Thursday February 02, 2017

Texas community rallies around members of local mosque after fire razes building

(Victoria Islamic Center)

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The only mosque in Victoria, Texas has been reduced to a burned-out shell.

Early Sunday morning, a fire ripped through the building. Authorities are still trying to figure out if it was arson.

USA-MOSQUE/

A security official investigates the aftermath of the fire. (Mohammad Khursheed/REUTERS)


But out of the loss has come remarkable generosity. An online fundraising campaign has now raised over $1 million for the community to rebuild. In the meantime, a local synagogue and Christian churches have said, "Come on in."

Dr. Shahid Hashmi is the president of the Victoria Islamic Centre. He spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about the overwhelming support. Here is part of their conversation.

Mosque Fire

The early-morning fire Saturday destroyed the mosque that was a target of hatred several years ago. (Barclay Fernandez/The Victoria Advocate/AP)


Helen Mann: Dr. Hashmi, tell us about how the Christian and Jewish community in Victoria responded after the fire at your mosque?

Dr. Shahid Hashmi: That community has always been very friendly with us, even before this incident happened. But when the fire happened and the mosque was destroyed, four or five different churches — Lutheran, Unitarian, Presbyterian, Episcopalian church, a Jewish synagogue and some other office building — they offered their place for us to do our worships while we are waiting for things to settle down.

HM: What is the impact of those offers have had on members of your mosque? What are people saying about the response?

SH: They are very appreciative. We just are humbled by the type of support we've gotten, not only from our local community, but internationally.


HM: Tell us about the night of fire. How did you find out the building was burning?

SH: We were kind of on the alert for what was going on. In the middle of the night, about two o'clock, our imam woke up and, for some reason, he checked the cameras. He found that there was no cameras working and the doors were open. So, knowing that something had happened in the past, he just drove over to the mosque. By the time he reached there, it was already on fire and the fire engines were already working there. Just crying in tears, he called me and I just jumped off the bed. We both rushed over here and, of course, the rest of the community showed up later on.

HM: What went through you when you were watching that fire?

SH: Nothing but shock. Nothing but shock that anything like this could happen. We just watched it burn down over the next three hours. It's just a bad dream. It felt like a bad dream.
USA-MOSQUE/

Security officials investigate the aftermath of the fire at the Victoria Islamic Center mosque in Victoria, Texas. (Mohammad Khursheed/REUTERS)


HM: How much of your mosque's history has gone with that?

SH: All the records and religious books — everything is burned down. The building itself is gone. Everybody commented on how beautiful the building has been. The local community, Muslims, Christians and Jews have enjoyed that building, visiting each other over the past. Now, one day, you're so down, particularly crying and feeling sorry for yourself. But, the next day, when the community got together, we had just a boost in our faith in humanity.


HM: Meantime, fire officials have been investigating. Do you have any concerns that this might have been a deliberate attack?

SH: Well, obviously, the concern is there. But right now we are hoping and praying that it was an accident.

HM: There's been so much anti-Muslim rhetoric lately and, of course, even from some of the highest levels of the U.S. government, how has that affected Muslims in the your community?

SH: Just concern, being cautious. I don't think that we want to politicize this event, period. I don't think there is any direct connection to it. But, of course, across the nation, like everybody else, we are definitely concerned about it.
USA-MOSQUE/

Signs rest outside the Victoria Islamic Center a day after a fire destroyed the mosque in Victoria, Texas. (Mohammad Khursheed/REUTERS)


HM: In addition to the local support you've had within your community, you've had people from all over the world donating to this fund to rebuild the mosque. What does that mean to you?

SH: It just means that everywhere in the world there is good. There is good in the majority. The majority of humanity, no matter what race, creed, faith you belong to, majority of people are good. It's only a minority of people that sometimes destroy and, of course, media exploits that . . . As a believer in our faith, we are told that a true believer, when he has good times and good things happen to him, he is grateful. When something like tragedy strikes, he is patient.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Shahid Hashmi.