JOPLIN, MO (KPLR)-- Human rights and interfaith leaders in St. Louis are calling on Americans to stop being intolerant of different religions. They gathered outside the Dar Al Salam mosque in Ballwin Wednesday to talk about the loss of the mosque and community center in Joplin, MO destroyed last week by a fire the FBI considers suspicious.
A total of eight attacks against Muslim houses of worship have occurred in the past twelve days, all during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
"There's a group of people outside Joplin, in Jasper County filled with hate, filled with intolerance and they have no justice inside their hearts unfortunately," said Faizan Syed, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of St. Louis. (CAIR-St. Louis)
A small fire on July 4 damaged the roof and side of the Joplin mosque that serves fifty Muslim families. Law enforcement officials have ruled that fire arson. There is a total of $25,000 worth of reward money, $15,000 from the FBI and ATF and $10,000 from CAIR, being offered for information that leads to a conviction in the case.
The August 6 fire destroyed the center. It remains under investigation by both the FBI and the ATF. The building is located outside the city of Joplin. Syed said the Muslims have experienced strong interfaith support inside the city limits, but more rural parts of Jasper County present a problem. After the fire, "We did have people drive by and shout profanities and slurs."
Speakers in St. Louis praised people from around the world who have donated $400,000 in less than two weeks to help the families rebuild their house of worship. Dr. Ghazala Hayat of the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis said, "We are really heartened by the response by non-Muslims in the city to raise money so quickly to build up the mosque again."
"We believe the real enemy is fundamentalism in any religion no matter what it is Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hinduism," said Sister Barbara Jennings of the Interfaith Community Justice Ministry.
Brenda Jones, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union called for an end to hate crimes. "The real extremism is in the steady trend of discrimination against Muslims and other religions based upon cultural stereotyping," she said.
The President of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association and a Rabbi at United Hebrew Congregation Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg urged people to "Look at each other as creations of God and look at each other and see the goodness and to break down those walls and those stereotypes."
Jones added, "Religious discrimination chips away at our core values of equality and fair play. It tarnishes the very democracy we worked so hard to promote."
Karen Aroesty, Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League and Vanessa Crawford Aragon of the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates also spoke out against the violence.
CAIR-St. Louis has provided security tips to Muslim communities in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma this summer. The advice helps Islamist centers prepare for violence, reach out to their local police departments and recommends increasing security at mosques particularly during the Ramadan celebration.
For more information visit www.cair-stlouis.com
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