The Unsung: Community supports Muslims after arsonist torches mosque

What happened after a purposely-set fire destroyed a mosque in a small Texas town? An outpouring of mutual support as churches and a synagogue opened their doors to displaced Muslim worshipers.

“When the news got out, my colleague Dr. Gary Branfman, came over to my house to visit me and offered that the synagogue is available for us to use for prayers,” said Dr. Shahid Hashmi, a surgeon who helped found the mosque, told MassMutual. “We had received calls from different churches—the Episcopalian, the Unitarian, the Methodist—and some businesses, all of them offered their places for us to use as the mosque burned.”

The Victoria Islamic Center, named for the Texas town in which it was founded in 2000, was burned to the ground January 28, 2017. The fire, a case of arson, left about 40 families without a place to worship. The entire community stepped in to help.

“The incident with the mosque and the community reaching out really had nothing to do with religion, (and) had nothing to do with politics,” Branfman, a board member of the synagogue, added. “It had to do with being human beings.”

In addition, the community supported fund-raising efforts to rebuild the mosque. Along with outright donations came non-cash gifts of supplies and labor.

“I can't donate much money, but I'd like to donate hands and time,” said one commenter on the GoFundMe page, a sentiment echoed by many others. Fundraising efforts are still under way.

How the community rallied around the mosque shows the strength that can be drawn from mutual support and interdependence.

And it also shows how support generates more support. The mosque used its building site to stage relief supplies for victims of Hurricane Harvey. And when a local family lost its home to fire, congregation members raised money for their rebuilding effort.

"It's the human thing to do," said Heidi Ajrami, a member of the Victoria Islamic Center congregation. "But also we feel strongly for them because we've lost a place to fire and know how devastating that is."

A suspect was charged in the arson of the mosque and is currently awaiting trial.

[1] Victoria Advocate, “Mosque pays it forward to family uprooted by fire,” Feb. 10, 2017.

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