Six years after Victoria Islamic Center was completely destroyed in arson fire, the Muslim community is still positive towards the larger community, though staying cautious about their safety.
“Faith wise, we are stronger,” Shahid Hashmi, a founding member of the Victoria congregation, told Victoria Advocate, recalling the arson attack in January 2017.
“As far as concerns about Islamophobia and all of that, we have to be extra vigilant, extra careful. We used to have open doors, now we have locked doors.”
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The mosque was set on fire on January 28, 2017. Marq Vincent Perez, found guilty of federal hate crime and arson charges, is currently serving a 24 1/2-year prison sentence.
Rachid still remembers how hundreds of Victoria residents visited the ruins of the burned mosque in a show of solidarity and unity.
Now, doors are locked with each worshipper having his own code to enter the mosque
“You bring the memory,” he said with a sigh. “Who can forget? It’s just very hard. We have been here in Victoria over 15 years by that time and never had problems with anyone.”
“We have a good relationship with the other faiths here but the fire made us feel unsafe, not secure because we never ever thought something like this would happen.”
Though Muslims have closed the doors of their mosque, their hearts are open to the community.
“We try to stay positive and look to the amazingly outstanding people who were supportive after the fire,” Hassan said. “The way the people of Victoria stood together was amazing.”
Hassan hopes to share what is beautiful about the Muslim faith with everyone.
“When you feel that your hand is in God’s, you feel safe and secure. The prayer makes you feel peace. We have prayer five times a day. If you feel you have done anything wrong or feel guilty, in our prayer, we put our face down and humble ourselves before God,” Hassan said.
“Why argue or be racist toward other people? All of us are of God. All of us are brothers and sisters to each other. We are all of us from the same father, same mother.”
A report published by CAIR titled “Targeted: 2018 Civil Rights Report” recorded 144 anti-mosque incidents in 2017.
Yet, many local communities have offered support to the Muslim community in many cases.
In 2021, members of the local community in Suffolk County in Brentwood, New York, came together in a show of support to the local mosque which was vandalized last month.
In September 2019, the vandalism of the new welcome sign at the Islamic Centre of Grand Junction, Colorado, prompted community to show support and start crowdfunding to repair the damaged sign.