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Imam Cancels Prayer At Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo

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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - The prayers that open events at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo are not specific to any religion and are read by people of various faiths. But the role of an Islamic leader in this year's events sparked outrage on social media.

Imam Moujahed Bakhach of the Islamic Association of Tarrant County was asked to read a prayer on January 25 and February 2. The Imam cancelled his scheduled prayer for Monday, because of the way people reacted to his first appearance in the show.

"My participation may have offended somebody, I know," said Imam Bakhach.

A Fort Worth resident for 32 years, the Imam is a member of Mayor Betsy Price's Faith Leaders Cabinet.

Interfaith blessings, involving Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders opened many of the events at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo this year.

Imam Bakhach says he learned of the negative reaction from the show fans a day after his first appearance to give the prayer.

On Facebook show organizers said they invited each participant to provide a one-minute prayer to include the safety of the contestants, animals and participants, the military men and women and world peace. Organizers said the prayer the Imam provided was a very appropriate blessing.

Before long, people responded to the Facebook post with hundreds of comments. A few were positive, but most reacted negatively to the involvement of a Muslim in the program.

"The issue seemed not to be the prayer and what the person said, but as a Muslim I was not welcomed," said Imam Bakhach.

Imam Bakhach says he knew the show organizers were in a difficult position, and so he voluntarily offered to let them replace him on Monday.

Tuesday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins invited North Texas Islamic leaders, including Imam Bakhach to the commissioners' court meeting as a show of support.

"We work best as a society when we're respectful of one another and treat each other the way we ourselves would want to be treated," Judge Jenkins said.

For Imam Bakhach, there is no anger. But he says what happened makes him realize the need for more communication between the Muslim community and those who cast doubt.

"I think there needs to be education and building a bridge of communication. Our community must increase their outreach and interaction to their neighbors, and to the interfaith community. We need to be active in that and invite people to sit down and talk," said Imam Bakhach.

(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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