Multifaith gathering advocates unity

600 pray together week after arson at Islamic Center

10/8/2012
BY TK BARGER
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
The Rev. Martin Otto Zimmann, left, his wife, Rev. Angela Zimmann, Ph.D., and Dr. Mahjabeen Islam, president of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, talking after the event. Over 600 people come together in a
The Rev. Martin Otto Zimmann, left, his wife, Rev. Angela Zimmann, Ph.D., and Dr. Mahjabeen Islam, president of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, talking after the event. Over 600 people come together in a "Multifaith Prayer Service after [the] Heinous attack on the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo" in Perrysburg on Sunday.

After a week dealing with the devastation that a fire caused at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, members and friends of Toledo’s Muslim community were able to gather for prayer. Congregants did so under a tent Sunday because on Sept. 30 an arsonist burned the mosque’s prayer room.

The suspect in the case, Randy Linn, is now in custody and has been charged with two felonies.

Fire, heat, smoke, and water affected every room of the Islamic Center and damage totaled $1 million to $1.5 million, said Dr. Mahjabeen Islam, the Islamic Center's president. Although repairs to the building could take six months, Dr. Islam said, she announced that Friday prayers this week will be held in the mosque’s social hall and the weekend school will be in session there.

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The Juma service —traditional Friday prayers — on Oct. 5 was a special gathering of the area’s combined Islamic communities, and Sunday a multifaith prayer service was held that included addresses from leaders of many religions in the Toledo area and words from officials important to the Islamic Center, including U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who volunteered to put on jeans and be there herself to work hard in rebuilding; assistant U.S. attorney Ava Rotell Dustin; Nihad Awad, the executive director of the national Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, and Angela Zimmann, the Democratic candidate for the 5th Congressional District, who was there in her role as a Lutheran pastor.

Public officials including Toledo City Council members D. Michael Collins and George Sarantou attended without being part of the program.

Several Christian ministers wore their clerical collars. And, as Judy Wilcox of Maumee United Methodist Church said when presenting a prayer quilt to the Islamic Center, “I'm just a regular kind of person, but I figured there’d be others like me here.” The applause confirmed she figured correctly.

Dr. Islam, who was master of ceremonies for the prayer service, opened with remarks that revealed the depth of her pain from the attack on the mosque, associating that feeling with losses in her family through which, she said, “I learned to make my God my world.”

In this world, among other actions, Dr. Islam said, “We will galvanize with our brothers and sisters of all faiths to call out Islamophobia when we see it,” and that the Islamic Center “will work with our legislators to make Islamophobia a crime under federal law.”

Rabbi Moshe Saks of B'Nai Temple Israel issued a charge to the congregation: “When you see your friends,” he said, “tell them you were here and ask them why they were not here. Don't be obnoxious about it, don't be smug,” he continued, “get them to talk about what this meant here.” He made the point that through conversation, differences that cause hate and create the perception of an “other” can be eliminated.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, urges congregants to speak out against Islamophobia.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, urges congregants to speak out against Islamophobia.

Prayers were offered by, among others, Judy Trautman of the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio, Ajit Jaggi of the Hindu Temple of Toledo in Sylvania, and Imam Farooq AboElzahab, the religious leader of the Islamic Center.

Mr. Awad of the national council said that one person — an arsonist — came to the Islamic Center on a Sunday a week ago, but “600 people came on another Sunday” for the multifaith prayer service.

“I urge of you to be visible and not to be silent,” Mr. Awad said. “This is the take-home message: ‘Don’t be silent.’ If you see Islamophobia, stand up. Push back. You don’t have to be the imam. You don’t even have to be a Muslim. Push back. When you see some bad and negative and biased coverage, which is a lot, speak up and challenge stereotypes. Because when people hear you, when they see you, you are really lighting a candle in front of darkness.”

The Friday Juma service was held with the entire Muslim community invited for a combined service of area mosques.

In the prayer service Imam Farooq, as he is called, spoke of the mosque in his address.

“Our mosque is so glorious,” he said. “Look at the mosque from outside: where is the fire that they are talking about? The mosque is giving you and me a message. ‘Do not worry, I am still standing with glory. I am standing with greatness. I am standing with that divine grace of God almighty.’ ”

The imam gave character to the mosque in his message. He said the mosque is saying, “I can survive this hardship just like what? Like a mother who might be suffering inside, yet she shows strength to her children ... ”

“The mosque for us is our mother,” he said. “The mosque for us is our father. The mosque for us is the shelter. The mosque for us is our safe haven, where we see each other, where Muslims and non-Muslims come together. The challenge is how to be united. Our mosque is looking at us to say, ‘See what they have done to me? See what they did to me? Be careful, you've got to be united, you've got to behave as one nation under God, you've got to love one another.’”

After the ceremony Nour Taouil, who was worshipping at the Islamic Center, said about the fire, “Feelings and emotions ran high because we grew up in this community and never had a problem before. We got along with all our neighbors, and when that happened we were in disbelief, and we were hoping that it was just an accident and that somebody wouldn't do this intentionally to hurt us that way.

“But after they caught [the arson suspect] there was closure, that the perpetrator was caught and that this basically would prevent it happening to other mosques, that this evil person was taken out of the community. We appreciated all the support that we got from different cultures, different religions that came together and supported us. It tells us how nice the city of Toledo and how nice this community is, like a melting pot, and we can't let one person ruin it for all.”

Contact TK Barger at: tbarger@theblade.com or 419-724-6278.