JOPLIN, Mo. —
Though their mosque was destroyed earlier this month, Joplin Muslims came together Sunday to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan.
And they invited others from Joplin’s religious community — including Jews, Christians and Hindus — along with city officials and community leaders to share in the celebration. Some members described it as the Muslim equivalent of Christmas or Thanksgiving.
The event was at the Holiday Inn Convention Center, and a Joplin police patrol car was stationed at the front entrance.
The Islamic Society of Joplin mosque burned to the ground on Aug. 6. The FBI is continuing to investigate what officials at one point called a “suspicious” fire, though they say the cause of the fire cannot be determined. The mosque also was targeted on July 4, when a man was caught on surveillance video lighting a fuse on a package and tossing it onto the roof of the mosque. That fire caused minor damage.
Many members of the mosque said the positive response from the Joplin community and from Muslims and others worldwide overshadows what happened. That response includes a rally planned for Saturday evening and more than $400,000 raised as of Sunday through a website, indiegogo.com/joplinmosqueofficial.
“Hate really cannot prevail in the face of love,” said member Kamran Zafar. “It really proves the point that love is always going to prevail.”
Mosque board member Faiqu Kamran said that though the members are displaced, this Eid al-Fitr will be remembered for more than that.
“This is going to be in our memories for a long time,” she said. “We have seen a lot of support. It is the outpouring of people’s good wishes that we will remember. We will remember people’s kindness and the message of love.”
The incident has led to greater understanding, said another member.
“As tragic as losing the mosque has been, the one thing that is remarkable is we have gained new understanding and the support of others,” said member Carol Hammad.
Navid Zaidi said Joplin’s Muslims are fortunate to live in an accepting community. He said the celebration and meal were a way of saying “thank you.”
“The spirit of Eid and Ramadan is harmony,” he said.
‘Stronger and better’
Iftikhar Ali, president of the Islamic Society of Joplin, said the celebration is an example of the good that can come from something bad. He said those who may have destroyed the mosque aren’t necessarily bad, but they are ignorant and lack understanding of Islam.
He also said the outpouring of support has given Joplin’s Muslims confidence.
“We’re more united,” he said. “I think we’ll be stronger and better than before.”
Mateen Nagaria, speaking to the crowd before the meal, said Eid al-Fitr is a time of celebration and coming together.
“Though the incident of Aug. 6 was tragic and shocking, I have been deeply humbled by the people of Joplin — neighbors, co-workers, first responders, members of the faith community,” Nagaria said. “This has given us courage and determination to rebuild and enjoy the freedoms promised by the Constitution.”
Dr. Omair Yousuf and Beenish Ahmed, who is a medical student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, talked about growing up in Joplin when there were few Muslims.
Yousuf said that when he and his sister were probably the only Muslims at Joplin High School, they felt welcomed. He said Joplin’s response after the 2011 tornado demonstrates the city’s true spirit.
“Home for me will always be Joplin,” Ahmed said.
Stacy Ellsworth, lay pastor at Galena (Kan.) United Methodist Church, said he felt honored that Joplin’s Muslims invited him to share in their celebration.
“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “I’m really pleased with how the faith communities have come together for this. It’s a real example of brotherhood. We’re very fortunate to live in an area of fellowship and openness.”
Joplin Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean said she was excited to be part of the celebration.
“This is a good thing for the community,” she said. “This is what being a community is about.”
The mayor said she was learning about Islamic culture, so she could be educated beyond the stereotypes.
“It’s what’s needed in times like this,” she said.
She also said she was impressed with the colorful clothing the women were wearing.
Lahmuddin, the imam at the mosque, said the fire was a test from God and that he thinks Joplin’s Muslims have received extra credit.
“Eid is a time for celebration — a time for sharing,” Lahmuddin said, noting that the community’s response was one of support and kindness. “With this tragedy and what happened, we feel obliged to return the kindness, to share our joys with them.”
“Neighbors — Joplin Mosque Rally,” featuring speakers and bands, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Landreth Park.