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In Roxbury, a call for religious tolerance

Interfaith groups at mosque site

Rabbis came in yarmulkes, priests wore their Roman collars, and imams dressed in knitted caps and the loose-fitting gowns called thobes.

About 300 people, from Jews in sandals to suited Christians to Muslims in sequined veils, gathered beneath the arched brick entrance of the city's newest mosque yesterday to mark completion of the first stage of its construction.

They also prayed for tolerance in the wake of controversy and a lawsuit that has raised questions about who paid for the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center and how it obtained the land in Roxbury.

"This mosque is intended to be a place that opens its doors and provides opportunities for all religions and all different ethnicities and different communities to find a place of dialogue," said Bilal Kaleem, executive director of the Boston chapter of the Muslim American Society.

The mosque -- scheduled to open in three to six months, depending on construction and fund-raising -- sparked a lawsuit that contended the Islamic Society of Boston bought the land from the city in 2003 at an unfairly low price. The lawsuit filed by a Mission Hill man was dismissed in February. Last month, the Society dropped its own lawsuit that contended that media outlets and others had defamed it in an attempt to halt construction of the 70,000-square-foot mosque on Malcolm X Boulevard.

At the evening event, which the Society called an Intercommunity Solidarity Day, local officials, activists, and religious leaders praised the society for finishing the project.

Two who started the website presented the society with a check for $2,000 they raised online.

Rabbi Moshe Waldoks of Temple Beth Zion in Brookline said he hoped the mosque would serve as a beacon of peace.

"Our hope and prayer is that we will foster in this place a mighty bulwark against those forces of darkness and treachery that use religion as a tool for death and destruction," he said. ". . . We must all do what we can to teach and demand that religion and its adherents are never exploited for nihilistic politics, for purposes of power and greed."

"We in the Jewish community are hopeful that the entry of our Muslim brothers and sisters into the marvelous tapestry of human experience that is Boston will become partners in spreading the deep truth of the interconnectedness of all human beings," he added.

They prayed in Arabic, Hebrew, and English. The Boston Workmen's Circle, a century-old secular Jewish group from Brookline, sang songs of peace.

The Rev. Edward O'Flaherty represented Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, leader of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

"The doors of the mosque are open, and they're not going to be shut by anyone," O'Flaherty said. ". . . It's not just a welcome that says, 'You stay on your side, and we'll stay on our side, and we won't interact whatsoever.' That's not a tolerance we need or want. What we need, of course, is a mutual acceptance, a mutual welcoming of one another."

Others who spoke beneath the 140-foot minaret included state Senator Dianne Wilkerson, Councilor Chuck Turner, and Mel King, veteran community activist.

"What we celebrate today is Boston's movement toward being a world-class city," King said. "A world class city is where all the gifts of creation come and are found. . . . When Jews and gentiles join with the Muslim community and challenge those folks who would deny this existence, we are moving in the right direction."