Rising from the ashes, Islamic center a symbol of tolerance

The center is a welcoming place for people of all faiths

Members of the congregation pray during a Friday prayer service at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo.
Members of the congregation pray during a Friday prayer service at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo.

You would never think that bricks and mortar would have such a deep emotional and spiritual pull on people. But they do.

The people who built the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in 1982 were devastated when an arsonist set fire to the prayer room at the Perrysburg Township center six months ago.

These people had worked hard to make the center a welcoming place for people of all faiths. The center became the face of progressive Islam in America.

Yet in the 30 years of the center’s existence, the tide would turn and someone brimming with hatred and misplaced patriotism would want to burn the place down.

Randy Linn, the confessed arsonist, claims he was under the influence of alcohol when he set the prayer room on fire. Instead, he was in a haze of self-righteousness and Islamophobia that has been generated and perpetuated by extreme right-wing politicians, certain clergy, and their willing surrogates in the media.

Linn said he wanted to avenge the deaths of American soldiers overseas. In his mind, Muslims were responsible for those deaths. He claimed that Muslims have had a free pass in this country.

He decided to avenge the deaths of U.S. soldiers by torching a mosque in the heartland of America. Whether Muslims in general and American Muslims in particular had anything to do with those deaths was irrelevant to Linn.

An enemy — to him, Islam — had been identified by some politicians and talking heads. That was good enough for him.

When our young men and women are pushed into the blazing fire and confusion of war and told to fight the enemy, anyone who does not look like them becomes a presumed enemy.

We do not define our enemies; our leaders do. During the Iraq War, then-President George W. Bush and his neo-conservative cabal did the defining based on information that was inaccurate at best and concocted at worst.

Armed with flawed reasoning, some of our soldiers unsurprisingly did things that were beyond the pale. Desecrating Qur’ans and wantonly killing civilians were part of the mindset that gave us the My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1968 and the inhuman treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003. There were many more such incidents.

American airwaves have been ablaze with incendiary rhetoric against Muslims and their religion. The Rev. Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who burned a Qur’an a year ago, is not the only one who has poked his unholy finger in the Muslim eye.

Even when we take a leap of bad faith and say that somehow Muslims in other countries are responsible for terrorism and American deaths, how can anyone justify violence against American Muslims? Most of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims have nothing to do with terrorism. Many of them also are victims of religious violence.

American Muslims pledge allegiance to the same flag and Republic that those in other faith communities do. They are loyal citizens and productive members of society.

Aside from the emotional toll that Linn’s misplaced patriotism and unfettered hatred of Muslims had on the community, his crime also was costly.

By the time the Islamic center is restored fully, the cost will be more than $1 million. There is no price tag for the irreplaceable works of religious art that members had gathered from around the world and given to the center.

Linn is to be sentenced on April 16 in the court of U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary. Under the binding plea agreement, he is expected to be sentenced to a 20-year prison term.

Even though it will take another month or so to render the Islamic center fully functional, recently a Friday service recently was held in the still-under-repair prayer area.

It was an emotional event for most members. When Imam Farooq Abo Elzahab, the center’s spiritual leader, climbed the minbar to deliver his sermon about how tolerance, acceptance, and inclusiveness define the universal brotherhood of mankind, there was hardly a dry eye in the congregation.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

Contact him at: aghaji@bex.net