United we stand strong, in peace and love


"One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Victorians wore jackets against the morning chill as a community service began Sunday in front of the gutted mosque.

By the end of the hourlong service, the warmth of the sun and of the fellowship felt by all flowed in every direction. Light shone through the darkness of the night that had consumed the Victoria Islamic Center.

The mosque members began the interfaith service with all reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as an American flag flew in the breeze next to a sign that read "United We Stand." The pledge packed extra power because it was delivered by people of many races, colors and creeds.

Those gathered stood strong against the shared fear that someone might have intentionally set out to destroy a place of worship, to silence people because they are different. The fire's cause is as yet unknown, but the service showed how the community can withstand even the worst.

The worst wilts under the belief of the best, who stepped forward and loudly proclaimed, "We stand together for peace, love and understanding."

Mosque leaders led the service with the traditional Islamic greeting of "peace be upon you."

"I can handle tough situations, but beautiful showings of kindness make me weep," mosque member Abe Ajrami told the hundreds assembled on Airline Road for the hastily called service.

The service featured messages from Islamic, Jewish, Lutheran, Unitarian and Presbyterian leaders. All talked of a shared love for God and for each other.

Ajrami read a Bible verse, 1 John 4:7, "Dear friend, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God."

The mosque members spoke passionately of the love they feel for and from Victoria. The outpouring of support they immediately received amazed them.

Before the ashes had even cooled, Victoria's Jewish synagogue and four other churches had offered their buildings for as long as needed by the Islamic congregation. The mosque members shared a long list of other kindnesses shown to them.

That list is up to one million and counting. Within only three days, people from the Crossroads, Texas and around the world have donated $1 million to rebuild the mosque.

"This is the Victoria we know. This is the Victoria we love," Ajrami said. "And this is what we will remember out of this tragedy."

Regardless of whether the fire turns out to be accidental or intentional, Victoria stands tall.

The size of the crowd at Sunday's service astounded Houston's M.J. Khan, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston. He said this tragedy showed the world the best of Victoria.

"Look at Victoria and learn the lesson from Victoria as to how the people can come together as one human family, ..." Khan said.

He plans to take back to Houston admiration of and appreciation for Victoria.

"If we can learn what the Victoria community is all about, we will be better off in Houston," Khan said. "And if that message goes all over the world, the world will be a better place and a more peaceful place."

Dr. Shahid Hashmi, Victoria Islamic Center president, has lived in Victoria for 32 years, so he knew what the community response would be to the fire: United.

A minority of any community, faith or society may be troublemakers, Hashmi said, but the majority is always good.

Bad things happen. But a person, a community and a country are measured by how they respond to adversity.

Perhaps Victoria's message will reach all the way to the Middle East. Ajrami delivered the message Victorians inspired in him Sunday:

"Love is definitely stronger than hate. And light is more powerful than darkness."

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.

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

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