Standing outside the scorched remains of what once was a mosque, Imam Osama Hassan expressed his sense of loss.
“It is just breaking the heart because this is the place, everyday we are here,” he said. “You cannot imagine seeing the fire. I never thought in my life I would see that.”
This past Saturday, a fire destroyed the Victoria Islamic Center in Texas. Local authorities along with federal agents are investigating the cause of the conflagration that gutted the interior of the building.
Using the camera on his mobile phone in a Skype call, Hassan took VOA through the charred ruins inside the worship center.
He said, “As you can see from the site there is nothing left. Very sorrowful to see that now.”
He also expressed the hope that the fire last month was an accident and not a willful act possibly motivated by hate.
Such thoughts have been largely swept aside by an outpouring of support from the local community. On Sunday morning, several hundred people gathered at the site for a prayer service and a show of solidarity.
Among the speakers was Rev. Dan Fultz, pastor of Victoria’s Grace Presbyterian Church.
Speaking to VOA, he said, “We are not a divided community on these kinds of issues. Muslims in Victoria are members of the community just like everybody else.”
Fultz, along with Catholic priests, other Christian clergy and Jewish religious leaders, began meeting on a regular basis with Muslim leaders over a year ago when police shootings of young black men in various cities around the country became a subject of heated debate. He said this inter-faith dialogue helped build a sense of connection among all the religious communities and that this contributed to the immediate response to the fire.
Catholic and Jewish leaders have offered their own facilities to the 100-some Muslim residents of Victoria to hold services, but Hassan says, they are temporarily using a room in a school building at the Islamic Center site that was not damaged by the fire. The only problem is that it has no water or electrical service at the moment, so they use jugs of water for their ritual washing before a prayer session and a flashlight to illuminate the room for nighttime services.
A million dollars in support
Following a call for donations set up on the GoFundMe internet site, Victoria’s Muslims are already contemplating plans to rebuild. So far, the website has raised well over a million dollars for the effort.
Hassan, an Egyptian by birth who has lived in Texas for 15 years, says the support of local people and the donations show the true character of the American people. He said he is grateful for their support as well as the donations that have come from other parts of the world.
Surveying the ruins, Hassan said even though some of the walls remain standing, the damage is so extensive that a new building will have to be constructed. He and other members of the community are already discussing plans.
“Hopefully, we will be able to start the building again by the love and the kindness of the people around us,” he said.
The local fire marshal is continuing his investigation, which he indicates may take at least a couple of weeks to complete.