Vol. 5 Num 1022 Tue. April 17, 2007  

US community offers help when mosque suffers fire damage
When the mosque serving the Islamic Society of Schuylkill County in Pennsylvania was damaged by a fire on April 11, Muslim families immediately were offered a space for prayer services by the Jewish community in the nearby town of Pottsville, says a US Embassy news release.

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, 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 US 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 Centre are the only mosque and synagogue in the Pottsville/Mechanicsville area.

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 programmes with the synagogue," said Hussain.

Mansoor is also a member of the Pottsville Ministerium, an organisation 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.

Until the mosque is repaired, the Mechanicsville Firehouse will host Muslim worshipers for Juma 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 reopen. However, mosque administrators currently are evaluating repair options, and say they hope the mosque will be usable before Ramadan starts in September, said Hussain.