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10 years after Joplin mosque arson, national podcast features perspective of former member

Springfield News-Leader logo Springfield News-Leader 6/24/2022 Greta Cross, Springfield News-Leader

Ten years ago, the Islamic Society of Joplin mosque was burned down. This month, a nationally-acclaimed podcast featured a perspective of a former member, who remembers how the incident impacted his family and community.

"The Moth," is a nonprofit dedicated to sharing stories of diversity and commonality of the human experience through its radio show and podcast. In the organization's podcast episode, "The Moth Radio Hour: Something Borrowed, Something New," listeners hear from four storytellers, including Omar Qureshi, who grew up attending the Joplin mosque.

On Aug. 6, 2012, Jedediah Stout, now 38, set fire to the Islamic Society of Joplin mosque. He pleaded guilty in April 2016 to setting fire to the mosque and trying twice to set fire to the Joplin Planned Parenthood location. No one was injured in the fires. Stout was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison but was released in 2018, according to online federal bureau records.

Qureshi moved to Joplin with his family in 2003, and at the time, the city didn't have a mosque. He described growing up in Joplin as a Pakistani Muslim as "very, very difficult."

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During his first week at a new school, Qureshi was asked if he was Osama Bin Laden or a member of Al-Qaeda.

Qureshi also recalled an experience at Richard's Hawgwild BBQ in Aurora. Now closed, Hawgwild was known for its Nachos Challenge. Guests who could eat eight pounds of nachos would have their photo featured on the wall.

In the story Qureshi shared, he was two days into fasting for Ramadan when he decided he would tackle the Nacho Challenge.

"(My waiter) looked me dead in the eyes and was like, 'Listen buddy, there ain't no way in hell an Arab is going to eat that many nachos,'" Qureshi said. "Which I've heard a lot of stereotypes before, but ... haven't heard the old Arab and the nachos thing. So at first, I just wanted to eat a lot of nachos; but to combat racism, I was going to eat all the nachos."

Qureshi completed the challenge in 27 minutes and his photo hung in Hawg until it closed. A photo of Qureshi's sign can be viewed on "The Moth" website under "Story Photos + Extras."

Fortunately for Qureshi, as the Muslim population began to grow in southwest Missouri, the Islamic Society of Joplin mosque was built. The mosque served as a place of worship but also provided a sense of community, Qureshi explained in the episode.

“There were little girls and little boys who spoke with accents or who wore hijabs, head scarfs, into class," Qureshi said. "In rural Missouri, that was very hard for them, so a lot of them didn’t have the confidence to speak up. But by having a mosque there, where we could teach people public speaking and allow them to express their identity as they saw fit, they started to get braver. The place mattered to them.”

After graduating high school, Qureshi attended college on the east coast. Upon searching the Joplin Globe for updates on the Monett High School football team, Qureshi came across a headline that left him speechless: "'Suspicious' fire destroys Joplin mosque."

"It was during Ramadan, and I knew that my parents were there the night before," Qureshi said. "I couldn’t allow myself to think of the reality that might have happened, so I picked up my phone and called my dad. The phone rang and it rang, and there was no answer. Then I called my mom, my sister and brother. No response. I kept calling throughout the night."

At 6 a.m. the next morning, Qureshi's father returned his calls. To Qureshi's relief, his family hadn't been at the mosque when it was set on fire. 

During a college break, Qureshi returned home to visit his family and the empty lot where the mosque once stood. The only thing that remained was a mailbox, which held a single letter.

“That letter said, ‘When the tornado struck, I had nowhere to go,'" Qureshi said. "'No one would take my daughter and wife, but you did. I don’t understand you and I don’t understand your religion, but what I do understand is this: that when we needed you, you were there for us. But when you needed us, we weren’t there for you.’”

More: Photos: 2011 Joplin tornado damage

The letter referenced the EF5-rated tornado that hit Joplin on May 22, 2011. The tornado devastated the entire community: 161 people died, more than 1,300 were injured and about $3 billion worth of damage was done.

Qureshi said during the aftermath of the tornado, the Muslim community opened a free clinic to help those with minor wounds, as hospitals were overrun.

In the years following the burning of the mosque, local churches and synagogues came together to help the Muslim community. Today, a new mosque stands in Joplin, providing a place of worship for residents of Joplin and neighboring states.

“Being a Muslim in Missouri means that you have to endure things that you never thought you would have to and that no one should," Qureshi said. "But I learned that day (visiting the mosque) that it matters and it’s worth it.”

Today, Qureshi is a trial lawyer at Qureshi Law and an award-winning comedian.

Qureshi originally told his story at a live storytelling event in Anchorage, Alaska hosted by "The Moth" and Arctic Entries, an organization that allows Alaskans to share personal stories on a stage. Live storytelling events are a big part of "The Moth" structure. Held nationwide, these events encourage folks to share stories, which are then included in radio show and podcast episodes.

"The Moth" has been sharing stories via radio and podcast since 1997. Over the last 25 years, over 50,000 stories have been told at live events. "The Moth Radio Hour" is aired on over 570 radio stations and the podcast has reached 90 million annual downloads since its start, according to "The Moth" media kit.

"The Moth Radio Hour: Something Borrowed, Something New," was published on June 13, but the original radio show aired in October 2018. The episode can be listened to on all podcast platforms.

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The case of Jedediah Stout

In addition to setting the Islamic Society of Joplin mosque on fire on Aug. 6, 2012, Stout attempted to set fire to the Joplin Planned Parenthood on two different occasions.

During his guilty plea, Stout admitted to two arson attempts on Oct. 3 and Oct. 4, 2013. In both attempts, Stout threw items full of accelerant onto the Planned Parenthood roof, then ignited attached materials. Stout admitted that he targeted the Planned Parenthood because they "provide reproductive health care services," according to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs.

Along with his 63 months of imprisonment, Stout was ordered to pay $701,971 in restitution for his actions against the mosque and Planned Parenthood.

Stout's case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Missouri State Highway Patrol; and the Joplin Police Department.

Greta Cross is the trending topics reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @gretacrossphoto. Story idea? Email her at

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: 10 years after Joplin mosque arson, national podcast features perspective of former member


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