I was sitting alone in the library at Georgetown University when my mom broke the news to me. A man from Indiana had broke into my Toledo, Ohio mosque and had attempted to burn down the building. Only hours before the incident my younger 13-year-old brother was at the mosque with many members of our community. Hundreds of miles away from home, I felt utterly helpless and powerless to the act of hatred that was perpetrated against my personal place of worship. Many lives were spared that day and the building still stands to share its story, yet the feeling of discomfort and unease has yet to leave my mind.
As a kid, I grew up in the mosque. The mosque is more than just four walls intended to be a house of prayer. It houses the laughter, solidarity, and love of an entire community. It houses all the memories of my childhood. Football games on Ramadan nights before the special Taraweeh prayers. Meeting new people and making friends while avoiding having to do work at our annual International Festival. Learning my Islamic knowledge in Sunday school and laughing with all my best friends at lunch afterwards. My childhood took place at this building, in this mosque. The mosque has always felt like an extension of my home, a place of true comfort to me. But since that Sunday, it has not been the same. I do not know how long it will take for me to feel fully comfortable at my mosque again, but for the time being it feels very foreign. An act of hate, a hatred that stems fundamentally against who I am was committed at the mosque, and for that reason there is a sense of discomfort associated with the building.
A few weeks after the incident I was home for Eid-al-Adha, celebrating the end of Hajj, or the Pilgrimage to Mecca. The building is uninhabitable, at least for the next few months, leaving our community completely displaced. We conducted prayer at a local indoor athletic facility. As I looked around the room, seeing people bow down onto a soccer field, I fully realized what it meant to be displaced. Our prayers and religious services are done in other facilities. We have lost the place where our community comes together, our place of connection to each other. But as the building is renovated and fixed from the inside, so too heals our community. In the weeks since the attack, we have already begun to heal.
Support has poured in from around the community. Politicians, rabbis, priests, police officers, and community leaders have come together to show us that we belong in this country and have the right to practice our religion freely, a right that they will always defend. They have assured us that we are an integral part of the community, and that they will always stand alongside us. Islam, just like any other religion, is one of peace, and when violence is enacted solely to disturb the practice of a right that is endowed on every human being—the right to practice one’s religion freely—no one from any religion should stand for it. Though the attack has left a feeling of discomfort, the reception and response to it from the general community has made us stronger and made us feel as though we will always have a home in Toledo. I know that our community will be resilient to the attack. Our community and our mosque will be filled laughter, love, and solidarity once again. I am confident that generations ahead will enjoy these walls, God willing, and share in creating more and more happy, loving memories. May God protect us all from acts of hatred and allow us to come together to learn from one another and grow together in the common spirit of all religions, Amen.