Hundreds turned out Saturday at Landreth Park in a show of solidarity with area Muslims after their mosque was destroyed in a suspected arson fire on Aug. 6.
Neighbors-Joplin Mosque Rally, as it was called, was organized by Ozark Christian College student Ashley Carter.
“If this was arson, to the person who did this, I pray that the anger that was in your heart will be replaced by the love that Jesus showed you,” Carter told the crowd. She said she also prayed for those who tried to convince her not to organize the rally.
“We send a message to the world that we will not let anger or hate or ignorance or fear win,” she said. “Peace starts when we always respond in love.
“We are not going to let hatred win,” she added. “We are going to spread love with radical acts of kindness.”
Zue Oxford, a member of the Islamic Society of Joplin, who is originally from Singapore, said Carter’s remarks were inspiring, and so was the rally.
“It’s so beautiful,” she said. “What words can I express? This is so moving. You can feel the love. It is just so wonderful.”
Audience member Harry Gardner traveled to Joplin from Granby for the event.
“I’m a great believer in freedom of religion,” Gardner said of his reason for coming. He said he and his wife drove by the ruins of the mosque shortly after it was destroyed. “I couldn’t believe it. I think, ‘Where does it stop? Who’s next?’”
Another audience member, Stacy Cassity, of Joplin, said she was grateful for the event because she had never had an opportunity to meet and talk with Muslims.
Attendee Shafique Chowdhury, a member of the mosque, noted that the word “Love” was printed on the T-shirts of staff members.
“This is a big event,” he said. “It shows the power of love over the power of hatred. We’re amazed by the community support.
Asjad Khan said he felt the same.
“This is a great event,” he said. “We appreciate it a lot. It raises our spirits. This helps to heal.”
Jim West, vice president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the local chapter supports the Muslim community and condemns the burning of the mosque. He said it’s a civil rights issue.
“We’re all in it together,” he said.
A video crew from the BBC was on hand to cover the event.
Another speaker at the rally was Hina Qidwai, a member of the mosque. She said she brought her daughter because she wanted the image of people of different faiths coming together to remain with her.
She said people responded in wonderful ways after the 2011 tornado in Joplin.
“Something miraculous is still happening in Joplin,” she said.
She also said Muslims won’t respond in anger to the mosque burning.
“Whatever occurred at our mosque, it was not in the spirit and not in the name of Joplin,” she said.
“As-salamu alaykum,” Qidwai said in closing. “Peace be upon you.”
The Aug. 6 fire remains unsolved but is being investigated by local authorities and the FBI. They also are looking into an attempted arson on July 4 at the mosque. Four years earlier, someone also tried to burn the mosque sign.