The Great Muslim Cook Off Food Festival Vendor CAIR MissouriEvent organizer Hassan Yasin of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in St Louis had a message, “Essentially not only Muslims, but Christians, Judaism, any religion you are, even if you don’t believe in religion, you are still welcome here. In CAIR’s eyes, you are an equal person, no matter who you are and what you believe in.”

Yasin says the turnout far exceeded the amount of RSVPs his group received on Facebook, but he was okay with that, “I’ve seen lots of hugs, pictures taken together. Everyone’s asking for pictures. Everyone’s trying the ethnic food, which is amazing.”

The executive director of CAIR in Missouri, Faizan Syed, says “Meet a Muslim” events are starting to catch-on across the country, “I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and say they didn’t know anything about the Muslim community. They were very happy they came today. This was an opportunity for us not to lecture to people, not to give an Islam 101 talk, but rather learn about other people through a common interest, which in this case was food.”

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Michale Berg Jewish Voices for Peace Palestine ProtestBut the director of the Missouri chapter of CAIR, who described the killing of the Israeli police officers as a “heinous act,” said the local protest was about more than just the metal detectors. He pointed to the Israeli police’s decision to temporarily ban male Muslim worshippers under the age of 50 to pray at the site. Such moves “increase the level of anger for Muslims who feel that Israel is continuing to encroach on their land and on their religion,” said Faizan Syed, who helped organize the protest alongside members of groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that promotes the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

“What started as three deranged lunatics” — the Arab-Israelis who shot the police officers — “has now resulted in people all over the world protesting in the streets, and that’s why we have to be very careful” in how police respond “especially when it comes to holy sites in Jerusalem,” said Syed, who has participated in interfaith efforts with the Jewish Community Relations Council.

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St. Louis Palestine March CAIR MissouriThe Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) organized the march to protest new Israeli security measures at prayer sites in Jerusalem. Metal detectors and security cameras were installed after the mosque was temporarily closed on July 14, when three Palestinian civilians and two Israeli officers were killed in clashes nearby.

At the St. Louis area march, protesters demanded freedom for Muslims to worship without harassment and extra security measures when entering the Jerusalem compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque. The compound is an area also referred to by Jews as the Temple Mount.

However, for many St. Louisans the gathering was about more than the installation of new metal detectors at the holy site in Jerusalem.

CAIR intern and member of the Palestine Solidarity Committee Neveen Ayesh, a Muslim, is Palestinian-American and spoke to the St. Louis-area crowd about the ongoing conflict.

“It’s what’s going to come after the metal detectors and what’s going to come with the metal detectors,” she said. “It’s just another way to put [Palestinians] on a leash and try to control them.”

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Self-Defense –> Wayne Pratt reports for NPR’s All Things Considered that “with members of the area Muslim community feeling like they are under a continuing threat of violence, the Missouri chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is coordinating efforts for members to protect themselves.” The effort includes “a self-defense course for women run by a former Jackson, Missouri, police officer who converted to Islam a couple of years ago” and was attacked on the street for wearing a hijab only three months later.

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