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Catholic groups gift artwork to Dubuque mosque

May 12, 2018

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — A newly painted piece of artwork framed the mihrab from which Adib Kassas spoke last week at the Tri-State Islamic Center.

The mihrab, an alcove in the wall that is considered the holiest place in a mosque, was surrounded by painted golden columns and an arch. A verse from the Quran was written in Arabic along the top.

The artwork was a gift from Dubuque’s Catholic community, an emblem of solidarity meant to welcome the mosque that opened at the end of 2016.

“It’s gorgeous,” said Kassas, imam for the Tri-State Islamic Center. “It’s a dream come true.”

The piece serves as a sign of understanding, support and compassion, said the Rev. Alan Dietzenbach, associate pastor at the Cathedral of St. Raphael and St. Patrick Church.

“I hope it’s a sign for the broader community that our community is not a place of hatred, but a place of love and peace and nonviolence,” he told The Telegraph Herald .

Dietzenbach said that as the Tri-State Islamic Center was opening its new building, he started to think about how local Catholics could congratulate them on the accomplishment.

He reached out to John Eby, a parishioner who also serves on the board for the interfaith group Children of Abraham. They worked with Kassas to settle on a verse from the Quran, a traditional decoration in mosques.

The verse they selected, Surah 49:13, suggests that the purpose of having different groups of people is to get to know one another, Kassas said.

The passage, translated into English, reads: “O mankind! Surely We have created you from male and female and have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Surely, the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the one who is the most god-fearing. Allah is surely all-knowing, all-aware.”

The verse shows the importance of getting to know one another, said Aref Khatib, president of the Tri-State Islamic Center.

“It stresses being humble and realizing that only Allah knows everything,” he said. “We’re no better than each other. We’re all equal.”

Dietzenbach said he appreciates the way the passage ties in with the work of local groups such as Children of Abraham.

“God is in that process of coming to know others different from ourselves because ultimately, we’re different from God,” he said. “So it’s kind of a microcosm for coming to know God, too.”

Dietzenbach approached the local parishes about the idea, and the priests were overwhelmingly supportive, he said. Every Dubuque parish ended up contributing to pay the expenses for the artwork.

Eby recruited Donna Slade, who owns a decorative and artistic paintings business in town, to paint the piece at the Tri-State Islamic Center.

Kassas found a University of Dubuque student to write out the calligraphy for the verse, and he worked with Slade to get it shaped around the mihrab.

Slade said she was honored to be part of the project, which she completed last month.

“I thought it was great,” she said. “We need to do more of that. Not just Catholics, but everybody needs to be a little more friendly and welcoming of others.”

Khatib said the gift from the local Catholic parishes shows how tight-knit the Dubuque community is.

“We want our community to be welcoming to other faiths,” he said.

Kassas said the gesture was appreciated.

“I love the verse they chose,” he said. “It just shows me that they understand the message.”

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Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com

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