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Funds pour in to replace Missouri mosque destroyed by fire

Roger Nomer / The Joplin Globe via AP file

Haaris Rebman and Hameed Ahmad look through remains of the mosque of the Islamic Society of Joplin on Wednesday for pages of the Quran.

Donations to help rebuild a Missouri mosque after it burned to the ground Monday in a suspicious fire hit $291,000 on Friday — soaring past the $250,000 goal, according to the mosque’s fundraising web site.

The contributions have come from mosques and individuals around the country and from overseas to rebuild the mosque of the Islamic Society of Joplin, said a report in the Joplin Globe citing Kimberly Kester, a member and spokeswoman for the mosque.

"I’m glad to see that, honestly, because this is what we expect from people who believe in tolerance and religious freedom," said Nihad Awad, national director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, speaking one day after visiting Joplin. "I think that is a powerful message. The building was burnt but the spirit is resilient."

The mosque, the only one within a 50-mile radius, had been targeted by an apparent arson attempt on July 4, when surveillance cameras captured a man throwing a lighted object onto the roof of the building. That fire damaged the roof but did not penetrate the building.

About 30 federal agents from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms are investigating Monday’s fire, which leveled the mosque, a one-story brick structure.

The fire was Monday morning during the Muslim month of Ramadan, which draws many more worshippers to the mosque than attend year-round. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, and then break the fast with a large meal called "iftar."  Worshippers had been in the mosque until late the night before the fire, but the building was vacant when the fire broke out, the FBI said.

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"Unfortunately… our community is left without a home during the most precious time of the year," said a message on the fundraising page set up on Indiegogo. "While heartbroken, we are buoyed by the support of people around this country, of all faiths, who have come to our side in our time of need."

A group of Christian and Jewish congregations held an iftar celebration for the local Muslim community on Wednesday, and an activist at the local Ozark Christian College was organizing a rally in support of the mosque-goers on Aug. 25.

"One of the things that I keep hearing is even if (the fire) wasn’t an act of hate or a crime, still a faith community is hurting and we need to respond," said Jill Michel, pastor at the South Joplin Christian Church, one of the iftar organizers.

"What we went through in the tornado has made a difference in how people are responding now," she said, referring to the devastating tornado that hit Joplin in 2011. So many individuals, churches businesses — people who had never had to receive major help — have experienced what it is like just to have people come and offer a hand."

She said her congregation and others were planning to take up Sunday collections for the mosque, and local clergy continue to discuss other ways of helping.

"If tomorrow if somebody said, 'come help rebuild the mosque,' there are a bunch people who would be willing to do that," said Michel. "There’s really a lot of willingness not just to say 'oh that’s too bad' but actually show up and be helpful."

In the culmination of another mosque drama, Muslims in Murfreesboro, Tenn., held the official opening of a newly built mosque and Islamic school Friday after a two-year legal battle, bomb threats, protests and vandalism.

"This is the land of the free and we are going to celebrate the values of religious freedom and diversity," said CAIR’s Awad, who was on his way to Murfreesboro for the event.

As for those who have worked to block the building and opening of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, "we are confident that they don’t represent the majority in this nation," he said.

The opening was expected to draw protesters, but opponents of the facility were nowhere to be seen, the Associated Press reported. Instead the new facility was filled with smiling men, women and children, it said.

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