St. Anthony residents at a city council meeting in June, 2012
ST. ANTHONY, Minn. (KMSP) -
Residents of St. Anthony, the city that rejected a proposed Islamic community center this summer, were invited to attend a traditional Ramadan meal Thursday night at City Hall.
Christians might call a coming together like this "breaking bread," but for Muslims, they say it's about breaking barriers after the City Council rejected the Islamic center with a 4-1 vote in June, citing land use and zoning regulations while denying claims of religious intolerance.
Muslim supporters of the Islamic center hope Thursday's open dinner -- a traditional iftar -- will help residents develop an understanding of their faith and intentions.
The iftar is the meal that follows the day of fasting during Ramadan, the holy month of peace and reflection for followers of Islam.
"It is very important to us and I hope that tonight is the beginning of having an open dialogue with our neighbors, to get to know each other and see what we have in common," said Sadik Warfa, spokesman for the rejected Abu Haraira Islamic Center.
A public hearing about Abu Haraira brought out heated reaction from residents and exposed deep resentment that Muslims hope to counteract with education and understanding -- and that's also why St. Anthony villagers packed the iftar observance.
"This country was founded on religious tolerance, and so I just want to learn more about a different religion to see what's similar to mine and what's different," Karen Weiberg told FOX 9 News.
The Minnesota Council of Churches set up 10 public iftar meals throughout Ramadan as a way to teach communities about Islam. Along with the iftar in St. Anthony, another took place in Bloomington.
The Council for American Islamic Relations has asked the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate whether St. Anthony Village violated any federal laws by rejecting the Islamic center. A spokeswoman for that office told FOX 9 News their investigation is not yet complete; however, she also said that these types of dispute can often be resolved without federal charges.