AUSTIN, Texas – The Muslim community in Austin, Texas, have opened their doors to welcome people of all faiths inside their mosque, following a series of vandalizing attacks targeting their worshipping houses and businesses alike.
“There are large numbers of Muslims who would rather be unnoticed as opposed to rocking the boat,” the North Austin Muslim Community Center, Imam Islam Mossaad, told KUT.
“We want to let the new generation of Muslims that grew up in America, that were born and raised in America, to bring that American outspokenness to our community and to represent the community positively.”
The Islamic center, which opened in the 90s, was attacked on September 2, resulting in the front doors and windows broken, shattered glass on the ground, and slashed vehicle tires in the parking lot.
Another attack targeted the center on September 13 when a van used by the center had its tire slashed.
“It was troubling,” Mossaad said, “but we thought, ‘This is just a one-time incident, just a random incident, and we can move on.'”
Since the attacks, the mosque has held a community forum with city leaders, and police have asked for the public’s help in identifying anyone involved in the attacks, including a person of interest spotted in surveillance footage.
Yisa Sulaiman, who comes to the mosque almost every day for evening prayers, said that the experience has brought him closer to the congregation.
“People can even attack you [going] down the street,” he said. “This is a place of worship, so I feel safe coming here.”
The mosque recently hosted a safety workshop with the Austin Police Department and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“We started to realize that, look, irrespective of what the potential motivations may be, bias or otherwise, people are starting to get concerned,” says Maira Sheikh, executive director of the Austin chapter of CAIR.
She says she hopes these trainings will make the Muslim community more comfortable talking to police.
“I think a lot of times, especially in immigrant communities, people are a little bit afraid to approach the police department,” Sheikh said.
“So just even having the face to face and understanding where they could call, or who they call, was a little bit different.”
About 20 miles west of the North Austin Muslim Community Center, the Islamic Center of Lake Travis has opened its doors after it was burnt to the ground.
Rashed says it took months of fundraising and rebuilding before the mosque could finally open for services this past May.
“If we look at that incident – yes, it was really horrible, but it also brought our community together and it exposed our community to a lot of other communities around here,” Rashed says. “I shouldn’t call it a blessing, but we basically reacted in the way that we could use whatever happened to a positive end.”