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Boston mosque rises above the fray

Muslim and Jewish groups drop lengthy lawsuits, and a house of worship moves forward.

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More than 2,000 people gathered in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood last month for a highly symbolic moment – the capping of the minaret on a new mosque. A joyous occasion, the event sparked greater emotion than usual because construction of the Islamic Society of Boston's Mosque and Cultural Center had been stalled for more than two years – and had seemed in jeopardy. Controversy over allegations that the mosque had ties to terrorism had mushroomed into lawsuits and poisoned relations among the city's Jewish and Muslim communities.

The lawsuits have now been settled, thanks in part to interfaith efforts for more than a year to bring the litigants together. Some in the Jewish community say, however, that difficult questions still stand in the way of restoring relations with the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB). Others see the opportunity for a fresh start to break down suspicions and distrust through renewed dialogue.

"This is an opportunity to take advantage of.... Being able to resolve this difficulty and to grow out of a sense of conflict into a more active, positive conversation has an importance not only for Boston, but beyond," says David Gordis, president of Hebrew College, in Newton, Mass.

The conflict reflects fears and insecurities felt since 9/11 by many Americans who worry about the potential for the kind of threats Britain is currently facing. For Jews and Muslims, it is even more challenging.

The success will depend, it seems, on the extent to which those in the local community dwell on deep concerns associated with the Middle East situation or focus on building local ties. Boston has a history of strong Christian-Jewish relations, and post-9/11, the conversations began to embrace Muslims, including the ISB.

But when the society took steps to build the largest mosque in New England, some people who see the Muslim presence itself as a threat and US Muslims as under suspicion mounted a challenge.

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