Solidarity against anti-Muslim hate

October 11, 2012

Katrina Bacome describes the response to an anti-Muslim hate crime in Toledo.

IN THE early evening of September 30, a hate crime occurred in my hometown.

Randy Linn, 52, entered the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo (ICGT) with bigotry in his heart and malice on his mind. Linn, who hails from the city of St. Joe, Ind., roamed the thankfully empty halls, wearing a camouflage sweater and armed with a loaded revolver.

After finding no victims to inflict his racist hate on, he set fire to the rug in the Islamic Center's prayer room and made his escape. Every room in this beautiful, historic Toledo mosque suffered fire, smoke or water damage.

Following his arrest on October 2, Linn was charged with two counts of aggravated arson, one count of aggravated burglary and carrying a concealed weapon. He has now been handed over to a federal court and charged with a felony hate crime for damaging religious property.

The arrest of Randy Linn may ease the immediate worry of Toledo's Muslim and Sikh families, but a very real fear lingers in the air. The members of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo have taken this tragedy with poise and courage, refusing to let this incident change them.

They are a community, and as a community, they invited members of all faiths to a prayer service held on the grounds exactly one week after this heinous attack. The mood was hopeful and resilient--however, the back of the multi-faith prayer service program reveals the underlying terror. The back page lists the xenophobic attacks of the last two months, from the August 5 Sikh Temple shooting in Wisconsin, to tombstones defaced with racist graffiti in Evergreen, Ind.

AS WE approached the ICGT for the prayer service, we couldn't help but share stories of our love for this building. Set directly off the highway in the Toledo suburb of Perrysburg Township, we'd all seen it as children and had fond memories to associate with it.

For me, it was the landmark that let me know I was home after a long trip. As a young child, my friend thought it was the White House and the King of America lived there. This majestic white mosque has been here longer than us, becoming a backdrop to our lives.

Pulling up the long back road which leads to the mosque, we spotted an enormous red-and-white striped tent. This tent is usually used for the International Festival and will serve as the temporary site of religious services as long as weather permits, but this day, it held more than 600 supporters who came with one message: Solidarity.

Surrounding the tent were signs that read, "You can burn our mosque, but you cannot burn our spirit." Inside, the event was filled to capacity. Dr. Mahjabeen Islam, president of the ICGT, presided over the day's ceremony.

Though battle-worn and exhausted from an attack that has brought Islamophobia to her doorstep, Dr. Islam stood firm and maintained the strength that has made her so valuable to her community. As she read the following verse from the Koran, tears welled up in her eyes, but they didn't fall.

The blame is only against those who oppress men with wrongdoing
and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land
defy right and justice; for such there will be a penalty grievous.
But indeed if any show patience and forgive
that would truly be an exorcise of courageous will
and resolution in the conduct of affairs.

Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Jewish community leaders offered words of comfort and shared messages of solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters. Regardless of belief, speakers echoed one basic sentiment--that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.

Some handed off checks, some asked the audience to speak to their families and friends about the attack, but all expressed the sentiment that Toledo will not allow its Muslim families to live in fear. That we will pick up paintbrushes and help the Islamic Center to rebuild. That hatred and bigotry will not be tolerated and it will be actively fought against.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, made a stirring challenge that drew thunderous applause from the diverse group. Awad said:

I urge of you to be visible and not to be silent. 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.

In the face of this explosive wave of racist attacks, seeing your community push back is an inspiring thing. Randy Linn burned the mosque, but he could not dampen the spirits of those who worship there.

We have solidarity on our side.

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