Mosque Arson Doesn't Stop Muslim Prayers
Aug. 26, 2003
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) _ The five men removed their shoes, knelt and prayed beneath a white tent angled east toward Mecca _ and facing the charred shell of what was their mosque before an arsonist turned it to blackened bricks and ash.
Fire investigators have said the blaze that destroyed the Savannah Islamic Center before dawn Sunday was set, and the FBI is investigating the fire as a possible hate crime.
Muslims who attended the mosque, where about 100 families worshipped, said Tuesday they would continue praying openly _ even in the afternoon heat over 90 degrees.
``In this tent, we are seeing more people than we used to see in this air-conditioned house,'' said Saad Hammid, one of the center's board members. ``We already see our community is stronger.''
No one was injured in the fire. But the house that served as a mosque appeared to be a total loss. As investigators sifted mounds of ash, Hammid recovered the remains of the mosque's rare handwritten copy of the Quran, its pages blackened around the edges.
After the fire, members pitched a white tent in the yard behind the house so they could continue praying.
``It's just a building,'' said Michael Daye, a mosque member and local handyman. ``You don't cry over stones. You cry over human issues. The actual loss is to the person who did this.''
Arson dogs detected possible accelerants inside the house and samples were sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab.
Members of the mosque suspected arson when they first saw the smoking ruin Sunday morning.
On Aug. 3, they found five bullet holes in the door to the garage where the Muslim women would meet. Bullets were embedded in the wall behind the door.
On Aug. 18, a Muslim college student who prayed at the mosque found his nearby apartment had been broken into. Someone stole some cash and his computer, and left a note warning Muslims to leave Savannah. The note was signed with a swastika, Hammid said.
No arrests had been made Tuesday evening, said Bill Kirkconnell, supervisory special agent of the FBI office in Savannah.
The Savannah Islamic Center opened in November in a neighborhood of modest homes and apartments on the city's suburban south side.
Hammid, a pediatrician, said several neighbors offered help after the fire. One gave the Muslims a hose connected to a spigot in his yard so they could wash before prayers.
``Some people were walking the street yesterday and they stopped and said, `We're really sorry to see something like this happen,''' said Mohammad Sammor, a mosque board member. ``We hope good things will come out of this, things that will bring people together.''