Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Community Dialogue Aids Understanding: Muslims Host Gathering, Sikhs Hold Vigil

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Community Dialogue Aids Understanding: Muslims Host Gathering, Sikhs Hold Vigil

Article excerpt

St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch sat at a table in the gym of the Daar-ul-Islam mosque in Ballwin on a recent Friday evening, munching on dates as hundreds of Muslims sitting around him participated in one of the oldest and most important tenets of their faith.

Fitch was just one of a handful of community leaders invited to the mosque's iftar - the evening meal during Ramadan when Muslims break their fast. St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley was there. So was U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan.

Fasting, or sawm, is the fourth of Islam's five pillars. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, and each evening they break the fast with a meal - often a social event - called the iftar. The end of Ramadan is marked by the festival of Eid al-Fitr and is to be celebrated a week from today.

The Daar-al-Islam iftar was held just two days before a Milwaukee gunman killed six people in an attack at a Sikh gurdwara, or temple, and three days before a mosque in Joplin was destroyed in a fire. Federal officials are investigating the cause of the fire. Officials have determined a fire at the same mosque on July 4 was arson.

Fitch said the iftar was his first visit to the Daar-ul-Islam mosque - the largest in the St. Louis area. His officers are regularly assigned to the mosque for security during services and events, he said. And Fitch was in demand. Plenty of people waited patiently to bend his ear and shake his hand.

Fitch had clearly done his homework. He began his remarks to the group with a "Peace be upon you," a traditional Muslim greeting (assalumu alaikum in Arabic), and referenced different aspects of Ramadan he'd learned about in his research. During the dinner, the chief eagerly dug in to the Afghan dishes provided for the iftar. He told those at his table that he'd asked the mosque's imam, Mufti Asif Umar, to be the St. Louis County Police Department's Muslim chaplain.

At the end of his remarks, Fitch asked the crowd if he could hold a Citizen's Police Academy program at the mosque in the fall. The program helps "provide greater awareness and understanding" between the police "and the citizens we serve," according to the department's website.

The Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, said Thursday that efforts like Fitch's - an effort to create what he called "strong social systems" - "keep us healthier and living in harmony."

Cizik was participating in a conference call of faith leaders representing seven religious traditions and sponsored by Shoulder- to-Shoulder, which was founded in 2010 to protest the rise in anti- Muslim sentiment, including the planned burning of the Quran by a Christian minister in Florida.

"We know that when trust is low, we become suspicious and establish barriers between ourselves and others," Cizik said, adding, "We must move as Americans from 'me,' alone, in my own individual faith group, to a collective 'we.' "

On Thursday, the Islamic Society of North America called for "the protection of all sacred places of worship. …

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