In the early morning hours of January 28, the Victoria Islamic Center burned to the ground. The blaze came at an already chaotic time for the Muslim community in Texas, just a day after President Donald Trump issued a travel ban from seven majority-Muslim countries to the U.S, which caused hundreds of people to be detained in airports across the country. It was in that climate that news of the mosque fire made national headlines. No one was hurt.
On Wednesday afternoon, investigators announced that the fire was intentionally set, according to the Victoria Advocate. They fell short, however, of determining a motive. “At this time, the evidence does not indicate the fire was a biased crime,” the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which was assisting with the investigation, said in a news release. Whether or not the fire was a hate crime will almost certainly remain unclear unless an arrest is made, but catching the culprit is clearly a high priority: there’s a $30,000 award for anyone with information leading to an indictment.
Members of the mosque were understandably disheartened to hear that their house of worship was incinerated on purpose. “We are saddened and alarmed by the outcome of the investigation,” mosque leaders said in a press release, according to the Advocate (you can read the Advocate‘s extensive coverage of the fire here). “Despite several indications of arson, we offered prayers of hope that the cause of fire would be accident rather than intentional act.”
The entire complex was reduced to nothing but a pile of ashen rubble after the fire gutted the structure and left it unsalvageable, causing about $500,000 worth of damage. But the resiliency of the mosque members and the incredible response from Victoria’s interfaith community has arguably eclipsed the fire itself. A GoFundMe page set up to raise money for a new mosque passed the fundraiser’s goal of $850,000 within days of the fire, and as of Thursday afternoon, it had raised an incredible $1,102,810. More than 23,000 people donated money, with the average donation at just over $47. “You can see when small donations are put together great things can come about,” mosque member Omar Rachid, who set up the GoFundMe page, told the Advocate. “Above all, it restores our faith and belief that people want us here. They want us to be part of the community. They want us to be part of the American fiber.”
There was more than just financial support for the mosque members. Emails, phone calls and text messages expressing support poured in from all across the country, and from nations as far away as Zimbabwe. According to the Advocate, one woman donated a handmade prayer rug, and a man offered his truck to help haul dirt during the demolition and rebuild. A local synagogue, three Christian churches, and the owner of a vacant building all offered their spaces to the mosque members to hold their prayer services, which happen five times a day. The day after the fire, 400 people from across all faiths gathered at the site of the fire in a show of solidarity as firefighters picked through the rubble in the background. Now, the mosque plans to rebuild even bigger and better, with leftover funds going toward a free health clinic they had hoped to open in an adjacent building before the fire.
“God always has a plan,” mosque member Abe Ajrami told the Advocate. “Out of tragedies, sometimes good things happen.”