JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) - A suspicious fire that destroyed a mosque in Joplin has brought new friends and a stronger sense of belonging for the city's Muslims, who are continuing with plans to rebuild inside the city, some members of the mosque said.
The Islamic Society of Joplin Mosque was destroyed by fire last Aug. 6. Although investigators have not determined the cause of that fire, another fire that damaged the mosque on July 4, 2012, was ruled an arson.
Joplin Muslims held an interfaith iftar meal Saturday at their temporary location at a Joplin shopping center, joined by members of Christian churches and the United Hebrew Congregation synagogue. It was one of several interfaith events held since last year's fires, The Joplin Globe reported (http://bit.ly/15En38x ).
Shafique Chowdhury, who participated in Saturday's meal, said if those responsible for destroying the mosque failed in whatever they hoped to achieve, as evidenced by the community's response.
"We are part of this country," he said. "We are part of this community."
Shortly after the fire, mosque members voted to rebuild in Joplin. The members paid $600,000 for the land for the new mosque, which will cost an estimated $1 million and be larger than the mosque that burned, said Navid Zaidi, a mosque board member. About $500,000 more is needed before construction can begin. Plans include offering the mosque for lectures, community social events and meals.
"We've had tremendous support," Zaidi said. "We feel so blessed we have the freedom of worship and expression."
Michael Kaste, special agent in charge at the Kansas City FBI division, said no suspect has been identified but the investigation remains a high priority.
"It's not just a crime against a house of worship," Kaste said. "It's against the community as a whole. One of the things we hold sacred as a nation is our freedom of religion."
The FBI is specifically investigating the July 4 arson fire until the cause of the Aug. 6 fire is determined. The FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for the July 4 fire.
Another $15,000 reward was offered by Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, for an arrest in either fire.
Hina Qidwai, of Joplin, said that when reflecting on the mosque's destruction, she also remembers the community response.
"Such wonderful things came out of this," Qidwai said Saturday. "I've been totally overwhelmed with all the new friends we have."
Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com