USA First Look

Helping hands: More than $900K raised to rebuild Texas mosque after a fire

More than 19,000 people have donated to help rebuild a south Texas mosque that was destroyed by a fire over the weekend.

A US flag flies outside the Victoria Islamic Center Sunday, the day after the mosque was left damaged by a fire in Victoria, Texas,
Mohammad Khursheed/Reuters
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A Texas mosque destroyed in a fire over the weekend has received more than $900,000 in online donations in two days – $50,000 more than was needed to rebuild.

The Victoria Islamic Center went up in flames early Saturday, just hours after President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. But Muslim leaders are urging people not to jump to conclusions, as authorities have not yet determined the cause of the blaze and have found no evidence linking it to the order. 

As of Monday morning, more than 19,000 people had made donations to the mosque's GoFundMe page. On Sunday, about 500 people showed up for a prayer service in front of the destroyed mosque. 

"Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the tremendous support we've received," said mosque leaders in a statement on the online fundraising page. "The outpouring of love, kind words, hugs, helping hands and the financial contributions are examples of the true American Spirit." 

The weeks and months following the recent presidential election saw a rise in reported hate crimes (apparently from extremists on the right and left), and crimes against American Muslims specifically increased significantly in 2015. But the period after the election also saw a surge in acts of kindness and efforts to find unity in a polarizing time, as Harry Bruinius reported for The Christian Science Monitor a week after the election: 

As hate speech and crimes have fostered fear among minorities nationwide, many advocates have been...surprised at the outpouring of support that they have received – raising hopes that amid the turmoil of this election, communities can forge greater unity and strength.

On Monday, the FBI reported that attacks against American Muslims surged by 67 percent in 2015, driving a larger increase in hate crimes nationwide last year. And civil rights groups say that trend has only increased so far in 2016, fueled by the vitriol and rhetoric of this year’s presidential campaigns.

In recent weeks, violence has also flared on the other side, with Trump supporters being attacked verbally and physically, though the extent of the violence is less clear...

But minorities and others aren't waiting for authorities to take action. 

"Over the coming weeks and months I think we are going to see a lot of coalition building and finding strength and sources of hope and solidarity through these efforts," Madihha Ahussain, staff attorney at Muslim Advocates in Oakland, Calif., told the Monitor. "It’s important for communities to come together – and I think there's been a lot of this the past few days. That, I think, brings strength to those communities who are impacted, helping them recognize that no one community is going to be alone." 

Apart from a break-in last week and a hate message directed at the mosque in 2013, the Victoria Islamic Center has had little trouble with the community, Shahid Hashmi, the Islamic center's president, told the AP. He has already received several offers for temporary spaces for the congregation to worship until the mosque is rebuilt. 

"When 9/11 happened, Muslims and non-Muslims, we all got together," he said. "Of course, we will rebuild."

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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