Americans raise $600,000 to rebuild burned Texas mosque

Though it is unclear how the mosque caught fire, an online fundraiser seeks to raise $850,000 to rebuild Islamic centre.

Mosque burned in Victoria, Texas [Courtesy of Islamic Centre of Victoria]
The mosque burned hours after Trump's executive order targeting Muslims went into effect [Courtesy of Islamic Centre of Victoria]

A Texas community has rallied behind its Muslim residents after their mosque burned to the ground shortly after President Donald Trump signed into effect a “Muslim ban” on refugees and others from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Following the news that their house of worship in southeast Texas was completely destroyed early on Saturday, the Islamic Centre of Victoria set up an online donation drive via GoFundMe to rebuild. It has raised more than $600,000 of its $850,000 goal in 24 hours.

“We were very shocked Saturday morning when we saw the mosque burning,” Shahid Hashmi, president of the Islamic Centre, told Al Jazeera.

According to local reports, the building caught fire shortly after 2am local time. 

Now, the outpouring of monetary and moral support has shocked Hashmi again: “It’s incredible. We are very grateful.”

Hashmi had just come from a meeting with representatives from the local synagogue and churches, as well as laypeople. “Muslims came from Houston, Dallas, which is four hours away … It was really heartwarming, everything has been good.”

But the mosque’s destruction has sent ripples throughout the community. The Victoria police and fire department are working with the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to determine the fire’s cause.

“I hope it wasn’t a hate crime,” Hashmi continued. The doctor has lived in the so-called “Bible Belt,” one of the most conservative parts of the United States, for 40 years. The mosque was constructed in 2000, just a year before the September 11 attacks.

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When asked how the political climate after President Trump signed the “Muslim ban” compared to the times after September 11, which saw a massive spike in hate crimes, Hashmi said it’s “about the same”.

He added: “Nothing hateful has been expressed locally. Nationally, obviously, there are many more voices that are anti-Muslim.”

The Victoria Fire Department told Al Jazeera an investigation is ongoing. 

Although it remains unclear if the mosque was burned down deliberately, John Esposito of the Bridge Initiative, a research project that connects the academic study of Islamophobia with the public square, explained that hate crimes have risen since Trump’s inauguration.

Some of the hate crimes targeting Muslims seemed to be inspired by the new president, Esposito told Al Jazeera. “We see with the number of hate crimes – not all [of them] – people are saying lines that Mr Trump has used,” he said. 

‘No community should lose its home’

Saturday evening, a federal judge in New York blocked deportations stemming from the order.

Commenters on the GoFundMe page are speaking out against a perceived national wave of discrimination and the Trump administration.

Benjamin Tamber-Rosenau, who donated $100, wrote that his ancestors fled to the US from Europe due to persecution of Jewish communities.

“Now we are watching another community become victims of baseless hatred here in the United States, with the complicity (at minimum) of a depressingly large part of our government, including our president … whatever the cause of this fire, no community should lose its home,” he wrote. 

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Martin Wagner, another donator, had one of the highest-rated comments: “I’m an atheist and I am deeply saddened and disgusted by what was done to you. Religious freedom and freedom from persecution are fundamental rights!”

With so many donations coming in, Hashmi happily commented there might be enough funds to rebuild by the end of the weekend. He is in contact with the original builder of the mosque who is ready to help, and the next step is to clear the debris and attain building permits.

“God willing, we will celebrate Ramadan in the new mosque,” Hashmi concluded.

Follow Creede on Twitter: @creedenewton

Source: Al Jazeera