A painful chapter in the life of the Islamic community of Toledo ended happily last month. The community celebrated the full restoration of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo.
In September, 2012, a man was arrested in Indiana for setting fire to the Islamic Center, in Perrysburg Township. At the time of his arrest, he said he was under the influence of alcohol when he doused the prayer area under the center’s dome with gasoline and lit a match.
However, he later said it was not the haze of alcohol that led him to the center, but a hatred of Muslims and Islam that was stoked by certain men of the cloth and right-wing media.
Fortunately, the world is not guided by the likes of the arsonist and his spiritual and political godfathers. This was obvious from the gathering of people at the Islamic Center last month. They represented a cross-section of our community that included many faiths and cultural traditions.
In attendance were people who had investigated the crime, arrested and prosecuted the culprit, and repaired and restored the center.
Perrysburg Township Fire Chief Tom Brice, in brief but poignant remarks, related the events that unfolded on the evening of Sept. 30, 2012, and in subsequent days. Mr. Brice put the incident in perspective by citing the American values of tolerance and acceptance that are threatened by rampant religious bigotry and intolerance.
Jim Mossing, the owner of SMB Construction, is an unassuming man of deep religious convictions. He was responsible for restoring the damaged building to its original condition.
He worked closely with his employees and guided them to respect the sanctity of the place. He and his crew handled damaged Qur’ans with respect and sensitivity.
One Sunday, Mr. Mossing told the gathering, he was working at the center with his niece and a few family members. His niece told him that she was missing her church service. Mr. Mossing told the young girl that she was in the house of God and that she could pray there just as she would in a church.
Steven Dettelbach, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, couldn’t attend, but his chief of the office’s Toledo branch, Ava Dustin, attended. Ms. Dustin was part of the team that prosecuted the arsonist and sent him to jail for 20 years.
Soft-spoken but with a steely resolve, she reiterated the obvious: Under our Constitution, every citizen and every religion has the same rights. To her, the arsonist desecrated not only a place of worship, but also the Constitution.
Hussien Shousher, president of GEM Industries and a past president of the Islamic Center, told the gathering that he first heard of the fire when a Christian friend sent him a text message. The friend showed up at the center to help.
Mr. Shousher wondered how many people from different faiths would reach out to help others as his friend did. Mr. Shousher believes that the true brotherhood of man extends beyond religious labels.
The arsonist created much fear and uncertainty among center members. There was anger and a feeling of helplessness. Then, a large number of people from the interfaith community showed up at the center to pray under a tent and to show their solidarity with those who worship there.
In any calamity, you can find rays of hope and the possibility of emerging from the ordeal more secure, more confident, and more compassionate. A year after the arson, it was clear that people who were strangers until that fateful day came together not only to right a wrong, but also to have a renewed hope in a tolerant and compassionate community.
Bigotry and racism are age-old human traits and will not disappear easily. But at times such as this, the support of faith-based communities and simple, plain, and decent people buoys the wounded heart and lifts the injured spirit.
Such decent, upright, and fair-minded people have nothing in common with the screaming fanatics in some Muslim countries, or with those who come out of the shadows to cause physical and emotional harm to our communities.
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org