Masjids Between Hate and Fear: A Reflection on Houston’s Islamic Institute of Quba Fire

The firefighters battled the flames for an hour before they could control it despite a post by a firefighter saying ‘Let It Burn … Block The Fire Hydrant!’


Quba Islamic Institute Houston burning Friday morning Feb 13, 2015.

Thanks to the hate campaigns led by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer against the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” in 2012, which was neither on Ground Zero nor was it a mosque, about ten Masjids have been attacked and 73 been blocked due to hate. (The word for mosque which Muslims use is masjid.)

I visited this mosque in Houston the day it was burned, on Friday the February 13, 2015. I was in Houston for a series of meetings and presentations.


This section of Quba Islamic Institute was completely destroyed by the fire.

There are three independent structures to the Quba Islamic Institute which functions as Masjid, as well as a school.

The Imam, Zahid Abdullah, took me inside the burnt down and gutted structure. This was his first trip inside that place since the fire. He was advised not to enter, since there was a danger of things collapsing.

One structure is completely burnt down. The other next to it is also damaged. Alhamdu lillah, the third section close to the road is still standing where people can still pray.


Imam Zahid Abdullah has served the Muslim community in New York and Atlanta for years. He is a graduate of Madinah University.

Imam Zahid Abdullah was calm and collected as he told me that for a couple of days, they had been fielding hate. On the Thursday evening before the fire, someone had parked just outside in the adjacent parking lot in a pickup truck. He kept harassing people leaving the Masjid with slurs, etc. Earlier in the week, a man with his face covered was seen behaving suspiciously on the premises.


The arrow points to a spot where a white pickup truck was parked just outside the Masjid late evening on Thursday Jan 12. The driver was hurling insults at people exiting the masjid.

 


This is the front of the Quba Islamic Institute, a Masjid and a school operating on the southeast side of Houston.

Unfortunately, the hatemongers were simply ignored instead of being reporting to the police. This is normal Muslim attitude in America. We simply ignore the hate crimes we face.

This attitude of not reporting is not helpful. It is in part a misunderstanding of a Quranic teaching which calls upon the believers to ignore the foolish.

“And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth in humility, and when the foolish ones try to draw attention, they avoid them by saying, ‘Peace!’” (Quran 25:63).

Hardly any Masjid or Muslim organizations have any budget or time allocated to dealing with Islamophobes. It is a wrong policy and a misunderstanding of God’s instructions.

The other reason hate crimes are not reported by Muslims is that many of the immigrant leaders come from countries where people are afraid of the police and the government.

The third reason is that it is almost impossible to get any hate crime recognized as a hate crime if Muslims are the victims.

There have been a series of attacks on the Muslim community in America in the last few weeks accompanied by real threats of violence unleashed on social media.

Most of these cases are not declared hate crimes thanks to the powerlessness of Muslims. There is a certain level of politics regarding what constitutes a hate crime and what does not. Twice, bullets have been fired at Sound Vision’s office in Chicago, which local police refused to consider a hate crime. Once, bullets were shot through the word “Islam” posted on our glass wall the night before. I have received death threats through working email accounts but when I reported it, the officer told me that it has to be more specific to be counted as a hate crime. I guess the threat should include what, when, and where that person plans to shoot me to be counted as a hate crime.

It was the absence of reporting that I pointed out in my khutba at Masjid Hamza, a beautiful, mid-size mosque in Houston the same day I visited Quba Islamic Institute. My Khutba offered eight tips on handling Islamophobia. These included posting positive comments in online forums, requesting local libraries to purchase good books on Islam and Muslims, reporting every single incident of Islamophobia, even small ones, thanking those who speak and act against Islamophobia, and making Dua for the enemy.


Above is the Masjid Hamza which is organized by a great American Muslim institution ISGH which runs.

This was the first time I gave Khutba at this masjid. The Masjid leadership and people attending were very hospitable. I was impressed by a five or six-year-old girl who was sitting in the third row listening to the whole sermon so attentively. When I prayed, “may Allah bless young Muslims in the audience to be better Muslims, better neighbors and good citizens”, she smiled as though I meant it just for her. That is actually true. If she was not there, I may not have made that Dua.

In my Khutba I mentioned that it is an Islamic duty to respond to hate with something better. This is a characteristic of the believers mentioned by Allah in the Quran. The successful Muslims take a stand when they are wronged through the due process of law.

Our country has a system that tolerates hate speech as a constitutional right, unlike Europe and Canada, where there are laws against hate. That is why Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer are banned from entering the U.K. and Canada.

However, at the same time, the United States has a system of challenging hate speech through a socio-political process which isolates and shames hatemongers. This is what was done to the KKK. That is how anti-Semitism and racism were ultimately deemed unacceptable in the mainstream media.

Muslims must learn to report, stand up, and fight back based on this understanding of the system and the process.


The institute is handing hate messages with grace. See one such posting above.

 

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