Muslims in Joplin celebrate new mosque, replacing building that was set on fire in 2012

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JOPLIN, Missouri — Two years after Muslims in Joplin suffered the traumatic loss of their place of worship at the hands of an arsonist, a new $2 million mosque has opened.

Families gathered Monday for the first time to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, a religious holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Navid Zaidi, a pulmonologist originally from Pakistan, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ( ) that the mosque means a lot to the small Muslim community in the southwest Missouri town.

The mosque was built just as Joplin has rebuilt from the rubble of the massive tornado, making it an unlikely symbol of hope for Muslims, demonstrating that the faithful can prevail despite dire circumstances.

"It's been a lengthy road, but we did it," Zaidi, 48, said.

A man awaiting trial for setting fire twice to a Planned Parenthood clinic is also suspected of burning down the mosque in 2012, just a year after the tornado that devastated Joplin. He has not been charged in connection with the mosque fire.

The nondescript Islamic Center smelled of new carpet and fresh paint Monday. Women covered in scarves made their way to a room with glass doors that opened to a larger room where men prayed. Mosque leader Imam Lahmuddin stood facing those congregated and recited the khutbah, or sermon. Afterward, families posed for photos in front of the new Islamic Center.

It was asharp contrast to Aug. 6, 2012, when a former Christian church that the Islamic Society of Joplin had converted to a mosque burned down.

The Muslim community used a temporary space in a strip mall. A few in Joplin objected to their presence there, and some recalled that on a couple of occasions, men stood in a parking lot and jeered those walking in and out.

The harassment eventually stopped, and Muslims are happy to once again have their own space.

"Getting the mosque back is like getting our home back," said Iftikhar Ali, president of the Islamic Society of Joplin. "Praying there is just a different feeling."

Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch,

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