Yesterday well over 600 citizens of the Greater Toledo Area gathered in support of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo which was damaged by arson a week previously. We gathered in a large tent, as the Islamic Center is still too damaged to be used. As the 500 chairs filled, members of the Islamic community were asked to sit on prayer rugs on the floor, so that guests could use the chairs. Even then, the perimeter of the tent was lined with standing attendees. It was a crowd of people of all faiths and great love.
On September 30, 2012, at just before 5:00 PM, a man sneaked inside the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo with a gas can and, what appeared in surveillance footage, to be a revolver. He wondered through the building and left after setting fire to the prayer room rug. Fortunately no one was there and no one was hurt. But the damage from smoke and water has affected every room of the iconic structure.
The alleged perpetrator, Randy Linn from Fort Wayne, Indiana, was apprehended fairly quickly. He reportedly was disturbed by the now notorious video which has been used to incite violence overseas. He wanted to send a message of fear.
I cannot say that there has not been some fear generated by this act, which has now been declared an act of terrorism and will be prosecuted under federal laws. There has certainly been much grief. But the community’s outpouring of love and support has sent a far stronger message.
Dr. Mahjabeen Islam, President of the Islamic Center, graciously moderated the numerous faith and civic leaders who spoke at the service. She related that she had not realized how much she loved the Center. Her grief is like losing family members when she was a child. Sheikh Ibrahim Djemaa and Sheikh Kamal Najib offered prayers. Nihad Awad of CAIR and Dr. Maseeh Rahman, President of United Muslim Association of Toledo, spoke.
Amanjeev Singh of our local Sikh community spoke of the terrorism against those who look different and expressed solidarity with his Muslim brothers and sisters.
Speaking for the MultiFaith Council of NW Ohio, I quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”. I said that we have developed such deep friendships across faith lines in Northwest Ohio, that it felt like someone attacked our family. I prayed that the love of the larger community would be a support to those grieving loss.
Rev. Ed Heilman declared that the community would help rebuild the mosque. He offered a contribution from his church and said, “You are not alone. We will rebuild together.”
Rabbi Moshe Saks quoted from his Shabbat sermon that Jews are mandated by the Torah and Jewish Law to be hospitable to the stranger. He charged us all to to never let an incident of harming the ‘other’ go by without standing up for the victim. He said to go out and tell our neighbors and friends about the Prayer Service. He asked us to challenge them, nicely, about why they were not also there.
Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur reminded us of the time right after 9/11 when someone shot into the mosque stained glass window. Hundreds of people of all faiths came out and surrounded the mosque in prayer. She said she sent the photo of that prayer circle to every representative saying that this is my District. She felt that photos of this gathering would also make a statement to the world.
Ajit Jaggi, Chairman of the Board of the Hindu Temple, spoke words of sympathy and peace. [Ajit was a tireless worker on several of our MultiFaith Habitat Builds.]
Angela Zimman, a Lutheran Pastor, offered her congregation’s love.
Ava Rotell Dustin, Assistant United States Attorney also spoke. Mahjabeen recognized and praised the fire department and all of the police and government agencies involved in the investigation.
Judy Wilcox of Maumee United Methodist Church, presented herself ‘as not anyone important, just an ordinary person’. She said that her church had experienced a fire. She said that the disaster had galvanized her church, which had been dying, and now holds four services on Sunday. She offered a Prayer Quilt, pieced and knotted by loving hands of her church members. She seemed pretty extraordinary to me.
Jay Weik, priest of the Toledo Zen Temple, offered a breathing practice to illustrate that we are one.
Dr. Larry Conway said his son who lives in Indiana called his father to say there are still ‘some nice people in Indiana’. He pledged $1000 to help repair the mosque.
Imam Farooq AboElzahab of the Islamic Center closed with prayer.
Forgive me that this is a rather long post. But I think the increase in attacks against faith communities is a trend that needs countering. As Americans we need to realize that these attacks are against all of us. At stake is a freedom that is rare and precious, one that is the very foundation of what this country means. I am proud that we were able to gather in peace yesterday to support our brothers and sisters. I also know that as interfaith community builders, we still have much work to do. I hope that we all will have the courage and stamina to continue.
I would like to recommend this local news story. It is a remarkable personal account of one woman’s [a dear friend’s] grief and overriding faith. “Mosque school’s kindergarten teacher talks of her grief over fire’s damage: Faculty member, on staff since start, reveals she ID’d suspect to police”, by TK Barger, BLADE RELIGION EDITOR – click here.
News stories of the prayer service: