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Congregation heartbroken after Islamic Center vandalized during Ramadan: 'Why are they doing this?'

Congregation left with questions after Henrico Islamic Center vandalized during Ramadan
Posted at 3:46 PM, Apr 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-18 18:26:47-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- The first people to come upon more than $2,000 worth of damage and soaked prayer rugs at the West End Islamic Center was a family coming for services during Ramadan Saturday evening. Their young daughter asked her parents and other members of the congregation about the vandalism to their new facility.

“She just kept repeating, like, why are they doing this to us? Why do they hate us? That essentially was the message she kept repeating that whole evening,” said Syed Perwez, a member of the WEIC Board of Directors. “This is a new facility. So for them, it's exciting. Then to see this, it's just, you know, they're definitely sad and confused.”

“We expect a nice clean, just a peaceful place. But it looked like a tornado went through in some sense,” he said.

On Saturday evening between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. at the new Mosque, which is still under construction on Shady Grove Road in western Henrico, vandals broke into the building and then busted out a window, spray-painted offensive images on the floors, and destroyed the Islamic Center’s sound system.

“Along with the damage of breaking the glass, they also smashed in a wall. They also took cables and ran them through the building. We had some material, like ductwork material, that will be installed. They threw those down from the second floor to the first floor. Slashed up or dividers that we have over here,” Perwez said. “They took the water bottles that we had and they basically cut the bottom of the bottles to get the water out as fast as possible.”

Since the vandalism happened during broad daylight with construction crews working out back and members entering and leaving the building, Perwez said the vandalism, which is the second time the site was hit in six months, feels intentional.

“We don’t know what their motive was in that sense. But there was there was definitely the intent to do damage. I mean, that that is clear,” Perwez said. “You come in and kind of go through all your phase of like anger and then eventually you get to, just like sadness. It’s like, you would think a place of worship is one place that's safe. You're supposed to come in, leave whatever at the door, right? So it's so when we came in here, we were hurt. I mean, it was hurtful. For us. I was like, you know, we were part of this community.”

The WEIC congregation was formed more than a decade ago and met in rented spaces until April 1. Leaders said the county granted them permission to worship and pray inside the facility during the month of Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims, while the building remained under construction.

The first prayers were held in the space just two weeks ago.

“We hope to say that it's it was just, you know, some just kids being kids. But in reality, the way things are across the nation, with other mosques being vandalized and things, it's hard to put that in perspective in that sense. We have to treat it as the sort of the higher crime just to make sure that for our safety for our community safety, and then hope for the best, that was not that,” Perwez said.

Since the building was still under construction, WEIC did not have security cameras installed, so there are currently no images of the vandals. Cameras were installed and activated immediately after the incident.

Islamic teaching does not allow the use of interest-based loans, so the construction of the community center and Mosque is entirely community funded.

“We want to basically put the message out that, look, this is a place of worship. If there's issues, if you have questions, come talk to us. Let's have a dialogue, you know. Let's not break property and hurt people,” Perwez said.

Prayers and services at WEIC continued as soon as the damage was cleaned up Saturday night.

“Our teaching tells us something bad happens, you respond with good, right?” Perwez continued. “You don't need to fear us, you don't need to hate us, we're not the evil, the boogeyman or the monster in the closet. We’re human beings just like you. Come talk to us. And I think if you talk to us, you might be surprised.”

WEIC leaders said they have been overwhelmed by the showing of support since they first posted about the incident on social media. Anyone who wants updates on the project or to help make a contribution can do so here.

Henrico Police said this investigation remains ongoing. Anyone who has information that could aid in it is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 804-780-100 or submit tips online at p3TIPS.com

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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