Mosques Warned to Prepare for Potential Ramadan Arsons
Mosques across America have been warned to implement “best practices” for preventing arson as the Islamic community prepares for the month of Ramadan, which begins the last week of May.
“American Muslims should never be afraid to worship or attend their mosque,” said Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry at Muslim Advocates. “But we know we have to look out for the safety and security of our community, now more than ever.”
Ahussain pointed to five mosque fires reported this year – in Austin, Texas, Victoria, Texas, Bellevue, Wash., Tampa, Fla., and Pittsfield Township, Mich. – as his group’s motivation for the arson warning.
The arson warning came from Muslim Advocates as the Council on American-Islamic Relations released a report showing a 57 percent increase in anti-Muslim incidents in 2016 over the previous year.
The “Empowerment of Hate” report also said the spike in anti-Muslim incidents was accompanied by a 44 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes during the same period.
U.S. attorneys said in late April they expected a grand jury to hand down an indictment against Marq Vincent Perez, 25, the man suspected of starting a fire that burned a mosque in Victoria, Texas, to the ground in January.
"A mosque in a Muslim community ... it's literally the heart of our community," Fiona Tagari, a member of a mosque in nearby Corpus Christi, Texas, told USA Today. "A lot of us are immigrants. We don't have families here, so it's where we make our families. Congregants become extended families."
A 16-year-old boy was charged with starting a fire that destroyed a mosque in Pittsfield Township, Mich., in March. However, local police do not consider that to be a case of arson.
A fire in February that damaged a prayer hall at a Tampa-area mosque was ruled to be a case of arson. Local and federal authorities have not determined yet if it was a hate crime.
“Their (Islamic community members’) fear is that it's hate-related, but it's too early to say if it is or isn’t," CNN reported Thania Diaz Clevenger, civil rights director for the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said at a news conference outside the mosque.
Rasha Mubarak, a regional supervisor for CAIR-Florida, urged local, state and national officials to take a stand. Otherwise, she said, "It can give the green light to harm others."
“It is worrisome that our community has fallen victim of what appears to be another hate crime,” said Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida.
A homeless man started a January fire that destroyed half of a wood-framed mosque in Bellevue, Wash.
The Seattle Times reported Isaac Wayne Wilson, 37, who had been arrested at least 50 other times and was convicted of three felonies and 21 misdemeanors before his latest arrest, confessed to starting the January fire and was charged with second-degree arson.