Springfield: community backs Islamic Center against threats

Vandalism and threats aimed at a local Muslim community have inspired others in Springfield to stand with the Muslims and in opposition to bigotry. Representatives of faith groups, human rights advocates and city government will join members of the Islamic Center of Springfield on Saturday afternoon to speak against recent incidents at the center and for religious freedom.

Carl Haworth with the Interfaith Alliance, which organized the event, said “everyone who supports religious freedom” is invited to join. “We want to show that we feel everyone has the right to be here as long as they want to contribute to the Springfield community and make this their home,” said Haworth.

City Councilman Bob Stephens said representatives from the city will be on hand. “Because those acts of vandalism were so despicable, we felt there definitely needs to be some representation from the city,” he said. “Springfield is not like this.”

George Davis, president of the city’s Human Rights Commission, said Saturday’s event will “show unity in diversity”. “Our community has people of many faiths and cultures,” he said. “We want to make it clear bigotry will not be tolerated through displays of actions.”

Francine Pratt, president of the local chapter of the NAACP – National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – said the civil rights organization will also be represented. “We want to show them that we love them and embrace them,” she said. “We have to stick up for what’s right.”

Members of the Islamic Center will be on hand to greet the community visitors.

“The wide range of response from the community at all levels … is very profound,” said Wafaa Kaf with the center and a member of the Interfaith Alliance. “All, from the ground up and from top down, agreed upon a call to action in response to hate crimes, burning the holy Quran, and the threatening letter against Islam and Muslim community of Springfield.

“The crowd wants to show that they, ‘average citizens,’ are united, and that such hatred actions against Islam are not welcome in our community, which promotes mutual respect and trust between interfaith groups. Every one of us is adding a hand toward shaping a better community.”

News-Leader, 22 April 2011