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TIGARD, Ore. (AP) — "Allahu akbar," the emcee began, glancing around the gymnasium playfully.
"That means, 'God is the greatest,' not that an explosion is about to happen," Nadia Najieb said, prompting a collective laugh from the 700-plus audience. "Don't get excited. We're acknowledging that God comes first."
Anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States was a recurring theme Saturday at the Muslim Educational Trust's grand opening of its new Tigard community center and school.
"We shouldn't let an ignorant person like Donald Trump bother us," said Wajdi Said, head of the organization. "We shouldn't let our rotten apples make us apologetic."
The Republican presidential candidate recently sparked an international uproar by saying he wants to ban Muslims from entering the United States after a mass shooting in Southern California carried out by Islamic State sympathizers.
Muslims in the U.S. have felt backlash since the Islamic State attacked Paris last month, from vandalism at mosques to haranguing on the street. Worshippers found a severed pig's head at the door of their mosque in Philadelphia this week. President Barack Obama recently warned against stereotyping Muslims based on extremists.
Inside the Muslim Educational Trust's new gymnasium, local faith leaders and officials pointed to interfaith friendships as an antidote to misunderstanding and hatred. More than 30 people took the stage to speak at the grand opening.
"We are here because we are in a multicultural community that wants opportunity for all and acceptance for all," Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said before announcing he'd named Dec. 12, 2015 Islamic Heritage Day in Portland, drawing a standing ovation.
The building is unique in its combination of schooling and community common area. The lower level houses classrooms for kindergarten and elementary students, a cafeteria, an Olympic-length pool and a gymnasium. Middle and high school students meet on the second floor.
The new building has been open since Sept. 7, when more than 150 students started fall term at the K-12 school — the only accredited Islamic school in Oregon. The pool opened Saturday and final touches are being made to the gymnasium this week.
Families can pay a monthly membership fee for access to the center's facilities. Day passes will be available as well.
The center and school are open to all — not just Muslim families — said Rania Ayoub, director of public relations for the Muslim Educational Trust, but the planners took Islamic values into account when designing the building. For instance, the pool room is designed to be private when necessary, which is essential for some Muslim women.
Several women attending Saturday's event said the pool is the feature they're most excited about. Most community centers do not have women-only swim hours, said Rubina Khan, or a facility that protects swimmers from the eyes of passers-by.
Others in attendance said they hope the new building will give Muslim students reason to feel proud and provide a space for non-Muslims to learn about the faith.
"We're not these outsiders hiding in rented office buildings and warehouses," said Mohamed Alyajouri, whose children attend the Islamic school. "We're a structured part of the community."
Construction began in August 2013, and the Muslim Educational Trust operated out of rented office space until the $9.5 million center was complete last summer. Leaders are still trying to raise $175,000 to install solar panels and bulletproof windows.
"I want them to be proud of being American Muslims," Said said of students. "Nothing wrong with being that."
Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com
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