The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo looks grand when viewing it from I-75. You can’t tell from the outside that a fire wreaked devastation inside the mosque.
The sprinklers worked. The structure was saved. Insurance will cover repairs. But the fire, heat, smoke, and water from the incident on Sunday caused major damage to the house of worship and school.
In the prayer room, where shoes were once removed in reverence, work boots now tread. The center of the carpet is burned. The interior of the dome above it must be replaced. The bookcases next to where the imam would stand, which contained Qur’ans and books and which worshipers would see when facing Mecca, are now empty.
“You can see the smoke on the wall and then, around the dome. It’s not supposed to be that color — how gray it is,” said Dr. Mahjabeen Islam, president of the Islamic Center.
Bill Lark of SMB Construction, which is working on the cleanup, said he “couldn't ask for a better place to be right now. Everybody's been wonderful.” But the wonder of the mosque's leaders is tempered by the attack on their building. Dr. Islam said, “However much you expect [bad news], it's no, this couldn't have happened, how could this happen? It's just in one fell swoop taken everything,” she said. “For people who've seen it before, they can understand that it's absolutely every single room [damaged]. That is what really bothers me, and I say it ad nauseum, that if it was a burglary or a shooting you just get one section, and you can fix it up. They say now six months, it's going to take six months” to restore the mosque's interior.
And in the meantime, the Islamic School of Greater Toledo, which has 25 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade, must meet in Maumee, at the Arrowhead Park Learning Center of Owens Community College.
Jenise Protsman, who teaches reading, language arts, and social studies to first through fourth-grade students — and whose religion is Christian-based — said the fire is “very gut-wrenching.”
She said it was “very shocking to walk in” to the classrooms Wednesday when the teachers went to salvage what they could.
On Thursday, tearful teachers were still salvaging what remained, learning that many items, including materials and posters made by hand and memorabilia for the children, could not be used after the fire.
Manal El-Sheikh, a Muslim kindergarten teacher who has taught at the school since it opened and was being helped by a girl whom she taught three years earlier, was cleaning book covers while wearing blue rubber gloves.
These classrooms on the first floor were flooded from the sprinkler putting the fire out on the second floor.
She said that she was sad that so much material — some that she made and items she brought from Egypt, such as Arabic alphabet instruction items — cannot be taken to the temporary school.
She said, "We all come from the same family, Adam and Eve, whether you like it or not."
In other words, the attacker is not so far from the victim.
Randy Linn, 52, of St. Joe, Ind., was charged Wednesday in Perrysburg Municipal Court with two counts of aggravated arson, two counts of aggravated burglary, and carrying a concealed weapon.
Federal and Ohio authorities named him as “the person of interest” captured by a surveillance camera outside the Islamic Center during the fire on Sunday.
He was being held in the Wood County jail Thursday night in lieu of a $400,000 bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 11.
"If anything is a hate crime, this is it," Dr. Islam said.
Rather than dwelling on the hate, though, Dr. Islam speaks about an Arabic word, Masliha.
This means, she said, "there is a divine will or divine reasonings why some things happen, so maybe there's a divine will [to this incident].
"Maybe it's to tell the nation and the world that this is an issue that Muslims are under attack, and we need to stop bigotry and intolerance. Maybe it just makes Muslims come together and resolve their differences around this issue. One never knows."
Toledo-area Muslims will be together today for prayers at 1:30 p.m. under a tent on the grounds of the Islamic Center. Friday happens to be the 32nd anniversary of the dedication of the mosque.
The larger community will stand with Muslims at 2 p.m. Sunday for an interfaith service at the Islamic Center.
While Dr. Islam welcomes the support of the Muslim and non-Muslim communities, her gratitude is shadowed by memories of the damage.
"The first time that I did the walk through [after the fire] it was dark because the power was out. I could see that there was water all over the place, there was soot in the water and, like, black puddles, and there was obviously a very large burnt area in the prayer area.
"But the greater impact," she said on Thursday while showing the damage to reporters, "because of the passage of a couple of days is now — because now that the power is there, I see that every single room is damaged, and some are damaged more than others. But every single room of the Islamic Center is out of commission, and it's now sinking in, both the extent of the damage physically and the impact emotionally sinking in, and it is very difficult to deal with. I'm sorry, it is very emotional.
“These wounds can only be healed by the balm of love and compassion. You can't burn our spirit,” she said.
Contact TK Barger at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6278.