CAIRO - A few hours after arson fire destroyed the Winona Islamic Center, Minnesota local churches have rushed to open their doors to host Muslim prayers, offering a unique image of interfaith ties in post 9/11 America.
(It's) beyond descriptionâ¦ It's very big of them, Ahmed El-Afandi, a retired Winona State professor and co-founder of Winona Islamic Center, told Winona Daily News.
Winona is uniqueâ¦We're blessed here.
It is an integrated communityâ¦It is one community, and in times of adversity, stands together.
El-Afandi was describing the open arms and doors he found in Winona community after a massive fire swept through the Winona Islamic Center destroying the building last Friday.
The fire has also wrecked historical building and local stores.
After the incident, which is investigated currently be the police, Winona's local churches welcomed Muslims worshippers, and the Central Lutheran Church offered more than 15 members of the Islamic centre a space to perform Friday's prayer.
The doors had been propped open, a small sign of welcome.
Know that we're here for you, one of the pastors said to El-Afandi.
El-Afandi added that he received scores of calls around the clock, "People are just pouring out their hearts. They say, 'We are with you,
"I couldn't keep up with the invitations: come and tell us about your religion."
Although reports said that fire sparked at 2 am and was contained before the afternoon, no victims were reported.
"As sad as this is today, it's great that nobody was hurt," said Winona Mayor Mark Peterson, quoted by Minnesota Public Radio.
"We're going to do what we can to get this cleaned up. It could have been a lot worse than it was."
Bittle, Winona's fire chief, described the fire as one of the 'largest' in the southeastern Minnesota city's history.
Winona Islamic Center has opened an account at Winona's Eastwood Bank to receive the re-build donations.
Since late 1990s, the Islamic Center services extends beyond being a worship place, it offers an Islamic community which has been joined by many students worldwide.
Amid ongoing investigations to get the clues of the Islamic Centre fire, leader of Winona Muslim community said they had no reason to suspect it was anything but an accident.
"We never have a problemâ¦ We never had somebody call said we're going to do this to the mosque, or you shouldn't have a mosque here, Mohamed Elhindi, president of the Islamic Center and chair of the local school board, told Minnesota Public Radio On Monday, September 16.
"We never feel threatened.
"We are in a very supportive communityâ¦ That's something that isn't even crossing our minds."
El Hendi added that that at least three people renting the apartment on the building's second floor lost everything in the fire.
"It's hard to see, hard to see. That's why we ran out. Even my friend he went without shoes, without anything," said Luai Elfaki, who was among those who lost everything in the fire.
We ran out and we didn't (take) our IDs, we didn't take anything because we (thought) there is a fire in our building, our apartment.
"I feel very sad. But at the same time, I feel very happy because I'm alive,
"I'm supposed to be dying. But I get help from Red Cross and from University, too. They give me a room to live for a couple days until I fix my situation." Elfaki added.
The United States is home to a Muslim minority of between six to eight million.
Muslims in southeast Missouri city of Joplin faced the same warm feelings after their Islamic center was burnt to the ground in August 2012.
Supported by the interfaith community, the Islamic Society of Joplin received financial backing from across the country.
An online fundraiser for a new building has raised more than $400,000, surpassing the $250,000 goal.
A group of religious leaders also signed a full-page advertisement of support in The Joplin Globe, the local newspaper.
Some churches posted the words love thy neighbor on their signs.
Sojourners, a national Christian social justice organization, threw in its support with an electronic billboard message: Love your Muslim neighbors.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net