobs.
“Our community has every reason to believe this fire was deliberately set,” he said.
Hina Qidwai, a member of the Joplin mosque, told of the camaraderie among everyone in the aftermath of the tornado. The mosque was a host for workers from AmeriCorps, Catholic Charities and other groups and churches.
“The whole town came together,” Qidwai said. “Color didn’t matter. Culture didn’t matter. Religion didn’t matter. It was just humanity.”
She said the apparent deliberate destruction of the mosque has been unsettling for her.
“We didn’t expect it,” she said.