CAIRO - Following community opposition to the building of a new mosque in the city, the Muslim community in St. Anthony in Minnesota is planning a Ramadan iftar for non-Muslim neighbors on Thursday, August 9, in an effort to promote a better understanding of Islam.
"This is great opportunity for us to ... get to know our neighbors," Sadik Warfa, a spokesman for the Abu Huraira Islamic Center, told Star Tribune.
"We want to reach out to our neighbors of all faiths in the St. Anthony Village area.
It's really meant to create a positive atmosphere and friendships with our neighbors," he said.
The iftar, which marks the end of a fasting day in Ramadan, follows the city council's rejection of plans to build a mosque in the city, which was marred by anti-Muslim sentiments.
The St. Anthony iftar could bring "the fear level way down" and help Muslims "build relationships in the community," said Gail Anderson, a director at the Council of Churches, which sponsors the iftar.
"It's just a lot people really wanting to know each other better and understand each other better.
Last month, St. Anthony city center rejected plans to locate the proposed Abu-Huraira Islamic Center in the basement of the former Medtronic headquarters.
City council officials argue that the Muslim plans were rejected for maintaining the business nature of the area.
The council's session saw residents criticizing Islam, describing the faith as evil.
Organizers hope that the iftar will help draw a true image about Islam and the Muslim community.
"I think it's a positive thing to have this gathering ... sharing their faith and culture with others," Lori Saroya, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)'s Minnesota chapter, said.
"It was so horrible to see all those comments [at city council meeting].
CAIR has asked the US Department of Justice to investigate allegations of anti-Muslim bias in rejection of the mosque plans.
The US attorney's office has visited the proposed Islamic center site and is interviewing people about the council action, said spokeswoman Jeanne Cooney.
She said her office hopes to "resolve this matter to the satisfaction of all parties," but could pursue litigation if it finds that the council action violated federal law.
Mosques have been facing fierce opposition across the United States recently.
At least 35 mosque projects from Mississippi to Wisconsin have found foes who battle to stop them from seeing light citing different pretexts, including traffic concerns and fear of terrorism.
Even more, some mosques were vandalized including a 2011 Wichita mosque arson case for which a $5,000 reward is being offered.
In multicultural New York, a proposed mosque near Ground Zero site has snowballed into a national public and political debate, with opponents arguing that the Muslim building would be an insult to the memory of the 9/11 victims.Advocates, however, say that the mosque would send a message of tolerance in 9/11-post America.