In October of 2016, Al Salam mosque, one of two in Fort Smith, Arkansas, was attacked by vandals spraying swastikas, curse words and other insults such as “go home” on the windows and doors of the mosque. Such attacks are becoming more and more common: as Islamophobia rises in Western nations, the level of hate crimes is only growing. One year ago in January 2017, the Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec City was subject to an active shooter event, killing 6 and wounding many others. The FBI reports that 2015 and 2016 have seen large leaps in reported hate crimes against Muslims. Sabreena Ghaffar Siddiqui states that “What we’re seeing in terms of hate crime stats is a fraction of what the problem really is…When you look at vulnerable populations like refugees, new immigrants and marginalized people, they have a very complex relationship with authority and the police. Someone who feels that the police are not on their side is not going to the police to report a hate crime.”
When this incident happened, police were able to identify the culprits through security cameras and law enforcement promptly apprehended the three miscreants. However, one of them, Abraham Davis, felt truly regretful about his actions and decided to formally apologize to the mosque. Moved by the heartfelt apology, the mosque administration moved to help Davis, paying off his court fines and attempting to reduce the charges in court. While unable to remove the felony, Davis was not sent to prison and now works at a gas station, with newfound hopes of getting an education. Dr. Louay Nassri, the mosque’s president, reports receiving many encouraging letters and calls of support from around the world, praising the actions of the mosque. Calls came from London and Switzerland. The Jay Pritzker Foundation sent a donation to the mosque. A person in Oregon wrote that this incident “gives me something to hold onto, an amulet, a prayer bead,” and a Twitter user stated that “You wove the lives of 2 men and their community in a way that for the first time I don’t feel like everyday I have to fight or be militant & absolute about good & evil, right & wrong. Thank you for that peace.”
For many, it seemed like a breath of fresh air. In the wake of tension-filled politics and increasing Islamophobia, the actions of the mosque towards tolerance and forgiveness have created an example of excellent bridge building. A mosque in Fort Smith has shown the world how hatred can be dealt with in a manner that builds stronger communities.
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