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Cedar Rapids mosques receiving support letters, not hate mail

Sunday event meant to unify community groups

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Though the Islamic Center of Des Moines received a handwritten letter this past weekend calling Muslims “vile” and “filthy,” mosques in Cedar Rapids said they have received messages of support in the past few months.

To underscore that community connection, a multifaith rally is set for this Sunday in Cedar Rapids when participants plan to form a symbolic shield around the Mother Mosque.

A letter left in the mailbox at the Islamic Center of Des Moines was addressed to “the Children of Satan,” saying Muslims should pack their bags and leave because “there’s a new sheriff in town — President Donald Trump.” The letter also said Trump is seeking to “cleanse” America, and take actions against Muslims similar to “what Hitler did to the Jews.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations Iowa chapter, based in Cedar Rapids, called for an investigation into what they branded as a hate crime. Members of the Islamic Center of Des Moines said they plan to send footage from surveillance cameras above the mailbox to police and the FBI, according to a local TV station.

The American-Islamic council said mosques in eight other states across the nation have experienced similar threats or attacks, according to a news release the organization sent out Sunday.

Miriam Amer, executive director for the American-Islamic council, said she knows of other threats made to mosques around Iowa in the months after the election, though she wouldn’t say where exactly where or how many threats were made because she said it could empower those who made the threats.

Amer believes the person who left the note in Des Moines could have been copying threats made in other states.

“We’re not going to kowtow to fear,” Amer said. “The person that wrote that letter seems to indemnify Donald Trump. Well, he’s our president, too. The Constitution is there for all of us.

“Islam is not brand-new to this country. Islam has been in this nation since before it was a nation.”

However, imams of Cedar Rapids Islamic Center and the Mother Mosque said they have received many messages of support from across the country since the election.

Taha Tawil, imam at the Mother Mosque, on the northwest side of Cedar Rapids, said he received at least 100 letters and voicemails since early November. The letters, including messages of allegiance and appreciation for Muslims, have come from students at Jefferson High, other Eastern Iowa colleges and universities as well as from U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

Imam Hassan Selim said the Islamic Center received similar letters and even flowers.

The support is indicative of the rich and long-standing history of the Islamic community in Cedar Rapids, Tawil said.

The Mother Mosque, one of the longest-standing mosques in North America, was founded in 1936 when the growing Muslim population in Eastern Iowa wanted a place to worship, he said. The Islamic Center was established in 1971 as a larger worship space.

“We are not experiencing any hard time or hate from people who maybe hate themselves before they hate others,” Tawil said. “They know this is symbolic of our freedom and our (acceptance) as Americans. We are not people coming from far away. We are already here and have three or four generations.”

The Mother Mosque will host a multifaith rally on Sunday, organized in part by Rev. Wendy Abrahamson of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Grinnell. Tawil expects hundreds of people from various faiths to attend the event.

The group is going to hold hands and form a circle around the Mother Mosque, as a symbolic shield, Tawil said.

“I’m looking forward to that great support for our mosque,” Tawil said. “This is not about religion of certain faith or culture or race. This is about confirming our values as Americans, confirming what the Constitution of the United States says.

“We are equal and have values of freedom to worship whatever we want and to speak whatever and write whatever.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8516; makayla.tendall@thegazette.com

If you go

l What: Multifaith rally

l When: 3 to 4 p.m., Sunday, March 26

l Where: Mother Mosque, 1335 Ninth St. NW, Cedar Rapids

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