The Unsung, a year later: Burnt mosque has risen from the ashes

Shelly Gigante

By Shelly Gigante
Shelly Gigante specializes in personal finance issues. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications and news websites.
Posted on Nov 4, 2018

Last year, MassMutual celebrated the inspiring people who looked out for each other, exemplifying the Live Mutual ethos and giving us hope after a year that seemed dominated by negative news. 2018 was also full of people going out of their way to help others. But before getting to know them, let's check in on some of our Unsung Heroes from last year.

The mosque that, almost two years ago, was burned to the ground by an arsonist in a small Texas town just recently hosted its grand reopening. It’s an impressive new facility that is bigger and more accommodating than the one that was lost, thanks largely to the support of community members who came to the aid of their Muslim neighbors.

And many were there to help celebrate.

Indeed, more than 300 people attended the celebratory grand reopening of the Victoria Islamic Center, including faith leaders, law enforcement officials, first responders, prosecutors involved in the investigation, volunteers who had helped with the rebuilding, and members of the Muslim congregation, said Irfan Qureshi, a spokesperson for the mosque.

“The positive support we got from our local community and the general public was very uplifting,” he said. “It was that sense of security that we’re not alone. For so many groups to come together and say, ‘This was wrong’ and to stand together in condemning this crime, it really encouraged us to want to rebuild.”

After the fire, neighboring churches and a synagogue opened their doors to displaced Muslim worshippers to conduct their Islamic services. And beyond volunteering their time and resources to help rebuild the mosque, community members also started a GoFundMe page, raising more than $1.1 million to help with construction costs. (Learn more here: Community supports Muslims after arson )

According to Qureshi, the new mosque has been completely redesigned from the ground up, offering more square footage, a separate prayer room for women and men, and a new community hall where members can host potluck dinners and hold meetings.

In last July, the man accused of torching the mosque in January 2017 was convicted of committing both federal arson and a hate crime. But the congregation of the Victoria Islamic Center, named for the Texas town where it was founded in 2000, doesn’t dwell on the past. Instead, it has been much more focused on giving back. 

When Hurricane Harvey blew through in August 2017, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake, the Victoria Islamic Center invited other Islamic Centers to truck in water, diapers, clothing, and other supplies that were stored in their partially built facility.

“We were then able to distribute those goods to the general community, and that was very fulfilling,” said Qureshi. “We were able to participate in getting vital supplies to the people who had helped us.”

As the members of the Victoria Islamic Center embrace their new house of worship, Qureshi said they will not soon forget the cross-cultural kindness that made it possible.

“Without the financial support of not only our local community, but also people worldwide — and we had more than 23,000 donors from several countries — there’s no way we would have been able to rebuild as quickly as we did,” said Qureshi. “Honestly, there aren’t words to express our gratitude.”

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