April 18th, 2007 12:52 EST
Synagogue, local firefighters offer prayer space to Muslim After Mosque Fire Damage
Washington -- When the mosque serving the Islamic Society of Schuylkill County in Pennsylvania was damaged by fire April 11, Muslim families immediately were offered a space for prayer services by the Jewish community in the nearby town of Pottsville.
Although the Muslim congregation ultimately decided to hold services in a fire station that also offered space, the mosque’s imam, Shiraz Mansoor, and the chairman of the Pennsylvania branch of the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Iftekhar Hussain, both expressed gratitude for the Oheb Zedeck Synagogue’s generosity. The fire station was chosen because its location is more convenient, Hussain said.
“This kind of interfaith cooperation is a concrete demonstration of the mutual support that results when American communities come together in times of crisis,” Hussain told a USNewswire reporter.
CAIR is the United States’ largest Islamic civil liberties group, with 32 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower U.S. Muslims and build coalitions that foster justice and mutual understanding.
In recent interviews with USINFO, Hussain and Mansoor explained that the Islamic Society was contacted by an administrator of the synagogue and the synagogue’s rabbi with offers of assistance. The Islamic Society of Schuylkill County and the Oheb Zedeck Synagogue Center are the only mosque and synagogue in the Pottsville/Mechanicsville area (population 15,000-20,000).
Hussain and Mansoor said the Islamic and Jewish communities have established an ongoing partnership to help promote interfaith tolerance and understanding.
Under Mansoor’s leadership, the mosque “has had a half a dozen interfaith visits and programs with the synagogue,” said Hussain. Mansoor is also a member of the Pottsville Ministerium, an organization of local clergymen who get together once a month, and he served for a few years as vice president of the Unity Coalition. The Unity Coalition has “members from the Catholic, Lutheran, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Jewish communities,” according to Hussain.
The various congregations within Pottsville and Mechanicsville tend to be neighborly and supportive of one another, Mansoor observed. The Pottsville Ministerium “sponsors interfaith programs at Easter and Thanksgiving,” he said. Moreover, in his capacity as a Unity Coalition member, “I’ve been to churches to talk about Islam, to discuss religious similarities” among different faiths, “and to hold interfaith prayer gatherings.”
Until the mosque is repaired, the Mechanicsville Firehouse will host Muslim worshipers for Friday noon congregational prayers. There are 35 Muslim families that belong to the Islamic Society of Schuylkill County, and so far there is no estimated date for when the mosque will re-open. However, mosque administrators currently are evaluating repair options, and say they hope the mosque will be usable before Ramadan starts in September, said Hussain.
Firefighters and state police have concluded that the mosque blaze was accidental. The Republican Herald reported that the mosque’s main prayer area sustained smoke and water damage, with the majority of the fire damage confined to the kitchen/cafeteria area adjacent to the main building.
By Lauren Monsen
USINFO Staff Writer