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US Muslim group wants apology for canceled prayer

February 21, 2015

BISMARCK, North Dakota (AP) — The largest Muslim civil liberties group in the U.S. wants Republicans in the state of North Dakota to apologize for canceling a Muslim’s opening floor session prayer on Ash Wednesday and having a Christian deliver the invocation instead.

Dr. Nadim Koleilat, a surgeon in Bismarck and president of the city’s Muslim Community Center, went across the hall from the North Dakota House of Representatives and delivered the invocation to the state Senate, without objection from the lawmakers in that chamber. Republicans control both chambers.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Friday that Koleilat and other Muslims in North Dakota deserve an apology from lawmakers for what he called “religious bigotry and exclusion.”

Hussein, a former resident of North Dakota, said the state is becoming more diversified with its strong economy spurred by the oil boom in western North Dakota. Hussein, a North Dakota State University graduate, said it’s ironic that the first mosque built in North America was constructed in the late 1920s to serve Lebanese Muslims in western North Dakota. Earlier mosques in America existed, but in converted buildings, researchers say.

The incident Wednesday could be a learning experience for lawmakers, Hussein said.

“Sometimes mistakes help everyone move forward,” he said.

Rep. Al Carlson, the House majority leader, said some lawmakers believed it was “probably more appropriate to have a Christian” lead the prayer on the day that marks the beginning of the Easter season. Carlson, a Republican, said Koleilat has been invited back to give an invocation next week.

Koleilat was seeing patients on Friday and did not immediately return phone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Republican Rep. Dwight Kiefert said he was among the most vocal regarding not having a Christian deliver the prayer on Ash Wednesday.

“I just posed the question on why a Christian wasn’t giving the prayer on that holy day,” he said. A posting on a Republican Facebook page earlier this week called Koleilat’s planned prayer prior to the House floor session on Ash Wednesday “political correctness at its worst.”

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