Outpouring of support overwhelms mosque members

Victoria Islamic Center members look at the aftermath of a fire that burned their mosque early Saturday morning.

Their place of worship was ravaged by fire Saturday morning, but Victoria Islamic Center members had rediscovered hope by that evening.

"God always has a plan. Out of tragedies, sometimes good things happen," said Abe Ajrami, a mosque member.

Ajrami grieved the loss of his place of worship, which he had attended for years, but also expressed wonder and appreciation for the massive show of support he and and other members had received.

Pulling out his smartphone, Ajrami scrolled through the hundreds of well-wishing emails, social media messages, texts and phone calls.

The demonstrations of solidarity were sent from around Victoria, Texas, the United States and even countries as far as Zimbabwe.

One woman donated a handmade prayer rug.

"A guy who has a truck said, 'I will come and haul dirt for you,'" Ajrami said.

Although mosque president Shahid Hashmi, a Victoria surgeon, said the mosque was uninsured, he took comfort in a deluge of funds donated from across the internet to a gofundme.com page created to help the group rebuild.

As of 11 p.m., more than $360,855 had been given.

Closer to home, at least four Victoria churches and a synagogue offered the use of their own houses of worship for the displaced members of the mosque.

Gary Branfman, a member of Temple B'nai Israel, said he, too, hoped Saturday's tragedy would empower Victoria to come together.

"When our peaceful norm is interrupted like this, I think it unites the community," he said.

Mayor Paul Polasek said he was hardly surprised by the Victoria community's ability to rally around their own. That solidarity, he said, has existed in the city for as long as he can remember.

"I grew up here, and I know how people are," he said. "We take care of each other, and we are self-reliant. I'm very pleased by it, but not necessarily surprised."

Leigh Ann Grant, whose grandfather founded Christ's Kitchen, said she was taught to love others despite their differences.

When her father, Allan Crouch, who raised her in the Baptist faith, was hired to build the now-destroyed mosque in 2000, she began to appreciate the value of respect.

"We have nothing without respect. Nothing. No one gets anywhere," she said.

Although taking the job "certainly raised some eyebrows" in the community, she and her father learned they had more in common with the mosque's congregation than they expected.

"Dr. Hashmi was very kind and respectful to us," she said in a written statement. "It was a beautiful building, too. It's a shame it burned down."

For complete coverage of the fire visit our Special Projects page at www.victoriaadvocate.com/mosquefire.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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