21 January 2008

Mormons in St. Louis open to Muslims

Great story out of Missouri:

When hate peeks out, a community stands up
Susan Weich
Post-Dispatch St. Charles columnist Susan Weich

Maqbool Ali Khan left his native Pakistan and came to the St. Louis area to live with his sister, a doctor, in 1987.

He needed a job, so he took one as a night stock clerk at Shop 'n Save.

Two years later, Khan opened his own business, a Subway sandwich shop near Mid Rivers Mall in St. Peters. A few years after that, Khan bought two more shops.

He loved the United States, so he started attending classes and became a citizen in 1993.

Life was good, and Khan decided to settle down. He married a Muslim woman in an arranged ceremony.

Three years later they had a son. A couple of years after that Khan decided to get out of the sandwich business. He bought the Mobil gasoline station at Jungerman and Mexico roads.

Business went well. A few years later, he moved into a three-bedroom home in a neighborhood near the station. He and his wife had another child, a daughter.

Khan was living the American dream.

But then, 14 months ago, Khan found the words "KKK" and "Kill Muslim" sprayed in silver paint on his garage door.

Khan wasn't especially alarmed, but he was concerned for his children. He called the police. The Post-Dispatch ran an article about the incident.

That might have been the end of his dream, but something good happened.

Neighbors offered their support. Painters in his subdivision asked if they could paint his garage. Another neighbor let him use her power washer to hose off the offensive language.

Customers at the gas station expressed outrage.

"Anyone who would do this to you, doesn't know you, Ali," they told Khan.

Khan got letters from two St. Charles County groups — Bridge Builders and the Interfaith Alliance. They try to stop prejudice through education. They invited him to a prayer service.

Khan went with his young son.

"We expressed our love for him and his family," said Deborah Coffey, who heads the alliance.

Khan was appreciative and agreed to speak about the Muslim faith at a religious forum.

In the spring, he arranged for a Muslim leader to come to a religious celebration and read from the Koran.

He interceded on behalf of other Muslims to find a place in St. Charles County where they could go for Friday prayers. Coffey's Mormon church agreed to open its doors to the worshippers.

In the summer, Khan donated coupons for car washes at his station to a fundraiser for Bridge Builders.

He hosted a food drive at his station for the Interfaith group. He grilled hot dogs, circulated fliers and paid for a rental truck to store the food.

The drive collected more than 2,000 items, and they were given to food pantries in St. Charles County.

When Khan's neighborhood threw a party on National Night Out, he donated ice and soda for the event. Khan and his family joined their neighbors at the celebration.

Khan had turned a negative into a positive.

Then the Friday before Christmas, an employee found a note on the counter at Khan's business. It had the words "Muslim is anti-Christ."

Police investigated but have no suspects. It's not known whether this was a prank or a hate crime.

"I don't know how to explain this," Khan said. "My son is very much worried now since that happened. He says, 'Daddy, we need to move out from here, and you can sell this business.'"

That would be a sad ending to his story.

"This man is a real asset to the community," said Coffey. "It's important that people know that there are people who are different from them who are doing wonderful things."

Khan said he's not leaving.

"A lot of my regular customers have sent me cards and told me not to worry and that makes me feel good," he said. "Someday this person will realize what kind of a person I am. In the meantime, I'm not going anywhere."

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